WPVM’s interim station manager quits

WPVM’s interim station manager quits-attachment0

The interim station manager at Asheville’s low-power FM community radio station has resigned, likening herself to a Band-Aid stuck on a mortal wound requiring immediate surgery.

Kim Clark issued her statement Monday night, two weeks after her hiring as WPVM’s interim manager was announced by Wally Bowen, the executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network. The nonprofit Internet service provider holds the broadcast license to WPVM, and Bowen oversees the station.

Since last fall, some station volunteers and Bowen have been embroiled in an ongoing battle over how the station should be governed. The station is manned by volunteers and one paid manager. The manager’s job has been vacant since last fall, when the controversy blew up over Bowen’s dismissal of volunteer Gillian Coats.

After Coat’s firing, MAIN’s board issued a statement last September and said it had removed Bowen from direct oversight of the station. The board approved a resolution recommending “a new governance structure requiring WPVM to report directly to a subcommittee of the board.” But a few months later, Bowen reasserted control of the station, saying that the earlier action had been temporary.

Clark’s arrival was heralded as the first step forward to ease the impasse. The former station manager at popular FM radio station WNCW said that she’d been through tensions between station management and volunteers at that station, and that she thought she could help WPVM improve internal communication, as well as operations.

The announcement of Clark’s hiring was accompanied by Bowen’s announcement that nine other station volunteers had been asked to stay away from the station for at least six weeks to give Clark room to work.

In her statement, posted on, Clark says the relationship between Bowen and volunteers needs immediate work.

“In my opinion, the problems at WPVM that have spilled out onto the public square are deep and systemic, and need to be addressed by MAIN’s Board of Directors before progress can be made,” Clark writes. “The relationship between MAIN’s Executive Director Wally Bowen and the dozens of volunteers that make the radio station work is almost totally broken down. This has been made much worse in my opinion by Wally’s recent decision to suspend nine members of WPVM’s volunteer staff.”

Clark goes on to say that on her first day, the radio station experienced major technical difficulties and that several of the volunteers asked to stay away from the station were the ones who had the institutional knowledge to assist and did help. Clark’s statement says she asked Bowen to bring back the nine suspended volunteers. He turned her down, Clark writes.

“I felt that the most promising door to success closed with that decision.”

Clark ends her statement by laying out her suggestions for how the station can move forward. She recommends:

• That the suspended volunteers be brought back.

• That the MAIN board consider whether its healthy for the organization to have Bowen in direct oversight of the station.

• That a mediator be hired to work through disagreements.

• That the board hire a station manager.

• And that MAIN upgrade WPVM’s broadcast equipment.

In a statement posted on WPVM’s Web site, Bowen said he and the MAIN board had accepted Clark’s resignation “with regret.”

“We knew that she was stepping into a difficult situation, made all the more challenging by the absence of technical operations documentation at WPVM,” Bowen wrote.

The Mountain Xpress has been unable to reach either Bowen or Clark for comment. Below is the full text of Clark’s resignation letter.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

————————————————————————————

Effective immediately, I am withdrawing from my interim appointment as WPVM station manager.

As I said at our introductory meeting a couple of weeks ago, I accepted the position of Interim Station Manager of WPVM because I wanted to help move the station in a positive way from its current state of turmoil and to help it get on a solid footing for the future. I now believe that this is not possible at the moment, and that my continuation in the interim position could be doing more harm than good. I am the band-aid and the aspirin that delay that inevitable trip to the doctor, who will tell you that you really need major surgery if you are to survive.

In my opinion, the problems at WPVM that have spilled out onto the public square are deep and systemic, and need to be addressed by MAIN’s Board of Directors before progress can be made. The relationship between MAIN’s Executive Director Wally Bowen and the dozens of volunteers that make the radio station work is almost totally broken down. This has been made much worse in my opinion by Wally’s recent decision to suspend nine members of WPVM’s volunteer staff. I can’t judge the reasons for the suspensions, because I’m really not clear what the reasons are. But I can judge the effect that the suspensions are having on WPVM’s operations. For the most part, these nine volunteers represent the institutional knowledge and memory of WPVM, and make up the station’s engineering support as well. The first day I was at WPVM, we had a major automation failure. Every radio station has a list on the wall somewhere that says “In case of emergency, call…”, and I quickly found WPVM’s list. However, all the names were of volunteers who were “banned”! But…some of those same banned volunteers came into the station later, “under cover of darkness”, and helped solve the problem. Their support- some clandestine, some not- to the station and their fellow volunteers has continued over the past two weeks. It has weighed heavily on my conscience knowing that volunteers who have been told to stay away are being asked for, and are giving, their help. So much so that last week I went to Wally and asked him to lift the suspensions on the grounds that the suspended volunteers had shown good faith by providing the assistance to keep the station properly functioning. I felt that if we responded with good will and brought them back, we could really move WPVM forward, and I could stop worrying about basic technical concerns and get on with the business of truly providing some management direction. Wally gave my request respectful consideration, but then told me he “just couldn’t go there.” I felt that the most promising door to success closed with that decision.

I have at other times glimpsed what success at WPVM could look like. I had those glimmers of hope when I was talking with the volunteers who were coming in to do their shows or to take care of their station “chores”. Their passion for the mission of the station (and for MAIN’s mission as well) and their dedication to their role in it is inspiring. Honestly, coming into this, I expected to cross paths with a bunch of anarchists who didn’t want anyone telling them what to do. That’s not what I found at all. I have had in-depth conversations with 15 or more volunteers, and every single one stressed the need for more structure in the station’s day-to-day and overall operations. “Procedures” and “policy” are not dirty words to them. But…there is currently no foundation on which to build or rebuild a solid operational structure. It is all too broken. (In going through old station records, I found evidence that there had been a pretty strong structure at one time, but it seems that it all began to unravel a year or two ago.)

I feel I also have to mention that nearly every volunteer I spoke with-even the ones who are on the periphery and basically just come in to do their shows- felt strongly that the nine suspended volunteers are urgently needed back in the fold, and were unclear about the reasons for the suspensions in the first place.

I am inspired by Wally Bowen’s vision of service to the community for MAIN and for WPVM. (All the volunteers I talked with are highly supportive of it as well.) I attended Wally’s Main 2.0 presentation and was very impressed with his plans for providing affordable access to cutting-edge technology, and for making WPVM a hub for professional-quality citizen journalism. He does strongly believe in WPVM. When tossing around options, I even threw out the idea of shutting down the station temporarily, letting the smoke clear, and then rebuilding it in a way that might be more to his liking. As I recall, he said that that would not be fair to many of the volunteers.

So, here we are- with a fantastic vision, and a volunteer staff that most non-profit organizations would kill for. But the battle lines are drawn hard in the ground, there’s plenty of legitimate ammo, and lots of land mines are strewn about in the middle. I don’t think you can hire someone to “manage” WPVM out of this situation. Very basic structural and systemic issues need to be addressed first.

My suggestions are: (1) Get the suspended volunteers “officially” back into the radio station. Their absence is making basic operations more difficult, hurting morale, and keeping emotions high. If there are some that Wally feels shouldn’t be brought back, then be clear about why and allow for some type of appeal process. (2) The Board of Directors needs to consider carefully to what degree it is healthy (for the organization and its people) for the Executive Director of MAIN to be involved in day-to-day operations of WPVM. Then the Board needs to be clear and consistent on this issue. Establish a grievance procedure (even a temporary one) ASAP. (3) Bring in a professional mediator. And not a “kum ba yah” team-building mediator. This will need to be hard-nosed stuff, where everyone (Board members, volunteers, Executive Director) lays their baggage out on the table, and there are signed understandings and agreements at the end. (4) Then….hire a manager. Avoid the “interim” path. You’ll need someone who is fully invested in the future of WPVM and MAIN. Give that manager the authority to truly run the station, within guidelines and goals set out by the Executive Director and the Board. (5) To the degree that it is financially possible, upgrade WPVM’s broadcast equipment. The sub-standard condition of the station’s equipment and computers is having a negative effect on broadcast quality, consistency, accuracy, and morale, and is creating training/compliance issues.

It’s funny the twists and turns life takes. I thought I would help WPVM by being its Interim Manager, but it seems I will be most helpful by withdrawing from that post so as not to delay the real work that needs to be done. I hope my insights have been useful.

Kim Clark

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27 thoughts on “WPVM’s interim station manager quits

  1. oldenoughtoknowbetter

    The whole situation with Wally Bowen sounds to me like ego superseding concern for the welfare of the station, the volunteers, or the community it is designed to serve. It raises questions about the board and their attitudes and qualifications. What small, personal agendas are at work? When the continued presence and actions of one individual are central to a seemingly endless series of problems is it possible that individual is the biggest problem?

  2. francois Manavit

    Just imagine if Wally Bowen would have apology around a beer with Gillian , just few days after his mistake , talked about stuffs ..met all the dj’s in a cool relax manner ….come to terms with discontents dj’s regarding the organisation, … learned how to use the material …

    Nothing would come to the point where the station is today . This is the work of a mental state that create filters like paranoia , conspirative theory … and finally antagonism with his own (choosen ) board and community .

  3. Veronika Gunter

    Bravo, Mtn X. Readers, don’t be distracted by Bowen’s jargon-filled non-response to Kim Clark’s compelling testimony of what’s healthy and what’s diseased at MAIN and WPVM. Kim Clark did not mention “technical operations documentation” in her five points. She names five points to simultaneously address so that WPVM and MAIN can survive and thrive. She is a new, independent voice in this matter. She has years of community radio experience. She was single-handedly hired by Wally Bowen, and therefore vetted by him to his standards. So, for a fresh take, let’s listen to her. Let’s open the gift she has given us.

  4. francois Manavit

    Just imagine if Wally Bowen would have apology around a beer with Gillian , just few days after his mistake , talked about stuffs ..met all the dj’s in a cool relax manner ….come to terms with discontents dj’s regarding the organisation, … learned how to use the material …

    Nothing would come to the point where the station is today . This is the work of a mental state that create filters like paranoia , conspirative theory … and finally antagonism with his own (choosen ) board and community .

  5. September Girl

    Hmmm. In my experience, Kim Clark is blunt but conservative and certainly not reactionary. This communique is very telling.

  6. Donald De Bona

    Do you think Wally Bowen has any idea how very closely he resembles Richard Nixon in all of this? (Dick Nixon… who also painted his many detractors as anarchists or worse) Better yet, do you think Wally remembers how it all turned out for Dick as his increasingly draconian and desperate damage control measures repeatedly backfired?

  7. lilith

    Stepping back this looks like a necessary battle that seperates a once useful chaff while moving an important media source towards the resource based economy.

    WPVM is successful because of the dedicated volunteers and it’s unabashed quirkiness. All hail the occasional dead air and day old Democracy Now!

  8. Jeff Fobes

    A “report” on 3/3/09 MAIN Board meeting:
    From Francois Manavit, via a board member Robin Smith:
    (i.e., this is now third-hand info; evaluate accordingly until further info comes in)

    =====Francois’ email summary=====
    It was a mixed bag, heated at times. He is getting into the works the [required performance] evaluation of the Executive Director [Note: Robin is the lead evaluator.]

    There was support from Wally Bowen and some of the Board to go with Kim Clark’s five-point “plan” [the key points in her email of 3/2/09]. Consistent with those, the Board:

    1. Reaffirms its January decision for MAIN 2.0.
    2. Reaffirms its February decision that it is not able to see the organization [WPVM] without involvement of the Executive Director.
    3. It is moving toward fulfillment of the five steps [of Kim Clark] and is removing Wally Bowen from day-to-day operations. To this, Wally said that’s okay, since he is not doing that, anyway. [!] And will proceed to hire another interim Station Manager.
    4. Dissolves the WPVM Sub-Committee of the Board. This was done over Robin’s objections.
    5. Board asks Edwin Shealy [Chair of Management Board] to have the volunteers cease airing the PSAs on their discontent speaking of top-down vs. democratic management of the station.

    All this Robin says is “a process” to move toward the Board being The Board, rather than Wally’s “puppy dogs”.

    There will be efforts, he says, to bring back the 9 suspended Radio Staff–someone will be “working” to do that.

    As a member of the Board, Robin will support our sending over nominees we like to become members of the MAIN Board. ////

  9. stephenm

    Three cheers for Robin Smith, but otherwise, if these points truly reflect the MAIN Board’s efforts last night, it indeed reflects how pathetic this group has become.

    The second point clearly conflicts with the third. This conflict seriously compromises everything else.

    And then there is the claim to be moving toward fulfilling Kim Clark’s suggestions; yet the fact that once again they are in the process of hiring another interim station manage likewise contradicts her five point proposal, most explicitly that of her suggested and prescient sequence. Her numbering is not irrelevant, but the MAIN board now appears to placing 4 in the 1 spot:

    “(4) Then….hire a manager. Avoid the ‘interim’ path. You’ll need someone who is fully invested in the future of WPVM and MAIN. Give that manager the authority to truly run the station, within guidelines and goals set out by the Executive Director and the Board.”

    In other words (if these points as written are accurate), we’re in the same shape that we were in just prior to Kim Clark’s hiring – a board in disarray and an ED fully invested in keeping the board under his thumb.

    Likewise note the dissolution of the subcommittee.

  10. Barry Summers

    “Do you think Wally Bowen has any idea how very closely he resembles Richard Nixon in all of this?…Better yet, do you think Wally remembers how it all turned out for Dick as his increasingly draconian and desperate damage control measures repeatedly backfired?”

    You mean like spying on political enemies? That comparison would require that, oh, I don’t know… Wally had set up the capability to read WPVM volunteer’s internal emails without their knowledge or consent, and then made up an implausible cover story when he got caught. That’s ridiculous.

  11. K. Phillips

    From the article Bowen: MAIN’s future lies in wireless broadband, http://www.mountainx.com/news/2009/030409buzz6

    “With its mobile-broadband capability strengthened, the nonprofit will move into community journalism —a critical component, said Bowen, given the upheaval in the newspaper industry and the deaths of many papers nationwide.

    MAIN would employ at least one editor and pay community journalists to create news content that would be delivered online, via Asheville’s low-power FM station WPVM, and on URTV, the local public-access channel.”

    WPVM has had community journalists since it’s inception and this current conflict has driven most of them away. And I’m sure most of them would have appreciated a little cash for all their hard work which they did for the love of independent media. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

  12. Paul -V-

    Wow. I knew there were problems – but I didn’t realize it was so serious.

    Two weeks ago, I attended Kim Clark’s formal introduction at the Public Service building. While the situation was tense – I hoped it would be a good starting point for healing.

    Clark’s resignation means the Board is going to have to make some tough choices if WPVM.

  13. Barry Summers

    I especially like the fact that the Board voted to dissolve the WPVM Subcommittee, which Wally Bowen was caught on tape a few days ago denying even existed. The relevant passage is on this audio clip at 47:50:

    http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?itdniuuiamt

    He’s on tape, on WPVM, flat out lying to the listeners about a resolution that is posted on his own website:

    http://main.nc.us/spotlights/main-board-wpvm.html

    And he’s holding himself up as the trusted voice of this little media empire? You can’t trust anything this man says.

  14. It perplexes me that Wally Bowen seems to be putting his character & name on the line while risking his larger community vision with this public battle.

    While his leadership to MAIN and his work for WNC broadband is to be commended, these recent affairs have shown the public that he alone can not manage (nor questionably could anyone) both sister organizations.
    He may be a visionary leader with much to offer, but how he manages these organizations and these public affairs is certainly calling into question his reason, logic, and motives.

  15. Piffy!

    HA!

    So even Kim Clark is saying that Wally Bowen is determined to sink his own ship with his outrageous ego. WPVM will die unless Bowen is forced out.

    At what point will he finally realize this himself? How can anyone defend him at this point with a straight face?

  16. Sham69

    The WPVM has had community journalism in the past and continues now with two shows. One is Veteran Voices and the other is The Asheville Global Report. One of the things 2.0 fails to envision is the amount of time it takes to produce a 1/2 hour segment. The Global Report takes roughly 4 hours to record and at least another hour to edit for broadcast, and that is with experienced producers. Veterans Voices another 1/2 hr broadcast with it’s relatively green team of producers can easily take 7 hrs to produce. Each of those teams makes up approximately 10-14 volunteers. Producing in these facilities has to be well spread out to keep volunteers from stepping on each others toes. The current grid has been designed the way it is to accommodate the volunteer’s needs given the tools available to work with. The reality of production is lost on the board and the ED. I’m sure Barry could speak to this as well.

    From the start of this WPVM venture to it’s current state of affairs it has taken 5 1/2 years to get programming grids filled. Any listener or volunteer can tell you that there are plenty of holes that need patching. That takes more volunteers and dedication or at least several paid full time positions. In a perfect world WPVM could broadcast live maybe 19 hrs per day without screw ups happening on a regular basis. But this world and this vision of 2.0 leave much to be desired and much more still to be determined.

    What WPVM and it’s board don’t know is what is involved producing content on multiple fronts. If 2 shows take 13 hours to produce and the facilities being what they are, there are not enough hours in the day to produce the kind of content Wally envisions. Add to that his need for editorial control of said content, what volunteers are willing to go through that kind of frustration as so many have over the past 5 1/2 years?

    The volunteer staff has been reviewing submitted applications and available syndicated shows off and on through the many incarnations of the Programming Committee over these 5 + years. They have crossed many hurdles including those erected by the ED. They have also achieved greatness with and without his help. They have devised many a good grid with much news and information and entertainment that most stations would be quite proud to have. Moreover they have seen these successes when it counts the most, at fund drive time.

    Most of the volunteers come to the table with plenty of enthusiasm and some with years of experience in Grassroots radio production. Radio like WPVM is an ethos. It survives through mentoring and teaching. It lives on as a creed and becomes infectious to those who tune in and hear freshness and honesty, something totally lacking anywhere else in our community and many similar to ours.

    The 9 or 10 or 11 banned or fired from WPVM represent a belief in a sustainable grassroots community station. They also represent passion and freedom shared by the ED. Yet for some reason they can’t meet on common ground. Is it one persons fault? I doubt it. Their knowledge is invaluable to what could be an institution. They have had the best interests of the community in their hearts and their thousands of hours of individual volunteerism reflect that. That they stand up should be applauded. In my opinion Mr. Bowen does not understand the good thing he still has and is slowly losing through his persistence not to welcome them back into the fold.

    Good parents help their kids grow up and leave the home, off to become the best they can. Other parents coddle too much leaving a child in uncertainty and eventually without direction. While I have always supported the EDs efforts on the national media reform front, change starts at home. Wally needs to recognize that his baby can’t grow with his arms wrapped around it. This kid is talking back and it needs to be heard.
    It’s time for an admittance from the ED that he has made some drastic mistakes in his leadership role and say he is sorry and “what can I do to make it right?”

    Most kids hate their folks at some point or another but eventually make up. They know when they have been wrong and can say they are sorry. Good parents do this too. With so much offspring saying the same thing there must be some truth here.

    Wally, listen to them. You might find out you have more in common than you’re willing to admit right now. The truth won’t hurt you or anyone. It will make you stronger, inside and out.

    I’d like to someday say I was wrong about you and I’d like to hear you say you are wrong about us. We are good people. You are a good person too, you’d have to be in order to pursue your lofty goals.

    Francois is right in his earlier post on this blog. Imagine what might have happened if you and Gillian had sat down long ago. Both of your ideas are valid. No-one was ever trying to take something from you…even if they were they were just trying to save it from perceived impending doom. We all want it to grow. There is no reason it can’t continue to mutate into a common vision, why start from scratch?

    Why is it that board members keep resigning and yet the volunteer staff members hang in there? Could it have something to do with believing? One group believes that the station is a great thing to work at and the other group seem to be having trouble achieving their goals as a board. Five have resigned in as many months from the board, 2 just last night and perhaps another quite soon.

    On the other hand the banned volunteers continue to work towards a tenable solution. They are problem solving even while banned. Maybe with all their moxie some of them should be nominated for seats on the board. Could it happen? Should it happen? This really doesn’t seem like just a bunch of rouge volunteers does it?

    I doubt that a new interim or permanent station manager will have the tools needed in his personal arsenal to play the hand that is dealt at this moment. The board, whatever it is now or in the future needs to reshuffle the deck and stop playing a game where only one person knows the rules, and those rules change with that one persons whim.

  17. Barry Summers

    BTW, the count of frustrated MAIN Board members who are out the door since this started in August: Seven (one term expired, one due to lingering health problems, but the other five? “Screw this!!”)

    Read more at the volunteers blog, http://www.wpvm.blogspot.com

  18. Barry Summers

    And unfortunately, the Board doesn’t (yet) seem to be taking Kim’s criticism to heart. They removed the last remnant of the Sept. 8th structure that had kept Wally away from station ops, and appear to be allowing him to go right back out & hire another temporary station manager. I thought it was instructive how he responded to Kim’s strong suggestion that he not be involved in day-to-day-operations of the station (at least in the third-hand account posted above): “Hey, no problem. I’m not involved in day-to-day station ops anyway. MY EMPLOYEE IS.”

    This is classic Wally. Pretend to get it, then go in the complete opposite direction from what the suggestion recommends. He’ll hire someone else to run the station, pepper them daily with email directives, abrogate programming decisions, ban volunteers from the building, etc., and all the while claim that he’s following Kim’s suggestion that he not be involved in station ops.

    Call me a cynic, but this comes from years of observation.

  19. Wally should surrender control at this point. Unless he is in fact on a CIA payroll “to attract and manage dissent” in Asheville and/or sabotage all that is progressively viable in this particular community. If that is the case, then he should stay put, because he is doing a great job for the boyz up at Langley. ( JK … sort of.)

    I know Wally probably means well, coming at it from his “father-knows-best” perspective, but that approach just isn’t going to see this situation through. “Father-knows-best” is a bygone management illusion. WPVM is just not going to work without smart independent volunteers making it happen, and they are probably not going to come back until the board barrs Wally from any direct management of WPVM. (I bet if you could successfully remove Wally from any operational control of the station you might even could get the sterling Jason Holland back on board.)

    I don’t write any of this out of any personal dislike of Bowen. As a person I think Wally is a great guy. However, his management style is severely lacking.

    Wally should focus on MAIN and broadband and other executive matters and let go of WPVM.

    I think deep down Wally is afraid of the “lunatics taking over the asylum” and wrecking the station by going way off mission. But he shouldn’t worry about that event, because, if he looks closely in the mirror, he will see the Cheshire Cat grinning down at him over his shoulder saying, “We’re all mad here!”

    Cheers, and best of luck,

    David Connor Jones,
    (long lost WPVM volunteer from the founding days o the little station that could … for awhile …)

  20. Sham69

    Thanks David- I hope you will write to the board as well. Perhaps sharing your 1st hand knowledge with them might make some sort of difference.

  21. Tonight from 6-8pm @ Rosetta’s
    Join the Asheville ABC Series to discuss:
    Community Journalism & Indy Media in Asheville
    URTV, MAIN, WPVM, WRES, blogging, tweeting, & more.
    Where are we standing & what are our opportunities & challenges?

    If you miss tonight’s meeting keep in touch with the (coming slowly but almost ready to function fully)
    http://www.AshevilleABC.com

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