WPVM’s interim station manager quits

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 March 2, two weeks after her hiring as WPVM’s interim manager was announced by Wally Bowen, the executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network. A nonprofit Internet service provider, MAIN 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 usually manned by volunteers and one paid manager. The manager’s job has been vacant since last fall, when a controversy erupted over Bowen’s dismissal of volunteer Gillian Coats.

After Coat’s removal, MAIN’s board issued a statement last September saying 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 a first step forward to ease the impasse. A former station manager at popular FM radio station WNCW, Clark said that she’d been through tensions between station management and volunteers at her station, and that she thought she could help WPVM improve internal communication and station 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, Clark said 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,” she wrote. “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 who’d been asked to stay away were the ones who had the required institutional knowledge to assist, and that they did help. Clark’s statement says she asked Bowen to bring back the nine suspended volunteers, but that he turned the suggestion down.

In an interview with Xpress, Clark said she was hired as a contractor to perform a service and “it became clear to me that I would be unable to perform that service” with the nine volunteers locked out. Those nine “are really the backbone of the station,” she said.

“There has to be more of a process than just bringing in an interim station manager” to repair the damaged relationships at WPVM, she added. “I just didn’t want to waste anybody’s time.”

In her statement, Clark recommended five steps to begin fixing the situation:
• 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, asserting that station staff had made three failed attempts “to obtain documentation of station operations—currently known only to a handful of volunteers—in order to make these instructions more widely available.”

He added: “On Feb. 24, we proposed that the suspended volunteers begin documenting their knowledge of station operations as a ‘good faith’ first step toward their return to WPVM. That offer still stands.”

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7 thoughts on “WPVM’s interim station manager quits

  1. Barry Summers

    Kim Clark worried us when she was first brought in by Wally Bowen – I will admit to being one of the ones who saw her as an (unwitting) accomplice to his ego-driven mismanagement of WPVM. However, I hope the record here on this blog will show that I encouraged folks to not be too rough on her, that she will be walking into an untenable situation, and let’s not be radio people turning on each other because of inept managers.

    Well, she showed her true colors. After only two weeks on the job, she saw the truth of it. After what WB told her on her way in, she expected to find a bunch of authority-hating anarchist kids who wanted to play pirate radio. Instead, she found serious, committed people who had been trying their best to keep a community resource alive in the face of a dysfunctional management. (I don’t count myself in that group – I have been largely absent from the station for several months now.) I respect the way she reached out to the volunteers, especially those of us who Wally Bowen tried to eject from the station. She listened to all sides and came to a rational, fair assessment of the situation.

    It’s a telling commentary on MAIN’s management of WPVM, that when this radio professional came to this assessment, she decided that she couldn’t be a part of it. This is the sad legacy of Wally Bowen’s management of WPVM over the years: good people are driven out.

    On her way out, she lauded the volunteers commitment, and begged the Board to recognize that the situation required drastic action to heal the situation, not business as usual.

    Unfortunately, in my assessment, MAIN’s Board is doing the exact opposite. In an emergency meeting after her resignation, they swept aside the last vestige of the barrier between the Executive Director and the radio station, and handed complete authority back to the man that Kim Clark suggested should be kept away from station operations. This abrogates point number 2 from Kim’s suggestions. Their explanation? The Executive Director is not actually involved in day-to-day station operations, HIS EMPLOYEE IS. They’ll behave this way on every single one of her suggestions: give lip service, then do the exact opposite.

    In the immortal words of Richard Pryor, “How long will this b******* go on?”

  2. Rilee

    Forgive me but I just recently moved to Asheville: can someone fill me in on how Bowen was able to “reassert control” of the station? Does the board just lie down and say “Please Wally walk on us”, or does he have some dirt on them to use as blackmail?

  3. Barry Summers

    He threatened to quit, and bring the whole thing crashing down on their heads.

    At least, that’s what some insiders told us at the radio station was going on behind the scenes. It fits – MAIN is scraping by practically month-to-month financially, surviving on grants, and the embarrassing loss of the Executive Director and chief fundraiser would likely doom some of those grants and leave the Board to ride the burning wreckage down the hill to bankruptcy court. (When we went to MAIN’s Board to report two days after the end of our fall fund drive, their financials showed that they were close to going into the red without the money we raised, supposedly for the radio station. In fact, it went to keep the lights on at MAIN until the next grant came through.)

    Out in the open, Bowen was claiming that the Resolution that gave control of the station to a WPVM Subcommittee violated MAIN’s bylaws (even though the September Board specifically said it was intended to supercede those bylaws until a permanent change could be made). In the interim, six Board members resigned in frustration over the ED’s actions, and he was able to convince a new Board to break the previous promise made to us, and give control of the station back to him.

    Sorry way to run an airline, huh?

  4. francois Manavit

    The Laughable board , should not be called a board . It is too much of respect to call it a board.They never show any willing to be called a board . It is simply a backboneless group of friends of Wally Bowen (3 or 4) who will protect him until he used them so hard that they resign ,One by one , realizing the weaknesses and failure of the Wally Bowen “empire “!

  5. the Lark

    I’m a longtime MAIN/WPVM listener and volunteer. I think slowwwwwly but surely the Board is having a wake-up call. The good news is — is that both the MAIN Bd. and the WPVM vols both have a sence of urgency to get things fixed and get some legimate operating structure to keep WPVM on the air. The vols are just tired and want things fixed so we can focus again on providing eclectic, unique, and insightful community-based radio. We so desparately want Operational mgmt., structure, etc. We’ve been using “vounteer band-aids” since last September. This is when our full-time Station Mgr. Jason Holland resigned over his frustration with w/ working under MAIN’s Ex. Director. 6-7 months is a long time for vols to “haul the load” of operating a 24/7 radio station.

    However, now I believe the Bd. also has a sence of urgency to get things fixed. MAIN depends of the “good will of the local community” — this has all but dried up as late as the bad press and truth slowly drips, drips, drips. They obviously tangibily depend on Internet Svc. subscriptions, and most importantly on receiving grants from foundations. Both of these area now have SEVERE risks in my opinion.

    drip, drip, drip.

  6. 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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