CORRECTION: An article in last week’s Xpress, “WPVM Starts from Scratch,” incorrectly described action taken by the MAIN board, which holds the license for WPVM. The board made a statement regarding the governing structure of the station, but did not formally approve a resolution regarding the matter.
Following months of rancor, WPVM, Asheville's low-power FM community radio station, recently announced changes both in its programming and in the way it works with volunteers.
The changes have meant that many of the station's volunteers and most of its local programming have left the station, which is housed in the Vanderbilt Apartments in downtown Asheville. Volunteers who have left say they were driven away.
But Executive Director Wally Bowen of the Mountain Area Information Network, says the changes were needed so the station could meet its strategic vision. MAIN, a nonprofit Internet service provider, holds the broadcast license to WPVM, and Bowen has overseen the station.
The strife at the station began last fall and has centered on a debate about how WPVM should be governed. Some volunteers complained about Bowen's management, but he says he was acting in the station’s best interest.
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.
A paid manager runs the station. In May, Bowen hired audio-studio owner Bruce Sales as interim manager, and the station spent about $6,000 upgrading studio equipment. Sales owns 2BruceStudio in Asheville.
Sales replaced Kim Clark, a former station manager at popular public-radio station WNCW. Clark quit two weeks after Bowen hired her in late February to help get WPVM back on track.
Her arrival was heralded as the first step in easing the impasse between station management and volunteers. Clark said at the time that she’d been through similar tensions at her former station and believed she could help WPVM improve internal communications as well as general operations.
But she said the problems at WPVM were so deep that they required immediate action before any progress could be made.
Earlier this year, Bowen asked several volunteers to stay away from the station to allow for a "cooling-off period." He has since established a new application process for volunteers that "will emphasize MAIN's overall media-reform work and strategic vision," he noted in a post on the WPVM Web site.
"To this end, we are committed to doing a much better job in providing orientation for new volunteers. Similarly, we will be more selective in choosing volunteers to ensure a better fit between MAIN's strategic vision and a volunteer applicant's interests and abilities," Bowen wrote.
He also instituted contracts for producers of local programming.
In terms of programming, Bowen wrote that WPVM will place a stronger emphasis on news and public affairs, while music programming "will be more strategic — and community-oriented — to reflect the vibrant and eclectic music scene in and around Asheville."
Longtime WPVM volunteers see the changes as heralding nothing less than the death of a community radio station. Barry Summers, a former WPVM volunteer writing on the blog www.wpvm.blogspot.com said the latest actions appear "to finally close the door on any hope that WPVM will become the station we were striving to make it."