WNCW controversy rolls on

The controversy over public-radio station WNCW took another twist this month, with two major developments that could affect the overall direction of the station.

General Manager DeLane Davis turned in her resignation on Dec. 12, and an interim manager is now running the popular station, licensed by Isothermal Community College in Spindale.

That same day, outspoken Hickory resident Bill Bost filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over alleged improprieties in WNCW’s activities.

ICC President Dr. Willard L. Lewis said Davis’ last official day will be Jan. 2, although she’s no longer working at the station.

In the meantime, ICC Director of Administrative Services Steven Matheny is serving as interim general manager — a position he’ll keep until a new person is hired, according to Lewis.

Lewis says he understands that Davis’ departure is due to “other professional opportunities that she has chosen to pursue.”

The college president says he wasn’t really surprised by Davis’ resignation.

“I’m just really rather neutral,” he commented. “I can’t say that I’m surprised. I know she had been thinking about other things. She was with the college for [many] years as a full-time employee, and had performed well in a variety of other capacities and did so with the radio station for the bulk of her career.”

Davis says the recent controversy had nothing to do with her resignation.

“I have a couple other job offers and I’m pursuing those because they look pretty good, so that’s why I went ahead and resigned,” she revealed.

The jobs (neither of which is in broadcasting) open up in March, Davis says, so she’s able take some time off — something she hasn’t had much of in her 11 years working at the college. She started off in the Human Resources Department and served as WNCW’s development director before becoming general manager in February 1998.

She’s taking vacation time until Jan. 2, when she’ll return to work her last day.

Davis feels she accomplished a lot in her time at WNCW. Five years ago, 60 percent of the station’s funding came from government; today, that figure has been reduced to 40 percent, she notes. In addition, WNCW now boasts 120,000 listeners.

“It’s just a fabulous station,” Davis exclaimed. “I still love it; I still feel very, very good about the station.”

Meanwhile, Ken Scheibel — an attorney in the Investigations and Hearings Division of the FCC’s enforcement bureau in Washington — confirmed that the FCC had received an e-mailed complaint.

“We’re evaluating the complaint,” notes Scheibel, an expert in public-radio underwriting rules.

Typically, the FCC considers complaints before deciding whether to launch an inquiry. That would involve requesting a response from the licensee and a rebuttal from the original complainant — a process that could take six to nine months, FCC sources say. The base fine for an underwriting violation (one of Bost’s allegations) is $2,000.

Bost’s complaint raises the same concerns he has expressed publicly. [See Xpress, Nov. 15, “Broadcast static.”] The bulk of his criticism has centered on the station’s role in the Mountain Oasis Music Festival. He and others have complained that the station misrepresented the festival as a benefit for WNCW when, in fact, all profits went to A.C. Entertainment, the for-profit producer of the event. He also charges that A.C. Entertainment benefited from the station’s nonprofit status through WNCW’s promotion of the festival.

But A.C. Entertainment President Ashley Capps says the allegations about his company and WNCW are “way off base.” [See his commentary, “A.C. Entertainment promoted a festival and a radio station,” Dec. 13, Xpress.] Program Director Mark Keefe also has stated that both the radio station and A.C. Entertainment got what they wanted out of the festival. For WNCW, that included boosting the station’s profile and building its mailing list.

Although Bost’s FCC complaint centers on the Mountain Oasis Festival issues, he also alleges that items that were supposed to be in the station’s “public file” weren’t there when he checked on Oct. 3 and 4. In addition, he complains that the station inconsistently charges promoters who pay to have concerts listed in the on-air calendar.

On Nov. 14, Bost and his supporters took their concerns to the Isothermal Community College Board of Trustees, who reaffirmed that the station’s management is ultimately Lewis’ domain. [See Xpress, Nov. 22, “WNCW rumbles continue.”].

Bost says he felt he had no choice but to file the complaint, because WNCW and ICC had “every opportunity” to disprove his claims, and he wasn’t getting answers. After failing to receive copies of documents he’d requested from the college — which he felt were key to proving his contentions — Bost says he asked for them again and was told that copying fees had increased from 10 cents to 25 cents per copy — a price he says he couldn’t afford. Correspondence from ICC’s Sam Craig, which Bost included in his FCC complaint, says the college wasn’t trying to dissuade Bost or others from making copies, but that it was trying to make a reasonable effort to recoup costs, because the last time they’d made copies for Bost, they’d had to hire extra workers. Craig also noted that Bost had requested copies of material given to the college’s communications attorney, which Craig said is protected by attorney/client privilege and is not a matter of public record.

“I felt that if WNCW’s involvement in the Mountain Oasis Music Festival was legal and appropriate, then why shouldn’t the FCC settle this disagreement?” Bost explained. “The defiant attitude that emanated from WNCW and Isothermal Community College management left me and our group no choice but to involve the authorities who are empowered to uncover what I believe to be the truth.”

Other members of his group also intend to file complaints, says Bost.

Lewis said he wasn’t sure what documents Bost has been able to get, adding, “To my knowledge, we’ve been forthcoming.

“With respect to the FCC, if they choose to investigate us, we’ll cooperate fully,” continued Lewis.

He noted that the station had consulted a lawyer specializing in FCC law, and college officials concluded that they had followed the law.

“That does not eliminate the difference of opinions with all parties,” Lewis acknowledges.

If the FCC finds that WNCW hasn’t been in compliance with the law, Lewis says he’d like to know that, so he can address those concerns. He went on to say that he couldn’t respond to Bost’s reasons for filing the FCC complaint.

“He believes one thing to be the truth, and I obviously don’t share that opinion in all things,” Lewis said, going on to note that the college is moving ahead on several initiatives he informed the Board of Trustees about in November. Those include hiring a mediator, who arrived the week of Dec. 18 to work with WNCW staff members during a two-day workshop on interpersonal team-building skills.

In addition, radio-station employees are reviewing existing policies and are being encouraged to suggest revisions, Lewis says. After the first of the year, a committee of trustees and listeners will work on WNCW’s mission statement. Lewis also reports that in the spring, he wants to develop some way to solicit public input.

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