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.