Asheville's high-power public-radio station, WCQS-FM, has applied to the Federal Communications Commission to renew its license. If granted, it will be eight years before the license comes up for renewal again. So if anyone feels the station hasn’t served the community as well as it should have during the eight-year period that ends Dec. 1, now’s the time to speak up. Same goes for those who are pleased with the station’s record.
Let's take a look at that record.
On the plus side, WCQS stands out as the only Asheville-based station broadcasting many hours of classical music every day, some of it presented live or recorded by local musicians. The station also broadcasts NPR news programs, the BBC World Service, weather forecasts throughout the day and limited local-news coverage. It covers the local arts-and-culture scene extensively and provides in-season reports on what's available at local farmers markets each week. In short, there’s no denying that this public-radio station is very important to our community.
But it’s equally clear that, over the last decade, WCQS has not been very responsive to the community it’s licensed to serve. Consider the following evidence, most of which concerns the station’s legally required community advisory board:
1. The station violated federal law for 13 years by not having an active CAB. This is an important way to get community feedback and advice concerning programming and to ensure that the station is meeting the community’s needs.
2. During that period, the station falsely certified each year that it was in compliance with all federal and Corporation for Public Broadcasting regulations in order to obtain CPB grants.
3. Upon investigation, the corporation also found that WCQS was not in compliance with other rules and regulations, such as providing adequate public notice of its board meetings.
4. When the violation of federal law was pointed out, the station took a year to put a CAB in place. And to ensure that it wouldn’t be truly independent, as required, the then station manager wrote bylaws stipulating that the board of trustees must approve the CAB’s members and that the group must meet only twice a year — the bare minimum requirement.
5. The CAB is tightly controlled to make sure no critics of the station, its programming or its policies are appointed. I’ve seen no evidence of CAB members’ willingness to criticize the station, either in my email contact with them or at the meetings I’ve attended.
6. As if to prove that WCQS still has no interest in consulting with its community advisory board, its new station manager recently made major, unpopular program decisions — including eliminating all its half-hour weekly local programs — without even informing the CAB until after the fact.
7. No fully independent local producers of radio programming serve on the CAB, and as far as I can tell, the station doesn’t broadcast any such programs. Two producers have told me the station ignored their proposals. Many public-broadcasting stations rightly encourage local independent production, trying out programs locally and, when they’re of national interest, offering to share them through a national network of public broadcasting stations. WCQS doesn’t do this.
8. During my five years here, I’ve received many requests to donate to the station but never a proper listener survey. Using the Internet, this can be easily done at no cost to the station. WCQS’ failure to do this is one more indication that they’re not interested in the opinions of the public they’re supposed to serve.
9. I’ve seen no evidence that WCQS pays much attention to listener requests in deciding which programs to broadcast. This is yet another indication that the station is run by a clique that’s uninterested in ideas and suggestions originating elsewhere.
So does WCQS deserve to have its license renewed? Or should that license, instead, go to a new local public-broadcasting organization that’s truly interested in operating the station legally and is much more responsive to the needs of the community it’s supposed to serve?
I'm forming an ad hoc group, Citizens for Responsive Public Radio, which will file a formal petition before the end of this month asking the FCC to deny WCQS’ license-renewal application. The goal is to end up with a better-run, more responsive public-radio station using the same facilities, broadcasting the same superb NPR news programs and improved local programming, but with a new governing board, management and an open-to-all community advisory board. If you agree, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll add your name to the petition.
— Retired public-broadcasting executive Fred Flaxman lives in Weaverville. His independently produced classical-music program, Compact Discoveries, is aired on public-radio stations in the U.S. and beyond, including WPVM-FM in Asheville.