I am writing in response to Fred Flaxman’s commentary encouraging the community to oppose our local public-radio station’s license renewal with the Federal Communications Commission (see “Just Say No,” Oct. 19 Xpress).
I would assert that WCQS-FM is our most essential source of information in Western North Carolina. The station covers 12 counties in the region: More than 90,000 people tune in each week to hear NPR news and information, classical music and other programs. This is the biggest audience in the station’s more than 30-year history.
The case that Mr. Flaxman tries to make about the station’s lack of a community advisory board is ancient history. A lot has been accomplished in the past four years, including establishing a CAB. As part of that effort, WCQS surveyed other stations and CABs across the country, and the actual CAB reviewed and provided feedback on the proposed bylaws that were eventually adopted by the full board of directors.
An intentional effort has been made to make sure the CAB established by WCQS reflects the community’s diversity and programming interests. We have members representing the Cherokee, African-American and Hispanic communities, among others.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting audit exonerated WCQS, finding that any previous violations had been fixed. If you are a regular listener to the station, you regularly hear meeting announcements for both the CAB and the full board of directors. The public is invited and encouraged to attend these meetings.
The 18-member board of directors, along with station management and staff, place a high value on community input, and we continue to look for more ways to solicit it. We are currently planning a tour in which staff and CAB members will hold public meetings throughout our listening area. Think of them as town meetings, where listeners can come, ask questions and express their opinions concerning programming. This will also enable station staff to find out what’s really going on in places like Cherokee, Franklin and Burnsville.
For years, listeners have asked for more regional news coverage. This past year, we made a significant investment in a second full-time news person. For the first time, listeners are hearing reports from all over the region — the voices of people in their own community talking about issues that are important to all of us. This is only the start of what we hope will be a vibrant regional news effort that will cut across the landscape of Western North Carolina.
Mr. Flaxman’s final contention — that if WCQS’ license is denied, this community would end up with a better run, more responsive public-radio station — is misinformed. according to our attorney in Washington, the FCC no longer accepts competing applications at renewal time. So instead of WCQS or someone else, the issue is WCQS or nothing. If a successful petition to deny were filed, the WCQS license would not be renewed, but the WCQS frequencies would lie fallow, probably for years, until the FCC opened a new filing window and awarded a license to a new applicant.
WCQS is poised for great growth and service to the residents of Western North Carolina. Denying the station’s license-renewal request would deprive this region of a great journalistic and cultural resource.
— Asheville resident Bryan Smith is the board chair for Western North Carolina Public Radio (WCQS).