Just say yes

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).

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4 thoughts on “Just say yes

  1. Fred Flaxman

    I only wish it were true that the station’s lack of a Community Advisory Board (CAB) was “ancient history.” It is true that they have a group that meets for lunch twice a year which they call a “community advisory board.” It is also true that when I moved to the Asheville area five years ago (hardly “ancient history”), the station had no CAB in place and hadn’t for more than a decade. I single-handedly forced them to obey the law and put one in place. But a Community Advisory Board that is not asked for advice is a CAB in name only. And only last February (hardly “ancient history”) WCQS management made major program changes, such as dropping all half-hour, local public affairs programs, without so much as informing their CAB, not to mention asking its advice.

    To make matters worse, this was accomplished dictator-style by a new station manager who had just moved here from Vermont. What utter arrogance to drop these programs from the schedule when she didn’t know the needs or desires of her new community and didn’t even consult with the station’s CAB to find out. That’s precisely what a CAB is for and why the law requires all community-licensed public broadcasting stations to have one. Nor did the station conduct a survey of listeners, or do any other kind of public ascertainment of this community’s opinions about these programs before they were dropped. This is supposed to be public radio, after all.

    What good does it do to make sure that “the CAB established by WCQS reflects the community’s diversity and programming interests,” if you don’t consult with them before making major program changes?

    By the time the Corporation for Public Broadcasting completed its investigation of WCQS, the station had put a CAB in place, physically, at least, but not mentally. The proof of the pudding is that the station’s managers did not even think of asking the Community Advisory Board for its advice before making drastic changes to the broadcast schedule.

    If WCQS loses its license, 88.1 on the FM dial in Asheville, which is reserved for noncommercial, educational use, will be available, as well as the other reserved noncommercial frequencies on which the station broadcasts outside of Asheville. I would ask the FCC to give a temporary extension of the license to WCQS to operate the station until another nonprofit, locally-based, public broadcasting organization could be established to take it over.

    However, none of this would be necessary or desirable if WCQS would just behave like a public radio station should!

    The Ad-hoc Committee for Responsive Public Radio, which submitted the petition to deny WCQS’s license renewal to the FCC with 30 signatures of discontented local listeners, had a list of criticisms of the station which could all be addressed positively without any cost at all to WCQS. If the station opened up its CAB to anyone who wanted to join, and met four times a year instead of twice (with no free lunch served, so as not to increase costs); if the management sought the Community Advisory Board’s advice before making program changes; if the station opened its airwaves to professionally-produced public radio programs by local, independent producers; if they conducted surveys via the internet to find out how well they were serving their community’s needs; if they responded positively to listener requests when they were made by many listeners; and if they produced local, half-hour public affairs programs following NPR’s All Things Considered (ATC) each evening that covered the local scene as well as ATC covers the nation and the world, the Ad-hoc Committee for Responsive Public Radio would have nothing to complain about and no reason to challenge WCQS’s license.

    But first WCQS has to be willing to admit its mistakes, instead of defending them, and to hire managers who understand the mission of public radio and who work with, rather than against the public, to carry the mission out. If WCQS were as good at making friends as they seem to be at making enemies of people who love and support public broadcasting, they would surely bring in more money in and out of their on-air drives in a shorter period of time than they do now. And no one would be challenging their license renewal.

    Fred Flaxman, Organizer
    The Ad-hoc Committee for Responsive Public Radio

  2. Mary Hall Rodman

    I was disturbed by the wholesale ending of local programming. The “local news” that WCQS uses is recorded and replayed for many days. Not a replacement for our live shows with, for example, Peter Loewer. Or those very interesting discussions concerning local weather patterns.

  3. Daniel Moore

    After 4 years WCQS is only now “currently PLANNING a tour”. Strange feeling being threatened by your own public service station – “…WCQS or nothing”.

  4. Gail Jolley

    I agree with Mary Hall Rodman about the cancellation of local programming at WCQS. They have replaced this great and popular local programming with syndicated programming that is of absolutely no interest to me and probably not to others either. But I get the impression they don’t care. They have a database of subscribers; why don’t they use this database to elicit opinions about programming? Why don’t they put together a survey to gauge the opinions of their listeners? Why don’t they respond to emails? I have complained about their program changes via email directly to them, but I never received a single reply. That is certainly not very neighborly of them, nor is it indicative that they care what their listeners think. I would like to see a change in management at WCQS that would engage in a meaningful dialog with their listeners as well as potential listeners. Because of the current board’s refusal to enter into a dialog, I have ceased donating. I am not going to pay for what I don’t want.

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