A.C. Entertainment promoted a festival and a radio station

I’ll have to say that I’m very disappointed by the coverage in Mountain Xpress of the “controversy” surrounding WNCW. While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, when those opinions become allegations of wrongdoing — especially when based on inaccurate and misleading information or a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge about certain issues — they merit more critical scrutiny and analysis than I believe Xpress chose to provide. Certainly the allegations surrounding the Mountain Oasis Music Festival, and the relationship between my company, A.C. Entertainment, and WNCW were way off base. So many allegations, hidden agendas and complex issues exist that it’s virtually impossible to cover all of the bases, but my goal here is to address some key points.

There seems to be a perception that A.C. Entertainment doesn’t pay for underwriting on WNCW and hasn’t supported the station financially. This simply isn’t true. In 1999 alone, we paid more than $16,000 for underwriting on WNCW. In 2000, I think the amount will ultimately be larger. In addition, we’ve provided numerous premiums for fund drives, bringing in additional thousands of dollars in pledges. I would also like to emphasize that our relationship with WNCW goes back a decade and has transcended changes in management throughout the years. This is not, nor has it ever been, a “personality driven” relationship. Bill Bost’s allegations and implications to the contrary are pure nonsense.

It is true that, on occasion, we have received underwriting at no cost on WNCW. This has been in instances where the station has chosen to align itself more directly with an event. In these cases, the station usually receives exposure by having their name and logo appear in paid advertising, as well as receiving the opportunity to have a presence at the event. This is not an unusual arrangement, and it is certainly not unique to WNCW. We have had numerous similar agreements with other radio stations — both commercial and public. There is nothing unethical or illegal about it. Interestingly, Mr. Bost was so concerned about this “unfair” practice that he apparently used this arrangement himself for one of his Acoustic Stage events (the acoustic Hot Tuna concert).

[Editor’s note: Bill Bost admits that he did use the “WNCW Presents” free underwriting option for Acoustic Stage’s Nov. 17 Hot Tuna concert. “I used “WNCW Presents” one time to challenge Mark Keefe on the issue [after learning A.C. Entertainment had received the option for the Mountain Oasis Music Festival],” he told Xpress.]

When we decided (after years of consideration) to produce a music festival in North Carolina, we approached WNCW’s management, told them of our plans, relayed that we would like WNCW to be involved, and offered them the opportunity to tell us how they would like to be involved. There was nothing secretive, nothing clandestine, no backroom deals — just a desire to create a great music festival. After several meetings, WNCW’s management came to us with a proposal: Rather than have the standard underwriting arrangements, they wanted to do something special — something that could accomplish other goals for the station and raise its profile in the region, while engaging their listeners and supporters in a unique and exciting way. While Bill Bost and others may have disagreed with this decision, it was a decision that management was perfectly within its rights to make.

Everyone we worked with at WNCW exhibited complete professionalism and dedication to the station. They were always committed to “doing the right thing” for the station and its listeners. There was never even a hint or suggestion of circumventing rules and regulations, nor of “walking a very fine line.” Seeing the situation portrayed otherwise — by people who weren’t involved at all in the festival — is a true disservice to those who were involved.

Admittedly, the festival was quite a learning experience for everyone involved, and there was some confusion and misunderstanding at various times regarding details of relationships between the various entities. Mr. Bost has attempted to exploit some of this confusion to claim a pattern of wrongdoing.

Personally, I felt that WNCW should share in the profits from the festival and suggested that we try to structure an agreement which would make this possible. However, WNCW management — feeling that this was inappropriate and might create the appearance of a conflict of interest — rejected the idea.

Mr. Bost’s assertion (in his letter to the editor that appeared in Mountain Xpress on Nov. 29) that WNCW purchased tickets to the Mountain Oasis Festival is completely false. Originally, management had felt that they should purchase tickets that were used as premiums during the fund drive. In the end, this didn’t happen. We chose to donate all of those tickets to WNCW, along with numerous others, which they were free to use as station management saw fit. Bill Bost himself used one of these tickets, attending the festival with WNCW’s Linda Osbon.

There was never an interest or an attempt on the part of anyone to mislead the public about WNCW’s Mountain Oasis Music Festival. We named the festival in honor of WNCW and the vital role that it has played in the musical culture of this region. The station wanted the association and felt that they would benefit from it. However, all press releases regarding the festival appeared on A.C. Entertainment stationery. All negotiations with artists and all contracts were with A.C. Entertainment. If some people were under the impression that this was a “benefit” for WNCW, I’m sorry.

We did not attempt to use or exploit WNCW’s nonprofit status. We paid sales tax and other taxes, just like any other for-profit company.

Contrary to Bill Bost’s claims, I’m unaware of one dime that WNCW spent in the production of the Mountain Oasis Music Festival. I paid the bills, and I know. WNCW did offer some in-kind services for promotion, in return for having their name associated with the event. This is a very standard arrangement, and again, one which they requested. They did pay the costs of their hospitality tent, which they used to entertain their underwriters and supporters, but they paid no festival expenses.

Again, contrary to Mr. Bost’s claims, not a single member of WNCW asked for or received compensation in producing the festival.

I do not believe that FCC or IRS rules and guidelines were violated in regard to the Mountain Oasis Music Festival. Furthermore, the FCC and IRS are perfectly capable of conducting their own investigations into the issue. The community does not need Bill Bost to serve as judge and jury in these matters.

Throughout his campaign, the rhetoric of Mr. Bost and his followers has been characterized by poorly informed opinion and careless innuendo. His ironically named Web site, “icareaboutwncw” (shades of Orwell — remember “war is peace” and “freedom is slavery”?) purports to offer a dialogue about these issues, but he apparently edits and censors commentary that threatens to undermine his cause.

I would like to encourage Mountain Xpress and its readers to pay critical attention to what is going on here. This is not a purely spontaneous, grassroots reaction to WNCW policies. It is being carefully and relentlessly orchestrated by Bill Bost. It is naive to assume that he, and the small group of former and current staff members who have supported him, don’t have agendas themselves and are selflessly dedicated to nothing more than creating a better radio station. Be careful. Assume nothing. Take a hard, critical look. And take the time to discover the facts.

As for Phil Edgerton’s comments in his letter to the editor that appeared in Mountain Xpress on Nov. 29, I might note that — regardless of whatever “rumors” he may have heard about “former organizers of the Black Mountain Festival’s” involvement in the Mountain Oasis Music Festival — he might perhaps take the time to ask about it if he really wants to know the truth. We attempted to draw upon as much experience and expertise as we could in producing the Mountain Oasis Festival. Some of the people we consulted had worked on the Black Mountain Music Festival, the Lake Eden Arts Festival and other festivals throughout the area. However, no one responsible for the problems associated with the Black Mountain Music Festival had anything to do with Mountain Oasis.

This whole situation is unfortunate, in large part because a very small group of people has been allowed to overshadow what should be an ongoing celebration of WNCW’s tremendous success. The station has been nationally recognized as “the best” in its category by its peers at the national Gavin convention. The same organization has recognized Mark Keefe as Program Director of the Year and Armando Bellmas as Music Director of the Year. WNCW’s listeners, who have continually supported the station during the membership drives, delivered the station its most successful fund drive yet in early October.

I agree that public input is indeed important to a public-radio station, but there’s a difference between having input and having decision-making power. Public input must be given consideration, and ultimately weighed against the big picture. Many complex challenges face public radio. The ways in which public radio is funded, and the rules under which it operates, have undergone many changes during the past decade. And, as is the case with other media, radio is facing new technologies — especially Internet radio and satellite radio.

The management of WNCW has made bold, strong moves to meet some of these challenges. Are they making everyone happy? Of course not. How could they? As a wise man once observed, “You can’t make all the people happy all the time.” Ultimately, management must be free to make decisions based on the overall best interests of the organization — planning for circumstances, conditions and events that their listeners have no way of anticipating. Bill Bost and a few others seem to confuse not getting their own way with not having input.

WNCW has a tremendously loyal audience that continues to support the station and recognize it as the tremendous asset to the community that it is. These are the people who really care about WNCW. They shouldn’t be overshadowed by a small but loud and persistent group of malcontents.

A.C. Entertainment, in addition to promoting concerts throughout the Southeast, has worked with numerous nonprofit organizations to provide services and management expertise — including the United Way, Community Shares, the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, various hospital foundations, colleges and universities, and public-radio stations. In addition, Ashley Capps has served as a staff member at WUOT-FM, the University of Tennessee’s public-radio station, for more than 27 years.


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