I love community radio

I’ve been volunteering with WPVM for the past four years, producing and hosting a freeform music program and assisting fellow volunteers with behind-the-scenes work as well. I’ve dedicated well over 1,000 volunteer hours—joyfully—because I’m proud of what WPVM is and excited about its potential.

I love diverse music programming, alternative news sources and hearing local voices presenting varying ideas. I love community radio. And my primary motivation for speaking out now is to do my part in attempting to solve WPVM’s problems. I also want to speak up for the volunteers who’ve either been fired or banned from the station.

I was very excited to become involved with WPVM back in 2005. And I was impressed with Wally Bowen, the executive director who founded MAIN (the Mountain Area Information Network) in 1996 and launched WPVM (103.5 FM—the Progressive Voice of the Mountains) in 2004. We became friends.

But Bowen’s controversial decision last year in firing longtime WPVM volunteer Gillian Coates upset many on our staff. And soon after, Jason Holland, WPVM’s station manager for five years, resigned, saying he could no longer work under the ED’s direction. The station then scraped by due to the initiative and efforts of volunteers who handled the vital aspects of WPVM’s operation: managerial, programming, fund-drive and others—all only weeks before our critical fall fund drive.

During that fund drive—our most successful in history—we probably averaged 50 hours of work per person. The amount of work for our managerial committee has been even greater. Ironically, many of these key volunteers are the ones who’ve recently been either fired or banned by the ED.

In September, MAIN’s board of directors released a public statement just weeks after the successful fund drive, saying, in essence, that MAIN’s ED would no longer be involved with the daily operations at WPVM. In November, the ED announced that the board’s September statement was no longer valid and he would again direct operations and decisionmaking.

The board of directors of a nonprofit organization is supposed to have ultimate authority. But as this drama has dragged on, we’ve had several board members resign—some of whom attended WPVM’s monthly staff meetings and began to learn the real story. But those sympathetic to the volunteers’ frustrations are squeezed out, and the ED is the primary person choosing replacements. This seems to be the crux of the problem. With the high turnover, the board can accomplish nothing substantial, and the new members only get to hear one side of the story. The volunteers are painted as unreasonable people who “don’t see the big picture of MAIN.”

As we’ve stumbled along, our managerial committees have proposed numerous operational models based on other successfully functioning community-radio stations. The ED has refused—and won’t allow the board—to even consider these models, yet has not proposed any models himself.

The latest controversy is the director’s recent announcement of hiring an interim station manager (for six to eight weeks) and his suspension of nine volunteers from WPVM for six weeks. He says “they are welcome to reapply” after six weeks, but he couldn’t give a process for doing so.

The individuals banned are thoughtful, hard-working volunteers who only want the best for WPVM. Is this “divide and conquer” tactic supposed to create so much chaos that the only solution is to wipe the slate clean?

— Scott Sessoms

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