To the editors:
As a longtime business associate of WFMT, I read your cover story on the station [March 20] with interest.
I don't think Mr. McClory adequately answered all the questions he posed in his third paragraph. But this is understandable. Possessing as I do a thorough knowledge of WFMT's internal personality, I find that it is much easier to understand than to talk about. It is a quirky place. But classical music and creative radio are full of brilliant eccentrics and probably necessarily so. It comes with the territory. Smooth out the wrinkles and you get homogenized culture--safe, easy to digest, impotent, boring, but with elegant ledger sheets.
Whether or not Nordstrand's management style hurt the station, no one can doubt his courage, commitment, imagination, sensitivity to the station's mission and the tension of strong personalities that are necessary to realize the mission, incredible salesmanship, and loyalty to his colleagues and subordinates. He's more an entrepreneur than a team player, but can and has played the corporate game when he's had to. His is a very special kind of genius, something you don't find around the house. A station such as WFMT requires a special genius such as Nordstrand's.
The danger to the station, as I see it, is not WTTW's insincerity or secret designs. But, should it adopt a homogenized corporate approach, WFMT will become a fogy. An unprofitable fogy, at that. If there were some conspiracy at Channel 11 to derail and sell the station for a huge profit, there is only one way to circumvent public pressure: run the station into the ground through bland leadership. And then, after it's become a liability, it will only be responsible and protective of the parent organization to sell.
By following the rules, no one could fault WTTW for the way it ran WFMT, nor for having to sell when playing by the numbers fails to work. The parent gets a fat endowment from the sale without tarnishing its escutcheon. Meanwhile, Nordstrand and Program Manager Norm Pellegrini join me on the bread line, Studs has to pack up his cuspidor, and "fine arts radio" is left to WNIB and WBEZ, such as they are.
Because this scenario may come to pass intentionally or unintentionally, McCarter's and Wilcox's intentions are immaterial. As they have been somewhat circumspect in laundering 'FMT's sox in public, maybe they should be given the benefit of the doubt. They may sincerely want to stabilize the radio subsidiary, or wish to make it a satellite operation, much as Boston's mediocre WGBH radio is a beleaguered stepchild of WGBH television. It makes no difference. What is of paramount importance is their management style vis-a-vis that which the Jacobses gave birth to and that which Nordstrand and Pellegrini have made the finest of its kind. External pressure and internal Sturm und Drang notwithstanding, I think that, as far as their ability to oversee WFMT is concerned, the final score's not in yet.
For that matter, Nordstrand isn't dead yet. Or even out for the count.