To the editors:
Your story on the recent massacre at WBEZ [Hot Type, November 26] impelled me to go to that station's board meeting on December 2. It was a highly educational experience. The board members were all unanimously supportive of programming director Torey Malatia's proposed and already implemented programming changes. This may have been a purely Darwinian unanimity--at least one of the board members who opposed those changes has reportedly been dropped from the board.
The meeting had been announced on the air several times, and drew 30 or 35 listeners--a number which seemed to surprise the board members. Evidently they're not accustomed to having much of any listener attendance at board meetings.
And the listeners--including such eminences as folksinger Jamie O'Reilly--were unanimously against Malatia's changes. Many of them pointed to the "mission statement" and "goals" the board had laboriously cranked out over the past few months, which included emphasis on "innovation," "local programming," and "culture"--and stated that Stuart Rosenberg's programs had been in the forefront in all those categories. One pointed to a "goal" of directing music programming toward the tastes of news/information listeners, and asked whether that meant "music for people who don't like music." Malatia, of course, emphatically denied that charge.
Malatia's only substantive response to the objections was to say that an organism must change or die (he came fairly close to quoting Bill Clinton on the subject), and that everything has its life cycle (he had the grace not to quote Ecclesiastes or Peter Seeger on that subject.) That rationale, of course, would be equally relevant if invoked by Jeffrey Dahmer.
There are other schedule changes slated to begin in January, including the elimination of the Sunday morning rebroadcast of Prairie Home Companion and two more folk-music programs and moving the Celtic folk-music program Thistle & Shamrock to 5 AM Sunday morning. (One listener, with a pronounced brogue, said, "The only Celts I know who are up at that hour haven't gone home yet.") But Malatia urges us to "watch this space," that there will be new and as yet unheralded music programming going on the air in January. Which may, of course, be his way of giving himself room to back down if the response gets too hot and heavy.
No one would respond to questions about whether Linda Paul had resigned in protest after Stuart Rosenberg was fired, or whether Mara Tapp, who has been off the air for the past week, is really on vacation.
Another listener cited the experience of WFMT, which also ran afoul of a devout and determined listenership. "We won't just cancel our subscriptions and slip away," he predicted. "We'll organize." When a committee report was given about such "outreach events" as the public appearances of Garrison Keillor and Michael Feldman, it became apparent that the "outreach event" that would have the most appeal to the listeners present would be a pie-throwing with Malatia as the target of choice. I suspect this story will not go away for a while.
Marian Henriquez Neudel