Tuesday, February 17, 2009

WPVM Volunteers fired by MAIN's Executive Director

At approx. 5:30 pm tonight, MAIN's Executive Director Wally Bowen picked out nine volunteer leaders and fired them from WPVM. He sent personal emails to each asking them to stay away from the radio station, to allow his newly-hired Interim Station Manager to take over operations.

It's not clear why these nine were singled out; the only unifying characteristic is that they have each challenged the Executive Director's leadership in one way or another over the past six months. These nine represent the bulk of the long-time volunteer leadership of WPVM. In addition to receiving these emails, they were deleted from the station's onair listserve, cutting them off from communicating with the rest of the volunteers.

At the same time, an email was sent to the remaining on-air volunteers, announcing a hastily-called radio staff meeting two days later. The announcement ended with a requirement that volunteers RSVP and state their intention to attend, otherwise they too would be deleted from the onair list, and presumably, from the air as well.

Most of these nine defied the invitation to abandon the radio station they have poured their energy into for years, and instead went on the air with other volunteers to make the case for a genuine community radio station where one man cannot unilaterally throw longtime volunteers off the air on a whim.

Opposition to this arbitrary and unfair act is taking form; stay tuned to this blog for updates, and we invite your comments.


  1. The new Interim Manager only added fuel to the fire. Of all this "Managers" accomplishments, this will be the ultimate "failure".

    In the words of Flounder from "Animal House" , "THIS IS GONNA BE GREAT!!!"


  2. This is unbelieveable. Someone needs to put Wally Bowen in his place immediately and that place needs to be the unemployment line.

  3. After a little rumination, I realize that Mr. Bowen's letter merely needs a little translating. When Bowen writes "cooling off period", he really means "6 weeks of broadcasting disobedience".

    Barry Summers is correct in asserting that Mr. Bowen does not have the authority to fire WPVM volunteers. That decision must come from MAIN's board of directors. Until it does, I urge the volunteers to broadcast on!

  4. First, I confess that I dont know the facts of the current controvesry and can only rely on the complaints I see aired by the volunteers.

    Having worked in various positions (including both volunteer and staff jobs) at various non-profits through the years, it is not unusual for volunteers to have differences with management. Once an organization reaches a certain level, various entities feel a sense of ownership, empowerment, and entitlement to the operational and philosophical direction of the organization.

    In this situation, my impression is that the current founder and executive director has invested over a decade in creating MAIN and it's child, WPVM. Thus I can easily see why he wishes to retain control over it's direction.

    It seems to me that the logical solution is for those volunteers who wish greater control and influence, to create their own radio station. It will take lots of time and hard work and patience...but it's much easier to create such an alternative station now that it was when WPVM and MAIN were created.

    Rather than play the victim card.....or tear down someone else's creation.....do something positive and create an alternative.

  5. Anonymous,

    I think if you examined the by-laws and mission statement of MAIN, and compared them with recent developments, you'd quickly realize that this situation transcends the preservation of the founder's original vision - in fact, Mr. Bowen's recent actions are in direct contradiction of his original vision.

  6. I'm not disagreeing or debating the fact that their may be valid complaints on the part of some volunteers. In fact, I'm sure there are valid differences of opinion.

    I'm sure Mr Bowen had valid complaints with the existing media when he decided to create an alternative radio option (WPVM)....and he created the change he wished to see.

    Rather than continue to "rage against the machine" there comes a time to channel that energy into something postive.....

    There comes a time to "beat the swords into plowshares".....to quit fighting and starting planting seeds for change...

    ....there comes a time to create an alternative radio which fills the vision of the "Gang of Nine".

    I suggest they (and other interested volunteers) sit down and create a vision for a new alternative.


    Move forward......

    It's time for self-empowerment rather than victimization and self-pity.

    It's time take "POSTIVE" action and move beyond "woulda shoulda coulda".

    That's what the progressive movement is all about....creating the world we wish to see.

  7. Anonymous, some of the volunteers asked to go into 'time out' last night have been working to create this radio station for the entire span of its existence, and are at least as much a part of the station's identity and personality as the ED, who has frequently been, IMO, MIA when it comes to guiding the radio station and providing leadership.

    Were there a constant and guiding vision for the station that volunteers could follow, and that vision disagreed with, your points would be grantable. Were the station 'owned' by Mr. Bowen - were he Rupert Murdoch or Jann Wenner, his decisions would have to be accepted as the station would belong to him. As is, MAIN is allegedly a public trust, and too often in the past it has felt like the station has run rudderless, with its ostensible captain only coming from belowdecks when he was displeased with something or thought he spotted a white whale. Let me pause here to cast a sigh of pity for our dear departed Starbuck.

    Some volunteers asked to step away from the radio station were there BEFORE the beginning, were instrumental in helping get MAIN the low power license to begin with. This is not a new thing - the burnt bridges of excellent talent in this town that have given up on WPVM and MAIN is staggeringly long. I weep for the radio station that we could have in Asheville were the ED willing to work with people rather than force people to work 'for' him.

    From my perspective, the ED does not have a vision for the primary thing that concerns the volunteers at the station: content. If you 'read' the confusing power point MAIN 2.0 proposal, and if you follow what he has to say about the volunteer complaints, you will pick up the disturbing thread that he never once mentions WHAT will go on the air, just how it is delivered. This is vision of a sort, but it is not the sort of vision that can sustain a radio station. I think that with MAIN, the media is supposed to be the message, but other than a certain 'out with the corporate media, in with the modern revolutionary style' realization, I have never felt fully informed about what Mr. Bowen's vision for the station would be in terms of SOUND, 24/7. And if, as a volunteer at a radio station, being primarily concerned with the sound of a radio station is, what's one of the other buzzwords, oh yeah, 'silo thinking', then call me corny.

    Basically, the volunteers feel that they should be able to defend their time and energy investment in the station rather than to simply have someone who does not seem to be 'on the ground' making occasional and inviolate decisions about its direction. They are also looking for respect. Civil proposals, attempts at compromise, a genuine desire to 'come to the table' have been expressed on the part of many volunteers instrumental in making this station what it is over the last half decade. They have been refused, denied, and disrespected at every turn. The ED seems to have learned nothing about working with people from this whole fiasco. This is highlighted by the fact that the flashpoint of intitial controversy was the removal of one 'popular' volunteer. He has now removed 9 popular volunteers in an attempt to cool things off. It seems, rather, to have compounded his problems ten times over.

    On the bright side, this is participatory democracy in action, freedom of speech a-go-go, and at least for last night it made for real good radio.

  8. It's obvious that there is much distrust and animosity towards the current founder and director.

    I'm not arguing that the current director is right ...I'm not arguing that the volunteers in question haven't devoted their hearts and energies to making WPVM a great station.

    I just think that at some point we have to face the reality and move forward in a positive direction.

    I'm in favor of folks having opportunities to vent their frustrations...and am happy that this new blog has been created to serve that purpose.

    But we can go on badmouthing and tearing down the current director til the cows come home or we can create the change we want to see.

    I've been told that the volunteers in question have many years of experience and expertise in operating alternative radio stations. So why not put all that expertise to work in building something new.

    How long will linger in negativity, self-pity, and bemoaning "if only Wally would change"....before we get off our butts and be reators....

    Creating alternative media is much simpler now than at anytime in our nations history.

  9. Do you really find this surprising after someone published this absolutely ridiculous and immature post on wpvm.org?

  10. "How long will linger in negativity, self-pity, and bemoaning "if only Wally would change"....before we get off our butts and be reators...."

    Let's say . . . oh . . . six weeks?

    Considering that most volunteers were trying to work the diplomatic angle on this issue, and to present proposals to proper channels, in good faith and hope, for the last six months, rather than airing our grievances in public, and that this blog has been up for about a week now, I'll say that at the moment it's not a bad thing to let them be reactors . . . creators they can be and will be in the future.

  11. Rich, that was a bonehead move, one that was shouted down by any number of PVM's volunteers, including several on the notorious list of nine.

    WPVM's blog page password has been changed, not allowing our hosts to update their regular show blog posts, which is a disservice to our listeners. Perhaps this is the appropriate decision given the recent vandalism to the site, but one should also point out that civil and fact-based posts given from the volunteer perspective were also deleted, leaving only the MAIN voice on the PVM home page, hardly a paradigm of participatory democratic behavior.

  12. Thanks Filth....

    I realize that right now, folks ARE very touchy and nerves are raw......much more so than I first thought.

    The current squabble is nothing new or unique ....it's been going on at WNCW for years now......

    Maybe you're right....maybe I'm being too hasty in calling for more positive creative energy from the disgruntled volunteers.

    I confess that I do tend to be idealistic and overly postive at times....Asheville just has a way of making me beleive that postivity always trumps negativity.

    Maybe now ISN'T the time for "cooling off" OR beginning to think about postive alternatives to WPVM as some of pushed for.

    Maybe now IS the time for venting frustrations, calling for boycotts, continuing to badmouth Mr Bowen, and fighting for change within the current station.

    As I said before, I've not been involved in this flap and "have no horse in the race" other than that of an outside observer and occaisional listener to the station who would like to see WPVM continue.

    I realize that feelings and trust have been bruised and betrayed over the past 6 months....and for some the past 6 years or longer. I realize that old wounds heal slowly and that no one wants to give up their claims on the future of WPVM.

    I AM glad that folks on both sides are so passionate about alternative radio. That's a good sign.

    I realize that some of the volunteers HAVE attempted to work patiently through the board of directors to wrest control from the current ED....and I commend them for their patient professionalism in that regard.

    I'm only an outside observer...and as an outside observer I'm only seeing and hearing from the "anti" faction as they seek to criticize the reputation and hard work that Mr. Bowen has accomplished in the past. (and maybe he deserves to be besmirched..I'm not judging either way)
    Maybe it IS time for Mr Bowen to relinquish his oversight and control and let the volunteers take over.

    I only know that the longer the verbal warfare continues...and moves further into the public arena.....the harder it will be for either side to raise needed funds for alternative media in the future.

    I just hate to see the whole concept of Alternative media in Asheville suffer as the factions continue to dig in, do battle and wage verbal assualts.

    I wish the disgruntled volunteers well in whatever they decide to do and I also wish Kim Clark well in her new position.

    ....and with that I will step back and continue to observe without adding further commment.

  13. The healthy part of this debate that has been obscured is that there really is a distinct difference between what Mr. Bowen is capable of, and what the volunteers are proposing. MAIN's Executive Director is a classic top-down guy; he only knows how to issue directives. His failures at listening, collaboration, trust, trustworthiness, and respect are legendary inside and outside of MAIN/WPVM (all qualities, I would argue, are crucial when dealing with a large volunteer organization.) So naturally, given the tools he has to deal with, he will only accept a model that allows him to personally be in charge of every decision. He doesn't delegate, share, or cede authority.

    The volunteers proposal, "Organizing WPVM", spreads decision-making across a large group of invested volunteers, community leaders, Board members, and yes, the Executive Director. Wally's model collapsed. A top-down corporate model simply won't work if it depends so heavily on free volunteer labor. You have to give people some hope that their ideas and energy will be respected, and that the people who decide what programs go on the air, what editorial policies are in place, etc., are accountable, accessible, and basing their decisions on "what's good for the community".

    Not "What's good for my ego." Sadly, after working closely with Wally Bowen for some time, I have decided that this is the strongest underlying motivation for his decision-making. And if it permeates an organization the way it has at MAIN/WPVM, it will always be a pale imitation of what it could be.

  14. I think Barry gets to the crux of the matter.
    There are differing styles based on differing personalities and life experiences between the director and volunteers.
    I dont think it's reasonable to expect either side to make any significant changes in their positions at this point.
    It's become personal and both sides are dug in.
    The proposal by the volunteers seems reasonable and workable except for the fact that the proposal is in direct opposition to the management style of the current managemment.
    Thus we have reached an impasse....

    Finding a way out is going to be difficult because the battle has become personal.....and because both sides feel deeply that their position is the right course.

    Hopefully the emotions will calm.....folks will cool off.....and small steps toward progress will be made.

    If not....let's ask Obama to send a special envoy down to Asheville to help resolve the conflict.