WMNF in Tampa at Critical Moment

Save WMNF Community Radio Station-Status March 12, 2022

WMNF Historical Background

A report by Alvaro Montealegre

WMNF was created in 1979 by a group of activists that included Rob Lorei. They went door-to-door asking for donations from the community for a radio station that did not yet exist and for radio services that most felt they could get for free. Enough people believed in the idea and they were able to raise the money to hire a tiny staff and to pay the initial costs of going on the air. Great personal risks were also taken by the people erecting the first antenna, including Rob who tied a cable to the massive structure and to the axle of his car and slowly drove away till the antenna became vertical. If it had fallen, people could have been seriously hurt or worse.

According to Rob and pictures showing some of the people at the time, there were Black and Latino member/volunteers involved from the very beginning of WMNF. Also, 20 years ago, a mural was painted by Anamaria Vazquez on a wall of the old small building that first housed WMNF on the present lot. The mural still stands today. It tells the story of WMNF in painting. It includes people and the revolutionary principles that united them.

The Station first functioned from the second floor of a house where a bathtub served as the music library. It later moved to a room in a church, then to a small cottage in the present lot and around 2005, under the direction of Vicky Santa, then General Manager, they moved into the brand-new building she had designed. Along also came state of the art equipment. Upon moving into the new headquarters, the Program Director at the time cancelled a great deal of the non-White shows and thus started the path that has brought us to the present crisis.

In 2010 he penned an email attacking Sunday programming, a bastion of Black shows which had been segregated to evenings and Sunday, calling them “special interest” and accusing them of being the reason many “core audience” members forget to tune in on Mondays. He, four years later, sent an email with a wish list/proposal that included eradicating News and Public Affairs, Diversity, Peace and Social Justice, as principles, and his interest to institute restricted/controlled playlists, thus taking away creative freedom from the DJs. A few months later I would be suspended from the Station for a year for “violating the email lists protocol.” I was the only person writing emails to everyone@wmnf.org opposing the position taken by the PD, calling for the integration of the staff, the Board of Directors and programming, and I had complained publicly that the Volunteer Coordinator, was blocking African American prospective control board operators from getting trained; I was in charge of teaching them the use of the Board. At that time, I had six control board operators trained and certified by the Society of Broadcast Engineers. They and myself were the only people at WMNF to be certified at the time. As far as I know, not one person at the Station is certified today.

In the year that I was suspended, all of the Black and Latino board operators were ousted. Today, all of the board operators are White, as is most of the staff, the hosts of shows during the day, and the administration and the Board of Directors. Integration is a painful process because the “leadership” rejects it, the conservatives are organized and positioned in spots of decision making, the progressives are disorganized and inactive politically, the liberals accommodate to the racism, and Blacks and People of Color are quiet.

Five years ago a new General Manager was hired. The Program Director had a welcoming party for the new GM at his house. Rob Lorei of course was not there and neither were many people who would have been, had it been held at a neutral place where they could attend. A strong bond was evident between the clique and the new GM.  On his third day on the job, the GM disrespectfully and needlessly excoriated Rob loudly so we all could hear; clearly, the General Manager had come in with an agenda that coincided with the plan the clique had. Three years ago, the clique with the then General Manager fired Rob Lorei, and cancelled the Latino music show from the main channel and moved it to an HD channel. But, their plan was foiled by the hundreds of WMNFrs and RadioActivists who came out to protest and complain at a meeting with the GM. Thousands of members stopped listening and withheld their donations, and soon Rob was rehired and the GM resigned.

Again, contrary to the progressives, the racists and their allies continued to be organized, they brought in a new manager also in cahoots and willing to go further than those before him in trashing the community aspect of WMNF. When it came time for program schedule changes, he followed the script and cut News and Public Affairs by 25%, fired Rob again, forced out the Indigenous show, and cut Latinos from daytime programming (Latino54 had been brought back through pressure — then they cut it again), cancelled the Black/Latino news and talk, moved the Sunday Forum, the only Black talk show then, to a time that conflicted with people going to church, thus dislocating its audience, and instituted The Music Matrix, a strict implementation of Restricted/Controlled playlists. This time the pandemic was in their favor and they took extremely unfair advantage of it, prohibiting meetings and silencing all dissent and complaints by keeping them all off of the air, out of programmers and internal discussions, and ignoring all other criticisms.

Early on, I started to write emails to all programmers at the Station unmasking and confronting the ill-thought process. We were able to gain the support of the NAACP and other community groups, saved the Sunday Forum and stopped the clique’s plan to move all non-White programming into an HD channel, much as went on at KPFT-Houston at exactly the same time. Soon enough, I was again expelled for a year for “violating the email lists protocol” when I exposed information to all programmers at WMNF of an offensive email sent to me, that also revealed part of the clique’s plans. They wanted me to keep the email information to myself.

In our fightback, we have held several public meetings that have been well attended and supported. In response to community pressure, we have seen the clique raising a façade of progressivism but not roll back the nefarious changes.

Having heard Mimi Rosenberg on WBAI for 30 years and having deep respect for her devoted work on behalf of working people and the poor, I contacted her and she put us, Save WMNF Community Radio, in touch with the wonderful group Pacifica Fightback and that is how we are here today, making unity with radio station activists and others in different states to share ideas and information that can help us defend our radio stations, and the treasures they constitute, to make them serve the people not the corporations and not the hateful and racist conservative cliques that have taken some of them over.



Facebook.com/ SaveWMNFCommunityRadio

WMNF is in the greatest crisis it has seen since its inception. It is a self-inflicted economic down-turn but also a great membership loss, and most importantly, it is a crisis of legitimacy. Since the recent changes, attributed to Rick, the just departed General Manager, the Station has turned off and turned away a large and devoted part of its membership and supporters and thousands of its regular listeners and financial supporters.

And, while Rick, as a front for the ill-conceived changes had many people in doubt, today, months later, we see that none of the decisions that were said to have been made by him, have been rolled back, vindicating the position of some of us who see that they were part of the plan, by Randy Wynn, the then-Program Director of WMNF, concocted in 2014 and which is now in a higher stage of implementation.

Tampa Bay Caribbean Carnival — why purge the programmers of color in a multi-cultural community?

Right-wing forces at WMNF were allowed to take hold without being confronted and sometimes with support even when they were making their nefarious plans on paper, on emails, and openly, at least to Station insiders. A total lack of political discussion, an interest in becoming “legitimate” and respected, and a great fear of the economic situation, lent themselves to a very quickly and haphazardly carried-out coup. For that reason, many people who never questioned WMNF’s management’s decisions, now started to publicly express concern and contradiction with them.

The present crisis has its roots over 10 years ago when in 2010, an email written by the previous Program Director attacked Sunday programming, which was a stronghold of Black shows, since practically none were heard during daytime weekday programming. He called Sunday shows “special interest” and said that many “core audience” members tuned out and forgot to tune back in on Mondays.

That was followed in 2014 by an email answered below and saying:

Changes planned for WMNF

FromAlvaro netstar53@aol.com hide details
ToEveryone Everyone@WMNF.org, Randy Randy@WMNF.ORG, joellen joellen@wmnf.org

Hi Everyone:

The following excerpt of an email sent by Randy on 8/29/2014, says what should be of concern to all of us:

“So while a Triple A format is beckoning I feel plenty of barriers at WMNF. Having 5 different volunteer programmers on a strip. Commitment remains to news and public affairs. The ideals of diversity and peace and social justice.”

In the quote above, Randy thinks we have too many volunteer programmers; he has said at meetings that he prefers paid programmers. He feels that listener support and commitment to news and public affairs is a barrier to growth and progress for the Station, and he as well sees the ideals of diversity and peace and social justice to be in the way of the direction he would like to take with WMNF.

WMNF is increasingly out of touch with the community it’s supposed to serve,

I wholeheartedly and respectfully disagree and I am sure you do too. I think we need both growth and our continued commitment to our Mission which is centered on diversity and peace and social justice. And, News and Public Affairs, including the political programs have educated us and thousands of people in our listening area; a service we alone provide. If we follow Randy’s stated plan, we will cease to be a community station.

Needless to say there was no response and in a few short months they had suspended the author, Alvaro Montealegre, for a year over very fluid assertions of infractions that changed each of the three times that he was given an audience to defend himself and to discuss their claims.

The claim was that he had “abused the email lists.” The issue was that Alvaro, as Board Operator Trainer, found that Black prospects who had applied to train, were not being called by the Volunteer Coordinator. Because it was a recurring problem and because there were racial undertones on the part of the Volunteer Coordinator, Alvaro sent out an email to everyone@wmnf.org letting them know of the problem. That caused Alvaro to be called in for a disciplinary meeting and the subsequent punishment of a one-year suspension.

Furthermore, A more formal two-page conservative analysis they drafted also in 2014 said: Read Programming: Options and background by Randy Wynn (conservative/racist plan) Sent as a separate attachment to this email (Randy’s Plan).

Today they make it seem like it was all a consortium of bad changes carried out by Rick, the recently departed General Manager, but all of the people who advocated, along with Randy, the previous program director, for the 2014 proposal, have united and consolidated an impenetrable majority in the Board of Directors and the Volunteer Committee.

Some people close to us feel that the formation of this solid core of conservative radicals is a cause for pessimism; it really should not be. As they, out of paranoia, form a tight group, “circling the wagons” and seeing everyone as enemies. and rejecting even their own supporters whom they consider not radical enough, great room for action is left open to us and many of those shunted individuals come closer to us. It is up to us to organize ourselves appropriately to reach out to as many people as possible and taking all of the peaceful and legal actions possible to confront and correct the misguided corporate path they have taken.

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