Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Fight Over Maryland's WYPR

Take Back YPR is meeting on Sun., Sept. 14 at 2 PM at Gecko’s Restaurant in Canton, 2318 Fleet St. Exit I83 and head east on Fleet St. Gecko’s is near Patterson Park, and the meeting will be on the second floor.

The Fight Over Maryland 's WYPR

September, 01 2008

By Gregg Mosson

When Maryland public radio station WYPR fired progressive radio

host and station co-founder Marc Steiner on February 1, 2008, they

declared in a press release that they did so over low "ratings." Not only

were many people shocked by the move, but what was a public radio

station doing firing their station icon, best reporter, and main fundraising

voice over "ratings?" Isn't public radio supposed to be insulated from

this type of commercial number-crunching?

WYPR is "an independent NPR station" that receives approximately 50

percent of its funding from "underwriters" who sponsor radio programs,

reports WYPR President Tony Brandon in an open letter at

The station receives 7 percent from the federal Corporation for Public

Broadcasting and about 33 percent from listening members, according to

funding data handed out at a February community meeting.

WYPR's reliance on underwriting as their main funding source is part of

a national trend and it has to affect thinking at the station. An

underwriter must think very differently about programming than a

station member—especially because an underwriter may not even listen.

In fact, unlike listening members, underwriters are often not humans.

According to WYPR President Brandon, WYPR's top four underwriting

sponsors all are institutions—non-profit, banking, retail, and educational.

Iowa Public Radio, on their webpage dedicated to luring underwriters,

pitches: "Who is the public radio listener and is reaching them

potentially beneficial to my business?" Utah Public Radio opens their

webpage for underwriters with: "Underwriting is a great way to position

your company name and image to those people most likely to use your

services—public radio listeners."

Dana Davis Rehm, National Public Radio senior vice president of

strategy and partnerships, said at WYPR's April board meeting that

underwriting was growing nationally at public radio stations and edging

out membership as a primary funding source. She cautioned that public

radio stations should seek to maintain balance between underwriting

dollars and membership dollars to be true to their mission.

National Public Radio host Scott Simon told Public Radio International's

"Marketplace" show—which did an investigation of underwriting:

"Let's put it this way, I find them indistinguishable from ads."

February 23 protest at WYPR

In response to Steiner's firing, people began protesting outside the station

six days a week. WYPR canceled their February fund drive, then their

March executive board meeting. Letters to local newspapers and emails

to the station poured in. By April, over 1,000 people had signed an

online petition calling for the show's reinstatement.

Meanwhile, Maryland public radio listeners have discovered that

"ratings" were not the reason WYPR fired Marc Steiner. The Baltimore

Sun, using data from industry group Radio Research Consortium,

reported that while Steiner's show lost 17 percent audience share from

2005 to 2007, it was rising back up to 2005 levels. More significantly,

the station overall dropped 21 percent in ratings from Fall 2005 to Fall


WYPR then claimed that Steiner was fired because of secret reasons

they could not disclose.

To add to the sense of duplicity, WYPR President Brandon had also

implied on WYPR's "Maryland Morning" that a handful of loan backers

"own" WYPR. WYPR board member and attorney John Machen

followed up by publishing a March 7 commentary piece for the

Baltimore Sun claiming similar exclusive ownership of the station.

Then at the April board meeting, WYPR chairperson Barbara Bozzuto

declared that neither "ratings" nor that previously claimed "secret

reasons" were the primary cause of jettisoning Marc Steiner. It was

about a "fundamental difference of vision" for WYPR, she said. Then

she declared he can never come back. The audience booed. Bozzuto

called the meeting into executive session and the board walked out.

Where are things now? At WYPR's April 15 board meeting, 60-plus

people attended to witness the board's explanation for all this and to try

to hold WYPR accountable.

To date WYPR swears they will never bring back Marc Steiner. A Save

WYPR movement continues to lobby the station and pressure the

Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to investigate alleged

regulatory violations of federal funding rules at WYPR.

WYPR held its May board meeting at a small non-profit center in

Baltimore that could only hold eight members of the public. When Save

WYPR advocate Maria Allwine tried to ask a question, according to

eyewitnesses, a board member shouted her down.

So what is this "fundamental difference of vision?" Is the difference of

vision tied to the rise of underwriting now comprising 50 percent of

WYPR or not? Does it have to do with a WYPR board that says they

"own" a public radio station, rather than steward it for the public good?

What does it mean to "own" a non-profit corporation with a special

public radio license? The answers to these questions remain to be

discovered. Former WYPR members and listeners continue to press their

case by protesting in front of the station and by pressing for an

investigation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Gregg Mosson is the author of Season of Flowers and Dust ( Goose River Press),

and his commentaries have appeared in Z, the Baltimore Sun, and the Futurist.

The photo used is by him.

From: Z Magazine - WYPR Fight

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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