The University Record, August 13, 1996

LETTERS

Listener says WUOM
story only half-told

Although I am late in calling it to your attention, there was an egregious misprint in the banner headline atop page 3 in your issue of July 9. Obviously, it should have read, "WUOM makes most absurdly regressive changes in its history." Even then you would have been leaving out the fittingly descriptive adjectives callous, dismal, deplorable, devious and dishonest.

This long-time supporter of WUOM-as-it-was found the story beneath your headline less than half-told. You left your readers in the dark as to who this Donovan Reynolds is, and who hired him to replace Joel Seguine__who appeared to be doing a quite satisfactory, and, with his "Desert Island Disc" programs, an interesting, U of M-worthy job. You owe it to the faculty and staff to tell us whether this new man is a hired station-wrecker, or merely the puppet of some overweening, still-anonymous University administrator. At least it is clear that someone is bent on reducing WUOM to a provincial purveyor of endlessly boring, lower-middle-brow talk-shows. Also absent was any excuse for the station's heartless exploitation of four popular and highly regarded broadcasters, in having them plead for extra contributions at fiscal year's end, when, quite unbeknownst to their listeners, they were soon to be summarily sacked, and WUOM's well-balanced programming soon to be sabotaged.

The long-hoped-for return of "My Word" and "My Music" is poor compensation for the catastrophic changes wrought upon the station and its staff. Those BBC programs used to fill their Saturday noonday slot perfectly---far better than the mindless tripe now being aired at that time---but even they are not enough. My prescription is: a) that WUOM cancel its misleading newspaper ads and resume, with all not-too-deliberate speed, its status quo ante; and b) that the administration, having let Mr. Donovan return whence he may have come, publish an explanation and a nostra maxima culpa addressed to the station's erstwhile employees, listeners and contributors. Otherwise, its thus far faithful supporters can be counted on to turn their dials and send their checks in other directions, knowing that they can find elsewhere the kind of music they used to hear over WUOM.

 

Joseph E. Hawkins, professor emeritus of otolaryngology

Michigan Radio still
committed to excellence

I would like to respond to the letters from Jens Zorn and Helmut Shick about the recent changes at Michigan Radio.

Michigan Radio is still committed to "quality and excellence." Classical music is not the only means to convey excellence; it can also be done through intelligent analysis and discussion. At a time when the quality of journalism appears to be in serious decline, it is appropriate for a university public radio station to take as its central mission the creation of a more informed public. That's why Michigan Radio will launch a new midday program this fall focusing on the people and events of the University of Michigan, and on issues affecting the state and region. We have already doubled our news department and will soon add an arts and humanities reporter---a reflection of our commitment to strong local programming.

As a classical music lover myself, I understand the dismay of those who are unhappy with the reduction in music programming. But for many years, Michigan Radio has been seriously underperforming in both audience and fundraising. I was hired six months ago with a mandate to change and revitalize the station, and to make it a more vital public service. I was told by many that the station was "frozen in time" and out of touch with the community. From the beginning I have said to the staff and the public that increased news and information programming is probably the key to the station's future success.

I tested this hypothesis by commissioning research from Audience Research Analysis, the most respected research group in public radio. They concluded that most people listen to Michigan Radio for its news programming. The research also showed that there were very few listeners to our midday classical music programming. We knew that some of our listeners would be extremely unhappy with the elimination of midday music, but our total audience is much too small, and we had to take the risk of alienating some listeners in the hope of achieving a larger future audience.

Mr. Schick charges that the station has "defrauded" contributors by changing format. Since we ask for money almost constantly in public radio, it is impossible to find a time to make changes that does not come after some appeal for funds. We have offered to refund any contributions made during l996 by listeners who are unhappy with the changes. Only a handful of people have taken advantage of this option. In fact, many of those who object the loudest and most publicly never contributed any money to the station at all.

Prof. Zorn accuses me of insensitivity for the manner in which the staff changes were made. I can only say that the decision to lay off four employees was the most difficult and agonizing decision of my professional career. They are all very fine people and talented professionals. But if this station is to survive, it needs a dramatic change in format and personnel. The employees who were laid off remain on our payroll until Sept. 30th. We have encouraged them to use the three months to find other employment. Mr. Schick's angry comments, incidentally, are in marked contrast to the public statements of the four employees themselves.

Mr. Schick predicts that the current programming will ruin the station, and he may be right. However, public radio station managers across the country have told me that their audience and fundraising have increased following their switch from music to news and talk programming. There's no law that says it will work here, too, but we certainly have grounds for optimism.

In any event, I have not made the easy choice of sticking with a status quo that was clearly leading this station to insolvency and irrelevance.

Donovan Reynolds,
director of broadcasting