(Note: In the interest of journalistic ethics, readers should know I was banned from WRVU and am thus particularly close to the story. Take my bias into consideration when evaluating.)
As a former WRVU DJ for the show ~ORE~ Theatre Intangible and as former chief engineer of WIDB, I believe I have a unique perspective to offer you concerning your recent 25 community DJ cap. Over the past few weeks, WRVU’s credibility with the press and public has eroded. In this letter, I will list the things I think WRVU can do to regain its credibility.
General manager Mikil Taylor and the board of directors headed by Chris Carroll have stated their reasons for the community-DJ cap. But the reasons keep changing. First, you told us that the cap was necessary to ensure Vanderbilt students getting run of schedule. The student WRVU staff came up with a counter proposal to ensure the student DJs priority. They created a WRVU Listeners Against a Community DJ Cap Facebook page, and over 700 people joined in support of the counter-proposal. You rejected the counter-proposal without discussing with the public its deficiencies.
But according to you, it didn’t matter. The REAL reason for the cap, you told us, concerns WRVU’s FCC license. If we allow too many non-students, the FCC may take our license away. Hands tied. Case closed.
Not so fast. A quick FCC lookup will reveal WRVU to have a “Non Commercial Educational FM License.” The FCC’s Non Commercial Educational FM Licensing Requirements and Services document says absolutely nothing about the ratio of students to community member DJs. I would like to know where you are getting your information. The documents DOES say, however . . .
Each station may transmit . . . educational, cultural, and entertainment programs to the public.
Each station shall furnish a nonprofit and noncommercial
WRVU’s Class C2 license radiates approximately 10,000 watts. This signal spreads over a very large area, spanning Clarksville to Murphreesboro. With great wattage comes great responsibility. But you continue to speak as if the public’s interest does not matter.
Posted on this Nashville Cream blog, Board member Mark Wollaeger says,
But, yes, the station manager in conjunction with the VSC Board is going to decide who goes on the air. That has always been the right of the board and always will be. If the mix that results doesn’t meet the expectations of particular listeners, that’s probably always been the case and always will be. The station never has been dependent on ratings, voting for shows or any such process.
Yet in fact, as a non-profit educational station, the public interest is EVERYTHING. The public is your customer. (I’m putting it in business terms since Mr Carroll has such a high regard for respectable business-folk.) You are quite right to be concerned about the FCC. But what you don’t seem to realize is that you are endangering the station MORE by wiping out 25 shows that serve the public interest. Because most students leave Nashville over the summer break, that means most of these shows will be replaced in the summer by computer automation, a service which serves zero public interest.
While you can insulate yourselves from public opinion, you can’t ignore the FCC. Concerned voices may next turn to the FCC’s consumer complaint web form. If the FCC were to believe WRVU has ignored its duty to public service, they may choose to not renew WRVU’s license. The public opinion matters very much, and you should take these voices very seriously.
Chris Carroll finally tells us the REAL reason for the cap: The community member DJs are a bunch of punks. Responding to Donnie Oldschool on this Nashville Cream Blog, (we get the impression he responded only because Donnie owns a business) Chris Carroll has this to say. I quote in full because this is too good to truncate. Emphasis mine:
Thank you for taking time to send us your thoughts related to WRVU. Since you are a reputable, responsible and respected business owner here in Nashville, I thought I would offer you the courtesy of an explanatory response.
Imagine a very vocal, but small (fewer than 100) group of project development enthusiasts determined that because of the current economy your real estate management firm likely has some underutilized capacity. So, these folks move in to your place of business and demand the use of your resources, divert the time and energies of you, Ken, David and Susan on your staff, and expect you to bear all the expense and liability for the use of your services while contributing absolutely nothing to your bottom line. Imagine that these folks then invite their friends to join them in using your services until they outnumber your actual clients by a two-to-one margin. Imagine that many of these folks are 20 years older than you and spend a good bit of their time at your facilities criticizing your every decision and positioning themselves as the real experts in your business. Then suppose many of these same people who profess to love your business and what it represents are spreading vile, nasty and false comments about you by way of cowardly anonymous blog posts. While many of these people genuinely are well-intentioned and could be a positive addition to your business, many more have self-serving agendas and behave like punks and have turned your workplace into a house of pain. That, essentially, is Mikil’s situation.
Now, Donnie, if you’re truly old school, then as a responsible business owner you would immediately remove all these people and exercise your fiduciary and ethical accountability to your clients and to your staff, not to mention do whatever is necessary to protect your asset so as to preserve opportunities for both you and your future clients.
Or, if you are more charitable and choose to bear the expense and burden of pro bono outreach to a group you are under no obligation to serve, you might set a reasonable limit — for example, 25 individuals — who you would permit to use your facilities and services as non-paying clients.
Given your strong feelings about my performance and your rebuke of one of our undergraduate student leaders and your stated mission to punish Vanderbilt University for supporting its students, I would offer you the invitation — again since you are an honest and fair community leader — to visit campus to express your position personally to VSC, Inc. leaders and ranking members of the University administration. At your request, I would be happy to initiate a meeting that could include my staff and supervisory board, the Associate Dean of Students, Dean of Students, Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs, and representatives from the University’s Office of Legal Counsel. Please let me know if you would like for me to schedule this opportunity for you.
Director of Student Media
The condescension is palpable. So we see here that the real reason WRVU enacted the community DJ cap is because the community DJs were a hassle to deal with. I find this downright inscrutable. Like all WRVU DJs, community member DJs must program at least 5 cd’s a semester. They volunteer in WRVU events. They fill in odd hours in the schedule that would otherwise be automation. (My show happily aired at 2am on a Sunday morning.) Most importantly, they donate the considerable time it takes to make a weekly radio show.
And what about all those vile anonymous blog posts written by community-member DJs?
1. Key word: anonymous! No one knows WHO posted them.
2. They’re web blog comment posts! Trolli-ness is written into their very nature.
3. If DJs did indeed post concerns anonymously, it’s no wonder why. With community DJ cap looming, can you blame the DJs for not wanting to criticize you under their real names? (For the record, I have never posted an anonymous comment in my life, but that’s a far easier decision for me because my show has no hope of returning.) I have talked to several DJs about the cap, and they were SCARED to speak out. Can you honestly tell me that you did not take DJs prior remarks into consideration when deciding which shows to keep or cancel? Transparency and accountability are always the first to go in the foments of a dictatorship.
Now, regarding community DJs behaving like punks, I suspect Mr. Carroll may be talking about Chris Crofton and myself. (See my post about ~ORE~ Theatre Intangible’s banishment.) When our shows were removed from the air, our listeners let their voices be heard. I’m sure having to deal with all these concerned listeners WAS a hassle. But the complaints were only lodged AFTER we were removed from the air. We were never a hassle while on air. And having to deal with complaints is a part of running any business (business reference for Mr. Carroll’s benefit). But I can think of no example when a community-member DJ was a hassle or a punk while he or she had a current-running show. If you have examples, please site them. And ironically, WRVU, you are creating an even-bigger hassle by enforcing the cap. The complaints must really be coming in now. With this, you have displayed a severe lack of foresight on the repercussions of your actions.
Strange is the world Chris Carroll seems to exist in. Chris Crofton sheds a little light on the matter in his comment to this Nashville Cream post:
. . .your leader Chris Carroll said directly to my face that ‘community DJs’ were an ASS-PAIN. I think to call that comment disrespectful would be an understatement. After he explained that we had no hope of getting our show back that was taken from us without warning after four years of broadcasting without incident, he added that he might just decide to dismiss all community deejays WHILE HE SMIRKED. He was not simply disrespectful, he was borderline sadistic.
The impression that I get after talking with Crofton and other DJs is that Mr. Carroll has a low regard for independent music and the long-haired hippies/tattoo-bespotted punks that spin it. He operates in a dream world where you’re either a law-abiding, suit & tied business-person or a drug-addled, rabble-rousing troublemaker. Carroll runs student media like Basil Fawlty runs hotels. That’s hardly the type of person students should want as their Director of Student Media. Which brings me to my list of things WRVU can do to rescue its credibility:
1. Ask for Chris Carroll’s resignation. Carroll has aroused controversy and ill-will towards one of the most well-respected student radio stations in the country. For this and the reasons mentioned above, he should resign immediately.
2. Mikil Taylor should step down as General Manager of WRVU. Mikil has flip-flopped quite a bit in the last few months. He originally proposed the community-member cap and then balked after pressure from his own staff. He even signed his name to the WRVU Listeners Against a Community DJ Cap Facebook page, an action that seems disingenuous at best, calculated at worst. In an act of integrity and courage, WRVU’s music directors Skye Bacus and Hugh Schlesinger resigned in protest of the community-member cap. Mikil bears the responsibility for the cap’s proposal and the failure of not getting it reversed. If he is as half as honorable as Skye and Hugh, he will step down.
Yet it may be for naught. The general manager is a hired PAID position, selected by the VSC board. Once hired, the general manager hand-picks his or her staff. It is highly doubtful that the VSC would replace Mikil with a GM critical of their past actions. Which brings us to point three.
3. Hold open elections for the general manager and staff positions. WRVU is often cited as a student-run station, but how true is this? Are the student staff members elected by the students? No. They’re hand-picked by the GM who is hired by the VSC board. Music directors Hugh and Skye elaborate:
In the face of the VSC Board’s decision to ignore our own advice and opinions, as well as those of the majority of the E-Staff, we have realized that we are merely laborers who keep things running and feel no need to deceive ourselves with false titles.
Many student-run stations have open elections to decide the staff, including my old college station WIDB. By allowing the students to elect their own leaders, WRVU will take one more step to truly becoming a student-run radio station.
4. VSC Board: Don’t Micromanage. After allowing open elections for students and by-students, let them actualy have some power. Don’t watch over their backs and reverse their decisions. If this truly is a training ground for students, let the student staff learn some valuable life lessons by making their own decisions.
5. Strive for a killer programming schedule. Attract new listeners instead of alienating them. No one disputes the fact that WRVU is primarily a training ground for students. But it’s more than that. It’s a community asset. As part of the student staff’s training, they should be allowed to program an exciting and engaging schedule that seeks to keep regular listeners and attract new ones. While respecting student priority, shows should be scheduled according to merit. Special exception should be given to signature community member shows that have long held a particular time-spot (Liberadio, for example.) Let the student staff truly learn about running a radio station by doing what real program directors do — programming according to quality and popularity.
6. Respect the WRVU handbook: Practice forgiveness and leniency. On discipline, the WRVU manual states:
You are allowed three infractions . . . before you are removed permanently from the air. . . The GM will take the appropriate action as dictated by these guidelines:
First Offense: Verbal or written warning given by the general manager.
Second Offense: Suspension from the air for one week.
Third Offense: You will be suspended indefinitely. The GM will decide the duration of the suspension.
Chris Crofton and John Brassil merely moved a webcam, and they were banned or suspended outright. Where were their verbal warnings? Why weren’t they, “suspended from the air for one week”? The current general manager has taken the law into is own hands and is expressing a complete disregard for the rules outlined in the WRVU manual. And while rules can be changed, these changes should be voted on by the student staff and revised in the manual, not simply decided on a whim by the one staff member.
7. Restore the community member shows. And finally, the community DJ cap should be abandoned. Community member DJs should be allowed on the air during times unclaimed by students, alumni, and staff with the only cap being the amount of available slots. Timeslot exceptions should be made for the grandfathered flagship shows such as the previously-mentioned Liberadio.
There is no magic formula for a successful show. There are a number of great shows on WRVU hosted by students, alumni, staff, and community-members alike. (I refuse to use Mark Wollaeger’s Orwellian rebranding of community-members: “Non-affiliates.”) But community-member, alumni, and staff shows do have one slight advantage. Longevity. It is no controversy that a show in its 10th year is probably better than a show in its 1st. Will there come a time when too many community members want a show in a schedule with too few slots? Of course. When that happens (and what your programming directors should always be doing anyway) is selecting shows based on merit. What is the level of production quality? How big of a following does the show get? How many people call into the show? How much press has the show received? Securing an alumni/staff/community-member slot at WRVU should be no easy feat. When selected for the schedule, a DJ should feel as if she has passed a very difficult test. The bar should be high, and the criteria for passing that bar should be explicit.
Follow these 7 simple suggestions, and I have no doubt WRVU will regain its credibility and become once again one of the best student-run stations in the country. Thank you for your time.
Special thanks to The Nashville Cream blog for providing 1st class reporting on this story from the beginning.
P.S. This letter is dedicated to the community member shows that were banned, suspended, or not renewed. I will soon report on those shows that have a new home. (DJs, send me your info to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want help starting your own podcast, I’ll be happy to assist.)