In preparation for Wednesday night’s Community Advisory Board meeting, it is time for a little history to set the record straight.
Tony Brandon and Barbara Bozzuto had already been trying to remove me as a force at our station prior to its official founding in February 2002.
We urged listeners to contribute to the effort. We raised $750,000. This has become a bone of contention. Tony Brandon claims we raised less than $250,000. While the money itself is unimportant, in light of the effort I led to unite a community to build a new station, its disagreement is emblematic of the problem.
Jonathan Melnick, who became a guarantor, said to me that we can never raise all this money. We needed a bank and guarantors for a loan. He offered to become a guarantor.
It was then that I met Tony Brandon, through a mutual friend. He offered his help. Tony and his brother own American General Media, the largest family-owned radio business in America.
Tony brought in Mercantile Bank. They had been involved as the bank of record for many of his business dealings.
He then brought in Charlie Salisbury, one of his business partners, to be a guarantor. So, we had four people (two of his and two I brought in) and the cash I had raised.
Marilyn Powel introduced us to and brought in as guarantors the Daniels family and Albert Williams.
Charlie Salisbury brought in the Linehans and the Bozzutos.
We had our guarantors. It as at that point Tony Brandon came to me to say that Mercantile would not guarantee the loan as long as I was President of the corporation. He had to be President. I went along. I did not want to manage the station; I wanted to build our broadcasting world.
It was then that it all began to unravel. I saw the danger signs.
Tony Brandon said that if he could not run the station by himself he would leave.
Board Chair Charlie Salisbury in our first board meeting looked at me and said,
“Thank you Marc, but we are the guarantors of the bank’s money and we will take it from here.”
I responded that I was the guarantor of the listeners’ money ($750,000 in contributions) and I wasn’t going anywhere.
From the beginning they tried to marginalize my influence and position at the station. I refused to budge. I demanded to be Exec. Vice President for Broadcasting, a member of the board, and a partner in running the station.
They feared their effort would dissolve. So, Barbara Bozzutto brought in Ray Blank. Ray is a noted business consultant. He has saved and helped build many companies. He is a business therapist.
In the press recently, Barbara Bozzutto said that they brought in a coach for me but it did no good. Well, that was a lie. They are talking about Ray Blank. While he has become a mentor for me in recent years, he was brought to WYPR to help Tony and I manage the company together. Tony wanted to do it alone, I insisted on being part of a team. From 2001 through the end of 2004 Ray met with me and Tony every Friday morning so we could come to management decisions.
The gulf between us was wide.
The make up of the board became a divide. I proposed that some of the $25,000, $10,000, $5,000, $1000, and donors of lesser amounts be made members of the board. I also suggested that members elect people from that community to be represented on the board. That was not accepted. The board became made up primarily of the wealthiest members of part of the community. There are many good people on that board; however, a public radio board needs a balance. We need all sectors of our community represented. It would create a dynamic synergy. Either they thought it would give too much power to me or their conception of a board is people like themselves.
Tony Brandon and Charlie Salisbury insisted that I fire Sunni Khalid as News Director. First, Tony and some board members fought my effort to raise money to start a news department. By that time we had divided up responsibilities. It was my bailiwick so they had no choice, as I had little choice when I disagreed with his management decisions.
I raised over $300,000 to launch the News Department, mostly from the Open Society Institute but also from Town Creek and Goldsecker. The first person I called was Sunni Khalid to be News Director. Then I called Fraser Smith to convince him to come over to us.
They wanted to fire Sunni because he and seven other African-American employees were suing NPR for racial discrimination. He had been black-balled by the industry. I hired him because of his reputation for ethical journalism and because he would build a multi-cultural team that reflected our community.
They asked if my loyalty was to the Chairman of the Board or to Sunni. I told them it was to Sunni and justice. They had to fire me first. Sunni stayed. You see the result. WYPR has one of the best local news departments in the country.
Tony even tried to get me to fire Andy Bienstock. I stood up for him. Things do get convoluted.
Ray Blank witnessed all this and more.
OK, I could go on ad nauseum but let me stop and jump to the nitty gritty of 2004.
We are now three years into the new station and my weekly marathon management session with Tony Brandon and Ray Blank.
Baltimore Magazine’s Best in Baltimore issue came out. In it was a small piece that said “Most Unlikely Media Mogul …. Marc Steiner.” I thought it was hilarious, as did Valerie.
But the next day I go in to see Tony, who slides the piece across the table at me. I quipped how funny it was. He said ‘It was not funny but an outrage.’ He accused me of planting it in Baltimore Magazine. He said it would chase off our biggest corporate and banking underwriters. He wanted me to write a letter to the magazine disavowing the mantle. He said that he and the guarantors deserved recognition, but the only one who gets is me.
Then Barbara Bozzutto said that the station needed a second voice. Someone like Armstrong Williams, the Black conservative talk show host.
She wrote a version of the history of the station that started to write me out of our history. She insisted that there could only be that public line about the station. I refused to sign on to that fabrication.
So, they wanted a “Second Voice.” I began a three month research project that interviewed twenty sister NPR stations who had local programming, and studied the results of our focus group. I came back with a long report suggesting we need an Arts and Culture program. I had production plans in the report. It became Maryland Morning.
I gave Tony the report, but it never got to the board. I was told I could not oversee the development of the new show, because it would be in competition with me. Andy Bienstock would over see it. The unraveling came faster now.
- Tony began lobbying the board that I was a loose cannon, bad manager and a cowboy.
- I put a grant in for our Vietnam Documentary.
- In spite of signing off on it, Tony tells the board it was my cowboy actions. This grant, he says then, has nothing to do with the agenda of the station.
Just two weeks before my departure to Vietnam, Tony sends me an e-mail saying he is vacating the position of Vice President and I have a week to respond.
I reject that, force him to back off, and go to Vietnam.
He says I must have a response by July 15th.
When we get back from Vietnam, an intense battle erupts all summer long over the issue.
The board is convinced that I need to step down so I can pursue my work.
Myth becomes fact. People are convinced this is being done in my and the station’s best interests.
I could either have made this a public fight, which could have destroyed the station, or have negotiated a contract to my liking, so I could focus on my radio and community work.
I chose the latter.
But it did not end there.
- Tony Brandon and Barbara Bozzutto could not stand it that I was the voice and the face of the station.
- Tony kept on about how my shows insulted certain underwriters.
- Andy Bienstock became head of programming and the Vice President.
- My 7 PM repeat was taken off the air.
- My show became promoted less and less on our airwaves.
- There was constant pressure about my agenda not being the station’s agenda.
It is our fifth anniversary year.
- Station spends $20,000 on a new PR firm that writes me out of station history.A station marketing brochure is published which starts with (and I paraphrase) ”several WJHU employees attempted to purchase the station but there no momentum until Tony Brandon came along.”
- 5th anniversary party held. I am not allowed to speak or even be mentioned in the program. Employees are called on the carpet for praising me at the event and allowing me to speak. They are told they cannot play to Marc’s agenda. There are two agendas, they say, Marc’s and the stations.
- So, it went on like this until Thursday January 31st when Ray Blank delivered the message that Tony Brandon and Barbara Bozzutto wanted an amicable separation.
- The next morning Tony delivers a letter of agreement I must sign if I want to get back on the air until May 29th.
- That afternoon they pull the agreement and cancel my show.
Never a word as to why
To the news about ratings (proven bogus), not being a team player (despite my cooperation with the news department and others at the station, as well as the money I helped bring to WYPR not just when it was founded, but through grants and fund drives throughout the past six years) and on and on and on…
That the real reasons both personal and political are clear.
See you Wednesday,