Radio showdown

Angry and querulous, 20 defenders of Rollins College's radio station WPRK descended on a WMFE board of trustees meeting last week and demanded to know why the larger public radio station wanted to gobble up WPRK's air time, essentially eviscerating the station's identity as the last of Orlando's truly independent radio outlets.

"We don't know why you are doing this," one former WPRK staffer said.

The Rollins group got few answers. "We are not here to get into a dialogue," WMFE board chair Paul Snead Jr. said.

Students and DJs have been trying to learn more about the agreement that would allow WMFE (90.7-FM), one of two Orlando NPR stations, to assume nearly all of WPRK's programming. The college would continue ownership of WPRK's (91.5-FM) broadcast license. The conventional wisdom is that WMFE wants an outlet for additional NPR programming such as "Fresh Air" and "Talk of the Nation."

Most PRK supporters were adamantly opposed. Except for Snead and WMFE president and CEO Stephen McKenney Steck, board members sat mutely, eating a catered dinner and writing notes. "I look around this table and I don't see anybody who would play my music," said musician Michael Welch. "It definitely appears from these nontalking heads that there's not going to be any discussion."

Some PRK supporters noted that many of WMFE's donors were the kind of people to view the takeover as an oppressive move. "If you have enough money to buy another station, you obviously have more money than you need," said one.

Snead corrected that WMFE wasn't buying another station, but audience members said the principle still applied.

Other speakers said the two sides could find middle ground, especially if Rollins students could keep a significant amount of air time for their own music.

The meeting ended with Steck telling the audience that WMFE would be agreeable to a forum to discuss issues, if Rollins administrators agreed.

"We were here to listen to your comments," he said. "You're going to have to sell this to Rollins."


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