Hot Air-waves III

WFHB: A Spot Of Joy In The GM Dust-up

Everybody’s got a dog in this race.

WFHB Button

The selection of Kevin Culbertson as new general manager of WFHB touched plenty of raw nerves among the community radio station’s volunteer membership. Those who host shows or otherwise contribute to the on-air product at Firehouse Broadcasting have mixed it up with each other as well as with folks who haven’t really thought much about the 20-year old Bloomington non-profit until now.

The good news is people are thinking about WFHB more than ever before. Those who love the station hope that will translate into more participation and — gasp! — more contributions.

The Pencil broke the news Friday morning that Culbertson had been hired. WFHB’s Board of Directors followed a few hours later with its official announcement. Activist volunteer member and former Board member himself Hondo Thompson didn’t like the selection one little bit. His bill of particulars against Culbertson ran here as well.

The next thing anybody knew, a new Facebook group called Friends of WFHB had been started. As of this morning, it has about 150 members with that number growing by the minute. WFHB is the talk of the town.

Friends of WFHB

And the Pencil aims to keep it that way. We’ve been covered the GM search for months. Stay tuned here and on Friends of WFHB for further developments.

Our good friend Joy Shayne Laughter told the Pencil she was working on a response to Hondo Saturday night. We invited her to run it here and she’s graciously agreed to do so. Here it is:

I have a feeling that friends and volunteers at WFHB are learning more about their participation rights this week than they ever have before.

Of course the fuel for this blaze of interest has been the drawn-out search for a new General Manager, and the match tossed into the tank was Hondo Thompson’s essay published here on November 6.

I am glad Hondo did his digging and paid for a company to do a background check on the finalist candidate for WFHB General Manager. The piece stirred up a lot of questions for me, since I am a longtime WFHB volunteer, news reporter, and was on the GM Search Committee, just as Hondo was.  Just like Hondo, I had privileged, confidential access to Culbertson’s resume. Unlike Hondo, I was present at both of Culbertson’s interviews.

I sorely wish these issues had been made available to the Search Committee and the Board BEFORE the Board’s hiring decision on October 28th, and not AFTER.  I have had a few conversations with WFHB Board President Joe Estivill, and he said he received the results of Hondo’s digging on November 5th — more than a week after the Board’s vote. It would have been completely appropriate and welcome for a member of the Search Committee to say, “Hey, wait a minute,” much earlier, and make us aware of further questions to ask our candidate, either at the final interview or the Board’s hiring discussion. I really wish that had happened.

Estivill made a call to Culbertson on the night of November 5th, and asked direct, hard questions about everything Hondo found. Estivill relayed the issues and Culbertson’s answers to the rest of the Board within 24 hours. According to Estivill, the Board felt that the facts behind these issues did not affect their decision, so no further action was taken.  
That being the case, it’s possible that the facts of the matter — coming from the source — mean things are not as dire as Hondo wants all of us to believe.

Here is the troubling matter for me. While Estivill was still informing the Board of the issues and Culbertson’s responses, Hondo submitted his piece to the Electron Pencil – without having any knowledge of Culbertson’s side of the story.

That makes Hondo’s piece an op-ed, a highly personal and emotional response — not journalism, not reporting, and just barely factual.

As Big Mike told us in the opening paragraph of that post, the piece is “non-authoritative … impressions” about a decision that had not even been made public yet — it was still a close secret among the WFHB Board, set for release that afternoon.

Everyone is free to have an opinion. Everyone is free to express an opinion. Everyone is free to have emotions about a situation they are involved in. Everyone is free to make a call to action that they believe is necessary.

Those who read or hear that opinion and that call have the responsibility to read with discernment and thought. And they have the right to question what they read.

Of course my own initial reaction to Hondo’s piece was sharp dismay, as I was one who interviewed Culbertson initially and had highly positive impressions of his resume, experience and personality. I went through all of Hondo’s links and was left wondering. None of the linked articles gives any account of Culbertson’s actions that support Hondo’s narrative and warning call.

How does Hondo know, to such an intimate degree, what Culbertson’s motives and moves were, during his 30 year career and the failure of a few small, low-power station ventures? (I would like to know what the WFHB Board heard from Culbertson that reconciled them with these failures, I really would. I hope I do.)

Only the KHHB articles from Hilo, HI quote Culbertson at all. The first two are complimentary, and the last three describe the murky legalities around the sale of the station and the disappointment that Culbertson’s plans for a hyper-local TV station just didn’t pan out. (I hope to hear that sale deal explained in detail, because it sounded like it anticipated an expected FCC ruling that would relax regulations and make it legal. I know businesses of a certain size conduct deals this way all the time, but still.)

The KEEN link is to a Wikipedia entry that doesn’t even mention Culbertson. The KEEN FCC violation notice says that KEEN “was late by six days in filing its children’s television programming report for the second quarter of 2004.”

This is a hanging offense? Or would it sharpen Culbertson’s resolve to make damn sure it never happened again on his watch? What would you do, as a professional, with this on your record?

The WXOC links only show general market data and that the station’s license was cancelled.  
The current Google result for WXOC reads:

“WXOC-LP is a low-power television station in Ocean City, Maryland, broadcasting on local UHF channel 63 and virtual channel 26. Founded in 2003, it licensed to WXOC, LLC. It is an affiliate of Me-TV, a television network that airs classic television sitcoms, dramas and classic commercials from the 1950s through the 1980s. Started in Chicago, Illinois in 2005, Me-TV’s classic TV format was created to present a wide variety of the iconic series, stars and genres that have defined pop culture and television for decades. Its sitcom program list includes “M*A*S*H,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “I Love Lucy” and “The Bob Newhart Show.” Dramas on the network include “Perry Mason,” “The Big Valley,” and the original “Hawaii Five-O” series.   Visit the TV station’s website Network: Me-TV WXOC-LP Digital Channel: 63”

There is no factual indication in any of this that WXOC “was operating just fine” (as Hondo asserts) for eight years before Culbertson became its owner. There are no archived articles anywhere on the net that show it had any kind of relationship with its market. So what did the station ever do? What was the license that was cancelled? Possibly an analog broadcasting license, I don’t know.  We will have to ask Culbertson about that in person. If we do ask, he will probably also explain why WXOC is not on his resume. That would be nice to know. Still, I’m not sure why a station’s change of platform and ownership justify such harsh judgment on the former owner.

Hondo also holds these details as grounds for suspicion (his words):

◗ 17 different addresses in seven separate states
◗ A filed Chapter 7 (full liquidation) bankruptcy in Arizona in 2010

Me, I’ve lived in three separate states at more than 20 different addresses (ten in Indiana, ten or twelve in Washington, and three in New York). I also filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and I bet many readers of this blog have been there as well. If traveling around for work and school and hitting a rough financial patch are so common, why should they be criminal indicators when Culbertson does them?

Then there’s the whole Christian broadcasting scare. You know what?

I could not care less.

Why? First, if Culbertson were out to evangelize Bloomington through radio, he would have applied to WVNI Spirit 95.

Second — and I said this in the comment thread of Hondo’s piece — WFHB is set up to prevent takeover by a third party. The GM has no ownership rights. The Board elections are set up to keep terms staggered, so no group can swoop in and create an instant majority.  And (as they are already demonstrating) the WFHB membership would be three-deep dead in the streets before they allowed such a takeover to even bubble up.

Third, consider this: One of WFHB’s stalwart news show producers served proudly in the military, and I cannot think of anyone who is less of a warmonger — in fact she is a fighter for peace and tolerance. I know a lot of other military veterans who are peaceniks, and my two decades in corporate administration left me with an allergy to cubicles. So evidently, where you work for a while — even out of interest or conviction — does not mean THAT is what you are, forever after.   

This is where my discerning reading of Hondo’s op-ed turned into critical dissection — because I really dislike witch-hunts. I have seen witch-hunts conducted by Buddhists, Unitarians and LGBT pagans, corporate offices and New-Age fluffbunnies, and the smoky fragrance is familiar.

One thing that I like about Bloomington is that although there is a lot of Christian real estate around here — and individual assholes do emerge — the population by and large is far more invested in service than in sales pitch. Look at Monroe County United Ministries, the Interfaith Shelter, the shelter work at First Christian Church, Shalom’s first home at First Methodist. The walk matters more than the talk.

I have spent time with Kevin Culbertson in interviews and drove him around town to introduce him to Bloomington. My own impression of Culbertson is that he is a Bloomington kind of Christian. Service, not sales pitch.

As an aside, WFHB needs to increase its listener (and donor) base beyond Bloomington into our six-county broadcast area, a region which is awfully rural and deeply-churched. Would it really hurt the station so much if the GM has insight into how this potential listenership thinks?

I have no idea whether Kevin Culbertson will work out in the long run as GM for WFHB. I have a lot of questions remaining, from reading Hondo’s op-ed.  But I am willing to give the guy a chance — mainly because the WFHB Board is populated by grownups with deep experience as responsible professionals in their fields, with a lot of non-profit experience between them. The majority of them are active broadcasters at WFHB. They are not fools, nor are they naïve, and through the development of the Strategic Plan they are well-versed in what the station needs to do to grow and thrive in the next 20 years. Also, there’s that personal contact with Culbertson that I had as part of the Search Committee. I encountered a real human being. I believe that when I ask the questions I need to ask, he’s going to respond like a human being.

Part of the opportunity in this moment is for the WFHB community of volunteers to step up to fill empty Board seats, commit to committees, and actually show up for Membership meetings. Now that we have your attention, the governance and by-laws documents for WFHB are available to all here (scroll down to find the pdfs. Info on the Board is here (at the bottom of the page; note: “Pam Raider” should read “Pam Davidson.”) Volunteer orientation is the first Saturday of every month at 11 am at the Firehouse, Quarterly Meeting minutes are here. Finally, Strategic Plan documents are here. Also see Facebook group Friends of WFHB.

I still think Hondo was right to do his digging. I just wish he had done it a month earlier. As a dear old friend of mine whispered in my ear yesterday, “Bless the agitators – without them, the laundry would never get clean.”

Shayne Laughter
Co-anchor at WFHB Daily Local News

As of this moment, The Pencil is trying to reach Kevin Culbertson. We hope he’ll agree to introduce himself to the community here.

6 thoughts on “Hot Air-waves III

  1. A Mariner on this Sea of Madness says:

    This is criticism as it should be done, sharp and polite and with a mind open to rebuttal.

  2. Okay, still what exactly are Culbertson’s past accomplishments and experiences that mean he will be able to do the job, and do it better than the other 2 candidates, and what specifically does the Board hope he will accomplish for the organization? This question was not addressed in a clear fashion in their public statement on the hiring. A written statement and a public question and answer session addressing it would great help things, and I call on the Board to provide this.

  3. Dan Young says:

    I for one just sent this letter to the email address for the Board President (the only Board contact I found on the WFHB site’s Contact session), and I call on others to make direct similar requests:

    Joe Estivill and the rest of the WFHB Board,

    This is Dan Young, volunteer producer of Ecoreport, WFHB’s weekly environmental news program. I would like to thank you for your work during the selection process for the new General Manager. I was not able to take part in the meet and greet sessions for the finalists, but I followed the process with excitement about the future of the station.

    However I have felt growing concern since I received the notification of Kevin Culbertson’s hire and witnessed the resulting uproar on the internet, including Spot-Unleashed and the new Friends of WFHB Facebook group. I believe WFHB is an amazing resource that I am proud to be a part of, and I am afraid that it could easily go away. This could happen if there is a feeling of deep division and mistrust towards the Board and General Manager from the volunteers that produce much of the show’s content, run much of its operations, and also give major financial donations. I am afraid we are at risk of this right now.

    But I feel there is something simple that you and the rest of the Board can do to help regain the trust of concerned volunteers: provide us with a clear, specific and comprehensive explanation for what past accomplishments and experiences Kevin Culbertson has that lead you to believe he was the best qualified candidate to perform the various tasks involved in the General Manager job. Also please provide us with clear ideas of what new contributions Culbertson wishes to make to WFHB while in the GM position, and let us know what the Board itself is hoping he will specifically accomplish.

    I request that, as soon as possible, you provide your volunteers and members with a written document explaining this, and that you also hold a public Question and Answer session as well to address this. And until you are able to do these things, I ask that in the meantime the Board publicly acknowledge the existence of these widespread concerns, and state your commitment and timeline for responding to these requests for written document and a public Q&A session to address them.

    I truly believe that if you take these actions, it will go a long towards rebuilding trust.

    Thank you,
    Dan Young

  4. The Hondo piece made me suspect the board hired him on to help dismantle the station.

  5. Shayne Laughter says:

    I see I made an error in my piece — Hondo’s op-ed was published on November 8th, not the 6th. Still, the Board President assured me that he had not shared Culbertson’s answers with anyone other than the Board at that time the piece was published. Their extended silence in the face of this firestorm is very disturbing to me.

    • Shayne Laughter says:

      One other correction: in the line, “Hondo also holds these details as grounds for suspicion (his words):” the parenthesis was added by the owner of this blog, to say that the bullet points were Hondo’s words. I saw this change and felt it looked like Hondo said explicitly that the bullet points were grounds for suspicion. He did not say that, and the way his op-ed was written he had no need to.

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