Category Archives: Firehouse Broadcasting

Jim Manion, Raw

A few years ago, perhaps 2018, give a take a year, I was sitting in the reception area at WFHB waiting for my Big Talk guest to show up for recording that day when the station’s music director, Jim Manion, strolled in. He carefully noted that we were alone and proceeded to confide a secret. He was thinking of retiring, he told me. No one was to know.

To that end, Manion added, he wondered if I’d consider interviewing him on Big Talk when the time came and after he’d made his announcement. Well sure, I replied. Heck, Manion’s one of founding members of the WFHB family. He was in at the very beginning, ab ovo as it were, when a crew of young dreamers came up with the bright idea to start a community radio station here in Bloomington, Indiana.

People like Brian Kearney and Jeffrey Morris and others were excited to start an FM station that’d add the the tiny but growing list of other such radio outlets, supported by listeners, without commercials, and playing something more — a whole hell of a lot more — than the two-minute, 30-second bubble gum pop hits the Top 40 stations had been airing throughout the 1950s and ’60s. “There was a real creative renaissance going on at the time,” Manion has been quoted as saying regarding the FM radio revolution of the late 1960s and early ’70s. That crew formed a nonprofit organization in the mid-’70s and started the byzantine application process for an FCC license. It’d take them nearly 20 years to get approved and go on the air.

That’s Manion, 3rd from the right, with (gasp) dark hair, in WFHB’s early days.

When WFHB went on the air in December 1992 for a test run and in January 1993 for real, the station’s headquarters and studio were crammed into a tiny cinderblock shack underneath the WFHB broadcast tower off Rockport Road southwest of the city proper. It’d be another year before the station found a proper home in the city’s old firehouse behind what is now known as the Waldron Center. Ergo our corporate moniker, Firehouse Broadcasting.

I could have rubbed my hands together in greedy glee at the thought of steering Manion through the history of WFHB as well as his own colorful life. Manion reminded me the day was years off before he retreated into his grotto-like office. I never forgot about his proposal but, as the years passed, the idea became more and more just that — an idea, a wisp, a dream. Retirement, for me and my contemporaries, remained a distance prospect, something we knew was to come, but, like kids, we could still pretend it was in the far future.

At our age, Manion’s and mine, the years pass as months or even weeks did when we were in our teens and twenties. Next thing I knew, earlier this spring, an email came from Manion telling me the day was at last approaching. He would retire at the end of May 2021.

It was time to set up that Big Talk he’d suggested, his valedictory.

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And so we aired Part 1 of the life and times of Jim Manion and of the radio station, WFHB, a week ago, Thursday, May 20th. Today, we aired Part 2. As with all my recordings, I carefully snipped out all the ums and ahs and ers, all the coughs and belches and lip smackings, all the “Oops, did I say that? I meant to say….” misspeaks and recants. But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced I ought to put up the raw audio of Jim’s and my conversation. It took place, via Zoom, on Wednesday, May 12th, 2021, starting at 12:30pm. Jim had to squeeze the interview in between a scheduled meeting he’d had with station general manager Jar Turner and a doctor’s appointment. I was afraid we’d be rushed but, no, Jim was voluble and expansive. We went on and on and, of course, I was able to turn the interview into a two-parter.

So, give a listen to the unedited chat. If you love WFHB, if you love Bloomington, if you love Jim Manion, you’ll love it.

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.

The Pencil Today:


“You mustn’t always believe what I say. Questions tempt you to tell lies, particularly when there is no answer.” — Pablo Picasso


It’ll be a year tomorrow that a posse of Navy SEALs cornered that varmint Osama bin Laden and plugged him in his bedroom.

President Barack Obama had large enough cagliones to order the secret assault on ObL’s hideout in Pakistan and the raid paid off big time — sort of. Had a Republican president been in charge there would have been daily parades in his honor in every big city since the al Qaeda boss’s take-down.

The President Watches The Operation Unfold

But because Obama is a Muslim mole whose goal is to transform our holy land into a commie/Nazi gulag/stalag, he hasn’t exactly been showered with laurel leaves since his big night.

Funny thing is, almost within minutes of the announcement that ObL had been executed, the conspiracy theorists leaped out of the woodwork. Chief among them, sad to say, was Cindy Sheehan, the California mom whose son was killed in the Iraq War and who channeled her grief into highly publicized anti-war activism.

Literally within hours after the news of bin Laden’s death broke, Sheehan famously wrote on her website, “I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL (sic), you’re stupid.” She went on to detail some very iffy evidence that the whole operation was a hoax.

Poor Sheehan lost whatever credibility she had left after that.

Cindy Sheehan

Fringe-y organizations both left and right jumped on the ObL Death Hoax bandwagon for the next several weeks, then fell silent. A brief scan of the internet shows that no one has said much about such hoax claims since about June last year.

Which is odd because conspiracies and hoaxes usually seem to have the staying power of a bad cold in January.

Here’s a list of the ten top conspiracy theories in the US, as compiled by

  • 10) 9/11 was an inside job (2001)
  • 9) Princess Diana was murdered (1997)
  • 8) Subliminal advertising (1973)
  • 7) The Apollo moon landings were faked (1978)
  • 6) Paul McCartney died (1966)
  • 5) All the people and organizations who killed JFK (mid-1960s)
  • 4) The Roswell UFO crash (1947)
  • 3) “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (1905)
  • 2) The epidemic of satanic cults (1980s)
  • 1) Big Pharma (1990s-2000s)

Leave It To The Onion

As you can see, a good conspiracy/hoax theory can last a century or more. But today’s technology and the mass media bombardment of us with deception and myth has turned us into ever-more credulous suckers.

Journalist/polemicist Matt Taibbi has a nice explanation of the phenomenon in his book, “The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion.” On pages 183 to 189 (paperback edition) he lays out the ways advertisers, pols, and charlatans have inundated us with phony claims, distortions, spin, subterfuge, and outright lies. Here, I cherry-pick the key points from his thesis:

“How many lies are too many? How much bullshit is the human organism designed to tolerate before it starts to malfunction? Is there a breaking point?

“Mainstream American society has never been designed to confront difficult or dangerous truths. In fact, our mass media has corrupted the idea of objective truth so badly in the past five or six decades that it is now hard to tell when anyone is being serious about anything — the news, the movies, commercials, anything….

“Somehow ordinary people were supposed to keep track of all this, make their own sense of it. Decades after Watergate, Vietnam, and the Kennedy assassination, Americans were forced to rummage for objective reality in a sea of the most confusing and diabolical web of bullshit ever created by human minds — a false media tableau created mainly a s a medium to sell products, a medium in which even the content of the ‘news’ was affected by commercial considerations….”

“This was too much for the people to handle….”

“America by the early years of this century was a confusing kaleidoscope of transparent, invidious bullshit, a place where politicians hired consultants to teach them to ‘straight talk,’ where debates were decided by inadvertent coughs and smiles and elections were resolved via competing smear campaigns, and where network news programs — subsidized by advertisements for bogus alchemist potions like Enzyte that supposedly made your dick grow by magic — could feature as a lead story newly released photos of the Tom Cruise love child, at a time when young American men and women were dying every day in the deserts of the Middle East.

“The message of all of this was that Americans were now supposed to make their own sense of the world. There was no dependable authority left to turn to, no life raft in an increasingly perilous informational sea. This coincided with an age when Americans now needed to understand more of the world than ever before…. Now… Joe American has to turn on the Internet and tell himself a story that makes sense to him.”

Cindy Sheehan reached the breaking point when Barack Obama held his historic midnight news conference a year ago. Of course, she was pushed toward that snap by the death of her child. But the rest of us are under strain as well, if not so heart-wrenching.

We’re living in an age when fiction and reality are interchangeable. That’s why George W. Bush could lie us into a war and Barack Obama could sell himself as a man who would change government.

So I’m surprised the Osama bin Laden Death Hoax stories didn’t last. It doesn’t mean we’re becoming more rational and sophisticated — probably only that the vast majority liked the the story of the Navy SEAL Team 6 operation a year ago too much.


WFHB‘s Alycin Bektesh, Ryan Dawes, and Chad Carrothers lugged home a lot of hardware after Friday night’s Society of Professional Journalists annual awards dinner in Indianapolis. The Firehouse broadcasters won 19 awards for excellence, going up against news departments from around the state.

The WFHB Gang Friday Night In Indy

Bloomington’s community radio station consistently puts out the best local news and special programming in the region. No commercial station nearby can hold a candle to the news department that current GM Carrothers started about a decade ago.

Carrothers took a chance, donating his time and considerable energies for no pay at first, just to get the operation off the ground. Now WFHB News puts all those for-profit radio news departments to shame.


The 1965 hit by The Castaways.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

Monday, April 30, 2012

IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibits, “Blended Harmonies: Music and Religion in Nepal”; through July 1st — “Esse Quam Videri (To Be, Rather than To Be Seen): Muslim Self Portraits; through June 17th — “From the Big Bang to the World Wide Web: The Origins of Everything”; through July 1st, 9am-4:30pm

From “Esse Quam Videri”

IU Grunwald (SOFA) GalleryMFA & BFA Thesis 3 exhibitions; through May 5th

IU Kinsey Institute Gallery — Exhibit, “Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze”; through June 29th, 1:30-5pm

IU Asian Culture CenterHenna 101; 4pm

Bell Trace Health & Living CenterSession 2 of a 4-part class, “Life in a British Period Drama”; 6:30pm

IU CinemaStudent film, “Mudcity”; 7pm

IU Department of Folklore & Ethnomusicology, Performance & Lecture Hall — Students perform Ghanaian music, drumming, and dance, directed by Bernard Woma, guest artists: Evelyn Yaa Bekyore and Joyce Bekyore; 7pm

Bernard Woma

The Player’s PubSongwriters Showcase; 8pm

The Bluebird — Dave Walters Karaoke; 8pm

The BishopDJs, The Vallures; Film, “Brick and Mortar and Love”; both at 8pm

Bear’s PlaceArchie Powell & the Exports, Sandman Viper Command, Deadghost, Keeping Cars; 9pm

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