John Hughes, the controversial general manager of WPFW-FM, has been placed on paid administrative leave following a two-and-a-half-year tenure in which he attempted to overhaul the programming at the struggling community “jazz and justice” station and move it outside the District. According to several sources at the station, the head of WPFW’s parent Pacifica Foundation has replaced Hughes with Michelle Price, who consulted the organization on the station’s move earlier this year to a studio on L Street NW and will now serve as its interim general manager.
In a conversation with City Desk, Yves Point-du-Jour, the chair of the station’s listener-elected oversight board, confirms the personnel shifts but won’t discuss Hughes’ removal from his duties leading the station. He says he’s confident in Price, who began today as interim GM. “She can communicate, she knows what she’s doing, she’s very qualified,” he says.
In an email to the staff of WPFW and Pacifica, Summer Reese, the foundation’s interim executive director, asks that the shifts be kept quiet—-a request very much at odds with the station’s proclivity to air its dirty laundry. “I want to make it clear to all programmers, staff and board members that there is to be no discussion of John Hughes on the air, in public, in email, social media or in the press,” Reese writes, later adding, “If a caller calls in to express any opinion about John Hughes departure, including being pleased about it, the programmer should refrain from comment or agreement and simply thank the caller for his or her thoughts. It is very important that no public discussion of personnel matters occur. The less said the better as I do not want the station to potentially incur any liability because of public discourse on this matter.”
Neither Reese, Price, nor Hughes could be reached for comment.
Price and any future leaders of WPFW face a bleak task—-including problems that predate Hughes’ arrival in 2011. In recent years the progressive station, whose format mingles music and talk programming, has operated under budget deficits of more than $1 million while its audience has dwindled. Its current fundraising drive got off to a rocky start because of problems with the strength of its signal that plagued the station for much of the summer and were only resolved last week, Point-du-Jour says. Add to that the low morale of its small staff, which is currently being paid for three-quarters time. A budget approved by the Local Station Board last Wednesday would return the staff to full-time beginning in October, Point-du-Jour says—-but only, he says, “if there’s money.”
WPFW also has to find a permanent home following its departure from its longtime studio in Adams Morgan earlier this year. (Washington City Paper occupied the same building.) “We expect to have some kind of movement in that direction once [Price] settles down,” Point-du-Jour says. The station moved to its current, temporary headquarters in Farragut following a failed attempt—-spearheaded by Hughes—-to move to a location in Silver Spring, generating opposition among some WPFW listeners because the plan involved subleasing space from a subsidiary of radio behemoth Clear Channel.
Still, the departure of Hughes should at least give temporary satisfaction to the coalition of WPFW programmers, board members, and listeners that have called for his ouster for nearly two years. For his part, Point-du-Jour says he hopes the situation doesn’t become a topic of on-air conversation. “We don’t want that,” he says. “We just want to move forward.”
Update: Below is Reese’s email to the WPFW and Pacifica staff:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery