The latest carnage at the progressive jazz-and-politics station: Station Manager Grigsby Hubbard and Program Director Bob Daughtry were both given the axe yesterday during the D.C. visit of Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt.
“We needed a slightly different direction,” Engelhardt said. She declined to elaborate, calling the management changes because an HR matter.
But in classic lefty-radio form, the firings have inspired the station’s volunteer-dominated and famously independent-minded corps of programmers to organize meetings, examine by-laws, and otherwise protest the national network’s meddling in the affairs of the local station, which is located one story down from Washington City Paper in Adams Morgan.
“A station like WPFW is always struggling to survive,” said Steve Hoffman, a volunteer blues programmer. “Its like we’re in a lifeboat and they’ve just kicked the captain of the lifeboat off. I think a lot of the crew now feels like mutinying.”
Some of the would-be mutineers are planning to gather tomorrow to discuss their concerns.
One who has already jumped ship: Tom Porter, host of the station’s “Jazz and Justice” program. Porter announced last week, before the staff changes, that he was taking a leave of absence, due in significant part to the turmoil he perceived at Pacifica.
“[Pacifica] is facing severe financial difficulties,” said Porter. “In the communications climate of today, they’ve been marginalized and neutralized because for the most part they haven’t kept up.”
Porter said the network’s answer to the tough times has been to order WPFW to start “dumbing down” its content. “They’ve driven away their core audience,” he said. “They’re fooling themselves if they think they’re going to bring in their core audience with smooth jazz and politics lite.”
According to Porter, Hubbard was fired by Engelhardt, who replaced him with Robert West as the new interim station manager. But, Porter said, Pacifica’s by-laws prohibit the executive director from firing a program director, meaning it was the newly hired West who removed Daughtry. West could not be reached for comment.
“They’re very crazy circumstances, unfortunately,” said Daughtry of the events surrounding his termination. “It seems to be a pattern in the national offices and each time it makes the station weaker.”
This is not the first time Daughtry has been a casualty of Pacifica’s fiesty internal politics. In 2002, while serving as acting general manager at WBAI in New York, he was terminated during a Pacifica board meeting that was broadcast live on all five of the network’s stations.
Though West, Daughtry, and Hubbard are all African American, Porter sees the firings as a racial issue. “Whether they’re on the right or left, executives tend to hire the minorities that are the least qualified, so that those projects can never can get off the ground,” he said. “It takes a strong white person to accept leadership from a minority.”
“I think [present programming] is a disservice to the Washington community,” Porter added. “WPFW is very important to the D.C. community because it’s the only station that’s had a large black presence. The majority of the population here is black or brown, and the programming doesn’t reflect that.”
Engelhardt, meanwhile, emphasized Pacifica’s devotion to the station and the city. “We are very committed to the future of WPFW,” she said. “We not only think it’s a very important voice in the D.C. area, but we also think it’s important that Pacifica have a voice in this community.” She said expects to name a new program director early next week.
Another high profile loss for the station this week: Examiner columnist and City Paper contributor Jonetta Rose Barras announced this week that she would step down from her D.C. politics show next month. Barras, who announced her departure before the staff shake-up, said it had nothing to do with any turmoil in the station’s corner office. Co-host Eugene Dewitt Kinlow will host the show solo following as of September 30.