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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Still Working to Keep Public Radio "Public," a Balkan Contradiction and A Quote from Baltasar Gracian

A Quote from Baltasar Gracian
Here’s another of my occasional quotes from “The Art of Worldly Wisdom,” a compendium of maxims by the seventeenth century Spanish Jesuit scholar, Baltasar Gracian.  (The translation from the Spanish is by Chirstopher Maurer.)  In this year of Presidential primaries, it offers wise guidance to all.

146: Look deep inside.  Things are seldom what they seem, and ignorance, which sees no deeper than the bark, often turns to disillusion when it penetrates into things.  In all things, deceit arrives first, dragging fools behind it in endless vulgarity.  Truth is always late, always last to arrive, limping along with Time.  Prudent people save one of their ears for truth, thanking their common mother, Nature, for giving them two.  Deceit is superficial, and superficial people are quick to run into her.  Discernment lives hidden away in retirement, so as to be more esteemed by the wise and the discreet.

APM - 21st Century Carpetbaggers from Minnesota 
(The online Merriam-Webster dictionary aptly defines a "carpetbagger" as a person from the northern United States who went to the South after the American Civil War to make money.)  
Followers of this blog may remember my long battle with American Public Media Group, the Minnesota public radio conglomerate which purchased West Palm Beach Public Radio station WXEL in 2010, turning it into a 24 hour classical music station and renaming it WPBI. Well, here we go again!

For the benefit of those not familiar with what occurred, or whose recollections have faded a bit, financially troubled WXEL had broadcast a mix of classical music, news and information programing.  Both WPBI and its predecessor, WXEL, were part of the family of stations generically known as National Public Radio (NPR).  The American Public Media people had claimed that they would continue to provide NPR’s news and information programming along with their classical music format which they called Classical South Florida, and indeed they did, but they chose to do so over another frequency.  

The problem was that while the powerful 37,000 watt signal of WPBI at 90.7, the former WXEL, could be heard throughout Palm Beach County, the news and information programming was moved to WPBI-News, at 101.9 with its weak 250 watt signal which could not be heard in most of the county.  Some people could manage to get their NPR news and information from the NPR stations in Fort Pierce or Miami (as I was able to do) but many could not.  WPBI-News arrogantly suggested that these deprived listeners purchase HD radios which could receive their programming or hear it streamed on the internet.

I wrote several letters to the Palm Beach Post, which had initially supported APM’s purchase of WXEL, but had second thoughts when the news and information programming were transferred to the 250 watt transmitter, HD radio and the internet.  I also contacted numerous elected officials and finally, decided to appeal to the Federal Communications Commission.  A complaint about the sale of WXEL was not possible since that was already a “done deal,” but when WPBI’s license came up for renewal in 2012, I rolled up my sleeves and submitted an “informal complaint” concerning the disappearance of NPR news and information programming in much of Palm Beach County as well as several technical errors which I found in filings which WPBI had made to the FCC.   

American Public Media enlisted a top Washington law firm specializing in communications law to defend itself against little old me, sitting at my desktop in my den.   I’m sure their bill was in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Ultimately, late in 2012, the FCC ruled in favor of WPBI and renewed their license, but only after a delay of over six months during which I kept APM’s lawyers busy answering my arguments.  They were a clever lot and frequently engaged in legal trickery.   

For example, they countered my argument about 250 watt WPBI-News not having a strong enough signal to serve the county by pointing out it could be heard in all of "greater West Palm Beach," artfully  confusing a city with a population of 100,000 and the County with thirteen times as many residents for the "benefit" of the FCC. They also objected to my using the occasion of the license renewal application to raise broader questions concerning the programming practices of WPBI, even suggesting that I acted improperly in one of my letters published in the Palm Beach Post which encouraged people who objected to the station's programming to send their complaints to the FCC rather than write to the newspaper.  While the FCC's ultimate decision (two paragraphs below) regarding programming content was based on a station's licensee's right to free speech, WPBI's lawyers were not reluctant to attack that right on my part saying that the renewal of a license was not a proper forum for my arguments.  (I had no other avenue to the FCC.)  And when I included a subsequent lead editorial from the Post in which they questioned the manner in which WPBI was providing news and information programming (on the 250 watt station), the lawyers brushed this off as merely a "news article."  
As time passed, and the station continued to operate without their license being renewed, I wrote to them offering to withdraw my complaint if they would include some news and information programming along with the classical music on 37,000 watt WPBI.  They ignored my offer.

The FCC’s decision was primarily based on the First Amendment and the Communications Act of 1934, pointing out that the FCC cannot regulate what owners of a station choose to broadcast, short of libel or porn.  They also felt that the 250 watt signal, HD radio and streaming on the internet met the standard of serving the public and that the shortcomings I pointed out in the required documentation of the “public issues” covered by WPBI were not serious enough to warrant denying the license.

I thought that was the end of the story until, two and a half years later, the following article appeared in the Palm Beach Post on June 23, 2015.
  *   *   *
PBC could lose NPR broadcasting in radio station sale 

By Alexandra Clough - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer 

Palm Beach County could lose the only radio station that broadcasts National Public Radio, if the sale of WPBI-FM by American Public Media Group goes through. But there’s a chance the sale might fail.

Board members of Classical South Florida, the subsidiary that owns WPBI and its broadcast license, were not consulted about the sale by parent American Public Media as it was being crafted. They only were notified of the deal a couple of weeks ago.

Now some members of the board, which is scheduled to meet this Thursday, are upset. They include Palm Beach accountant Richard Rampell, who wants to stop the station’s sale to a religious broadcaster in favor of finding a buyer willing to keep public news programming.
Without an NPR affiliate based in Palm Beach County, residents “do not have any other radio alternative for fact-based news, and I think that’s critical,” Rampell said.

Upon hearing news of the deal to sell, board member Arthur Knight of Naples resigned, Rampell said. Others, including Rampell and and Palm Beach resident Vicki Kellogg, are so steamed by the deal they are working on a plan to find another buyer for WPBI.
In 2011, Barry University sold Boynton Beach-based public radio station WXEL-FM to Classical South Florida, a subsidiary of American Public Media, or APMG. St. Paul, Minn.-based APMG is the largest station-based public radio organization in the U.S. Its portfolio includes A Prairie Home Companion and Marketplace, plus classical music programming.

When the sale took place, the call letters were changed to WPBI-FM 90.7 and the format to classical music.  The public radio format on WXEL was shifted to 101.9 FM, but is also available on HD radio at 90.7. Listeners to broadcast radio complain that the 101.9 signal is weak and can only be heard in the greater West Palm Beach area.

Rampell said the Classical South Florida stations have been losing money, and Educational Media Foundation, a religious broadcasting company based in Rockland, Calif., has offered to buy them from APMG.
However, Rampell says the sale is bad for Palm Beach County residents. Many soon won’t be able to hear programs such as All Things Considered and Morning Edition. “We need a well-informed electorate to make informed decisions about the country,” Rampell said. “And we want that to happen here, too.”

“NPR is a worldwide news organization,” Rampell added. “It has 17 foreign bureaus, more than any other news organization, and over 800 member stations contributing news reporting.”

Rampell thinks WPBI, valued at $6.5 million, could be a moneymaker with the right buyer.
One of those potential buyers: WLRN, the Miami public radio station that also broadcasts NPR. Some private investors, who do not wish to be named, also have expressed interest, Rampell said. WLRN’s signal is strong enough to be heard in parts of Palm Beach County.
Angie Andresen, APMG director of communications, said Tuesday the company does not comment “on opportunities to acquire or sell radio stations.” An Educational Media Foundation executive could not be reached for comment by press time.

The radio station sale contains a confidentiality clause, but Rampell said board members have determined they are not bound by it. The sale is expected to close within weeks.  A Classical South Florida board meeting is set for Thursday, June 25. At that time, Rampell said the board could either vote to approve the station’s sale, vote against the sale or vote to table the matter.If the board does not approve the sale, Rampell said the board has been warned by APMG general counsel Sylvia L. Strobel that it could be fired and a new board appointed by APMG. Board members also could be sued, the board was told.

When asked for comment, Andresen said in an email: “Like all Boards, the Trustees of the (Classical South Florida) CSF Board have fiduciary responsibilities they must uphold. Ms. Strobel periodically reminds all Trustees of these responsibilities through training sessions - the last being at the CSF Board Meeting on November 18, 2014.”
   *   *   *
On reading this, I promptly sent a letter to the Palm Beach Post which they published on June 27, 2015, reading as follows:
                                                        *   *   *   
American Public Media, which purchased WXEL-FM (renamed WPBI-FM) from Barry University a few years ago, has finally thrown in the towel and is now peddling the National Public Radio (NPR) station to a religious broadcasting operation from California.

Broadcasting as “Classical South Florida,” WPB offered a 24-hour diet of classical music and shunted most news and information programming to a 250 –watt transmitter that could not be heard in most of Palm Beach County.  I objected strenuously to this, with several letters to The Post, and went so far as to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission when the station’s license came up for renewal in 2012 – bringing about a six-month delay in that renewal.

I even offered to withdraw my complaint if the station would provide a reasonable mix of news and information programming, along with classical music, on 37,000 watt WPBI-FM, but to no avail.

I live where Miami’s WLRN-FM can be heard, and I now support that NPR station on a regular basis, despite its lack of classical music programming.

Jack Lippman – Boynton Beach
                                                                *   *   *
It appears that donations from listeners and financial support from “underwriters” (businesses which donate money and get a brief message on the air identifying them and their product or service) were insufficient for WPBI to make a go of it.  I, for one, had donated to WXEL (I still drink from their coffee mugs in the morning), but now financially support WLRN in Miami, which I am fortunate enough to be able to receive. 

I suspect that APM's business plan of transmitting its Minnesota-based classical music programming to stations it owned throughout the country, maintaining just minimal staffs locally, and expending just enough resources to meet the FCC's minimum requirements for local programming for those stations, and dealing with local problems like the "news and information" situation they inherited from WXEL in a "bare bones" manner, just didn't work in South Florida.  

This is not to say, however, that APM's independently produced programs such as "Prairie Home Companion" which they provide (at a price) to NPR stations regardless of ownership throughout the nation are not excellent.  (APM did indeed broadcast "Prairie Home Companion," for example, on 250 watt WPBI-News where few could hear it but not on 37,000 watt WPBI).  But this production aspect is a part of APM''s operation which is separate and apart from their ownership of NPR stations.

I wonder how many listeners would have supported WPBI with their donations if their absentee owners had been smart enough to include “Morning Edition,”  “All Things Considered” and a few other NPR programs in with Classical South Florida’s 24 hour music format, as I had suggested.  These carpetbaggers from Minnesota, of course, didn’t do that and now, they will probably have to sell the station at a loss to that religious programming group from California, unless another buyer, as alluded to in the Post article reproduced above, can be found.

In this day and age when fewer and fewer people read newspapers and depend to a great extent on electronic media for their news, the thorough non-partisan radio journalism provided by NPR is important to everyone.   There is no reason why we should not have it available to everyone in Palm Beach County, not just those living within the range of the Miami or Fort Pierce NPR stations.  What are we anyway?  Chopped liver? 

It is hoped that other potential buyers for WPBI can be found.  If that happens,  WPBI might be turned into something operated in the interest of the residents of Palm Beach County providing a reasonable mix of news, information and classical music programming, rather than its present money-losing combination of 24 hours of classical music with news and information formats shunted to a pathetically weak broadcast signal.   I don’t think this story is over yet.
Jack Lippman

Greece - A Balkan Contradiction

The Balkan peninsula is an appendage of Europe extending from the Adriatic Sea to the Black Sea, and culminating at its southernmost point in the country of Greece.  After World War Two, most of the Balkans fell under the sway of the Soviet Union until its collapse, when such Balkan nations as Romania and Bulgaria developed open-market economies, but kept significant socialist features.

The remainder of the Balkans, except for Greece, became known as Yugoslavia, a Communist combination of disparate states, held together by a dictator, Joseph Broz Tito.  When he finally died (he was kept alive artificially with tubes and pumps for years to hold Yugoslavia together), the country broke up into the nations we now know as Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia.  These states  now have open-market economies, but like the former Soviet satillites, still keep some socialist features.

But the story in Greece was different.  There, a bloody three year civil war took place after the Second World War between those who, with Russian support, wanted a Communist regime, and those who wanted a Western democratic state.  The West won in Greece and the Communists lost, and the Greek economy has been in trouble ever since.  One of the reasons for this outcome was strong Western support for a democratic state in Greece, primarily because the West did not want Russia to have the ready access to the Mediterranean Sea which a Communist Greece would provide.  (Communist Yugoslavia, with a long Adriatic coastline, did not provide that because of Tito’s anti-Russian posture.)

Today, the governments in all of the Balkan nations mentioned above, democratic with open-market economies, are more successful than the capitalist Western democratic government in Greece.  They are paying their bills.  Greece isn’t.  As far as I can see, the only viable industries in Greece are tourism, shipping and olive growing and that is not enough upon which to base a nation’s economy.  Similar challenges have been more successfully met in the other Balkan nations than is the case with Greece, quite possible because of their post WW Two Communist experience, from which they inherited a tradition of central planning for the common good, which Greece may lack.

If the Communists had won the civil war in Greece, the nation established there, once the Soviet Union collapsed, would probably be much like today's Bulgaria or Romania with a strong centralized planned open-market economy.  This might result in Greece being more capable of dealing with the challenges they face than their present broken-down economic system allows them to do.


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