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CAB Minutes: November 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space

The meeting ran from approximately 7:05PM to 8:15PM.

The meeting was chaired by CAB chairperson Basya Mandel. Other members present included:
Michael Bauman
John DeWitt
Fred Friedland
Tiffany Hall
Shavonne Johnson
Joyce Lannert
Gaye Leslie
Allison Meserve
Rachel Porter
Michelle Reed
Ken Stewart
Monica Strauss
David Tereschcuk

Basya: Welcome. Thank you all for coming. The Community Advisory Board's role is to advise the Board of Trustees on whether or not WNYC is meeting the cultural and educational needs of the community. Our role is advisory in nature. Your participation is vital in that role. I'd like to begin the meeting by gathering comments from the board on the new programming, specifically in relation to the WQXR acquisition. I'd like to turn this over to John Dewitt.

John Dewitt: Back in September, we were concerned about the change, which had not yet taken place. Several of us were querying the station but it was too soon to tell. Speaking for myself, and for a number of people, a lot of people are very pleased, especially by the fact that many of the hosts remained. Jeff Spurgeon, Midge Woolsey, Elliott Forrest are all there, and sound as good as ever if not better.

The hosts sound much looser, here on WNYC. WNYC has a certain style. Musically the station has changed some and not very much, but some for the better. They played a piece this morning by Yorke Bacon, whom I had never heard before. That kind of variety still in the late romantic tradition worked very well.

The issue that I have heard is the problem with the signal. If my wife stands in the kitchen at a particular position, the signal fades. I think the station is in good hands. Terrance has come over to QXR, and David Garland, and Helga is still on overnight. I think overall it is doing well, but we've got to keep watching. Signal strength is the big issue.

Ken: Have not found the QXR signal in Orange County

Joyce: We are getting the signal, slightly weaker then before, but we are getting it in Ossining.

Gaye: Signal is stronger then other stations, but I have a perpetual sound of frying eggs—some time it's minor, other times it's a nuisance. Engineers are trying to mitigate the sound of frying eggs, so I can be patient.

Fred: I had expressed some apprehensions about the whole switchover, but I am gratified to say that those apprehensions where unnecessary and unfounded. I think they have made it better, and even more cultivated. I also think that, although WNYC is intelligent, it's intentionally non-erudite. I think that WQXR has a sound of the elite.

Basya: John, do you want to take questions from the audience?

Female Guest #1: I am speaking for more then just myself. Bill McLaughlin being moved to 11 is a real loss, many older people can't hear it in that time slot. You will hear about more of my issues later on. My name is Ethelyn Hoenig.

John: I agree that he should be back at his 7 o'clock time slot.

Male Speaker #1: My name is Lewis Shrady, I live in Westchester county, and I have been a listener for 66 years. I have been posting on David Garland's blog, expressing my apprehensions about the changes. Apart from saving the operation itself, the rest of it has been a dreadful disaster. The wisest course was to have left WQXR intact, where it was at 5th Avenue and 18th Street, and autonomous as possible. With as much of its programming and on air people as possible. I calculate that, of a listenership of just under 800,000 just before the change over, you've lost 250,000 people due to reception issues. Due to the anger in the blogosphere, I estimate that the number might be as low as 400,000 by the end of the year (Station staff note: Arbitron ratings in January indicate that actually WQXR has gained listenership, at 842,000 per week).

As a general rule, only 10% of your general audience ever pledges anything. WQXR really only has 25,000 pledges by these calculations. If WQXR had stayed where it was, they would have been so grateful that they would have pledged at a higher rate. This would have given you 6 million dollars right there. Most of this has been jeopardized. All of WQXR's former support staff is gone, and you can see how much things have been floundering. Many works have been played five or six times over the past six months.

Fred: Could we respond to a few things? The laws of physics and the laws of economics can't be transcended. The fact is we rescued WQXR...it was not going to remain under the Times. It was going to disappear or become something else. Automation means that we don't need support staff. People are not listening constantly, so some repetition does not represent a massive problem with management. I don't think there will be a loss in contributions.

Female speaker #1: Are we being taped?

Basya: Yes.

Female speaker #1: I hope I don't talk too much tonight. I am here really for a major thing having to do with repetition. I must have a gene that likes variation. I will get to my points on repetition when we talk about AM/FM, but I hope that this board is here to listen and not to rebut.

(cross talk, in essence saying that the CAB is here to pass on comments to the board)

Basya: the distinction is that the last speaker was talking about music being replayed, you are speaking of programs being re-cast.

Female speaker #1: Anyway, the last speaker was talking about repetition, and that's the problem I have, so if it's on WQXR and the AM station, it must be a real problem. If it is happening on FM, then it should be investigated. That's all.

John: I worked in radio for many years. When you make program changes, you inevitably require getting things adjusted. WQXR are getting their feet wet in this particular operations. I am not an apologist for the station by the way, but they are in a much better studio space then they were. There is no way that any organization that was publicly supported could possible have afforded to buy the assets of WQXR and the frequency. WNYC got a steal on the station, but the main thing is that it's been done. We need to increase the quality of the signal, which is a lot of work. The effort to preserve a classical music program -- even if there are hiccups -- should be respected.

Female Speaker #2: But will you relate this?

Basya: Yes. To clarify, our role is to report to the board of trustees, and we do relate our concerns.

Female Speaker #2: But you say things like "so be it" and "it can't be helped."

John: It does get recorded. It will be relayed and it will be summarized in the minutes. It gets back to them.

Male Speaker #2: I've been listening to WQXR for 25 years. It wasn't until reading the blogs with this switchover that I realized that there are a lot of really passionate classical music fans. People are doing whatever they can to get a better signal. My question is a technical one, based on this weaker signal. I am worried that people are trying, but now are getting fed up and leaving in frustration! The soft parts of the classical music are getting swallowed by static.

John: Where do you live?

Male Speaker #2: Inglewood, New Jersey. Not that far. It's a noticeably weaker signal. Are the stations hands tied in the amount of watts it can have?

Fred: The station, like all stations, is restrained by the FCC regulations.

Male Speaker #2: So that's the limit. Is there any possibility of getting more power?

Fred: It depends on the rating of the station. Is there any possibility of having repeaters around the station to repeat the signal?

John: There are some plans, but Inglewood is theoretically in the prime coverage area. So I don't know that it would help you. NPR has just produced a radio, independent of antennas, and I think I'm going to buy one just to see what happens with it. The station needs to look into it.

Michael: On the repeater end, a booster, which is on the edge of the range. In New Jersey, the repeater is down the shore.

Fred: It transmits the station at a different location, at a new frequency so as not to cause interference.

Male Speaker #3: I am also having a problem with signal. I live in Briarcliff, New York. Signal is just awful. My specific question is, why the programming was not swapped! For voice, you don't need the sound quality that you need for music, so why not swap the channels and have the weaker station be voice.

Fred: It would be too complex and too confusing for established WNYC listeners.

Male Speaker #3: It doesn't make sense.

John: I think it does make sense. A lot of people still don't know about the WQXR change. Even if there was cross promotion, there would be chaos.

Male Speaker #3: Eventually it would settle. Then we would have music on a higher quality frequency.

Male Speaker #4: My name is Joe, I've been a listener since I was a little kid. Yes, the signal was weaker. I am sad that the Times sold it out. But, we have to work with what we have. I am upset about a few programming issues. You have the first half of PipeDreams, twice. Why not have it on in its entirety, and maybe in one go? From the Top, a classical music program for children, is on at 10pm. Why not have it at 7 when kids can listen? Bill McGloughlin's program is now at 11, so I can't listen to that anymore. Things like that.

And, the remotes. The beautiful chamber music concerts at the Frick Collection. Cut the Spanish institute right in its tracks! The old QXR broadcast the first one, but the other three got cut. You don't have to broadcast them LIVE, but you could broadcast them later, recorded. We are also missing Reflections from the Keyboard. I keep the radio on for the programs that you can't get on a stack of records. They are the most important.

John: Your comments are being recorded, and I don't disagree with you. If the manager of the station knows these concerns are out there, they will do their best to work around them. The will work their way through given time. I would be a little patient.

Male Speaker #4: Make it known that people want live music.

John: Give them a chance. Sometimes when they drop something, it's not completely their choice.

(crosstalk) Play the programs at the Proper Times. I understand.

Fred: People have different listening schedules. .

Male Speaker #5: Since the takeover, there has been lots of simulcasting. BBC is on three times on three stations at once! (crowd agreement)

Female speaker #2: I am quite thrilled that someone was able to save WQXR. I assume that the problems with broadcast range will be addressed. What I would like is for WNYC to cover themselves, in some sort of on-air way, when this important thing is taking place! There was no discussion of the change over. In the same way that Brian Lehrer discusses every single community issue. Why didn't Brian Lehrer have a program on this. I allege that they were discouraged, muzzled, from covering this process.

Basya: I agree, I think it would be a good idea. The CAB did hold a meeting discussing the change over.

Female speaker #2: But look at the scale of audience here, versus Brian Lehrer Audience. I think they treat us like donor contributors, and not like members. They seem to not really want to listen to what we want.

John and Fred: I think that's a very valid concern.

John: In terms of timing, since the station takeover was approved on Sept 10th, they had to hit the ground running. The FCC won't let you talk about what you are going to do with the station until you are ready to operate it. I would really encourage someone like Brian or Leonard to take this on.

Fred: Most stations don't encourage that. Even WBAI.

Female speaker #2: So what? You need to discuss it on the air! If you are going to be a member organization—I am just saying that emphatically.

John: I used to have "talk to the manager" and I would get whatever grief I got.

Fred: We will suggest that, but there doesn't seem to be much will.

Rachel: These comments are very valid, but we don't have any authority.

Female Speaker #2: These are comments, you don't need to defend it.

Rachel: Listen lady, I'm completely on your side. I'm just saying that this all does get relayed, but we don't have much of a control. A lot of us agree with a lot of what you are saying.

Female Speaker #2: Another comment on another issue is that I believe that it does not serve the community needs and that it is squandering a resource to have the same program on two stations. Please have alternative programming, for example to Whad'Ya Know and Prairie Home Companion. I leap for the radio when those things come on, and have no where to change to. Finally, I really need the BBC back at midnight! But that is my own personal listening tastes.

Female Speaker #1: My name is Ethelyn, and I live on 95th Street. There are dead zones, and people don't seem to understand why. I am here because I wrote a long email, and the response was that everyone will be upset with changes. I am an artist. WNYC has never covered the visual arts. You are giving us sound-bytes. This simulcast is 3.5 hours back to back of repetitive news from Washington. It's really irritating, so I turned it off. I've lost Terry Gross. I don't know where Krista Tippett has gone. All Things Considered for 3.5 hours back to back on FM. I am an artist. Many of us are there at home, and listening while they are doing repetitive work. The point is that I made a graph. ATC is on both every day, Marketplace is on both every single day.

Basya: I think we've heard your concern. We don't need to go through the entire schedule.

Female Speaker #1: Prairie Home Companion? Forget it. I turn it off. Maybe, I am some kind of snob but I can't stand the Takeaway.

Basya: Now we are going to review the calendar. Unfortunately neither Leslie nor Gaby is here to talk about last months meeting. Ken?

Ken: Can we have the calendar read?

Basya: Everyone has a copy.

Ken: So you are denying me request to have it read? People are here recording this. I think it's good business to start each meeting with a reading.

Fred: (reads the Agenda of events of the meeting)

Ken: I propose that the Agenda be amended to have a place for old business and new business.

Fred: Seconded.

(cross talk about voting and changing the agenda)

Basya: The next item is to clarify the next meeting's times. They are all on the third Thursday of the month. There is no December meeting. Now there will be an update from the jurisprudence committee. Briefly, if they could report for a moment on what they think it will contain, and who they plan to invite.

Rachel: So, we've settled on three topics for what will be discussed on the panel: How judges are chosen and why that's important, staffing of legal aid, and prosecutors legal options on the face of Rockefeller drug law reforms. These are a range of justice and jurisprudence issues. We are still working on who we want to be panelists. An obvious choice would be former chief justice Judge Kaye. There are a number of possibilities, and we've been in touch with a bunch of people, trying to get the right balance between prosecutors and judges.

Michael: Just to add...there are a bunch of possibilities. I don't know that Judge Kaye is possible, but I've been touching base with a few practitioners throughout the city.

Shavonne: I am on the CAB, and want to make sure that we stay on WNYC. How WNYC covers judicial changes, and legal changes, and how WNYC does with covering them, and how they are discussed in the media.

Basya: That will be formulated when we create the panel.

Rachel: But, rather then talk about how WNYC has covered these things (because they have barely covered these things) it would be better to advise the station on what they could cover going into the future. 30 issues in 30 days didn't touch one of these.

(cross talk asking for explanation of what is being discussed)

Basya: We meet monthly and we have set aside certain meetings to cover certain topics. The one we are talking about is jurisprudence, happening in January. Next is the Performing Arts committee, Tiffany?

Tiffany: I think I'm the only member left! We basically have looked at New York. We really wanted to look at how WNYC is covering the arts, beyond the traditional. We see ballet, opera and the like, but we want to work on how WNYC can expand to cover things like experimental theater. We are still looking for panelists, but we think we can expand the WNYC audience by covering larger portions of the audience.

Fred: Our former member, David Weinstock, who moved to Boston, will be joining us for our May meeting. Certainly science is an important thing for the station to cover, and I don't think the station covers much of it. We are still looking at who we might get for the panel. What I am concerned about is scientists talking about "science," instead of talking about WNYC's coverage of science, so it's a tricky panel to put together.

Basya: Lets move to the old business and new business.

Ken: Keeping in mind that there are still some listeners who are not communicating through email and the website. I had an experience trying to call the station...it would be good for the station management that it would be easier to call the station. Using assistance I got the old city numbers. I eventually got a real person, who put me in a menu that didn't have any information about today's meeting, but I guess we just relayed that concern last month.

John: I would say the phone services have been bad since they moved from the Varick Street address. It can be difficult to get to a real person when calling the station. When you call Listener Services number, you get a menu to choose from, and rarely get a live person at the station.

Female Speaker: Can we put that number on the website!? I find it's hard to find.

John: I eventually found the information I needed, but only through the Greene performance space site.

Male Speaker #6: The BBC model for feedback is fantastic. World Have Your Say, and the like.

Gaye Leslie: Brian and Lenny do it pretty well at giving the website, the blog, and the facebook page. I would like to mention something: all the station has to do is call Verizon, and ask them to please install call forwarding. It's not hard. I agree with a previous statement that we should have more discussion on the air about WNYC things like WQXR, but I am sick of the constant updates telling us about the new change after the fact. Too much repetition. And the phone tree is terrible! WNYC is very bad at communicating its own information for a communications network.

Female Speaker: Everyone is bad at communicating, WNYC, Verizon, the IRS.

Basya: Moving on, Ken did you say you had new business?

Ken: The other thing I wanted to mention was a comment about The Takeaway. I now have a slightly better impression of The Takeaway. Three things: they sometimes give time checks. The co-host is very understandable, and I appreciate that change very much. Thirdly, I think there is less clowning around, and I appreciate that.

Basya: One final thing: please get back to me before the meeting with Agenda Changes in the future. Now we will move to the final public comments section.

Male Speaker #6: My name is John, I'm a former Marine Corps communications specialist. Usually I listen to the BBC from midnight to 6am. Hockenberry comes on at 6am with his hype and spin and coffee. You hear the way he rushes through the events without really having a grasp on the issues. To stay abreast with world events, you have to be even-keeled. The American model of reporting is - for the greater part - horrible.

Female Speaker #3: I think that To the Point is great, glad it is back on, but I am very disappointed that Michel Martin's show is aired twice.

Female Speaker #1: I live and stay here because of visual arts. How can you get visual arts into a sound medium like radio? There's a whole world there that's never really discussed! There are a lot of art students, maybe what it's like to get a job in New York? Or how about Studio visits? I could make my studio available. Visual arts are getting ignored, except a show called Ovation on TV.

I'm privileged. I can afford the New Yorker, I can afford Ovation, especially after hearing Bobby Kennedy speak the other night. He was criticizing the media. Is he writing a book? I have not heard from him. He's so fabulous to listen to. He was saying that there is a law that we ought to know about. That the airwaves belong to us, and that we are entitled to be informed. Because I read the New Yorker and the New York Times, there is a lot of overlap of the same information. How many times can we discuss abortion? What you are doing is missing imagination. Not thinking outside the box. The school that I went to, Sarah Lawrence, we've now got our vice president who went to Sarah Lawrence because of the dance department. People don't know that.

Male Listener #7: My name is Arnold, I'm a Chelsea resident. There should have been more coverage of Natural Gas drilling north of the city. It will affect our water quality.

Male Listener #6: So you are saying that the strong investigative reporting aspect has been lacking.

Female speaker #4: I am a WNYC listener. I'm glad for WQXR, they have a station, but I want to report from WNYC FM. My world has changed a lot. I don't mind that evening music moved, because it had changed already. I am complaining that so many of the items on the FM schedule changed unnecessarily. Since I am trying to find the few programs that I do listen to, it doesn't make sense to have things on at the same time.

Basya: We are just about out of time, so let's be brief please.

Male Speaker #4: I mentioned before about the duplication on AM/FM...they eliminated the evening music, so in essence, we will put all the music on WQXR. That's not right. We should still have a choice. Finally, don't put too much emphasis on the website. It shouldn't be the main way of dispensing information. Don't over-commit to the internet. It's a nice thing to have, but radio is much more reliable. And you have to have a way of reaching the station by telephone.

Basya: Any final comments we might have missed?

Ellen: I'm on the board of WNYC, and I will make sure your statements get back to the board. What's the process of getting feedback?

Basya: Well, the station reviews the minutes, but we report to the board once a year.

Ellen: I am the token NJ person on the board. I got WQXR almost all the way to the bottom of NJ. And sometimes all the way up the Connecticut freeways. We need to be sure to let people know of specific places you don't get a signal.

Fred: Reception can be influenced by topography.

Bob Henneley: We really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy lives to come check in. We've been through a lot of changes. We are in the middle of a dramatic media overhaul, a dramatic transformation. Like at the New York Times, the Trenton bureau has been closed, Newark has been closed. A dear friend of mine from the Village Voice who is an art critic for the Star was let go, and we are trying to work him in. We are at a crazy point in terms of scarcity, so be patient with us, and thanks for your help.

John: I know we are out of time, but the question of how the feedback goes to the administration. I know the minutes are written and recorded, but I want to know why is it that we only have one chance (formally) to provide feedback to the board? We should have more back and forth there.