Thrill Is Gone at WAIF

Your recent foray into the realm of WAIF radio ("Naughty Stepchild," issue of May 3-9) seems to have raised a few officious hackles. Not surprising. Within the organization it has long been common k

Your recent foray into the realm of WAIF radio ("Naughty Stepchild," issue of May 3-9) seems to have raised a few officious hackles. Not surprising. Within the organization it has long been common knowledge that, when it comes to the board of trustees, somebody questioning any action, thought or lack thereof is deemed an enemy, and repercussions for such impudence can be most severe.

Given the board's privileged position, this bellicose stance may consume a lot of energy but has served well to maintain the aura of authority. It serves very poorly, however, at keeping the workers happy.

As you painstakingly note in the article, a frightening number of the tasks necessary to keep the station in compliance appear to have been left undone or denied, placing the station in jeopardy. For pointing out these faults, you are accused of conducting a "witch hunt." Again, no surprise.

Volunteers who voice real concerns are routinely painted as attempting to "take over" or "damage or destroy" the station, loyalties are impugned, characters are besmirched and all too often sanctions are exacted. Appeals to logic or fairness or even legalities mostly fall on deaf ears.

The board seems incapable of accepting anything more than servility.

Several effects result from these authoritarian assaults. Over the years, countless talented and able volunteers have been drummed out or simply throw up their arms in frustration and walk away from the whole mess. Many, many others witness the potential for pain associated with board dealings and choose to hunker down and shut up and hope the whole thing blows over. Potential volunteers who might otherwise opt to put their shoulders to the wheel get wind of the tactics they might run afoul of and prudently decide to take their efforts elsewhere. Kindred organizations steer clear of the egoistic firestorms as well.

Meanwhile, morale at the station steadily plummets. And since imagination and creativity as well as energy are linked to morale, it might well be argued that the quality of programming suffers as well.

But the point is that belligerence and bullying steadily shrink the volunteer pool, and the spirit of what remains is effectively crippled. A kind of depression sets in, the station begins to neglect to brush its teeth and comb its hair and the thrill is gone.

As the article points out, responsibility for the work that needs to be done rests with the board. But they can't possibly do it all alone and yet, completely contrary to the very concept of community radio, they drive off potential workmates. It's almost a pathology.

Many volunteers, programmers and concerned citizens now agree that it can't go on this way any longer.

— Bill Polak, Cincinnati

Pick on the Real Radio Monsters
I read with interest your cover story on WAIF radio and its latest set of misdeeds ("Naughty Stepchild," issue of May 3-9). My interest in WAIF started before they went on the air. I was an early member, became a volunteer and programmer in 1979, was elected to the board of trustees in 1981 and served as station manager in 1982. But I haven't been to the station since and rarely listen either.

The problems you describe are pretty much the same now as they were 25 years ago. The station is seriously under-funded and under-managed. There is a divisive membership who are willing to tear each other apart over meaningless trivialities but ignore the large issues.

These are flaws that were built into the station's charter by the idealists and hippies who first formed Stepchild Radio in the early 1970s. They won't go away without an infusion of money and talent — neither of which will come without some organizational stability, and that seems to be an impossibility.

WAIF rocks back and forth between competing interests. With the mix of anarchy and socialism built into the station's very structure, dumping one board and electing another is so easy as to be inevitable whenever arguments come up. Each new board and management team seems to want to repudiate the previous administration — at least that was the case when I worked there — and the in-fighting described in your article suggests that the same is happening again. Is one side better than the other, or are they both just fighting to run the station as they see best?

All that being said, I wonder what point your article is trying to make. It can be summed up by saying, "WAIF is run by amateurs with few radio skills," an observation that could be made by anyone who listens for a day.

WAIF and CityBeat seem to have much the same target audience, so why does CityBeat need to attack another media source trying to serve Cincinnati's underserved? WAIF is a deeply flawed organization, but it's still a vital resource in a city that has very little outlet for dissenting voices.

You say that the station is all about Jesus and Jazz, and a quick check of the program guide shows that those are the two most popular programming formats at WAIF while neither one makes up more than about 5 percent of the total schedule. Even if those were the only two communities served by the station, at least that would be two more than served by any of the Clear Channel media monstrosities that dominate radio in Cincinnati and the rest of the country.

WAIF might be a mess, but the kind of angry research you spent upon it would be better directed to the vast wasteland that makes up the rest of Cincinnati media.

— Randall Reese, Newport