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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

I am puzzled by the fact that there has been so little discussion about the pending sale of WBFO to WNED, but Jeff Simon doesn't disappoint. Regrettably, he apparently feels compelled to slam an innocent bystander along the way. If he could have avoided that he might have made some valid points.

Some background. Mr. Simon has had a WBFO problem at least from the time when  I moved to this city, and probably before. When I was named to the Advisory Board I took it upon myself to try and address him about the issues he raised, as did the station's General Manager at the time, Jen Roth. Jen offered to meet with him on several occasions, but Mr. Simon declined. I took my usual course, and challenged him in correspondence. To the credit of both the Buffalo News and Mr. Simon every time he wrote a column about the station and I wrote a letter objecting to his rhetoric or his claims the letters appeared in print. I've never met Jeff Simon, but for the most part I find that his taste in cultural matters-- particularly in music-- is pretty close to mine. I can truthfully say that I have never been disappointed when I have bought music that he has recommended.

I can also report that since I was term-limited off the WBFO Advisory Board I have had only minimal contact with the station, although I remain on friendly terms with many of the people there. Over the course of the last ten years there have been a number of programing decisions made that have disappointed me. For the most part these decisions amount to dialing back the jazz programing in favor of repeat broadcasts of nationally syndicated programs like Car Talk. Having spent a fair amount of time over the years discussing programing with David Benders I can understand why these programing decisions might have been made, but I have never liked them.

So, with that, some thoughts on Mr. Simon's column. First, he reports that in order to solicit opinions on the subject he started a Facebook thread. This is at once a useful application of social media and a dubious journalistic methodology. The thread is worth reading. From there Mr. Simon moves on to his usual criticism of the jazz programing in Western New York generally and on WBFO in particular. I think that he may have a macro for this. I also think that under the circumstances it is unfair to call out Dave Benders, a guy who has been with the station for his entire professional career. For one thing it is not necessarily true that Dave is the guy who makes the final call on programing decisions. Saying "It is my personal opinion--one in which many concur --that few arts or media executives in this city’s last 40 years have done the city more harm than Benders," is bullshit journalism. Mr. Simon is entitled to his personal opinion, but hiding behind an anonymous "many" is a cheap shot. (I also think it is made up.)

He then quotes Al Wallack, who was a jazz guy at WNED, and presently occupies the WNED position which is the equivalent to Dave Benders': "It had been clear for some time that UB had lost interest in WBFO, from the way they let their jazz programming erode so badly to the fact that they never really filled the station manager position after Jennifer Roth left." This statement is, I think, true, and I think it gets to the heart of the issue.

He then praises the memory of John Hunt, and gives a shout-out to Bob Rossberg. Both have been dead for years. Mr. Simon seems to have never gotten over this, since he mentions them every single time he writes about WBFO. Nostalgia is a disease, and the persistent invocation of these conceded greats does nothing to advance the disussion. He invokes their memory in order to propose that Dave Benders be sacked, which is a crumby thing to do, and then proposes that WNED name a list of notables to the WBFO Advisory Board. Some of the names he throws out are friends of mine; I know most of the others. I have no idea if any of the people that he lists are interested, but here's the thing: even if they were, I doubt that the Jazz Radio Utopia that Mr. Simon envisions (which would, I emphasize, sound a lot like the Jazz Radio Utopia I'd like too) would be brought about by such an advisory board. In order to know that you have to know a little bit about the corporate governance of public broadcasting operations. The enabling legislation, which goes back to the Johnson Administration, got a little muddled in conference, as these things tend to, and as a result so-called "community owned" outlets are not required to have an advisory board. Outlets owned by educational institutions are required to have advisory boards, but they do not serve a governing function- they are what they are called, "advisory". I don't know if WNED has an advisory board-- I can't find any evidence of one, but I suppose it might. Here is a list of the WNED Board of Trustees. Here is the present WBFO Advisory Board.Oh, and just for fun, here is WNED's 2009 tax return.

So here's where I see it. As is often the case Jeff Simon and I agree on the big picture: the sale of WBFO to WNED is a regrettable move by the University at Buffalo. We agree that more jazz programing on local radio would be swell. We part ways on the details: Mr. Simon sees this as an opportunity to hurt Dave Benders, and uses the news of the sale as an opportunity to construct an imaginary radio station that will never exist.

| Comments:
Jeff Simon is absolutely ridiculous. None of what has taken place is David Benders' fault. He has been with the station since 1969. Sorry, Mr Simon, that things weren't the way YOU want them. David Benders is not the final decision maker. His love of jazz all these years and his dedication to the station speak volumes over Jeff Simons pathetic attack.
 
Dave Benders is a good man, there is no need to "dis" him in the press. He did his job as best he could under the constraints of the 8,000 lb gorilla that is UB, his employer. I don't envy him that task.

 

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