CAB Minutes: February 2005

7 pm, Wednesday, February 9, 2005

The New York Society for Ethical Culture

MEMBERS PRESENT: Neal Zuckerman, Alex Senchak, Edward S. Sawchuk, Mary O'Hara, Christopher Small, David Weinstock, Shawn Williams, Barbara Genco, Sallie Gouverneur, Fred Friedland, Elizabeth Nam, Toby Butterfield, Dave Hall, Inge Reist

APOLOGIES: Kelly Wachowicz, Charles Murray, David Rahni, Nicholas Arture, K.C. Sahl, Emily Gertz

WNYC STAFF: Phil Redo, Lori Ann Krushefski

NON-MEMBERS: 19 members from the general public

Neal Zuckerman called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m., introduced the CAB and discussed their role. He then opened the floor to public comment.

One member asked if the Society for Ethical Culture's building was accessible to people with disabilities. Neal Zuckerman and Lori Ann Krushefski volunteered to investigate prior to the next CAB meeting.

Another member of the public said she was a very avid listener, and that in the last few weeks, she became concerned about the amount of time being taken from NPR programs to air WNYC reports. She said she didn't object to WNYC stories, but felt that last week, during an hour of NPR programming, only about 10 minutes of the hour was not preempted for WNYC reports. but last weekend, two ME programs, only 30 minutes of NPR stories. She felt that was excessive, and that she really sees WNYC in large part as a conduit to NPR. She said she understood that the allocation of time should be done according to what's going on in the news, but wondered if there was a way to not take time out of Morning Edition.

Another member of the public asked why Selected Shorts never gained a position back on the FM dial. He said it was a problem for people who have poor AM reception.

Neal Zuckerman explained that a member of the board would look into all the issues raised by members of the public.

Another member of the public referenced the January CAB meeting at Montefiore Hospital. He said that the focus of the meeting was on Latinos, and though Latinos tend to be religious, there was no religious representation on the panel, and said that no one mentioned anything about religion. He asked why churches had not been contacted about the meeting. Dave Hall said that churches and mosques in the area had been contacted and invited to attend.

Another member of the public suggested that the CAB could have included on the panel someone from the Bronx County Historical Society.

Neal Zuckerman than closed the public comment period, and asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the January meeting. After typos were corrected, the minutes passed unanimously.

David Weinstock mentioned that the October and December meeting minutes still needed to be approved, and since copies had not been brought to the meeting, Neal asked that this be tabled until the April meeting.

Neal then opened the floor to comments from CAB members.

Shawn Williams felt that the transition from Tavis Smiley's show to News and Notes with Ed Gordon worked very well. She said that Ed Gordon is a well-respected journalist, and that she thought it was a good show.

Inge Reist built on the comment from a member of the public and said that she also finds that pledge drive super-hour campaign to raise money for what WNYC pays to NPR heightens awareness of the NPR outlet that the station provides. Yet, she felt there is an inherent conflict in providing local news while impeding access to the NPR national feed. She agreed that she would better balance so as to not impede access to "this very dearly-purchased service" (NPR). She said she would love to see one of the CAB meetings devoted to programming, as the vast majority of public comments do address programming.

Barbara Genco said she would like time during that meeting to talk about daytime classical music.

Dave Hall mentioned the end of The Tavis Smiley Show, and said he thought it was a greater loss than one might think. He further said that he is committed to representing the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual and Transgendered community, and recommended that WNYC consider airing Under the Pink Carpet. He thought WNYC might have a sufficient number of interested listeners to justify airing the show.

David Weinstock mentioned two major investigative journalism reports that had aired in the last two weeks on WNYC. The first was a report on Dan Doctoroff's dual role as Deputy Mayor of Development and Chair of the New York 2012 Olympic bid. The second was on Orthonet, an intermediary hired by major health care providers to evaluate physical therapy claims of patients. He explained that both took time away from Morning Edition, and were further discussed on Brian Lehrer's show. He was interested in hearing what the CAB members and members of the public thought of those two reports. – two major investigative journalisms – Doctoroff and Ortho/rehabilitation therapy. He said he felt the reports represented an important part of what WNYC can do.

Lisa Nam said that while she initially thought the Dan Doctoroff story took a bit too much time away from NPR, she later felt that as an NYC-area resident, it was interesting to learn more about the man who was 2nd in charge, and that she felt she wouldn't get that reporting anywhere else. She said the report made her more aware of how city decisions might be made, and who Doctoroff might be tapping into for assistance, advice and money.

Inge Reist said she felt the reporting was a bit much. Barbara Genco said she thought the quality was superb, and that as a taxpayer, she was shocked by the Doctoroff report. She said she felt it was important and consistent with the CAB's message to the station that they expect WNYC to identify and report on local issues.

Alex said he was happy that WNYC allocated time to promote smaller cultural events about which listeners might not otherwise hear. He specifically referenced the station's promotion of the Dahesh Museum. He believes that the announcements allow people to round out their perspectives by patronizing places they have not attended before.

Neal Zuckerman referenced an article on KCRW in Time Magazine. He said the article also referenced WFUV, citing the stations as "tastemakers". He then asked the group if they felt WNYC was a tastemaker, and if so, how? If not, should it be?

Barbara Genco said she felt WNYC was a tastemaker in music. She said that John Schaefer is known throughout the music community, and is held in high regard, especially for his knowledge of new composers. She said she felt he's drawn the city's attention to interesting composers, ensembles and venues, and that she could go on at length about what he's done to introduce new music to the New York City environs.

Neal said the article talked more about tastemaking on a national level. He said that during WFUV fundraising, for example, people donated from all over the country.

WNYC's Vice President of Station Operations, Phil Redo, was asked to comment. Phil said that while WNYC admires KCRW and WFUV greatly, that the article was really talking about what technology allows them to do. He also said that WNYC's primary mission is to superserve New York. He said that while everybody would like to get the kind of publicity that comes along with being called a tastemaker, WNYC is most interested in responding to the needs of this community. He said WNYC does get a lot of listening from all over the world through the internet, and now through WNYC's introduction of podcasting, but that mostly WNYC wants their content to be resonant with people living in this community.

Dave Hall said that he felt aspiring to "tastemaker" status is somewhat unbecomingly lacking in humility. He said he felt tastemaker status was not so much about the reporting of trends and playing of new music, as much as it is about reflecting the taste of the listening community. He did say he wished WNYC had more music, and less talk radio focused on topical issues. He felt WNYC's desire to responding to listeners' interests without being too paternalistic on issues regarding art, education, etc. represented a higher goal. He said that WNYC's good reportage and good reporters, will definitely make it a station that others want to emulate.

Shawn Williams said that she agreed with Phil. She said that January's CAB meeting was an example of how WNYC was striving appropriately to penetrate the Bronx – an area where it has historically not shown great penetration. She said WNYC doesn't yet reach all the people "up the street", and so that a focus on the nation was not appropriate. She agreed with the idea that WNYC should focus on satisfying the needs of New Yorkers.

Fred Friedland commented that he felt there is almost a paradox in scheduling two unique music programs against each other (AM and FM) at 10 p.m. on Saturdays. He said the same listener is likely to enjoy both Oscar Brand (AM) and Peter Schickele (FM).

Neal Zuckerman said he felt being a tastemaker had less to do with being national or local, but more on whether the station reflects a particular taste or not. He said he felt WNYC was erudite, witty, representative of all sides of a story, and was always centered in intelligent thought. He further said that he felt classical music does not reflect our community. He said it may reflect some segment of New York, but that he did not feel that classical music, whether new or traditional, reflects this city. He said he thought the station should move away from music entirely, and become really about talk and a source of intellectual thought.

Neal Zuckerman then asked the group for their evaluation of the January Bronx event.

Ed Sawchuk said that he had in prior meetings expressed concern about the setup not doing enough to solicit community input. He said that at the meeting, he was pleasantly surprised to see how well Brian Lehrer was able to draw out such great topics, great discussion, and promote a rational atmosphere. He said he thought the meeting truly represented a high point of the CAB's proceedings. He said he had been surprised because issues he thought would be brought up weren't, and that issues he didn't think were relevant turned out to be relevant. He was impressed with the panelists depth of knowledge, and recognized their participation as being key to the success of the event.

Neal Zuckerman suggested a written thank you be sent to Brian Lehrer, Nuala McGovern and Jim Colgan for helping pull the event together. He said they put together a great group of panelists and made the event even stronger.

Alex Senchak said he had been reflecting on the relatively low attendance, and thinking about how to incorporate more people in future meetings. He said he felt the letter that was sent to influential members of the community was mistaken as an individual invitation instead of a request to promote the event. He suggested that in the future, the CAB may consider partnering with another cultural organization. He also suggested that multiple flyers be included in mailings to make it clear that the mailings were being sent as a request for promotion. Alex further stated that he was very pleased to hear the event continuously promoted on WNYC's air.

Dave Hall said the event demonstrated that the CAB functions best when listening rather than talking. He said it was instructive to listen to the audience rather than pontificate about what individual CAB members think about WNYC. She suggested the group consider restructuring regular meetings to bounce ideas off the public. HE also proposed there be more listener comment as the CAB proceeded through specific items of the meeting.

Inge Reist said that she felt the CAB would be more successful if they were able to promote the meetings as being focused on particular topics like local news, religious issues, gay/lesbian community issues. She said the on-air announcements could explain that the CAB proposes to address the station's coverage of "x" at its next meeting. She felt that would yield higher attendance.

Dave Hall said that the January meeting was slightly problematic in that the CAB focused both on Latino audiences and the Bronx community. He said that non-Latinos who attended might have wondered how the event was relevant to them. He suggested that if the CAB could reach people on smaller scale, they may be able to cover more material.

Neal asked Phil Redo if the station felt comfortable promoting a specific topic. Phil said that topics would drive audience to the point of making the CAB meeting an event, and that in terms of security and event management, the station would find it difficult to provide the resources on a regular basis. He also said that the goal of the CAB announcements is to make sure people understand there is a regular opportunity to voice their opinions, and that it wasn't the job of the CAB to solicit opinions on specific topics. He said that when people show up for the meetings with their own agenda, their comments carry greater weight.

Fred Friedland said that often it's more difficult to respond when there is no specific topic. Neal suggested continuing the conversation at another time, and moved back to the conversation about the Bronx meeting.

Lisa Nam said that while she did feel the attendance left something to be desired, perhaps the attendance was indicative of a community that doesn't listen to WNYC. She said that could be for a number of reasons – they may not know that WNYC exists; they may find the content or style off-putting. She suggested the CAB consider what they could do to try to bring new audiences in, since they are a vibrant part of the NYC community.

Toby Butterfield said he felt the most telling comment was that it was difficult to get kids interested in WNYC because so much of other radio is louder in tone. He said this got to the core of an issue that NPR debates all the time--finding a tone that attracts younger audiences without diluting main message of NPR/WNYC: in-depth, comprehensive, serious issues dealt with in an adult manner. He singled out The Tavis Smiley Show as one that had had a slightly different emphasis and tone. He said that people who listen to WNYC in general may not have found Tavis' tone to be one to which they relate, but that perhaps that was good. He suggested that WNYC may need a bit more programming that's pushing the envelope.

Mary O'Hara said that the CAB needed to be careful in suggesting that they focus on increasing listenership because it wasn't a core goal of the CAB. She also said the audience and panel said that Latinos were underserved by the media as a whole, and its the job of NPR and WNYC to ferret that out and deal with it.

Dave Hall said the CAB can't be completely passive–that they need to figure out the needs of the community and determine whether WNYC is serving them.

David Weinstock then reviewed the plans of the recruiting committee. He said they were looking to recruit 3 – 5 new members. He asked CAB members to send him an email if they were available to conduct interviews. Neal and Toby volunteered their offices as locations to hold the meetings.

Neal Zuckerman then reopened the meeting to public comment.

Tony Martinelli, a former CAB member, said that he felt the reports on Dan Doctoroff and the follow up on Brian Lehrer's show with Tom Robbins and Andrea Bernstein were extraordinary. He said the reporters were very careful to not overstate the situation to get attention. He said he felt it sounded like the research and interviews they conducted were appropriately done. He also said he was happy to hear Dan Doctoroff was being given a chance to respond this week on The Brian Lehrer Show.

He also said it was fascinating to come to a meeting after 8 months being off the board. He told the group that many of the suggestions made to the station had been acted upon, and that it was their role to continue to raise concerns, even if they had brought them up before.

In response to the discussion about "tastemaking," another member of public said he would hate to see WNYC fall prey to the growing cult of celebrity. He also mentioned he had taken a tour of NPR's D.C. offices, and asked if WNYC could offer tours. Phil Redo responded that the condition of the building made it impractical to offer tours regularly, but that they were done on an ad hoc basis.

Another member of the public said that Tavis Smiley had been a good addition to the WNYC lineup. He said that he liked that the show was different and didn't sound like other shows on public radio. He liked Tavis' rapport, and that Tavis had black professionals on the show all the time. He cited Connie Rice as a phenomenal reporter on the show. He asked what had happened.

Phil Redo explained that Tavis had chosen to not renew his contract with NPR, and that it had been fairly well publicized, on and off the air. He said NPR had wanted Tavis to stay on.

Another member of the public said that, comparatively speaking, WNYC's product is first rate. He said that he believed the product is fine for a non-white audience – it's palatable, no reason to change it. He said he felt there needs to be a vehicle to make people aware of it. He said that WNYC is on the leading-edge of stories, and that people can't get this reporting elsewhere.

Another member of the public asked why WNYC kept airing reruns of The Infinite Mind. Phil Redo responded that the show was having financial problems, but had asked WNYC to continue airing it until they got more funding. Phil said that the show is of very high quality, and that WNYC believes it's the kind of programming public radio has to stand for. He said the reruns won't go on indefinitely – that they'll need to get funding, or the show will end.

Another member of the public asked why parallel programming had begun on FM and AM after 9/11/01. Phil Redo explained that following the attacks, the station had to provide a simulcast because of damage to station equipment, and that the station felt that the programs available on AM were the ones that best meet the need of the public at that time in our history. He said that at that point, when those programs were made available on FM for the first time, WNYC received an enormous positive response from the community. He further said that 80% of all radio listening is done on EITHER AM or FM; that relatively few people switch between both. As a result, many programs are provided on both streams.

Another member of the public suggested the station consider airing Leonard Lopate during the early evening hours.

Another member of the public said she felt WNYC doesn't have a good mix of music. She said there is a huge gamut available – from hip hop to Bach. She also said she would definitely advocate for more programming for/about/by the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered community.

Another member of the public said that while he felt the ads the station has for itself are very clever, there are days when he listens for 8 hours and hears them 30-40 times.

Neal Zuckerman announced the next meeting would be held on April 13th, and adjourned the meeting at 8:30 p.m.