Lewes group supports Delmarva Public Radio

Friends hope to preserve current formats of WSDL, WSCL
Lewes Friends of Delmarva Public Radio organizer John Mateyko speaks at the group's Nov. 15 meeting. Listening in are Pam Andrews and Tom Hehman, members of Salisbury-based Friends of Delmarva Public Radio Inc. Both groups are seeking ways to keep WSCL and WSDL on-air and operating in their present formats. BY HENRY J. EVANS JR.
November 29, 2012

A citizens group loyal to Delmarva Public Radio says it's committed to finding a way to keep its two stations on-air, but it will need the cooperation of license-owner Salisbury University Foundation.

Nearly 100 people came to the Nov. 15 Lewes Friends of Delmarva Public Radio meeting at the Lewes Public Library. The Lewes organization is a mirror group formed last month shortly after Salisbury-based Friends of Delmarva Public Radio Inc. formed in Salisbury.

The group says losing the stations would diminish Delmarva culturally, and diminish Salisbury University academically

In July, Salisbury University Foundation received a report it commissioned from Public Radio Capital, a national nonprofit consulting service.

The report recommended the foundation drop WSDL’s news-talk programming and replace it with adult-oriented music.

The firm suggested keeping WSCL’s  full-time classical music programming but replacing local programming with Classic 24, a live-feed classical music provider based elsewhere.

The friends groups say they don’t think the consultant’s report is in any way an accurate reflection of Delmarva Public Radio’s market.

The report concluded Delmarva’s classical music listeners are dying out, and news-talk and National Public Radio listeners are now being served by competing stations WAMU in Washington D.C. and WDDE in Dover.

“You’d think everybody who listens to classical music has one foot in the grave,” said Tom Hehman, chairman of the Salisbury friends group.

He said losing the station would mean the death of hearing local news and information, and classical music programming that is in touch with the local audience.

Foundation has options to keep stations running

Friends of Delmarva Public Radio are asking Salisbury University Foundation to consider several options that could keep WSCL and WSCL on-air and unchanged.

The foundation has not reached a decision.

1. Commit to support DPR for the next three years, including relocation of offices and studios, purchase and installation of new equipment, provide up to $300,000 a year for operating expenses, designate a moderate reserve fund for unforeseen capital expenses, and create a renewable three-year operating agreement.

2. Form a working committee composed of foundation, university and DPR staff and friends representatives. Charge the committee to review options and recommendations generated by No.1 above, to create a mutually agreeable basis for the future.

3. Quickly hire a station general manager to oversee DPR transition. A qualified candidate has already been identified as a strong candidate, at least for a short-term appointment.

Pam Andrews, a former Delmarva Public Radio program director, said 24/7 classical music stations play only selected portions of compositions.

Hehman said that’s why local programming works best.

“If we wanted to hear all of the Brandenburg Concertos, we’d do it; or all of a Mahler symphony, we’d do it,” he said.

Andrews retired about two years ago, after working at the stations for 20 years. She said the university shouldn’t abandon Delmarva Public Radio and those who make it work, its listeners and underwriters.

“The radio station is your radio station. I think it is unconscionable the university would tear it down or not continue operating without notifying you,” she said.

Andrews said it has been heartbreaking to see quality people leave the station and to see it operated by a skeleton crew.

Hehman, a retired Wicomico Public Library director, said he isn’t an accountant but he is accustomed to analyzing financial documents.

Hehman said in his review of available radio station statements, he didn’t find evidence they are “losing, bleeding and hemorrhaging money.”

But he also said, “One thing is very clear, nothing is very clear with Delmarva Public Radio’s finances.”

Michael Pretl, a friends member and Salisbury attorney representing the group at no charge, estimated it would cost $1 million a year to operate both stations.

Pretl said the university foundation gives Delmarva Public Radio the space it occupies in Caruthers Hall. But the hall is scheduled for demolition in May, to make way for a new $90 million library complex.

Pretl said no space in the complex has been set aside for radio station studios.

“Apparently, it doesn’t figure into their plans,” he said, referring to Salisbury University’s long-range plan.

Pretl said Janet Dudley-Eshbach, Salisbury University president, wrote the stations are nice but not essential, in a commentary letter published in the Daily Times-Salisbury.

“If WSCL and WSDL ever do go the way of the black-and-white television – if things don’t work out as many of us hope – it will not be for lack of trying,” Dudley-Eshbach wrote.

A Nov. 20 request to interview Dudley-Eshbach about her commentary was not successful.

Richard Culver, Salisbury University director of media relations, said Dudley-Eshbach wasn’t available, and that her commentary speaks for itself.

Jason Curtin, Salisbury University Foundation interim executive director, attended the Lewes meeting.

He said the foundation gives Delmarva Public Radio about $140,000 a year, plus $90,000 in-kind.

Curtin, on Nov. 19, said the foundation has not yet reached decisions about anything related to Delmarva Public Radio.

Charito Calvachi-Mateyko, a member of the Delmarva Public Radio advisory board, said she and Don Rush, WSDL’s news director, have produced stories that have won Associated Press awards.

She said the station received recognition for its story on convicted pedophile Dr. Earl Bradley and for a story on Latino life on Delmarva.

“No other broadcaster gave that opportunity,” she said.

Calvachi-Mateyko said the station’s news presence is significant and must be continued.

“It fills a societal need that no other station does. Our voices cannot be silenced,” she said.

Hehman said groups from Easton, Chestertown, Ocean City and Kent Island have asked the friends group to speak to them about how they might be able to help save Delmarva Public Radio.

“In short, our broader community has pledged to work together to show moral support, to provide tangible support and, with a healthy dose of imagination and Eastern Shore ingenuity, to devise solid solutions not only to save, but ultimately to strengthen and perpetuate this asset of so much value to us all,” Hehman said.