Lewes public radio supporters want input

Charge advisory meetings held illegally
Bill O’Connor of Lewes Friends of Delmarva Public Radio, asked organization members to reach out to others who listen to its stations to join in a letter-writing campaign to keep them on-air. The group wants letters mailed to elected officials who might be able to speed Salisbury University Foundation’s decision. BY HENRY J. EVANS JR.
February 13, 2013

The Lewes arm of Friends of Delmarva Public Radio has grown tired of waiting for a response to its proposal to save two stations owned by Salisbury University Foundation and will seek answers from other authorities.

The grass roots friends organization is encouraging WSCL-FM and WSDL-FM listeners and supporters to write more letters to Janet Dudley-Eschbach, Salisbury University president.

The group said it would also seek assistance from Maryland and Delaware elected officials who it thinks should be at the table participating in deciding Delmarva Public Radio’s future.

The friends submitted a proposal to the university in November and say they were told they would receive a response by the end of January; group organizers said they’ve heard nothing.

Jason Curtin, Salisbury University Foundation interim executive director, said the university is considering several options and could make them public this month.

“Whatever the university is doing is a dark secret,” John Mateyko told a gathering of about 50 people Jan. 30 at a friends’ meeting at Lewes Public Library.

He said the university has a history of concealing decisions about Delmarva Public Radio as evidenced by a decade of failing to make radio advisory-panel meeting agendas public and illegally prohibiting the public from attending meetings.

Mateyko said the Federal Communications Commission requires those meetings to be open to the public. But, Mateyko said, when Michael Pretl, the attorney representing the friends, informed the university of this, officials said they had not known about the requirement.

Mateyko said Dudley-Eschbach has been orchestrating Delmarva Public Radio’s demise since she arrived a decade ago.

“Why has she found so much wrong that was not wrong before she took office?” Mateyko said.

He said Dudley-Eschbach’s claim the stations are bleeding money doesn’t square with written statements from previous station general managers Fred Merino, Jerry Westin and Mike Dunn.

“The process is pitch black. It is very clear the university president runs the show,” Mateyko said.

He said the university is making up facts to fit what it wants to do – dismantle and shut down the stations.

Organization members said they think it’s time to ask Gov. Martin O’Malley and Gov. Jack Markell to intervene with special legislation to keep the stations alive.

Group officials said Norman Conway, the state delegate who represents the university area, is aware of what’s happening, but when contacting his office the only response they get is he’s working on it.

Conway is House Appropriations Committee chairman, and the friends group said he has the power to influence the situation and should do so.

Over the past 25 years, Delmarva Public Radio has received $2.7 million in federal funding, $2.4 million from the university, $4.3 million from businesses and cultural arts organizations, and $7.1 million in listener contributions, according to the friends.

“Is anyone from the government or from the cultural arts or business supporters involved in the decision? No. The community wants to be involved in what’s going on here,” Mateyko said.

Dick Conti, an organization member and former public radio consultant, said speaking in December, Dudley-Eschbach said she looked forward to a dialogue with the friends organization as well as several other proposals. Conti said the group has not heard from her.

Conti said the big decision is whether to accept whatever the university comes up with or to challenge it in court. He estimated it could cost up to $200,000 to initiate legal recourse.

The organization thought it would be invited to the decision-making table, Conti said.

“But it’s now quite clear that they don’t give a damn about our proposal,” he said.

Caruthers Hall, the building housing Delmarva Public Radio’s offices and studios, is in poor condition and is slated for demolition in May to make room for a new library facility. Seven of what had been 15 station employees, Mateyko said, are working in a dilapidated structure the university has abandoned.

He said even though demolition is scheduled to start in about 120 days, the university has not mentioned plans to relocate station facilities and keep them on-air.