The End May Be Near For W-Bach
By Al Diamon
Classical out of gas? Here’s an update on the W-Bach chain of commercial classical-music radio stations.
The future looks dim for that format.
Last week, the Portland Press Herald reported that one of the three stations, WBQW (104.7 FM) in Kennebunkport, would drop its high-brow programming on Sept. 13, when new owner Mainestream Media takes over. Mainestream bought the station earlier this year at an auction of the assets of bankrupt Nassau Broadcasting.
The online speculation is that Mainestream will revive the hip-hop/rhythmic contemporary hits format of the old WRED. That’s because legal documents from the purchaser were signed by Lee L’Heureux, former music director at WRED and later a promotion guy at Asylum Records.
As for the other two W-Bach stations, the online rumor mill has WBQI (107.7 FM) in Bar Harbor being sold off by new owner Binnie Broadcasting of New Hampshire to Maine-based Blueberry Broadcasting. Exactly what Blueberry would do with the frequency isn’t known, but none of its other 17 stations play classical music.
That leaves only W-Bach’s midcoast station at 106.9 FM. While its website says it will continue classical programming, it’s unlikely the costly operation could be sustained for long by a single station with a limited coverage area. One possibility being floated is that the Maine Public Broadcasting Network might buy it as the start of its own commercial operation playing the classical format that has been reduced to a few hours a day on its nonprofit stations. But MPBN has financial problems, due to current and future reductions in the funding it receives from the state, so it’s not clear how it could afford that sort of expansion.
As they say in the biz, stay tuned.
Virtual schools, real conflict: Maine People Before Politics, an advocacy group backing Republican Gov. Paul LePage, put out a news release on Sept. 10 attacking MaineToday Media staff writer Colin Woodard for having an undisclosed conflict of interest. MPBP said Woodard’s recent special report on the politics and lobbying behind licensing virtual charter schools in Maine should have included a disclaimer because Woodard’s wife, Sarah Skillin-Woodard, sits on the advisory board for the Baxter Academy of Technology and Science, a charter school in Portland that’s licensed to open next year.
Because Maine law allows only a limited number of charter schools — either physical, like Baxter, or virtual — MPBP says the generally negative view of virtual schools expressed in Woodard’s story works to Baxter’s advantage by making it more difficult for potential competitors.
According to a quote in the release from Jason Savage, executive director of MPBP, Woodard’s conflict “has blown a hole in the credibility of this report; the investigative reporter; and Maine Today Media as a whole.”
That would seem excessive, except this isn’t the first time Woodard has failed to reveal such a potential conflict. Earlier this year, he published an extensive biography of LePage in the Portland Phoenix without mentioning that his wife was working as a volunteer with OneMaine, a group set up to promote the political goals of independent Eliot Cutler, who ran against LePage in 2010 and is widely expected to challenge him again in 2014. Woodard also failed to mention that he was engaged in writing a report for a group that included Cutler on its board of directors.
As with the LePage story, the virtual-school conflict doesn’t seem serious enough to disqualify Woodard from doing this story. Nor does it negate the high quality of his work. Nevertheless, it should have been disclosed if only to head off attacks such as the one from MPBP.
Why Woodard has failed to take this simple step continues to mystify me.
Budding ombudsman: I’m having a hard time getting excited about Maine Attorney General William Schneider’s choice for the new post of public access ombudsman. Schneider appointed his special assistant (read: spokeswoman) Brenda Kielty to the $88,000-per-year job.
According to a news release last week from the AG, Kielty “has worked as an educator, a mediator and an attorney, and serves as a member of the RSU #5 Board.” While that’s an interesting resume, it doesn’t include experience in journalism, public advocacy or any other profession whose members are likely to make regular use of right-to-know and freedom-of-information laws. Given her background, Kielty is probably more familiar with thwarting such efforts than facilitating them.
Another concern: According to news accounts, Kielty is not making a clean break with her old job as Schneider’s public information officer (read: flack). The Portland Press Herald reports she’s “expected to transition into her new job over the next few months.” Apparently, during that time, she’ll simultaneously be in charge of both expediting efforts to get information out of the AG’s office and blocking them.
If those concerns don’t bother you, feel free to ask for Kielty’s help in prying open government secrets by calling her at 626-8800 or emailing email@example.com.
Grard redux: More than two years after he was fired from the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, Larry Grard has found a new daily newspaper reporting job at the Times Record in Brunswick.
Grard, who had worked at the Sentinel for 18 years, was abruptly dismissed in late 2009 for sending an angry e-mail to a pro-gay-rights group in Washington, D.C., while on company time. Grard objected to a Human Rights Campaign news release attributing the repeal of a same-sex marriage law in Maine to hatred of gays.
“We’re not the ones doing the hating,” he wrote. “You’re the ones doing the hating.”
Last year, Grard settled a lawsuit he filed against MaineToday Media, the Sentinel’s owner, for undisclosed terms. Since his firing, Grard has worked for several publications, mostly as a freelancer. He started at the Times Record in August.
“A story in Friday’s newspaper on the efforts to extend Maine’s ban of the chemical bisphenol A should have said the chemical potentially affects the mammary gland. The story incorrectly identified the organ as the memory gland.”
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.