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Fire On The Mountain 

The Struggle for WNCW's Soul

Page 2 of 6

Davis, who did not return repeated phone calls, left WNCW in late 2000. That same year, she told Mountain Xpress reporter Tracy Rose, "It was my mistake... we all make mistakes." The tenure of Davis, a college employee with no prior radio experience, suggests the difficulties Isothermal faces in dealing with an entity like WNCW that is so different from a community college.

In October 2000, the WNCW Mountain Oasis Music Festival was held in Hendersonville. In the months leading up to the festival, the station's sponsorship of such an event was called into question by former station volunteer Bill Bost of Hickory. At the core of Bost's allegations was his belief that the resources of the non-profit WNCW were being improperly used for the benefit of the for-profit festival, which Bost says violates FCC regulations. The station assured Bost that his concerns were groundless, and WNCW proceeded with its sponsorship of the event, promoted by Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment in Knoxville, TN.

Two days after the Mountain Oasis festival, Bost delivered a 16-page letter to Isothermal President Dr. Lewis, detailing what he describes as concerns about "mismanagement by the Station Manager and Program Director," namely DeLane Davis and Mark Keefe. Bost says, "The concerns and allegations expressed here are on behalf of a large group of people who have invested and devoted many years of their lives to the enrichment and growth of WNCW."

In fact, the letter contained additional issues raised by former Program Director Greg Hils, Kay Crouch, Alan Tinney, Marshall Ballew, Linda Osbon, an anonymous WNCW staffer and Russ Jordan, who had recently resigned after more than 10 years as host of the Saturday bluegrass program. Hils had resigned as program director to accept a job in Colorado some years back; Kay Crouch was director of music at Caldwell Community College, and Tinney, Ballew and Osbon were either full- or part-time employees of WNCW.

By any reading, it was a remarkable document. The issues raised included suggestions the station had drifted from its original programming concept, an alleged cover up of a fuel spill at the station's transmitter, the aforementioned discarded premiums, Bost's concerns with the Mountain Oasis sponsorship, and a host of other matters pertaining to WNCW personnel and policy. The signatories decried the disbanding of the citizen advisory board, charging "there is no tolerance for public input," that "e-mails and letters are discarded as a regular practice," and that "volunteers, current staff members and WNCW members have been alienated and ignored on a regular basis."

There are indications that Dr. Lewis was shocked by this document, which some have attributed to a policy by DeLane Davis to insulate Isothermal from controversies within WNCW. If that was her intent, it failed miserably. She resigned from ICC in November 2000.

At the same time, WNCW was attaining new heights of public acceptance and industry accolades, including Keefe's first Programmer of the Year award.

In the end, however, Bost's complaints would be vindicated. When his protestations were ignored by WNCW and the ICC Board of Trustees, he filed a complaint with the FCC in December 2000. A year later, the FCC issued an admonishment that fell short of a reprimand and carried no financial penalty, but essentially validated many of Bost's contentions. The ruling, which sent shockwaves through public radio stations nationwide, said the way WNCW had promoted the festival amounted to illegal paid advertising. The festival tickets provided for station staff and those designated to be given away as fundraising premiums were deemed to be the actual payment.

WNCW chose not to appeal the ruling, but NPR and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters launched their own appeal, concerned by the implications for their member stations. The FCC upheld the ruling, making one modification that did not alter the admonishment to WNCW.

Despite his insistence that he was acting for the good of WNCW, Bost's actions were viewed with hostility and suspicion by station management. For his part, Bost felt he had reason to doubt whether anything he said would be looked upon with objectivity.

Some months before, Bost had withdrawn from the live music Almost Acoustic program after a dispute with Keefe over the terms of the production. After that, bad blood between the parties clouded any hope of a rapprochement. By the time the FCC decision was announced, hearts and minds had hardened on both sides.

Conflict, Arrests, and the Hickory TalibanLinda Osbon took a curious path to the WNCW controversy. She earned an associate's degree at ICC, where she found an outlet for her lifelong love of music at WNCW and became a station volunteer. Soon, Osbon was trained and began to do on-air shifts, eventually becoming a full-time staff member. On the day she discovered those premiums put out for the trash, she was assistant program director for operations. Later, she'd have something in common with Alan Tinney and Marshall Ballew, who also signed Bill Bost's October 10, 2000, letter of concern to Dr. Lewis -- none of them remain on the WNCW payroll today.

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