RHODE ISLAND RED. The Providence Journal's David McPherson has a terrific story today on the finances of WRNI Radio (AM 1290), which Boston University's WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) purchased six years ago and is now trying to sell. (For the story that Ian Donnis and I wrote for the Phoenix this week, click here.)
It turns out that WRNI is operated by a foundation separate from WBUR, and is thus subject to reporting requirements considerably more strict than those that govern WBUR - which, since it's part of Boston University, really doesn't have to report much of anything. Among the Journal's revelations:
- WRNI ran more than $9 million in deficits during its first five years of WBUR management. Yet WBUR spokesman Will Keyser continues to insist - as he did to Donnis and me - that money has nothing to do with 'BUR's decision to sell.
- Tom Ashbrook, the host of WBUR's On Point, drew his $135,000 salary from WRNI during fiscal year 2002. The reason: the show started at WRNI, then moved and morphed into its current form after 9/11. But how much in Rhode Island donations migrated to Boston, unbeknownst to the contributors? (Of course, there's no reason to think that Ashbrook knew about this arrangement, either.)
Keyser told McPherson, "The plan all along from WBUR's perspective was that this was not a long-term strategy to run and operate a public radio station in Rhode Island. The long-term strategy was in essence a five- to six-year plan to build from zero to viability, with the community, a public radio station."
But if that's the case, why wasn't 'BUR and its general manager, Jane Christo, up front about that right from the start? Why did the station announce layoffs a month ago, with no indication that it was looking to sell until last Friday? And why had no one ever even heard of this we'll get it up and running and then turn it over to the community plan until last week?
Questions, questions, questions.
Here is the GuideStar.org page for the WRNI Foundation.