Friday, October 08, 2004

CHRISTO OUT AT WBUR. WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) will announce later today that its embattled general manager, Jane Christo, will resign from the post she has held since 1979, Media Log has learned. Christo reportedly made her intentions known to senior managers at the station this morning. Her actual departure date is not yet known.

The Boston Herald presaged her departure in a piece today by Greg Gatlin, who wrote that "speculation was growing among station insiders that she may resign as soon as this weekend."

Christo's resignation shows how dramatically her position has deteriorated since last Friday, when Boston University - which holds the license for the much-admired public-radio powerhouse - announced that it was investigating accusations of mismanagement and nepotism. As late as Tuesday, as I was approaching deadline for this Boston Phoenix article, well-informed sources were suggesting that Christo's job was probably safe until BU wrapped up its probe, which was expected to take two weeks.

Still, I also heard suggestions that BU would be wise to nip what had become a public-relations nightmare in the bud as quickly as possible, and not wait while the station continued to lose confidence with donors and corporate underwriters. As for whether that's what finally happened, or if Christo decided she'd had enough, it's impossible to say right now. The circumstances of her pending resignation point to its being voluntary.

Christo had long presided over WBUR with a mixture of fear and secrecy. She built the station into among the most important and influential in the country, offering five hours a day of locally produced (if not exactly local) news programming in addition to shows from National Public Radio and the BBC World Service. But her treatment of the station as though it were her personal realm, combined with a brutal management style and her precipitous firing of good people for the slightest of reasons, earned her a long and influential list of enemies.

Meanwhile, it appears that there is little likelihood of WGBH's swooping to the rescue over the mess that Christo left behind in Rhode Island. Recently Christo announced that WBUR would sell WRNI (AM 1290) in Providence, as well as a sister station in Westerly, stunning the community and walking away from a $2.4 million investment it had made just six years ago.

At the behest of Rhode Island officials, BU put the sale on hold pending the review of documents pertaining to WBUR's internal operations, which include reports of millions of dollars in losses at both 'BUR and 'RNI over a period of several years.

Today the Providence Journal reported that, though WGBH might want to form some sort of partnership with those seeking to keep WRNI as a public-broadcasting outlet, it would not purchase the two stations outright.

Nevertheless, Christo's departure has still got to be considered good news for Rhode Island. Earlier this week Gene Mihaly, president of the Foundation for Ocean State Public Radio, told me he believed the stations could have become solvent if it had not been for 'BUR's profligate spending. Maybe BU will now choose to keep the stations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Maybe BU will now choose to keep the stations."

You gotta be kidding me. BU has a long and sordid history of sticking with bad investments long after they should have cut and run. But that history was the direct result of now-ex-president John Silber. While I have no illusions about Silber still trying to exert as much power as he can with BU, the tide is definitely starting to shift; Christo's departure is just one example.

I'll unveil my cloudy crystal ball and make a few predictions...

Expect that BU will unload the stations and expect they will do it to a commercial entity that can pay the most money. Rhode Island might end up forcing WRIU to become NPR news and use WGBH's money and expertise to do it. Or maybe not...that's a tough call. There may be room for a new non-commercial station in the near future with WSMU (UMass Dartmouth's) impending departure from 91.1FM to 89.3FM...but any new station has to wait until the FCC opens a new "application window" for non-commercial licenses, which will happen a few years after hell freezes over at the rate things are going.

You can also expect that most, if not all, of senior management at WBUR is going to be gone within a month or two of a new GM being installed. That is, unless someone is promoted internally to the job. I don't think that'll happen...the sad truth is that Jane survived by surrounding herself with weak and ineffectual people who are generally loathed by the staff; I don't see anyone in WBUR senior management having the savvy, charisma and willpower to captain a battleship like WBUR. And in the real world anyone can see that WBUR is due for a "house cleaning" anyway; a new GM should be brought in from outside.

On that note, I've got $10 on the GM of New Hampshire Public Radio being offered the job at WBUR before Christmas. Any takers? :-)

Also expect that Christo will attempt to exert influence of her own for as long as possible over WBUR, but that too will wane over time, and will end abruptly if a good GM is brought in from the outside.