Saturday, October 02, 2004

TROUBLE INTENSIFIES AT WBUR. Thanks to an anonymous letter to Boston University, all of the whispered, off-the-record allegations about the way Jane Christo has run WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) are starting to come out. According to the Boston Globe's Mark Jurkowitz and the Providence Journal's David McPherson, the university, which is the license-holder, has received information about Christo - the general manager of WBUR since 1979 - that has led to an intensification of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding 'BUR's planned sale of two Rhode Island radio stations.

According to McPherson:

A BU source confirmed for The Journal that WBUR's hiring is one area of the investigation. BU's online employee directory indicates that Christo's son, Zachary Christo, is employed by WBUR.

Also, former WBUR employees have told The Journal of at least 10 Albanian immigrants employed by the station. Their names are included in the BU online directory and are listed as WBUR employees.

The practice of hiring Albanian immigrants is notable because Christo's husband, Van Christo, is executive director of an Albanian immigration and cultural organization, the Frosina Information Network. He is an Albanian native himself.

Other areas of inquiry, the BU source confirmed, include general spending at WBUR, use of automobiles, a no-bid printing contract and the conduct of WBUR's "Citizens of the World" travel program, which is supposed to raise money for the station.

I can attest that these are precisely the charges that come up over and over again in off-the-record conversations with current and former WBUR employees.

I would urge some caution. I was told by several people, for instance, that though the Citizens of the World tours might actually lose money - not exactly what you're looking for from a fundraising event - they are also valuable opportunities for Christo to schmooze with potential big contributors. I was also told of at least one example in which the schmoozing paid off.

Also, the issue with the Albanians - which Jurkowitz touched on in a harsh profile of Christo in 1997 - has always been a difficult one. If they are performing jobs that need to be done (a matter of some dispute), then there isn't any obvious reason why there's something wrong with giving them a helping hand.

This week, the Phoenix published an editorial calling on Boston University to conduct a thorough investigation and to hold WBUR more accountable to the community, which has done so much to support the station over the years. Among our suggestions: greater financial disclosure, more frequent annual reports (at 'BUR, "annual" doesn't always mean "once a year"), and a community-based board with real oversight power. The Phoenix's Ian Donnis updates the story with this.

Here is a piece that Ian Donnis and I wrote a week earlier on the mounting troubles at 'BUR.

As someone who's listened to and admired WBUR for years, and has also heard many stories about Christo's dysfunctional management style, I have found the last few weeks to be both troubling and fascinating. It would be foolhardy to predict what's going to happen - or, for that matter, to assert with any confidence what the truth is. But it does appear, at long last, that many questions people have been asking for a long time are finally going to be answered.

Who knows? Before this is all over, maybe Christopher Lydon will be back on the air.


Anonymous said...

I believe the old saw is that politics at universities is so vicious because there is so little at stake..

Anonymous said...

Christo is going down. There can be no doubt at this point. That whole thing about Karma is correct. I now predict that a flood of ex-WBUR staffers will send their resumes to the new GM of WBUR once that person is hired. This could be the best thing to happen to public radio for Boston in years.

Lis Riba said...

I'm somewhat surprised I didn't see it in your column first, but Air America Radio has finally made it to the Boston airwaves.
FYI, in case you weren't already aware of it.