WNYC hires host touted by mayor, opposed by staff

Originally published in Current, Feb. 14, 1994

Over a strong objection from some 40 staff members and hundreds of listeners, WNYC-AM/FM/TV President Thomas B. Morgan has scheduled Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa as cohost of a new afternoon call-in show on the AM outlet, starting Feb. 16 [1994].

Morgan says Sliwa fits his plan for a "radio verite" local talk show called New York Beat, and denied that the city-owned station is being pressured by new Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to hire Sliwa, an outspoken Giuliani campaign supporter and recently fired talk host on commercial WABC.

The public stations' continued existence, as well as Morgan's job, depends on the mayor, who called Sliwa on-air at WABC last month and suggested that WNYC might have a place for him [earlier article].

"Just because a suggestion came from the mayor, it's not necessarily a bad one," said Morgan. "Nobody twisted my arm. You can't say I was pressured, because I wanted to do it."

Staffers who signed the petition, who declined to have their names publicized outside the station, urged Morgan to postpone work on New York Beat and reconsider the hiring of Sliwa. "There is a widely held belief that this sudden decision to implement a new local talk show was greatly influenced by politics," the staff memo said.

Hiring Sliwa will hurt WNYC's "credibility" and break the "bond of trust" between the station and its supporters, the petition said.

Callers clogged WNYC's switchboard last week and spoke out on its air, criticizing Sliwa's street language and worrying that he would dilute or overwhelm the "thoughtful" tone of its AM talk shows, according to a staffer.

Option: selling WNYC

The Sliwa debate arises at a sensitive time for WNYC, as the station asks Giuliani not to sell the broadcast licenses but to let the stations operate without taxpayer assistance. Transition advisors to the mayor recommended sale of the stations, and the mayor's four-year financial plan this month discussed WNYC under the heading "disposition of assets," according to Morgan.

The mayor presented two options, Morgan said: selling all or part of the WNYC group, or working with the WNYC Foundation to make the stations self-sufficient.

Foundation fundraising has grown to support all but 10 percent of the stations' budget and all but 15 of 161 full-time employees, Morgan told Current.

He doubts the city government would go for a third option missing from the mayor's list--transferring the licenses to the foundation.

To some staffers, Morgan's adoption of Sliwa appears to be an attempt to accommodate the mayor. "The perception here is that he feels hiring Curtis will help save the station, either by making the mayor friendlier or by increasing revenues," a staffer said.

The same theory occurred to Marty Goldensohn, Marketplace bureau chief stationed at WNYC, who whipped out a verse that reads, in part:

For Tom, a tough call as they tell it
This dilemma, the fates have befell it
If he didn't give in
Mayoral henchmen step in
And they grab the whole place and they sell it.

Morgan's job also hangs in the balance. An appointee of Democratic former Mayor Harold Dinkins, he serves at the pleasure of Giuliani, a Republican. [Two months later, Morgan was out.]

Atypical public radio

Whether Sliwa and New York Beat will increase or decrease revenues--and audience--is a matter of opinion. Sliwa could bring listeners from WABC, which averages 10 times the audience of WNYC-AM, or he could simply chase away the public station's fans.

Larry Orfaly, WNYC's managing director for radio, said Sliwa "had been open in discussions to thinking about the differences between commercial and public radio."

"I don't think we're going to wind up with Curtis Sliwa doing a typical public radio program, but that's not what we want."

"Sliwa is a courageous and provocative New York personality, a hard-working, street-wise reporter, who talks to people in all walks of life, in all corners of the city," Morgan said in a release last week.

The station will pair Sliwa with temporary cohosts until a permanent cohost is found, according to Orfaly. At WABC, Sliwa teamed with his wife and Guardian Angels colleague, Lisa Sliwa, but they are getting divorced, and Morgan said she declined an offer from WNYC.

Sliwa's salary will be $35,000 at WNYC, compared to $125,000 at WABC, according to the New York Times.

Morgan and Orfaly said Sliwa fits into preexisting plans for New York Beat, which was already foreseen in the WNYC budget, though as an evening show. Moving it to the afternoon gives Sliwa better interview possibilities, Morgan said.

Two NPR programs, Talk of the Nation and Fresh Air, will be tape-delayed from afternoon until after dark, when WNYC-AM's power drops from 10,000 to 1,000 watts.

"Nothing matches Morning Edition and All Things Considered," Morgan remarks, but in the midday, local programming for us, on the AM station, is to be desired."



"A suggestion from the mayor,
especially when the president of a station is waiting for reappointment,
is a command," commented a former WNYC director.

Giuliani suggests talk-show host to WNYC
City-owned station considering mayor's program idea

Originally published in Current, Jan. 31, 1994

Two weeks after the new mayor of New York City suggested the idea, the city-owned public broadcaster WNYC is talking with the leader of the Guardian Angels about co-hosting a three-hour weekday talk show.

The station expects to decide this week whether it will pick up a proposal by Curtis Sliwa, the beret-wearing leader of a well-known citizen anticrime patrol.

If the proposal is accepted, the station and Sliwa are "leaning toward" airing the show on WNYC-AM, weekdays between 2 and 5 p.m.--a slot now filled by Talk of the Nation and Fresh Air, says station spokesman Joseph Bevilacqua. The two NPR-distributed shows would probably be moved to the evening.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a fan of Sliwa's recently canceled talk show on WABC-AM, called during Sliwa's last broadcast, Jan. 15 [1994], and suggested that WNYC might be a place for him to go.

"The executives here said that sounds like something we'd like to think about," and they called Sliwa, according to Bevilacqua.

The proposal for WNYC-AM envisions a program different from the one on WABC, Bevilacqua said. "Like all the other talk shows we have, this show wouldn't have a particular point of view." And WNYC would hire another co-host whose opinions would contrast with Sliwa's.

His noisier WABC program, in comparison, featured Sliwa's opinions and "a lot of yelling and screaming" at callers, according to a newsman familiar with the program and with WNYC.

WNYC President Tom Morgan was not available for comment.

Advice from the mayor

Getting a programming tip from Giuliani makes Morgan's situation all the more awkward. Morgan was appointed by Giuliani's predecessor and campaign opponent David Dinkins, and, like other department heads, he routinely submitted his resignation for the new mayor to consider.

"A suggestion from the mayor, especially when the president of a station is waiting for reappointment, is a command," commented Mary Perot Nichols, Morgan's predecessor at WNYC.

Past mayors also have participated in WNYC program decision-making, she noted. In the 1920s, the first mayor to oversee the station, John F. Hylan, kept opposing politicians from appearing on the station, and Fiorello LaGuardia "called the station and screamed if he didn't like the opera they were playing." Then in 1980, Edward Koch announced that all stations should broadcast the names of convicted patrons of prostitution, and WNYC aired that list once. The incident damaged the station's reputation with some funders, and one withdrew a $250,000 grant. "It knocked the stuffing out of me," Nichols said.

She quit soon after, though she returned to the job for the years 1983-90.

"The perception that a mayor is interfering with the programming is really a downer for foundations and members who like to think it is independent of political control," Nichols said.

Under Nichols and Morgan, WNYC has greatly reduced its reliance on city funds, and most employees are now paid by the WNYC Foundation. Nichols believes the city should transfer the AM, FM and TV stations to the foundation.

Indeed, advisors to Giuliani have suggested selling the three stations, though with the objective of earning some cash. That was the recommendation of the mayor's transition committee on privatization, according to the New York Times.

"Every time there's a transition, that question is always brought up," said Bevilacqua.



Morgan out at WNYC; mayor names publisher to post

Originally published in Current, April 25, 1994

After hearing that he would not be reappointed by the mayor of New York City, Thomas B. Morgan resigned April 21 as president of WNYC-AM/FM/TV. Morgan had been appointed by the previous mayor, a Democrat; Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is a Republican.

Giuliani named Emmy-winning newsman and publisher Steve Bauman the next day to fill the position. Bauman began his career at the local ABC-TV station and rose to anchorman, producer and investigative reporter at the Metromedia station. He then served as chief operating officer of the New York Law Journal Publishing Co. in 1980-86, and president of two community newspaper companies since then. He received two Emmys, an Investigative Reporters & Editors Award and other awards.



To Current's home page

Earlier news: Morgan hired by previous mayor, David Dinkins, 1990.

Later news: WNYC gets new start, having bought itself from the city, 1996.



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