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WMNF-FM scales back program changes

In a contentious meeting Tuesday night, community radio station WMNF announced it is backing away from radical program changes but is sticking to its plan to eliminate one of two shows that play Latin music.

Saving the show Oye Latino has become a cause celebre for vocal supporters. The 90-minute program on Sunday nights mixes traditional Latin music with Hispanic news and music history.

WMNF-FM 88.5 program director Randy Wynne has been criticized for saying the station was no longer committed to capturing new Latino listeners. Instead, Wynne wanted to significantly expand programs appealing to African-Americans, an audience it has largely lost over the past decade.

But standing before about 130 volunteers, show hosts and listeners at a packed Seminole Heights church Tuesday night, Wynne said he is giving up trying to overhaul programming.

Saying the station was "stuck in the status quo," Wynne told the crowd, "It's almost impossible to put new programs on the air."

His new proposal would expand local news and lengthen the national talk show Fresh Air. A two-hour jazz show and one-hour talk show with a black host also would be added.

To accommodate those changes, Wynne intends to cut five hours of folk music, two hours of alternative music and one of Latin music, Oye Latino.

That drew ire from some who said the changes were too drastic and from others who said they didn't go far enough.

At one point, Oye host Franco Silva grabbed the microphone and made a pitch for his show. "We have to include the Latinos," he said, to a round of applause.

One woman shed tears at the prospect that the music show, Dark Horizons, will be moved to a different time slot. Wynne responded, "I'm not trying to punish Dark Horizons."

Sandy Thompson, a volunteer for a Sunday morning talk show featuring black activist Connie Burton, charged that station programming is "too white." Others had the same complaint.

Initially, Wynne wanted a full Sunday of "Afro-centric" programming. That would have displaced a stream of shows, including Sunday Simcha, a program of Jewish music and The Polka Hour.

Station manager Vicki Santa told the crowd that WMNF wants to embrace diversity but that it also must pay its bills. WMNF is largely supported by listener donations, and Oye has never been a big moneymaker. During its last fundraising drive, it raised $1,400.

The battle for Oye went electronic a few weeks ago, with dozens of angry e-mails lobbed at Wynne. Hispanics now outnumber blacks in Hillsborough County. Oye listeners say commercial AM stations that play pop Latin music can't replace the show.

Wynne said there isn't enough support or listeners to justify the show. Instead, a salsa and jazz show will be moved from Sunday to a better slot on Saturday.

Wynne said that while the supporters of Oye were loud, they were few in number. He said he got 30 calls in support of retaining the show.

The prospect of moving Sunday Simcha drew 600 calls.

"Will somebody get me some water?" Wynne asked at one point.

"Hemlock!" someone yelled back, drawing laughs.

_ Kathryn Wexler can be reached at wexlersptimes.com or 226-3383.

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