Rob Lorei fired at WMNF after 40 years

Station says firing was an attempt to help move WMNF into "a new world" beyond just radio broadcasting.
WMNF radio founder and host Rob Lorei talks with a guest on his talk show. He was fired from the public affairs station on Monday. {Times files 2005
WMNF radio founder and host Rob Lorei talks with a guest on his talk show. He was fired from the public affairs station on Monday. {Times files 2005
Published Feb. 20, 2019

TAMPA — Rob Lorei, an iconic figure in Hillsborough County politics and broadcasting, has been fired from his job as news and public affairs director at WMNF, the non-profit "community radio" station he helped found some 40 years ago.

Lorei and the station announced the move Monday.

Lorei, 64, said he intends to continue, at least for now, another local broadcast endeavor for which he's well known, the "Florida This Week'' political panel show he hosts on Tampa's WEDU Public Broadcasting System television station.

In a statement, WMNF general manager Craig Kopp said the station "has ended its long-running relationship" with Lorei.

"We are deeply grateful to Rob for all he has done for WMNF. … We wish Rob well in all his future endeavors."

The statement said the station will continue its focus on "local issues and how national and international issues affect the Tampa Bay area," and would undertake a national search for a news director.

In an interview, Kopp said the firing was an attempt to help move WMNF into "a new world" in news media beyond just radio broadcasting.

Lorei said in an interview he hopes to remain in Tampa. He said he doesn't want to leave "the station I love," and that the reasons Kopp gave for firing him were "not factual."

"I don't contemplate any legal action,'' he said. "What I hope is that the board and the listeners will recognize how much I put my heart and soul into making WMNF a success and I hope they don't take this lightly."

Lorei said Kopp told him the station's listening audience was low between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when many public affairs shows air, that "I hadn't been supervising the news and public affairs volunteers as he wanted, and that I didn't post enough on Facebook."

Lorei is known for hosting interview and call-in shows on WMNF as well as interviews and panel discussions on Florida This Week, and for moderating political forums and debates.

His political views are liberal, but he's generally thought to provide platforms and serious consideration of views across the political spectrum.

Kopp, formerly an anchor and reporter for the WUSF radio station, said Monday was "absolutely the worst day I've had" in a 44-year career in news, mostly radio.

"I would have preferred it not work out this way, and went to great lengths to have that happen," he said.

"But it's a new world in media … We're heading into an era where the radio station can become a multi-platform source of news … even if radio signals go away. We need to begin positioning ourselves for that."

Firing Lorei, he said, was "partly because of that and differences on how to achieve that."

Related: Carlton: Is it still WMNF without Rob Lorei?

Kopp said the board of the Nathan B. Stubblefield Foundation, established to own and operate WMNF, had been informed of the move, and he's had no reaction from board members. Board Chairman David Harbeitner couldn't immediately be reached for comment Monday.

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Lorei moved to Tampa in June 1978 and joined a group of people seeking to start WMNF. He and others raised money for a year, including going door to door for contributions, before getting the station on the air in 1979.

The station gets about 70 percent of its budget from community contributions, plus some money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and state grants, Kopp said.