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Why did WMNF fire Rob Lorei? Station says he knows, Lorei says he doesn’t

It’s the second time in two years that the longtime broadcaster is out at the community radio station he helped establish more than four decades ago.
Longtime Tampa Bay broadcaster Rob Lorei, seen here in a 2019 photo hosting the show Radioactivity on WMNF 88.5, said he was fired by WMNF's general manager. Lorei helped found the community radio station more than four decades ago.
Longtime Tampa Bay broadcaster Rob Lorei, seen here in a 2019 photo hosting the show Radioactivity on WMNF 88.5, said he was fired by WMNF's general manager. Lorei helped found the community radio station more than four decades ago. [ "OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES" | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 11
Updated Apr. 11

TAMPA — Longtime Tampa Bay broadcaster Rob Lorei has been fired a second time by community radio station WMNF, but the two sides disagree about the circumstances.

Lorei said he was fired Friday without explanation from the station he helped found four decades ago.

The station’s general manager Rick Fernandes gave a different account in a message to the Times on Sunday.

“Rob was informed Friday afternoon of the reason not only by the general manager, but a member of the board,” Fernandes said. “Rob is free to share the cause of his termination if he chooses.”

Lorei’s response: “The rationale was unclear. So I asked him to write it down. He said he’d think about it. And I’ve not heard back.”

Fernandes announced Lorei’s departure in a message posted online Friday.

“I want to inform you that Friday, April 9th was Rob Lorei’s last day at WMNF,” the note said. “I want to thank him for his service to the station. As one of the founding members of the station, he was a big part of our success. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Related: At 40, WMNF still stickin' it to the man. But does it need to change?

In his message to the Times, Lorei summed up his career at WMNF, 88.5 FM.

“I worked hard every day for the past 43 years to make WMNF a success,” he said. “Almost never missing a day of work ... I brought hundreds of local people to the airwaves for interviews on significant issues. I headed a diverse news and public affairs staff that included people from many backgrounds. I broke significant news stories along the way.”

Former WMNF broadcaster Rob Lorei appearing on “Florida This Week,” the weekly panel discussion TV show he hosts on PBS station WEDU
Former WMNF broadcaster Rob Lorei appearing on “Florida This Week,” the weekly panel discussion TV show he hosts on PBS station WEDU

This is the second time in two years Lorei was pushed out at WMNF by management. In February 2019 he was fired by former general manager Craig Kopp, who said the station “ended its long-running relationship” with Lorei in an attempt to help move the station into “a new world” in news media beyond radio broadcasting.

There was a public outcry and some supporters canceled donations to the nonprofit station as Lorei appealed his firing to the all-volunteer board of directors. He was reinstated weeks later and returned as WMNF’s news and public affairs director, the position he held until Friday. His name still appears on the station’s website.

Related: Rob Lorei reinstated as news director at WMNF after appealing firing

Lorei moved to Tampa in 1978 and joined a group of people who wanted to start a community radio station. They raised the money, even going door to door, and WMNF hit the airwaves in 1979.

He’s best known for hosting call-in and interview shows centered on news and public affairs, including Radioactivity with Rob Lorei at 11 a.m. weekdays. He also appears on TV, hosting the weekly panel discussion Florida This Week on PBS station WEDU, and moderates debates and political forums.

A 1999 photo of Rob Lorei hosting a news-talk call-in program at WMNF 88.5 FM, the station he founded more than four decades ago.
A 1999 photo of Rob Lorei hosting a news-talk call-in program at WMNF 88.5 FM, the station he founded more than four decades ago. [ PHIL SHEFFIELD | Tampa Bay Times ]

WMNF gets most of its funding from community donations, contributions from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and state grants.

“We started with nothing and now have a large budget, a state-of-the-art broadcast facility, hundreds of wonderful volunteers, a loyal audience and a track record of opening the airwaves to many talented local musicians,” Lorei said. “I’m very proud of what the staff, the volunteers, the audience and the board have accomplished.”

• • •

Statement from Rob Lorei to the Tampa BayTimes

“ ... the WMNF manager fired me on Friday afternoon. You’ll have to ask him the reasons why. I might have more to say after I meet with some people on Monday. I worked hard every day for the past 43 years to make WMNF a success. Almost never missing a day of work. My day usually started just before 6am and I produced news, trained volunteers, supervised programs on two channels, hosted a daily interview show and helped WMNF raise millions of dollars and helped numerous people start their careers in journalism. I was always there for fund drives. When there was an emergency such as a hurricane I brought the news to our community. I brought hundreds of local people to the airwaves for interviews on significant issues. I headed a diverse news and public affairs staff that included people from many backgrounds. I broke significant news stories along the way.

“After all this the manager decided to end my work at WMNF where I was one of the original staff members. We started with nothing and now have a large budget, a state of the art broadcast facility, hundreds of wonderful volunteers, a loyal audience and a track record of opening the airwaves to many talented local musicians. I’m very proud of what the staff, the volunteers, the audience and the board have accomplished. No community radio station in the country has been as consistently successful as WMNF. You’ll have to ask the manager why he terminated me.”

• • •

Statement from Rick Fernandes to the Tampa BayTimes

“While we typically do not discuss personnel matters, we feel we must address an error in this report. The statement ‘he was let go without explanation’ is false. Rob was informed Friday afternoon of the reason not only by the General Manager, but a member of the board. Rob is free to share the cause of his termination if he chooses. Again, we thank Rob for his many years of service.”

Staff writer Anastasia Dawson contributed to this report