Carlton: Is it still WMNF without Rob Lorei?

Rob Lorei was fired this week from community radio station WMNF, which he helped found. What will it be without him?
Rob Lorei was fired this week from WMNF, where he was public affairs and news director, to the consternation of many listeners.
Rob Lorei was fired this week from WMNF, where he was public affairs and news director, to the consternation of many listeners.
Published February 19
Updated February 20

Only once do I remember hearing Rob Lorei turn testy on the radio.

I was in my car tuned to WMNF, appropriately located at 88.5 at the far left side of the dial. If you are unfamiliar, WMNF is our home-grown, non-profit, community supported station where you could hear whatever politician, activist or cause-of-the-moment Lorei had on.

A man had called in that day to opine that migrant workers actually make plenty of money. And that picking strawberries and tomatoes in the fields is not a particularly demanding job.

This was when the steel crept into Lorei's generally pleasant tone. It was notable because no matter how contentious a caller might get on a given subject, Lorei ended the exchanges with some variation of "good to hear from you" and sounded like he meant it.

(Turns out Lorei toured local labor camps in the 1980s and made a point over the years of giving voice to farmworker organizations. In his younger days, he worked briefly picking oranges under the eye of a crew boss for $4 a bin and says it was the hardest work he's ever done. So, yeah, you could see his point.)

Is there another radio station like WMNF?

It's been billed as "radio for the rest of us" with a distinct post-hippie vibe. Over the last four decades it's given voice to environmentalists, feminists, union officials, peace activists and a lot of others. WMNF once had a slogan that went something like: Yes, we play country music. Which country would you like?

So with this week's stunning news that Lorei, WMNF's well-known news and public affairs director, had been fired from the station he helped start, the trick is to keep it from sounding like an obituary.

READ MORE: Rob Lorei fired at WMNF after 40 years

In fact Lorei, 64, plans to continue his "Florida This Week" political panel TV show on WEDU. But for some people he was WMNF. So what exactly will that be now?

Reaction has been swift and not all of it pretty. On Facebook, people called his firing an "assassination without investigation" and a "corporate takeover of free speech." General manager Craig Kopp says he knew there would be backlash and was braced for people to take back recent pledge donations upon which WMNF survives. But he was not expecting the force of this. Kopp Trump, someone called him.

One post-firing conspiracy theory has it that the station will be sold, something management adamantly denies. Lorei says he was not fired for reasons that should get a person fired — like stealing or sexual harassment — but for a list of eight items including not posting often enough on Facebook and low ratings.

Kopp, who has been at WMNF four years, said it was an attempt to help move the station into "a new world" in news media beyond just radio broadcasting. He also said he was limited in what he could say about a personnel matter. "Just because I haven't been here forever doesn't mean I don't love this place," he says.

Lorei is an icon in this town, a respected one who says quality programing is a radio station's first responsibility. Today, he would have been in your ear interviewing a former ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria on foreign policy.

Post script: The station's governing board said it will give Lorei a fair hearing of his grievance over being fired. As they say in radio: Stay tuned.

Contact Sue Carlton at [email protected]