1. Opinion

Column: Why I quit as general manager at WMNF

Editor's note: The author, who recently quit as general manager at radio station WMNF-88.5, is responding to Sue Carlton's April 17 column about his resignation. Read the reaction of the chairs of the Jewish Community Relations Councils of Tampa and of Pinellas and Pasco Counties.

By Craig Kopp

Special to the Tampa Bay Times

Yes, I'm the guy who fired Rob Lorei.

In my resignation letter I wrote that the final straw for me since Lorei, WMNF news and public affairs director, was reinstated was the rejection by Lorei and the station's programming committee of a proposed show from the Jewish Federations of Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton wrote: "So it was disappointing that Kopp called the decision 'unfair at the least, anti-Semitic at the worst' — an incendiary term if ever there was one, and a very loud slam of the door on his way out."

Ms. Carlton is mistaken in thinking that calling out an appearance of anti-Semitism is some kind of incendiary parting shot in my departure from WMNF. Internally, this is something I have struggled with for quite a while. In May 2018, the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties wrote to the hosts of Sunday Simcha informing them that the $1,000 pledge they make every fund drive was being withheld. The federation said, "We cannot in good conscience continue to support a station that insists on perpetuating lies about Israel at every convenient opportunity." The federation added, "Until the station changes its philosophy, which, in the worst case, borders on anti-Semitism and, in the best case, alienates the Jewish community, we cannot financially support the radio station."

After learning of this I commissioned a third-party audit of the news department in relation to anti-Semitism and found that overall we were okay, except when it came to balancing "True Talk," a global affairs show focusing on the Middle East and the Muslim world. It was recommended that a global affairs show from the Jewish perspective would provide the necessary balance. I had phone conversations with the Tampa and Pinellas and Pasco Jewish Federations and made a visit to a board meeting of the Tampa Jewish Community Relations Council. There I found out that WMNF was a regular agenda item because of this imbalance. I urged them to come up with a show that could be the counter-balance to True Talk. They did. It was rejected by Rob Lorei and the programming committee but, let's face it, who's challenging Rob Lorei these days?

The show was criticized for being too conservative. In fact, Rob Lorei called Jewish Federation leadership overwhelming conservative and said that most Jews don't affiliate with Jewish Federations because of that fact. The Jewish Federation would argue that that is hardly a fact.

The federation asked for a chance to make its case before the programming committee. That was rejected — hardly the kind of openness for discussion a community radio station would be expected to exhibit.

As I said in my resignation letter, the rejection of the show is unfair at best, anti-Semitic at worst. I stand by that statement. Despite Sunday Simcha, many in the Jewish community feel WMNF is insensitive to their concerns. I agree. A Sunday show, which was supposed to be about culture and music, does not balance a show like True Talk, which airs weekday mornings at 10. Only another weekday show on politics from the Jewish perspective will provide balance. That it is required to be of a particular political leaning is antithetical to what I consider to the the spirit of community radio.

Again, this issue was not raised as some kind of parting shot, it was raised because it is real and this was my time to say so.