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Decision may come soon on Rob Lorei’s appeal over WMNF firing

The firing of veteran WMNF community radio personality Rob Lorei three weeks ago generated anger and promises of pocketbook retaliation from many listeners. But that hasn’t yet persuaded the board of directors at the eclectic station to reinstate him.

There may soon be a resolution to that issue though. The board could vote on Lorei’s appeal to keep his job at its March 18 meeting. Lorei can make a 10-minute presentation before any vote.

“I’m pretty sure we will know something definitive in the next week or two,” Lorei said. “My preference is to go back to work and do the job I was doing. But if not, I’ll have to go to Plan B.”

Lorei co-founded WMNF four decades ago and served as the station’s news director. He was known for his calm on-air demeanor and interviewing skills. Although the public often regards media personalities as shallow and biased, Lorei had the trust of his audience.

General Manager Craig Kopp abruptly fired Lorei on Feb. 18 and gave him 15 minutes to leave the building. Lorei said he was judged deficient in seven areas, but he disputed all except one point. He admitted he could do a better job with social media.

Listeners reacted harshly to the news and made their feelings heard. Many threatened to withhold future donations to the station. The timing of the dismissal was odd, considering that the station was about to launch a major pledge drive. About 70 percent of its revenue comes from listener donations.

In a letter to the WMNF Personnel Committee, Lorei noted, “Over the years I’ve raised millions of dollars for WMNF. By any objective measure, my department at WMNF is successful. If there was real misconduct on my part I could understand being summarily terminated. The circumstances here don’t rise to that level.

“What has happened in the last few weeks here at WMNF has been a disaster. Anyone who cost the station $30,000 in lost donations would have long since been fired under normal circumstances. What has happened since my firing has damaged the long-built trust we have with thousands of listeners.”

Tampa lawyer Thomas P. Scarritt sent a blistering letter to the WMNF Board. He noted he and his wife, Linda, have been station supporters for 35 years and called the firing “appalling.”

“We have marveled at the breadth and depth of radio work done by Rob Lorei, who you know was one of the founders of WMNF. I have had the honor of appearing on his show before, and I can tell you that he is one of the best-informed, respectful, skillful, and ethical interviewers I have ever experienced.

“It amazed me to hear him lead sensitive discussions in so many areas of local, state, and national life. He is a marvelously talented and articulate public servant.”

Lorei said he believes the station and board members received hundreds of letters, phone calls and emails on his behalf.

Ed Lehmann, the host of the station’s Postmodern Hootenanny show on Thursday nights, is a 40-year volunteer. His wife, Jennifer Hollowell, also has volunteered there for 30 years.

He added that the firing left him “flabbergasted.”

“Rob Lorei was the heart and soul of WMNF before it started and our credibility with listeners has fallen through the floor over this,” Lehmann said.

Hollowell added, “I am so angry.  First, why do our opinions not matter? And second, whatever happened to transparency?  WMNF’s history is one of openness and transparency.  Hiding the voices of the community does not fit into our model.”

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. M.C. DiPietra

    March 12, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    “The timing of the dismissal was odd, considering that the station was about to launch a major pledge drive.”

    I believe the firing occurred just a few days *after* the pledge drive; I pledged during a time when Rob was on the air. I called and asked for my donation to be returned, since the station would be unable to deliver what I had pledged to support (Rob’s public affairs programming). I was asked to send an email asking for a refund of my donation, which I did.

    I got back a terse, two-sentence email from the station’s Development Director that stated the Board and Staff had ordered that there be no refunds of donations, and that it was hoped I would understand.

    But I don’t.

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  3. Michael Merino

    March 14, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    As a life-long Tampanian along with being a listener and supporter of WMNF and Mr. Lorei; what has happened is extremely sad for our community. However, in Rob`s case, I have my own little conspiracy theory. It`s my belief the station has an ulterior motive in his dismissal. It could range from a sale or format change that will alter the original concept. Either way, Rob needs to be reinstated immediately. He`s the visible glue that keeps the station in our hearts.

  4. Adam

    March 14, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Hey Joe just wanted to let you know 3,300 people have signed the petition to bring Rob back.

    The community definitely has his back. Thanks for these great articles updating everyone!

    https://www.change.org/p/bring-rob-lorei-back-to-wmnf

  5. Luigi Verace

    March 14, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    Gene Moore has always been great. I talked with him briefly yesterday via phone. Here’s the Gist:

    1) I wanted a January donation refund.
    2) I did not want to Donate for February
    3) The Credit Card batch for Feb was run the day of Rob’s Firing or very close to it.
    4) MNF kept both donations and under orders of the board “No Refunds”
    5) I disputed both charges with my bank.
    6) In 5+ years of monthly donations I once asked for a T shirt, got a few DVD’s and used my “Event Pass” privileges only 2-3 times. That’s it

    How conniving of Management, not Gene, to run the donation batch at the time of Rob Lorei’s firing and wait until after the fund drive to do the firing. It’s Low, wrong and has Craig Kopp written all over it. VERY METHODICAL CONNIVING!

    What a shameful way to treat its donors. Sad beyond words

  6. Lloyd Goldstein

    March 14, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    I also asked to withdraw my donation. I have not had a response. If WMNF does not honor my request, there will be no future donations. My wife and I donated $1,000 during the building campaign. We were not wealthy. We believed in WMNF. We have never made a donation of that magnitude before or since, to any organization other than WMNF. I understand that we, the community of listeners does not have all the facts. Well then, please speak up. Be the democratic institution you have claimed to be from the start. Tell me why, specifically, you fired one of the founders of WMNF and had him escorted from the premises. Then we can talk.

  7. Jennifer Sullivan

    March 15, 2019 at 12:19 am

    Craig Kopp should be the one going IMHO. I agree with a previous post that something is up to make the station more commercial or sell it. I’ve certainly given my share and have been called an amplifier. As an area activist, I’ve done shows with Rob and he has always held a high bar for me when hosting which I know he holds for himself. He does the best interviews.

  8. Marian Pomeroy

    March 16, 2019 at 9:30 am

    I am shocked at the way WMNF is being managed. No longer is this community radio. I have signed the petition and written the board chair. The lack of response and smokescreen of confidentiality promotes distrust from all listener supporters. We need a change of management to get back the community we used to embrace.

  9. Phil Kline

    March 16, 2019 at 9:36 am

    I am one who has withheld my Circle of Friends contribution until Rob is reinstated. I have been a public affairs radio listener for longer than WMNF has been around and a supporter of community radio in KC and here in St. Petes. Rob Lorei is one of the finest interview hosts I have known. This action is an unexplained travesty.

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