In this week’s issue… Kravetz out at WBUR – iHeart’s new all-podcast format – Station sale in Vermont – Morning hosts out in Ontario – Remembering NY’s Kimble, Kingston’s Scott
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*When staffers at Boston University’s WBUR-FM (90.9) voted overwhelmingly to unionize earlier this month, it was a big victory for union organizers – but, as it turned out, a much bigger loss for the station’s management than it initially appeared.
On Monday afternoon, WBUR staffers were called in for a meeting, without general manager Charlie Kravetz present, where university officials announced that Kravetz was out. While the university tried to make the best of the situation – on paper, Kravetz won’t step down as GM until the end of June – the details of the “transition” seem to speak to bigger tensions at the station.
While BU’s press release about Kravetz’s departure says the university and Kravetz “agreed that it was an appropriate time for a transition, his to pursue new options, and BU to new leadership at Boston’s public radio station,” what’s actually happening appears less like a transition and more like an ouster, according to WBUR’s own reporting about the matter.
For all of BU’s claims that Kravetz will retain some sort of consulting role between now and his official departure June 30, it’s pretty clear that in reality he’s out of the station. Several WBUR staffers asked pointed questions at the Monday meeting about Kravetz’s absence there, and about an upcoming fundraising event at which he also won’t have any active role.
There’s no reason, either, to think that union supporters pushed for Kravetz’s ouster; indeed, several were quoted as saying they looked forward to working with him as SAG-AFTRA moves forward with negotiations and WBUR begins its new era as a union shop.
What’s more, Kravetz’s record leading up to the union vote was largely a successful one: since he came to WBUR in 2011 after a long career in commercial media (most notably at WCVB-TV), the station had grown in audience, fundraising and underwriting revenue numbers; its podcast operation had become one of the nation’s largest; its relationship with NPR had deepened with the addition of “Here & Now” as a national midday show; its staff numbers had doubled and its physical space had more than doubled with the opening of a new office and studio addition – and Kravetz had presided over the recent opening of the new street-level CitySpace community venue on Commonwealth Avenue.
All of which means that as veteran WBUR manager Sam Fleming settles in as Kravetz’s interim replacement, there are still plenty of questions that are hard to answer. If it wasn’t the union vote that led WBUR to cut ties with Kravetz, was it the fallout from the 2017 dismissal of “On Point” host Tom Ashbrook over concerns about the way he treated staffers? A consultant-driven plan to address some of those issues still hasn’t been fully implemented, and it appears Fleming won’t have access to that plan during his interim tenure.
Kravetz’s exit also sends advisor (and fellow former WCVB exec and WBUR ex-GM) Paul LaCamera out of WBUR; he tells WBUR reporter Martha Bebinger “it’s just too sad and too uncomfortable for me to remain here.”
We’ll be watching closely as WBUR takes its next step; as one of New England’s biggest broadcast newsrooms these days and perhaps the one with the most national impact, what happens there will have an effect across the public media landscape.