WHRB Changes Program; Some Staffers Angered

Facing a dry advertising market and a stagnant listnership, officials of Harvard's radio station realized last spring they couldn't afford to replace their antiquated broadcasting equipment. Then WHRB's trustees informed them that they had better get the station back to financial health--fast.

WHRB's top officers took the alumni warnings to heart, consolidating the station's folk, rap and alternative rhythm and blues departments in order to bring the station's programming in line with what they think is its core audience: white, affluent Cantabrigians. Last spring, WHRB started a $1.2 million drive to fund its move to new offices in Pennypacker Hall.

"We're a college station trying to survive and I think people understand that it was a business decision for viability of the radio station," says Station Manager Jeremy A. Raussen '95.

WHRB now broadcasts three solid programming chunks of classical, jazz and rock every weekday with a smattering of country, folk, rap and alternative rhythm and blues on the weekends. According to Rassen, WHRB hired professional sales and programming consultants as part of the station overhaul.

Rassen's decisions, which he says will develop a more loyal listenership, have drawn the ire of a many of his current and former co-workers at the station who criticize him for acting unilaterally and for cutting what they think were the most popular formats. They have also prompted several deejays to leave the station.

David O. Nauen '94, who was a streetbeat deejay in the alternative rhythm and blues(AR&B) department, says he quit because of the"tyrannical way" the overhaul was carried out.

No survey of WHRB listenership demographics hasbeen conducted recently, according to stationofficials. A number of WHRB deejays charge thatRassen based his programming decisions on hispersonal tastes--not sound economic reasons.

"There is a lot of petty politics behindeverything around it," Nauen says. "[Rassen's]reasoning is totally fallacious because hip hopwas the most sellable music that WHRB played. It'sthe most commercially popular music and it had ahumungous listnership. By cutting it the stationwouldn't make more money.

Enver M. Casimir '94, another former AR&Bdeejay who also quit, questions Rassen'smotivations.

"I think the listnership for AR&B was quitesubstantial and it was quite popular," saysCasimir. "To say that it wasn't profitable isludicrous."

According to Alexis G. Averbuck '94, formervice president of WHRB's student administrativeboard, Rassen and other station managers were notinvolved in the alternative rhythm and bluesdepartment, making it a relatively easy target forthe chopping block.

"The department was relatively voiceless in thegovernment, most people had little clue about whatwe played so it made it easier to target," shesays. "It has little chance to survive if peopletried to cut it."

"People in the AR&B didn't get along with otherpeople in the station," says Casimir.

Casimir says the trustees thought playing rapmusic was risky and encouraged the decision to cutthe AR&B department, which includes rap music.

"It partly has to do with the perception thatrap contributed to violence," he says. "At onepoint the trustees wanted to cut rap altogetherbecause they thought it was dangerous."

Casimir says several security problems havepreviously erupted around the alternative rhythmand blues department.

According to Casimir, a stranger oncethreatened a deejay of the department with abaseball bat.

"Trustees thought [rap] was more dangerous thanbeneficial," he says.

President Douglas M. DeMay '94, however, saysthe folk and AR&B departments were cut because oftheir relative weakness compared to otherdepartments.

"If two departments were going to be cut, thenit makes sense that they be the two weakestdepartments in the last 20 years," he says.

Rassen explains the programming changes in thecontext of radio competition in the Boston area.

According to Rassen, the plan stresses the jazzand classical departments because there is a lackof jazz or serious classical radio station in theBoston area to satisfy prospective audience.

"It was a matter of competition and where westood to gain the market share and it was decidedthat jazz and classical were pretty open to us,"he says. "We took a look at our programming,viability and artistic integrety and came up withwhat we thought was a good plan."

Regardless of the merits of the plan, staffmembers say, it was put into effect withoutsufficient notification of the general staff.Moreover, the overhaul was designed by only a fewelite members of the organization in anundemocratic fashion, they say.

Daniel J. Fox '96, a former AR&B deejay who isstill active at WHRB, describes the officialimplementation of the change as a "cowardlyjesture."

"I would prefer to have the entire staff voteon it," he says. "It should've happened two monthsearlier when everyone was around."

Nauen also criticizes Rassen for unexpectectlyputting the changes into effect without consultingthe staff.

"The changes were implemented as soon aseveryone left for the summer," he says. "Thestation manager out of the blue decreedindependently to end the folk and AR&B departmentson June 12."

Nauen says that at the end of the last year, ageneral consensus was reached to continuediscussion of the format changes this fall.

"In the spring semester a lot of peopleprotested so a compromise was reached that nothingwould be done at the time," he says.

I.-C. Judy Shen '93-'94, a former deejay in theAR&B department, agrees the changes have beenimplemented against a general opposition.

"We had a stationwide meeting in April in whichpeople expressed explicitly that we don't want anyformat change," Shen says. "When Jeremy announcedthe change, everybody had already left school; Idon't think anyone got any phone calls from Jeremyso nobody knew about it."

"We were really outraged because the decisionseemed like it was already made the whole time andit felt like we were really deceived," she says."They didn't inform us at all."

"By the time I heard about it, it was a donedeal," says former folk deejay Molly McCauley '95.

Several current and former WHRB deejays worrythe changes unnecessarily restrict listenership toupperclass, white Cambridge residents. "Whatbothered me was the decision to target the morewhite and upperclass audience," says Fox. "They'reeliminating portions of the prospective audience."

But as a commercial radio station withoutCollege funding or significant listenercontributions, WHRB's audience consists mainly ofCambridge residents, who are 75 percent white,rather than undergraduates.

Averbuck says the changes deprive studentdeejays of their musical interests. "The radiostation used to be great because everyone couldplay the music they were interested in and so wasable to attract a lot of different people," shesays.

Some say the programming overhaul has reducedthe racial diversity of WHRB. Many black deejayswho worked in the alternative rhythm and bluesdepartment have left the station, they say.

"When we talk about it, we say there's nominalequal opportunity, but no Black person is going tocome and want to comp classical," Shen says. "It'shypocritical when the radio administration tellsyou that everyone has the same opportunity toparticipate."

Averbuck agrees that because the alternativerhythm and blues department was home to most ofthe station's Black deejays, there is a decreasein the number of them remaining at WHRB after theprogramming change.

DeMay says he dislikes the programming cuts butinsists it was the best "corporate strategy" underthe circumstances. To the broad opposition in thestation, he says the station's top officers arejust doing their job.

Students who devised and implemented theoverhaul are the ones who have spent the most timeat the radio station and are best fit to make sucha decision, he says.

"As shown by the arguing going on now, it wasnot a stationwide decision," DeMay says. "But notall decisions can be stationwide decisions."

"If you want to make decisions, you can't justcome down and spin records for two hours," hesays. "You need to come down and know the radiostation, and people who did make the decision didspend a lot of time there and had the right tomake a decision like this."

Former Station Manager David F. Mazieres '94says the changes are necessary to preserve theexistence of the radio station.

"The last 10 or 20 years have seen a decline inreal revenue," says DeMay. "The trustees felt itwas time to set up a plan with which WHRB canreverse the downturn and start the upturn."

According to Mathew Rubin '62, chair of WHRB'sboard of trustees, a long-term plan was drafted byboth board members and undergraduates to improvethe station's continuity and financial viability.

"We were concerned that the station's revenueswere not sufficient for the expenses," Rubin says."We wanted to make sure things were being properlyhandled."

The station saw its $1.2 million fund drive andits future move to the basement of Pennypacker asa good opportunity to implement the programmingchanges, he says.

"Most students would like to see WHRB tocontinue to exist in the future and the only wayto do that is to seriously change our programs,"he says.CrimsonJamie W. BillettHOLLAND returns a compact disc to WHRB'sClassical Music Mausoleum.