WNED and WBFO have been a constant part of my life since the late 1970s, and I’ve been a financial supporter for nearly 40 years. Unfortunately, Western New York and Southern Ontario public radio listeners are learning what happens to high-quality news and programming when a CEO with a distinguished public broadcasting career is replaced by a media and entertainment executive whose prior experience involves stints at MTV, Spotify and VH1.
In a nutshell, the needs of the public are no longer priority number one.
Despite our region knowing several days in advance the need to prepare for the multi-day “extreme weather event” that was relentlessly racing our way, WBFO’s management failed to properly develop a strategy for its news team to cover the once-in-a-generation storm that was forecast to force road closures, shut down the city of Buffalo, and threaten the lives of many.
Just when detailed, local reporting of news and weather was critical for the safety and lives of its listeners, the staff touted as “the largest radio newsroom in Western New York” with more Associated Press awards than any other radio station in the state, was AWOL, providing the public zero coverage of the blizzard of 2022.
This breach of trust – and disregard of the critical needs of the general public – does not surprise me. Ever since Tom Calderone was named chief executive of Buffalo Toronto Public Media (BTPM), persistent, often juvenile self-promotion, has become the norm.
As an example, prior to the May 14, 2022 racially-motivated massacre at the Jefferson Avenue Tops market, our region’s public broadcasting system was tone-deaf to the tremendous economic disparity in Buffalo. For weeks, listeners were bombarded with promotions for the “Great British Telly Tour” – a one-week luxury jaunt hosted by Mr. Calderone himself – a tour whose “deluxe hotels” and “best restaurants” were only available to 30 affluent travelers, not to the vast majority of Buffalonians.
Even WBFO’s commendable response to the May 14th tragedy, “Buffalo, What’s Next?,” has been treated as a program that can be put on hold for the convenience of the WBFO staff. It should have been obvious that this holiday season was destined to be an emotionally challenging time for Buffalo’s Eastside community – even before the devastation of the recent blizzard. Nonetheless, WBFO announced in mid-December that the program would be taking “a short holiday break.” Only “encore presentations” would be broadcast from December 19 through January 9. In other words, the public was forced to make do with three weeks of repeats at a time when a community was most in need of sensitive and intelligent discourse.
To regain the public trust, BTPM must objectively assess where their new CEO has taken our community’s public broadcasting stations, and ask if it is time to begin a search for a chief executive who understands the critical role of a region’s public media organization.