Rob Lorei is coming back to WMNF Tampa

The board upheld the co-founder’s grievance after he was fired in February.

click to enlarge Rob Lorei is coming back to WMNF Tampa
Photo by Kimberly DeFalco


UPDATED 3/20 4:06 p.m.

It took more than a month, but the board of directors at Tampa community radio station WMNF 88.5-FM has decided that co-founder and news director Robert Lorei will get his job back.

CL has reached out to board president David Harbeitner for comment.

Board president David Harbeitner shared the news on-air with WMNF’s assistant News and Public Affairs Director Seán Kinane and added that the board believes that the Lorei and Kopp “can and should play a critical role in the present and future of WMNF.”

“This event, unfortunately, has reinforced the value of WMNF and the impact we have in the local community, particularly in regards to News and Public Affairs,” Harbeitner said. “It also has heightened our commitment to support the Tampa Bay community and to give a voice to the underserved.”

Lorei will return to work on Monday.

The news comes more than a month after the station announced that one of its most recognizable voices (and faces, considering Lorei’s presence in the community and on television programs like WEDU’s Florida This Week) was given his walking papers after nearly 40 years of service to the station by station manager Craig Kopp.

Kopp, who was hired by the board of directors in 2015, kept his reasons for firing Lorei close to the vest, citing the private nature of the grievance process, but Lorei said that he was fired, in part, because of low ratings in the 1 to 3 p.m. time slot and a failure to post enough content on Facebook. Under WMNF bylaws, the station manager has authority to hire and fire staff.

In a statement, Harbeitner also said that the firing has demonstrated a need for the board to evaluate and amend its bylaws and policies.

“Additionally, we will be taking a critical look at our organizational design and other operational elements of the station to ensure we are built to thrive both now and for the next 40 years,” he wrote.

In the days after the dismissal — during which Lorei described being given 15 minutes to leave the station — comments from listeners and supporters poured in at station meetings, and online via WMNF’s social media bulletin board. He filed a grievance with the board shortly thereafter. Kopp, for his part, would have no choice but to accept the the board’s decision.

In a phone call following his on-air statement, Harbeitner told CL that each board member had full access to a personnel committee investigation that was several hundred pages long. The report also contained the countless letters, emails and comments the station received after Lorei's firing.

At a March 18 board meeting to hear comments regarding Lorei’s grievance, dozens of supporters and at least one person mildly critical of Lorei expressed opinions on both the firing and Kopp’s performance as manager. Michael “Ktuf” Bagby, a former WMNF board president, mentioned the fact that Kopp has largely kept the station's budget balanced. 

“We have paid down the mortgage, and he has gotten good reviews for the last four years,” Bagby said. “Whether you agree with this decision or not.”

A former board member, Josh Holton, said that he “voted positively for [Kopp’s past] reviews, because I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt,” but added that he would no longer make that recommendation, citing “the completely inappropriate manner in which he has handled this monumentally catastrophic decision, which has hurt our budget, our brand and our reputation.”

Buried deep down in the overall discourse seems to be a divided opinion regarding how and if the donor-funded WMNF can continue to sustain itself as its listener and donor base ages. Some have argued that the station needs to adapt to a rapidly changing media landscape while others point out that WMNF is a unique community that has been a long-running, independent voice for the Tampa Bay area.

Losing Lorei — one of the true fair and balanced voices in the local media landscape — would've undoubtedly made a significant impact on the station’s reputation and its bottom line. Just days after the firing, Kopp shared that the station was already looking at a $30,000 dip in contributions. In the days and weeks after, several listeners threatened to pull their regular contributions while some others pledged to double theirs in support of the station as a whole (some Lorei supporters also pledged to double their current contribution when he was reinstated).

Regardless, about two hours' worth of heartfelt testimony was heard by the volunteer board at that March 18 meeting, and on Wednesday, its members ultimately voted to bring Lorei back. Harbeitner would not comment on how each member of the board voted, but did say that the board came out of the vote unified behind its collective decision. 

CL has reached out to Lorei ahead of the announcement, and he said he would probably have something to say about all of it (“Might not be much to say right away,” he told CL via text message).

In the meantime, Harbeitner told CL that he's happy that WMNF supporters — including those who threatened to withdraw support — acted with the hearts, and he hopes to work with the board, volunteers, staff and listeners in continuing to progress the station's mission of serving the Tampa Bay area.

"We are undeserving Tampa Bay," Harbeitner said in his phone call to CL. "We have to be more inclusive and be more representative of the community. That comes with challenges, but those challenges will not steer WMNF away from its mission."

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About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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