Craig Kopp resigns from Tampa community radio station WMNF

“My resignation is effective immediately,” Kopp wrote in the email.

click to enlarge PHOTO VIA YOUTUBE (GREGORY LAFOUNTAIN)/SCREENSHOT BY CREATIVE LOAFING
Photo via YouTube (Gregory LaFountain)/Screenshot by Creative Loafing


UPDATED 4/15 4:42 p.m.

WMNF’s general manager, Craig Kopp, has resigned. Kopp, who was hired in 2015, said as much in a Monday morning email with the subject line “One Last Message," which CL has obtained (read the full text below).

“My resignation is effective immediately,” Kopp wrote in the email, which includes his first real comments about the firing (and re-hiring) of station founder and news director Rob Lorei.

According to a statement from the community radio station, the job search for a new general manager will commence soon.

In a phone call with CL, WMNF’s Board of Directors president David Harbeitner said that the board would be meeting with each other and the station’s senior staff over the next two days to plan the search for a GM and decide who might act as GM in Kopp’s stead.

“On February 18th 2019 I terminated WMNF News Director Rob Lorei for cause. In the past year he had been cited for insubordination and had proved to be unmanageable,” Kopp wrote, adding that Board of Directors representatives were informed of every step of the process.

“Every step of the process was guided by WMNF’s labor attorney,” Kopp said.

“In the ensuring, but expected, furor over the dismissal of one of the founders of the radio station, I was asked by my Board of Directors to remain silent on this personnel matter while all manner of incorrect things were said about my reasoning for the firing and about me professionally and personally.”

Kopp said that the board’s reinstatement of Lorei was not an upholding of his grievance.

“In other words, his arguments against the firing were not endorsed by the Board,” Kopp added. According to Kopp, Lorei’s “bullying behavior” was not endorsed or condemned.

“The Board, apparently, just thought he needed to be back on the air to stem the protests,” Kopp said.

When asked about Kopp’s claims that Lorei exhibited “bullying behavior,” Harbeitner said that Kopp’s experience may have been was more of a staff issue between Kopp and Lorei and that the board itself had not experienced bullying from Lorei. As far as the grievance process, Harbeitner did say that neither Kopp or Lorei were”blameless” in their conflict with each other.

“The board has its work cut out for it,” Harbeitner said about the search for a new GM. “We have to make WMNF a better place for everyone.”

This is a developing story.

The full text of Craig Kopp's email to WMNF staffers, board members and programmers (posted to WMNF's Facebook bulletin board)

On February 18th 2019 I terminated WMNF News Director Rob Lorei for cause. In the past year he had been cited for insubordination and had proved to be unmanageable. Board of Directors representatives were informed of every step of the process. Every step of the process was guided by WMNF’s labor attorney.

In the ensuring, but expected, furor over the dismissal of one of the founders of the radio station, I was asked by my Board of Directors to remain silent on this personnel matter while all manner of incorrect things were said about my reasoning for the firing and about me professionally and personally.

On March 18th, 2019 -- after a raucous two-and-a-half hours of public comment full of distortion and misrepresentation (extolled in a Tampa Bay Times column as a an old-fashioned grass-roots groundswell) -- my Board voted to reinstate Lorei. It did not uphold his grievance concerning his firing. It just voted to reinstate him as WMNF’s News Director. In other words, his arguments against the firing were not endorsed by the Board. His bullying behaviors cited by management as part of the termination were not endorsed. But they weren’t condemned either. The Board, apparently, just thought he needed to be back on the air to stem the protests.

So, I am presented with what is an unworkable situation as General Manager of WMNF. I manage the station, except for News and Public Affairs, which is now the fiefdom of Rob Lorei and his followers.

I love WMNF as a concept and have dedicated myself to setting it up to continue far into the future. But the reinstatement of Rob Lorei assures that it will remain firmly rooted in the past.

I really wanted to try to keep moving WMNF forward despite the reinstatement, but in the month since it happened, several things have become clear to me that will prevent my continued association with WMNF.

First and foremost among them is that WMNF has become such a closed system that even antisemitism can be tolerated. I have worked for 2 years to get a Jewish show on the air to balance the views espoused on the WMNF public affairs show “True Talk.” I have no problem with True Talk espousing a particular viewpoint but there is another side to issues like Mideast peace, the Palestinians and more which should also be given voice on WMNF.

A proposed show, created in conjunction with Jewish Federations across Tampa Bay,  was dismissed by Rob Lorei as better suited for conservative talk radio and not in line with the mission and values of WMNF. He refused to yield a time slot for the show and said things like the leaders of Jewish Federations tend to be conservative and that most Jews don’t align with Federation’s because they are so conservative. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

It is unfair at the least, anti semitic at the worst, to deny the Jewish community a voice on community radio.

The turning point for me was a post from a listener on the WMNF Bulletin Board facebook page. It was a meme of the Star of David made out of currency and the words “Follow the Money.”

When my wife, who is Jewish and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, commented on this obviously anti semitic post, the listener replied. “I am a Circle of Friends member of WMNF and feel we have freedom of speech and info to share with WMNF 88.5 FM radio and it’s News Department.”

Now, I always knew that the WMNF culture had a toxic side. It has really not grown outside of its original core of listeners in 40 years. And that core’s  perceived ownership of everything that happens at WMNF is an existential threat to its long term existence.

Throughout the Rob Lorei termination process I heard over and over again  “I am a Circle of Friends Member” to justify ill-informed, angry and mean speech. I understood how people could not square Lorei’s public persona with his unmanageability, aggressiveness and inability to change as an employee. I know public radio and the ownership listeners feel for their station.

But, in the case of WMNF, it’s something completely different.  It’s dangerous to use a mission statement to silence a vital part of the community. It’s dangerous to use a mission statement as a litmus test for inclusion. It’s dangerous to use a mission statement to decide who should be listening and who can be heard. It’s dangerous to use membership to justify hate speech.

During the Rob Lorei dismissal controversy, I was told several times that I wasn’t like the real MNF-ers. I wasn’t a member of the ‘tribe’. I was different. I needed to go back where I came from.

That’s hardly the welcoming community radio station I thought I came to manage and to prepare for a continued future of service to Tampa Bay.

My resignation is effective immediately.

Craig Kopp

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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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