Simeone leaving WJHU Radio: Station's long-time announcer and host cites power plays and a 'venomous atmosphere.'

August 22, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

After more than a decade together on the air, it's splitsville for Lisa Simeone and WJHU-FM (88.1). And the parting, coming just over a year after a controversial format change that abandoned classical music and cut back dramatically on locally produced programming, seems less than amicable.

Simeone, whose final radio program is scheduled to air at 10 a.m. Sunday, says the station offered her a new contract that was fair. But reflection -- combined with what she called a host of petty incidents -- made her decide to leave.

"I think there is a venomous atmosphere at the station," says Simeone, who had gone from being one of the dominant on-air personalities at the station to having a one-hour talk/interview/music show every Sunday morning. "There are all these cabals and cliques forming, because people are jockeying for power. I just don't need this kind of hassle in my life."

The station has not had a general manager since Dennis Kita, who was responsible for the format switch, left earlier this summer for a job at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Washington. His departure came amid speculation that the format change had been a failure.

WJHU officials, who could not be reached for comment on Simeone's departure, have acknowledged that the station lost $130,000 last year, in part, because of costs related to the format change. But they said they projected the deficit, and that Hopkins had already budgeted the money needed to keep the station in the black. They also insist that listenership has improved markedly under the new format.

Johns Hopkins University Vice President and Secretary Ross Jones, who oversees the station, says he is "absolutely" pleased with WJHU's direction and performance. He would not comment on Simeone's departure or talk about her complaints.

"That's her call," he said of Simeone's reasons for leaving. "I'm sorry that she's decided not to stay."

So is Mark Crispin Miller, a Hopkins professor and media critic who usually joined Simeone during the second half of her Sunday show.

"Her leaving the airwaves here is really sad," says Miller. "I think a lot of people here are going to be really unhappy. She's been the station's most popular announcer and one of the few local attractions there."

Local is the key word, says Miller, who in February submitted a petition to the university signed by 260 Hopkins employees and students decrying the lack of local programming and personalities on WJHU. Almost all the station's air time is filled with National Public Radio programs.

"The station does not minister to local interests," says Miller, who sees its treatment of Simeone as yet further proof of that. "It does almost nothing in the way of bringing Hopkins' great resources to the city. This tremendous asset is being squandered for reasons almost no one can understand. It could be a great local asset for this city."

Simeone, whose current contract expires Sept. 1, agrees with Miller's assertion that WJHU needs programming designed to reflect its status as the radio voice of one of America's great universities and one of Baltimore's premier institutions.

"I was one of the people clamoring [for the format change] the loudest over the years. I have no quarrel with that," says Simeone, who will still be employed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to be host of its weekly broadcast on WBJC. "It was the way it was done and the actual programs that were put on the air that was the problem.

"People have to ask themselves, do you want to have a cheap imitation of commercial radio, or do you want a Baltimore station that's responsive to a Baltimore community?"

Pub Date: 8/22/96

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