Steiner fans sound off to panel from WYPR

Many demand return of fired longtime host of station talk show

February 21, 2008|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

Ellen from Baltimore, Tim from Waverly and Jo-Ann from Annapolis joined more than 300 fellow callers, listeners and fans of WYPR's freshly canceled The Marc Steiner Show last night to display their anger in hopes that station managers would reverse their decision.

The meeting of WYPR's community advisory board was the first since Steiner was fired early this month and, for many, the first opportunity to publicly vent their anger over the firing of Steiner, the longtime host of the station's lunchtime public affairs talk show.

"I want him back," said Tim from Waverly, otherwise known as Tim Ward, a deliveryman who says he timed his work so that he would be along the Interstate 95 corridor when Steiner's show came on from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. "He is Baltimore's renaissance man."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Thursday's Maryland section about a meeting of the WYPR community advisory board said incorrectly that it appeared that no one from the station's management was there. WYPR President and General Manager Anthony S. Brandon and other station representatives attended the meeting.
The Sun regrets the error.

To register their complaints, people filled the Baltimore Museum of Art's auditorium, which seats about 360. Some picketed outside. Others handed out stickers with slogans such as: "No Marc = No Money."

WYPR, 88.1 FM, abruptly canceled the show Feb. 1, noting declining ratings and what it called Steiner's focus on Baltimore despite the station's reach to all corners of Maryland.

The station announced last week that longtime Sun columnist Dan Rodricks would take over Steiner's time slot. Rodricks is scheduled to start Monday.

If WYPR management hoped that the replacement would placate those angered by the firing of Steiner and defuse the criticism, they were mistaken, judging from the tone of last night's meeting.

"I feel a little bit - not to be dramatic - like I was dumped," Irene Smith, a civil rights lawyer who has been a guest on Steiner's show and a WYPR donor, told the board before she garnered a standing ovation by walking up to the stage and dropping off her mug and hat with the station's logo. "When you're dumped, you hand back the junk."

Former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides said he has yet to hear from anyone who thinks the station's dropping of Steiner was a good move.

"I hope your board will resign in toto and not be a part of this crime," he said.

Various members of the overwhelmingly pro-Steiner crowd called for the resignation of WYPR's board of directors and asked listeners to stop giving money to the station. A number of people said Rodricks isn't a suitable replacement.

It appeared that no one from WYPR management attended the meeting. Steiner was there, standing near the entrance, hugging people and shaking their hands as they walked into the auditorium.

As they announced Steiner's departure, station officials said his program was the only one with falling ratings. But reports indicate that WYPR's ratings have been falling overall.

In the fall of 2005, about 170,500 listeners were tuning in to the station every week, according to Radio Research Consortium. By last fall, the number had dropped to 142,000, a decline of about 17 percent. During the same time, Steiner's audience sank about 21 percent, to 37,400 from 47,300.

When the station faced financial troubles in 2002, Steiner waged a campaign to purchase it, appealing for funds in an e-mail drive that raised $750,000, an amount that station officials question. Eventually, the station was saved when eight investors stepped in as guarantors to secure a loan to buy the station.

As a result of his efforts on behalf of the station, Steiner, 61, had become WYPR's public face. Since he was fired, protesters have gathered outside the station every day, petitions have circulated, and many people have threatened to stop listening or withhold their financial support for the station. Fearing that the public mood would ruin the pledge drive set for this month, the station canceled the fundraiser.

"Without Marc Steiner, I don't listen to WYPR," Gregg Mosson, a teacher and writer, told the board. "I'm not going to renew my membership unless Marc Steiner is back on the air."

The community board promised to pass the audience sentiments on to the station's board of directors at its next meeting, on March 12. Board members said a tape of the meeting would be posted on the advisory board's part of WYPR's Web site.

Ellen Robbins, a Johns Hopkins University lecturer and "Ellen from Baltimore," said she felt "bereft" at the loss of the show. Others spoke of how the show taught them about their community.

"Did they realize we had one of the best talk show hosts in the country?" asked Dave Eberhardt of Guilford. "Did they realize the community considered him a gem?"

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