|(The following op-ed
piece was published in The Berkshire Eagle on June 18, 2000.
It is reproduced here without permission.)
It's not just a ballpark
By Andrew H. Mick
It's not often I choose to write a commentary
piece for The Eagle. However, I think it is necessary that
I set some things straight on the public issue of a proposed multi-use
stadium in downtown Pittsfield. There are those who seem intent upon demonizing
the effort and they simply do not have the facts.
The multi-use stadium project is about economic development more than
about baseball. In the past three years over $79 million of private and
public development has been launched in downtown Pittsfield. The stadium
project builds on all of this development. It is a driver to keep people
coming into the absolute "Heart of the Berkshires."
Professional baseball statistics show that new stadiums increase attendance
by huge numbers. The current team, at Wahconah Park, reported attendance
of 80,000 last season. Imagine attendance growing to 120,000 or 150,000.
What does this mean for downtown Pittsfield? It means consumers will buy
things in the city from all types of merchants. It means an increased opportunity
for continued prosperity throughout downtown Pittsfield.
* * * *
Why not refurbish Wahconah Park? Easy answer. National Pastime,
the corporate owner of the Pittsfield Class A franchise, made it clear
to the city months ago that it could no longer play in Wahconah and was
not interested in playing in a refurbished stadium. It proved it meant
business by last month announcing a move to a new stadium in Troy, New
We also know that other teams or potential owners interested in moving
to Pittsfield are only interested in our location if we have a new stadium.
It is that simple.
Who will pay for the stadium? The development committee, of which I
chair, has never had any intention to ask Pittsfield taxpayers to carry
this project on their backs with increased property taxes. To date, the
only money to flow into the stadium project has been private money from
two major contributors, one of which is the parent company of The Eagle;
Bank is the other. It is the intention of the development committee
to fund the stadium from state, federal and significant private funds.
And then hand it over to the citizens of Pittsfield. There is a very real
and practical financial model being developed to make sure that stadium
finances do not increase taxes for Pittsfield citizens.
Why do we need a Civic Authority established for this project? City
governments do not operate like private enterprise. A stadium, with year-round
events, needs to be run in a private manner even though it will be public
property. Authorities are established to achieve this end. The legislation
to establish the Civic Authority was based on a model borrowed from Lowell,
Massachusetts and is similar to structures used throughout the nation.
The elected mayor, council and a business-based Chamber of Commerce make
the appointments to the board of the Civic Authority.
I suppose you could argue the politics of this structure, but when it
is all said and done, the Pittsfield City Council needs a Civic Authority
to do business in a private enterprise fashion and prevent having to hire
city employees to run a multi-use stadium. Keep in mind the Civic Authority
and the stadium have to have a business plan that provides cash flow and
profits to exceed actual expenses. A strong business plan, which includes
a lease/operating arrangement with the ball team, ensures the local taxpayers
they will not receive a bill for stadium operations. If it is necessary
to issue bonds or get involved in eminent domain proceedings, the city
of Pittsfield is protected from direct liability.
Why haven't we heard more about the details of the stadium project?
A private group of business people have been directing this project, using
their own money and resources. While plans are being developed it would
be foolish to release all of the details being considered. I speak from
personal experience when I say I would never have imagined how complicated
a project of this proportion is.
When the project plans are made public in the next few days, I think
people will understand why it has been prudent to finalize many details
before subjecting unfinished plans to public scrutiny. I am happy to say
the development committee is very close to being able to share those details!
* * * *
What can the citizens of Pittsfield and the entire Berkshires expect?
They can expect a doable plan to build a modern multi-purpose stadium.
It will be funded by state, federal and private sources. It will provide
affordable family entertainment year-round. It will improve the appearance
and economics of downtown Pittsfield. It will ensure a long-term relationship
with professional baseball. It will likely offer events ranging from baseball,
soccer, football, stage shows, movies, meetings, celebrations -- maybe
even ice-skating. Provision will be built in to meet and exceed modern
handicap access issues including parking, ramps, elevators, restrooms,
seating and concessions. It will be a modern, downtown venue of which we
can all be proud!
No matter how honestly I present the facts about the benefits of developing
a multi-use stadium, there will be opponents to the project. And that is
to be expected; some people seem to be happy only when they have the opportunity
to oppose something progressive for the city of Pittsfield. However, I
have faith in the majority of voting citizens who think for themselves
and will refuse to be dragged through the cesspool of negative thinking.
Pittsfield and The Berkshires need to win on this issue. Pittsfield
deserves to win! I ask you to review the facts and get behind the multi-use
stadium and help us make it happen.
Andrew H. Mick is The Berkshire Eagle's publisher
© 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England
Scribner Refuses to Retract False
Morning Pro Musica Info
by Glenn M. Heller Sunday, June
"A Plea for Classical Music" is the title given
to a poignant letter-to-the-editor published in The Berkshire Eagle
this past Tuesday, June 6th. It is signed by Great Barrington resident
Helen E. Radin. (Scroll down to read Ms. Radin's letter or
Just beneath the letter, The Eagle inserts an "editor's note"
proclaiming: "Robert J. Lurtsema's "Morning Pro Musica" program
is no longer on the air because the host is ill and his program has been
terminated." The Eagle note goes on to state: "WAMC
still offers 10 hours of classical music on weekends, 11 a.m. to noon and
1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"Editor's Note" is False
It turns out that The Eagle "editor's note" is factually incorrect.
Incorrect enough to mislead Eagle readers and WAMC listeners
and classical music devotees into believing that Morning Pro Musica
is simply no longer available for broadcast, and that WAMC is no
longer able even to receive the program from its producer to broadcast
to the WAMC radio audience.
Morning Pro Musica-Alive and Well in Boston
WGBH in Boston, a major production house for radio and television
programming for both National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting
System, is the long-time producer of Morning Pro Musica.
According to Leah Hollenberger, director of media relations for WGBH,
Pro Musica is still very much in production, definitely still on-the-air,
with the same fine selection of music as always, and available for those
radio stations wishing to broadcast the program to any audience in any
radio market outside Boston.
David Scribner, Editor-in-Chief of The Berkshire Eagle, and
a good friend of Eagle columnist Alan S. Chartock, WAMC-FM's
chairman and executive director, was contacted by telephone at The Eagle
Wednesday afternoon and alerted to the misinformation published in Tuesday's
newspaper as well as to WGBH's official statement contradicting
Eagle's faulty allegation in its "editor's note".
Mr. Scribner was notified that the program presently being offered by
is still called Morning Pro Musica and is hosted by a substitute
host in Mr. Lurtsema's absence, and that this program is indeed still in
production, with the same type of music as before Mr. Lurtsema's departure,
and is still broadcast over WGBH-FM in Boston and available for
Mr. Scribner's response was that he disagreed with WGBH's statement
and that as far as he was concerned, the program known as Morning Pro
Musica "was cancelled", no longer produced, no longer being broadcast
on-the-air, and that an entirely "different musical program with another
host" is being offered by WGBH in its stead.
Scribner Still Doesn't Get It
When it was clarified yet a second time to Mr. Scribner that the show's
own producers refuted him and that his information was simply not correct,
Mr. Scribner categorically refused to acknowledge WGBH's statement
as being factually accurate. Even when offered Ms. Hollenberger's
telephone number at WGBH, Mr. Scribner refused to agree to contact
the organization to check out the veracity of his "facts" and whether he
might be wrong.
He stated that he was standing by the "extensive knowledge" of his editors
and by the statements made by those editors, and by what they wrote, and
that he would "not print any retraction or correction".
Scribner a Regular Guest on WAMC Shows
Mr. Scribner has often appeared as a guest on various WAMC-produced
shows, appearing many times with host Mr. Chartock as a panelist on The
Media Project. He has also appeared on The Round Table and on
a listener call-in program Vox Pop.
Morning Pro Musica also on the Internet
Ms. Hollenberger says that Morning Pro Musica airs over WGBH
89.7 FM in Boston on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 7 A.M. till
12 Noon with Doug Brisco acting as substitute host for the program during
Robert J. Lurtsema's leave of absence. She says that during these weekend
over-the-air broadcasts, MPM can also be heard simultaneously overWGBH's
Internet website, via streaming audio, by logging onto www.wgbh.org,
the official website of WGBH.
Morning Pro Musica Contract
by Glenn M. Heller
In an afternoon telephone interview at his WAMC
Northeast Public Radio office in Albany on Wednesday, Alan S. Chartock,
chairman and executive director of WAMC, admitted to cancellation
of the contract between WAMC and WGBH in Boston to broadcast
Pro Musica, a long-running weekend classical music program. Mr.
Chartock's decision to stop broadcasting the popular program has caused
many upset WAMC listeners to barrage local print media with letters.
down to read examples of published letters or click here!)
Lurtsema's Leave Gave WAMC Its Excuse
MPM host Robert J. Lurtsema's leave-of-absence from the program
is the rationale which WAMC has publicly given in its press releases
for no longer carrying the program over the WAMC Northeast Public Radio
Network. But the show still airs in Boston with substitute host Doug
Brisco filling-in for Mr. Lurtsema. Not until yesterday had WAMC
actually admitted to cancellation of the contract between itself and WGBH,
the program's producer.
WGBH, a major production house for radio and television programming
National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System,
is the long-time producer of Morning Pro Musica.
Leah Hollenberger, director of media relations for WGBH, was
asked in a telephone interview earlier Wednesday whether WAMC still
has a contract with WGBH to carry Morning Pro Musica, which
continues to air over WGBH-FM in Boston every Saturday and Sunday
morning from 7 A.M. till 12 Noon.
Ms. Hollenberger was also asked whether it was WAMC which unilaterally
canceled the contract to broadcast the popular program.
Ms. Hollenberger confirmed that
WAMC is no longer carrying the
program, but she said she preferred that reporters' questions as to which
of the parties, WGBH or WAMC, initiated cancellation of the
contract be directed to WAMC officials who, she said, would more
appropriately be able to answer such questions. She added that WGBHwelcomes
any radio station outside the Boston area that might wish to broadcast
the critically-acclaimed show.
Chartock Refuses At First to Answer Query
When Mr. Chartock was contacted at his WAMC office later in
the day, he was asked to confirm or deny that WAMC cancelled its
contract with WGBH to carry "Morning Pro Musica". After
first refusing to answer the question, and then attempting to redirect
the telephone call to his assistant executive director, David Galletly,
Mr. Chartock came back on the phone, and after additional hesitation and
after again being asked to simply confirm or deny the allegation, Mr. Chartock,
in a lowered voice with seeming reluctance, finally admitted, "We
have no contract."
According to WGBH's Ms. Hollenberger, Morning Pro Musica
is still very much on-the-air. She says that MPM airs every weekend
WGBH 89.7 FM in Boston, and that like Mr. Lurtsema, substitute
host Brisco is committed to maintaining a selection of music as fine and
as eclectic as ever. She added that WGBH-FM's MPM broadcasts
may be heard simultaneously over WGBH's Internet website, www.wgbh.org.
letter was published in The BerkshireEagleon Tuesday, June 6, 2000
and is reproduced here without permission.)
A plea for classical music
To the Editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:-
I am a daily reader of The Eagle and a
constant listener of WAMC. I was privileged to meet and hear Clarence
Fanto and Alan Chartock at the taping of The Media Project in Pittsfield
not long ago. I have supported fund drives and sung the praises of our
fine local newspaper and public radio station. I am not a frequent complainer
or letter writer. But today I am moved to send this for the benefit of
Clarence Fanto and Alan Chartock.
It is Saturday morning and my radio is silent. There are no gentle bird
songs and no beautiful classical music to be heard. There is however, a
letter to the editor in The Eagle from someone who like myself is
extremely disappointed with the loss of "Pro Musica" from the WAMC
format, and an article by Clarence Fanto stating that we should support
our excellent radio station and listen to WMHT for classical music.
There are problems associated with Mr. Fanto's thinking. Namely, that
many folks including myself cannot receive WMHT on their radios.
Also, the demographics of the Berkshires are not representative of the
three to five percent of the U.S. population at large who listen to classical
music. The number here is far greater. Many have relocated here or are
here on weekends to enjoy the cultural atmosphere of this wonderful region.
While I listen to Peter Schickele and Car Talk with relish
during the week, I look for a change of pace on the weekend. Only a
Game is a far cry from hearing Robert J. Lurtsema begin the day on
Leave the talk show format for weekdays and bring back the gentle sounds
of classical music on Saturday morning!
So Mr. Fanto and Mr. Chartock please reconsider your words and deeds.
Do not try to placate us with attempts at assuaging us with commentary
and suggestions that make this segment of the listening public seem expendable
or relics of the past.
Mr. Chartock, please return to the high standards that you generally
adhere to and return classical music to the Saturday morning format.
HELEN E. RADIN
Great Barrington, June 3, 2000
Editor's Note: Robert J. Lurtsema's "Morning Pro Musica" program
is no longer on the air because the host is ill and his program has been
terminated. WAMC still offers 10 hours of classical music
on weekends, 11 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and 6 a.m.
to 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.
© 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England
(The following letter was
published in The BerkshireEagle
on Saturday, June 3, 2000 and is
reproduced here without permission.)
Less radio talk, more classical music
To the Editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:-
It amazes me that only three letters have I seen
denouncing the loss of classical music on WAMC. With so many classical
music lovers in the area, as WAMC acknowledges with its vast Saturday
opera audience in season, I wonder at Mr. Chartock's decision.
It is true that radio station WMHT runs a splendid program of
classical music, but I can't get it in Cheshire (although I belong to it
and to WAMC because I believe in supporting PBS radio and
In my opinion, we have enough talk programs.
GERTRUDE R. KNEPPER
Cheshire, May 31, 2000
© 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England
|Civic Authority seeks
exemption from competitive bidding
and prevailing wage laws
Stadium Express Sidetracked
Nuciforo not surprised;
by G. M. Heller
The seemingly unstoppable Stadium Express
got sidetracked Tuesday by a Statehouse committee that did not like the
bells and whistles it heard. After a legislative hearing that raised more
questions than it answered, the Joint Committee on Local Affairs voted
to place into "study" a home rule proposal to create the Pittsfield Civic
The home rule petition, if passed by the legislative committee and voted
into law by both houses of the legislature would, after signature by the
governor, create a Mayoral-appointed nine-member Civic Authority with broad
The Authority would have power to acquire land by eminent domain and
to contract out the building and operation of a new baseball park in downtown
Pittsfield. As proposed, the Authority would be exempt from the state's
competitive bidding laws and prevailing wage statutes.
The home rule petition, which one local source alleges was "railroaded"
through the Pittsfield City Council with no public input, comes just two
years after Pittsfield voters overwhelmingly voted "No" in a non-binding
referendum asking whether they thought the city needed a new baseball stadium.
The two main commercial backers of the proposed stadium project include
Berkshire Eagle and Berkshire Bank, joint holders of an option
to buy downtown land at West and Center Streets upon which the main portion
of the stadium and its parking facilities would be built. If the legislature
grants the Civic Authority power of eminent domain, the rest of the land
for the project would come from land takings should owners refuse to sell
The home rule petition was approved by the City Council in just days
and quickly submitted to the legislature's Joint Committee on Local Affairs
by state Representative Peter J. Larkin, D-Pittsfield and state Senator
Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., D-Pittsfield.
In an interview late Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Nuciforo said that while
legislators are not required to file such legislative petitions, it is
common practice statewide for home rule petitions to be shepherded by a
municipality's local legislators to appropriate legislative committees
upon request of the municipality.
He said that this was the case here, and that facilitating home rule
petitions in this fashion "is actually a good method" because it assures
a fair public airing of issues at the statehouse level, as well as an appropriate
review by legislative members who see petitions all the time from municipalities
across the state. Members are thus able to apply the same standards statewide
when reviewing and acting upon such petitions.
Despite Tuesday's setback for Pittsfield's proposal, Mr. Nuciforo pointed
out that there is great value in taking home rule petitions to the legislature
in an "as-is" form, because then "You let the chips fall where they may."
He said that weaknesses in such "as-is" petitions quickly become apparent
and municipalities can then take corrective measures if they so choose.
Building trade groups testify against proposal
At the hearing, the petition's proposed exemptions to state competitive
bidding laws and state prevailing wage statutes brought forth the ire of
trade groups, specifically Associated Contractors of Massachusetts and
Massachusetts Building Trades Council. Both lobbying groups testified
against adoption of the petition as presented.
Stadium investor testifies for proposal
Also testifying at the hearing was Michael Daly, vice president of
Berkshire Bank, who spoke in favor of the proposal.
Mr. Daly, whose bank shares an option to purchase the proposed stadium
property, was reached by telephone at his office Wednesday afternoon.
He was asked whether he had known in advance that the petition included
language seeking exemption from state competitive bidding laws and prevailing
wage statutes. At first, Mr. Daly referred all questions about the
petition to Pittsfield City Solicitor Kathleen G. Alexander, but when pressed
for an answer, stated that prior to the hearing, he was "not aware" that
such exemptions were being sought.
"Showstoppers" hidden in legalese
Also testifying at the hearing was Ward 6 City Councilor Daniel Bianchi.
Mr. Bianchi, one of the councilors who had voted against the proposal in
City Council, spoke against the petition. Mr. Bianchi stated in a
telephone interview Thursday morning that "I read the whole document, it
was 15 pages long" referring to the original text of the Civic Authority
proposal sponsored by the Mayor and presented to the city council for a
Asked whether he had known at the time he read that original document
that the proposed Civic Authority sought exemption from state competitive
bidding laws and prevailing wage statutes, Mr. Bianchi said "No, I did
not know that. I am not a lawyer." Mr. Bianchi said that the document
contained a lot of legalese.
When asked how he felt at the statehouse hearing when he heard testimony
from trade groups and realized the city's proposal sought these exemptions,
Mr. Bianchi said, "I was red-faced to think I hadn't pick up on that originally."
He said, "That seems like the kind of thing they (referring to the Mayor's
office which had written-up the original proposal) should have thought
through. That would be a show-stopper." He continued, "Like I said,
I am not a lawyer. I just felt bad that I didn't pick up on it a lot earlier."
City Solicitor Kathleen G. Alexander was contacted on Wednesday afternoon
and again on Thursday, but office personnel indicated she was not available
either day to answer questions.
Mick jags, then hangs up
Andrew H. Mick, publisher and president of The Berkshire Eagle,
was also contacted by phone late Wednesday afternoon. When asked
whether he knew in advance that the petition sought exemption from competitive
bidding laws and prevailing wage statutes, Mr. Mick referred all questions
about the Civic Authority to City Solicitor Alexander. When asked
again to simply confirm or deny whether he knew in advance of the sought-after
exemptions, Mr. Mick said that he had "no comment" and that he would answer
no further questions. Without waiting for response, he hung up his
Stadium costs might be affected
Local sources in Pittsfield have told BerkshireEagleDotNetwork
that the projected $18.5 million cost for the project, which includes acquiring
land, and building a new stadium and parking facilities, was predicated
on getting the power of eminent domain, and obtaining exemption from the
state's prevailing wage requirements.
Without those two critical components though, cost estimates would have
to be factored accordingly, because the cost of acquiring land could go
up in the case of private landowners holding-out for higher prices, and
the cost of construction could be higher should the union scale rise.
So far though, no officials associated with the project are commenting
publicly on whether the projected cost will go higher.
Nuciforo not surprised at outcome of vote
Senator Nuciforo said he was "not at all surprised" by the vote taken
by the legislative committee placing the petition in study.
The senator chided the City Council for its failure to seek public input
and hold public hearings earlier in the process. Mr. Nuciforo said the
public's input "should have occurred before the city council voted
on a home rule petition, not after." He said the council "Put
the cart before the horse."
He expressed surprise that the city council had not sought a new ballot
referendum on the matter given the major impact on so many aspects of the
city of a project that included creation of a Civic Authority with broad
powers as well as building a stadium complex in the heart of the city.
He also said that given the lasting effect that a Civic Authority would
have on the city, and given the amount of private property that would need
to be taken by eminent domain, that he had expected the city council to
hold public hearings and seek much more public input.
Mr. Nuciforo was asked whether he believed the value of the land optioned
by The Berkshire Eagle and Berkshire Bank had increased dramatically
compared to what it would have been had the baseball complex not been proposed
for that site. Mr. Nuciforo said he had no idea, and that an independent
appraisal would have to be sought. He said that one would have to
ask a real-estate expert to obtain a reasonable answer to the question.
Complex likely to benefit Eagle's holdings
Local real estate sources state that the stadium complex will likely
spur development and higher lease rates in the area surrounding West and
Center Streets, the project's proposed location.
The Berkshire Eagle owns Clock Tower Business Park located
at South Church Street, an outfielder's throw from the proposed stadium
complex. According to the sources, at present, Clock Tower
is barely 50% occupied, but the presence of a baseball complex nearby will
likely change all that.
Lucrative stadium franchise
The real estate sources also mentioned the possibility that The
Berkshire Eagle and Berkshire Bank might seek to obtain the
lucrative parking franchise for the stadium complex in an arrangement known
as a "sweetheart deal."
The sources said that if the Civic Authority obtains exemption from
state competitive bidding laws, it could, for instance, legally award the
parking franchise to any entity it chose without legal formality of first
seeking competitive bids from interested lot operators throughout the state.
Normally, lot operators vie for the valuable right to operate franchises
in garages and upon empty parcels owned by municipal governments, an arrangement
that is mutually beneficial to taxpayers because it provides a parking
revenue stream directly into municipal coffers.
The competitive process entails submitting sealed bids which are reviewed
in an open and public manner. The winner is usually the one who guarantees
to pay to the municipality the highest amount of monthly or annual revenue
from lot operations. It is the highest bidder which wins the right to operate
The sources stated that in the event the Civic Authority succeeds in
being exempted from
compliance with bidding laws, then it could legally get away with simply
awarding the parking franchise to any entity or individual, including The
Berkshire Eagle, Berkshire Bank, or even family members of politicians
or Civic Authority board members.
Further, said the sources, there would be no guaranteed revenue stream
for Pittsfield because the bulk of dollars generated by the valuable parking
franchise could legally be kept in private hands, thus providing little
mutual benefit to the municipal authority and the taxpayers that financed
Interview with Clarence Fanto/
Eagle Editor Defends WAMC Apologia,
N. Adams Coverage
by Glenn M. Heller Sunday, June
With an air of Yankee certitude, Berkshire
Eagle managing editor Clarence Fanto this past Monday (June 5)
defended his decision to publish what he labels a "Commentary" apologizing
for radio station WAMC
90.3 FM Northeast Public Radio's decision to cut back on classical
Mr. Fanto's column entitled "Lurtsema's Demise Not WAMC's Fault"
touts the station and the wisdom behind the recent format changes. (Scroll
down to read Mr. Fanto's Apologia or Click Here!)
WAMC listeners have been flooding the newspaper with letters
about the recent cancellation of Morning Pro Musica, WAMC's
popular and longest-running classical music program aired weekends.
The Commentary, published in The Berkshire Eagle last
weekend (June 4-5), apparently to coincide with the return of summer residents
to the Berkshires, comes at a time when WAMC is just weeks away
from the latest of its thrice-annual fund-raising drives aimed in large
measure at those very same weekend homeowners.
The editorial endorsement given by Mr. Fanto's apologia is sure
to help WAMC towards its newest fund-raising goal despite the angry
stir created amongst listeners by the programming changes. If the letters
being published are any indicator, the bulk of mail being received by The
Eagle decry the lessening amount of air time being given to classical
music at WAMC. (Scroll down to read examples of recent
"A self-styled Walter Winchell"
In a lengthy, and at times contentious telephone interview, Mr. Fanto
gave opinions on a wide range of topics of consequence to Berkshire folks.
Mr. Fanto is a long-time employee of The Berkshire Eagle. A source
within Mr. Fanto's organization, who asked not to be identified, described
him by saying, "He's a self-styled Walter Winchell for the 90's."
Appears frequently on WAMC
Mr. Fanto is also a personal friend and admirer of fellow Eagle
columnist Alan S. Chartock, WAMC's chairman and executive director,
and has long championed the publicly-subsidized station in his role as
an editor at The Eagle. Mr. Fanto appears frequently as a
guest on WAMC-produced programs, including many times with host
Mr. Chartock as a panelist on The Media Project as well as on other
Mr. Fanto defends his coverage of WAMC over the years saying
that he believes he has been quite balanced and that his columns have chided
the station just as often as they have been laudatory. He said it was unfair
to assert otherwise.
Attempts to verify Mr. Fanto's claims of impartiality towards WAMC
in past columns have been unsuccessful. The Eagle's website searchengine
for past articles has been down for weeks, displaying: "Our Archive Server
is Out of Service."
Boosts station, but never asks questions
Mr. Fanto was asked why after all these years of writing columns boosting
Northeast Public Radio, publication of which columns have certainly
aided the station in meeting fund-raising goals, that The Eagle
has never bothered to investigate just how the public monies channeled
into WAMC's coffers are actually being spent.
Mr. Fanto was quoted examples of WAMC's inflated expenditures,
such as the relatively high salaries being paid WAMC's senior management
out of a budget that presently exceeds $4 million per year.
Mr. Fanto replied, "Why look if there is nothing to look for?"
The circular logic behind this reply necessitated that this reporter
next ask Mr. Fanto how he knew there was nothing to look for if he had
never bothered to look, or never instructed his reporters to look.
Mr. Fanto repeated his answer, saying "There's nothing to find."
When asked if he had ever bothered to look at a copy of WAMC's
IRS Form 990, the federal Internal Revenue Service document required to
be filed by all organizations exempt from income tax, Mr. Fanto admitted
that he had not seen WAMC's in years.
WAMC's latest Form 990 filed for fiscal year ending 6/30/99,
shows that Mr. Chartock alone received a total of $97,257 which does not
include his travel expenses and a generous expense account and other perquisites---this
salary is separate from the one he already receives from SUNY as a full-time
tenured professor at the Albany campus.
WAMC's budget comes not only from listener pledges, but also
from government funding, private foundations, corporate underwriting grants,
and underwriting contributions from local small businesses.
Moving steadily to All-Talk format
While WAMC in years past favored listeners with a diet rich
in classical music programming, the past decade has seen the station move
steadily towards an all-talk format.
"All-talk" in this instance refers not only to National Public Radio-produced
programming such as the nightly All Things Considered and Fresh
Air, but also to WAMC's own in-house productions. Examples of
these WAMC-produced shows include listener call-in (Vox Pop),
one-on-one interviews (Me & Mario, Capitol Connection),
public affairs kitsch (Legislative Gazette), panel discussions (The
Media Project), as well as topical news and feature programming (The
Environment Show, 51%, The Law Show).
Where the money is
Private foundations and corporate underwriters will give hundreds of
thousands of dollars more in grant monies to a public broadcaster willing
to create this type of "educational"-- read "talk"-- programming
than were that same broadcaster merely to run musical programming all day.
This is one of the reasons that radio stations like Schenectady-based
which devotes valuable time slots to classical music programming, are,
in Mr. Fanto's words, "always hard-up for money."
Unfortunately though, judging by the tone of letters published in The
Eagle in the weeks since WAMC canceled Morning Pro Musica,
this expanding talk format has done little to soothe the ears of those
who like their listener-subsidized radio to include more Brahms and Saint-Saens
than Blah-Blah and Yadda-Yadda. This is especially true given the scarcity
of broadcast classical music anywhere but on the public broadcasting end
of the FM dial.
Never looks at indy websites
Mr. Fanto gave his opinions about a number of other Berkshire topics
as well. When asked if he had been reading any of the independent,
alternative Internet websites lately sprouting up around the Berkshires
and dealing with local issues, websites such as the controversial NorthAdamsFree.com,
or this reporter's own BerkshireEagleDotNetwork and its sister sites
Northeast Pirate Network and BerkshireRecordDotCom,
Mr. Fanto claimed that he "never bothers to look at" any of those sites.
He accused each of the sites of having a "hidden agenda", but when asked
to be more specific, Mr. Fanto was at a loss to offer concrete details
as to what those agendas might be.
NorthAdamsFree.com - vast tracts of words
website is operated by two North Adams residents, William Davis,
a retired North Adams police detective, and John Choquette, a local landlord.
Using the site as their soapbox, the two men have written extensively and
apparently without limit -- vast tracts of words that seem to go on forever
-- accusing North Adams Mayor John S. Barrett III of all manner of behavior
both in and out of office. This landscape also features piles of verbal
abuse heaped upon the Mayor and various of his cronies in city government.
A few nuggets of 24k gold
Yet, buried in this Great Plains of text, are a few nuggets of what
appear to be 24 karat gold, certain very specific allegations of wrongdoing
which, according to one local criminal attorney who requested anonymity,
"if true, would appear to violate a number of state laws, and possibly
some federal laws including anti-racketeering statutes."
There are also documents displayed on the NorthAdamsFree.com
website, which documents the site operators say provide evidence that backs
up certain of their allegations. Many of the documents have been obtained
via requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.
So far, Mayor Barrett has steadfastly denied all the allegations, and
he has filed a complaint against the two site operators in state Superior
Court alleging libel and slander. The case is scheduled for trial in the
fall and the defendants have publicized their intention to produce witnesses
and evidence not only to defend themselves, but to prove their allegations
against the Mayor.
Those allegations include misuse of public funds, misuse of office,
selective enforcement, extortion, and even abuse of children at a time
when Mr. Barrett was 4th grade teacher at the local Johnson elementary
See no evil
Mr. Fanto was asked whether he thought there was any factual information
or documentation contained within the NorthAdamsFree.com website
which would warrant an investigation by Eagle reporters into the
allegations of wrongdoing being made against the Mayor. Mr. Fanto replied,
"Nothing! Not a one."
Hear no evil
Mr. Fanto was then asked whether reporters for The Berkshire Eagle
had actually looked into any of the allegations being made against the
Mayor by Mr. Davis and Mr. Choquette, especially given the seriousness
of those allegations. Mr. Fanto replied no. He said that The Eagle
was not going to give "credence" to unproven allegations by having its
reporters look into rumors circulated by people "with an agenda."
Contradicting Mr. Fanto's statement, sources within New England Newspapers,
Inc., parent company of both The Berkshire Eagle and North
Adams Transcript, have told BerkshireEagleDotNetwork that NENI
employees have indeed investigated certain of the allegations made on the
website against the city's mayor.
Speak no evil
But, according to these same NENI sources, who requested anonymity,
editors at both The Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript
have purposely refrained from publishing stories that might be harmful
or embarrassing to the mayor and, of greater significance, have decided
not to pursue fertile leads. The editors have let it be known in no uncertain
terms that if any of their reporters file stories about political skullduggery
in North Adams, they will soon find themselves reassigned to quieter beats.
Don't mention it
Mr. Fanto was next asked to comment about statements made off-the-record
by NENI employees to BerkshireEagleDotNetwork to the effect
that senior editors within both The Berkshire Eagle and North
Adams Transcript had instructed reporters to make no mention whatsoever
in news stories about the existence of the independent BerkshireEagleDotNetworkwebsite.
Mr. Fanto denied that such an order was ever given to Berkshire Eagle
Mr. Fanto was explicitly frank on his view of the Internet medium and
about the type of people who not only create websites, but also those who
view them and rely upon them for information. At one point he stated that
"Nobody looks at (BerkshireEagleDotNetwork, WAMC Northeast Pirate
Network and BerkshireRecordDotCom)."
When asked whether he was sure of his facts, and his source as to the
number of visitors to those websites, Mr. Fanto backtracked and imperiously
intoned, "Well, nobody significant looks at them."
Mr. Fanto then questioned the veracity of any information that could
be gotten off independent or alternative websites, websites not owned or
operated by recognized media companies.
Mr. Fanto questioned the motives of those operating alternative websites
and alluded to the personal agendas of site operators, even going so far
as to question the mental fitness of those who would operate such sites.