Ex-LR station manager files complaint with FCC
The former manager of a low-powered Little Rock radio station has filed an informal federal complaint against a neighborhood association, city employees and an elected official, accusing them of violating federal regulations in his absence.
Kwami Abdul-Bey’s contentious exit Aug. 1 from KWCP 98.9 followed disputes over who would set the station’s programming schedule, according to emails and text messages obtained under the state Freedom of Information Act.
The records, along with interviews, offer insight into how a City Hall-backed community radio station — one of just four dozen low-powered stations in Arkansas — went dark less than a year after its first broadcast.
The West Central Community Center-based station has barely been on the air since Abdul-Bey left — and has not broadcast at all in more than a month — subjecting operators to potential sanctions for unauthorized operation, leaving the station unattended and failing to identify the station, according to the complaint.
City Attorney Tom Carpenter, who said he will file a response to the federal complaint, called it “a great deal of nonsense” that amounts to an “employment dispute.”
“There’s a great similarity to his complaint and nailing Jell-O to a wall,” Carpenter said.
The complaint, signed by
22 other current and former volunteers, asks the Federal Communications Commission to issue a letter of admonishment rather than fines, which Abdul-Bey said could tally in the thousands of dollars. It also asks the commission to reinstate management, revoke the station’s license or transfer the license to Abdul-Bey.
The John Barrow Neighborhood Association, which holds the station’s license, received permission to go “silent” for up to six months without facing fines to fix “technical” issues, according to federal documents.
Its license will be revoked if the station remains off the air for a full year, according to an FCC letter addressed to City Director Doris Wright, who requested the downtime.
Wright, who helped secure the station license and is listed on the original application as the point of contact, declined to comment for this article.
The station went off the air in part because Abdul-Bey left it in disarray, but also because of existing technical issues and an ongoing overhaul of the programming, said Carolyn Heitman, president of the neighborhood association.
“We complied with every FCC standard,” Heitman said, adding that she hopes to resume broadcasts this year. “The FCC doesn’t have a problem with us. They’ve approved everything we’ve asked for.”
Little Rock paid Abdul-Bey’s wages — all other station workers are volunteers — and bought radio equipment as part of construction of the community center, said Dana Dossett, who helms the Department of Community Programs and was Abdul-Bey’s supervisor.
KWCP is among 47 stations statewide and about 2,500 nationwide authorized for a low-power FM license, which the FCC created in 2000 to allow diverse voices an opportunity to broadcast. The stations, which have a small radius, must be noncommercial and educational, according to the commission.
Of the Arkansas stations, only KWCP has approval to be “silent.” Seven of the other 46 are in the process of launching and are not yet on the air, according to a federal database.
Public records show that Wright and Abdul-Bey sparred over radio programming.
Little Rock hired Abdul-Bey to the part-time job in late 2016, and the station went on air in November. Dossett said she personally sought Abdul-Bey, who in the 1990s teamed with Little Rock students to produce a weekly show that became internationally syndicated.
Abdul-Bey was initially paid $19 per hour for 25 hours per week. City Manager Bruce Moore in early June authorized Dossett to give him 36 hours per week at the same rate, plus benefits, backdated to May 20, according to emails between Moore and Dossett. That would equate to $35,568 on a yearly basis, excluding benefits.
KWCP featured a morning drive-time show hosted by teenagers from Parkview and J.A. Fair high schools. A junior at eStem Charter High School hosted a live, weekly “rant” show. Other teen and adult volunteers worked as disc jockeys, playing the music of their choice.
The local shows were complemented with syndicated shows, such as a show by Little Rock native and CBS talk show co-host Sheryl Underwood and a national news program. But Abdul-Bey’s main focus was the live content created by the students, which he hoped could become internationally syndicated.
The neighborhood association grew unhappy with the station’s direction, Heitman said, so she and Wright expressed that displeasure.
“It was developed and designed to reach people in the west central Little Rock community,” Heitman said. “It was never intended at this time to do any live streaming or international ‘let everybody hear what we’re doing.’ Those types of things, it wasn’t working.”
On May 17, Wright emailed Abdul-Bey and Dossett “the format I want to see,” detailing her wishes for each time block.
The schedule would have pushed most student-created programming on weekdays between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Wright wanted to boost listeners with more music and short community announcements — such as the dates of meetings or activities — throughout the day, the email says.
“When I went after this once in a lifetime opportunity, the vision was to give this community a voice and to highlight the positive things going on here,” Wright wrote. “This station must make a difference in this community and it cannot do this if people are not listening.”
Abdul-Bey responded that the music-heavy format — including 10 hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. — equated to a “generic commercial radio station.”
Wright then called for a meeting.
“You and I need to meet to discuss your response to my request,” she wrote, specifically asking that they meet “ASAP,” and that his supervisor be present: “Dana [Dossett] I would like you to be there as well.”
Dossett reports to the city manager, who reports to the city’s Board of Directors.
Wright at the meeting threatened to take the station off the air if Abdul-Bey did not comply with her programming wishes, according to his account. Dossett said she did not remember Wright saying that, and that the city director said she would be OK waiting to fully address the programming schedule after the summer.
Abdul-Bey said the station generally adopted most of Wright’s suggestions, but he rejected those that ran counter to his goal of highlighting live, local content, particularly between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The station committed to eight hours of local content in its application for the FCC license, but the license does not stipulate when such shows must be played. Abdul-Bey pushed for that content during the day.
“It’s not a rule per se,” Abdul-Bey said. “All of the [low-power FM stations] that we align ourselves with, they all follow that format, where they ensure the eight hours [of local content are broadcast during the day].”
The former station manager said he also had a policy that live shows would be given priority over prerecorded broadcasts, particularly during hours when the West Central Community Center was open.
This issue was the root of a second dispute, which ended when Wright and Dossett overruled Abdul-Bey’s attempt to scrap a program called The Wrighteous Hour.
The show was broadcast when the radio station was open, but it was prerecorded. Abdul-Bey said the station allowed that arrangement during the school year, because students were involved in creating the show, but he wanted it to be live or at a different time starting with the summer break.
The station manager in midJune informed the producer that the show would be canceled. The producer appealed to Dossett, who informed Abdul-Bey by email July 26 that she and Wright determined the station manager could not cancel the show. She noted that the producers live in the community and had groomed listeners for the specific time slot.
“Dir. Wright and I have both read and discussed your concerns,” she wrote to Abdul-Bey. “Our previous decision is final.”
Dossett in an interview said she had planned to review the programming schedule in full with Abdul-Bey, the neighborhood association and Wright. She said she didn’t want Abdul-Bey to make changes to that one show before that review.
“Our position was that we would like to make all of those changes at once, so there’s only one disruption to the potential listeners,” Dossett said.
Abdul-Bey, in response, submitted a letter of his “tentative resignation” but later attempted to withdraw it. Dossett told him in a text message that she accepted his resignation and not his withdrawal.
Abdul-Bey responded that his exit “sounds like a premeditated job” to “protect the time slot of a prerecorded show.”
Dossett, in a lengthy text-message answer, said that wasn’t the case.
“You are my friend!” she wrote “I’ve known you for more than 25 years! I got you a job! I fought for you to get a real salary commensurate with your expertise as best I could! I even took it out of my own budget and reduced the budget of other programs to fit you in because otherwise there would have been no money to pay you. If you want to say it was all about favoritism, the cards actually tilt in your favor!”
Dossett, in an interview, said the money she moved around in her department’s budget came from programs that started later than anticipated and other parttime positions. “Nothing suffered,” she said. When he left, Abdul-Bey took about 80 percent of the radio station’s music because he had purchased the tracks, he said. When he removed the data, the station’s computer system froze up, and KWCP went offline. More music was loaded into the system, and the station temporarily resumed before going silent in mid-August.
“Since he’s resigned and the content is gone, we don’t have a radio station,” Dossett said. “We decided to go ahead and take it off [air] until we can put some different parameters in place to move forward.”
She said she’s not sure how she will fill the vacant position but that it could be an independent contractor.
“I doubt I hire an employee,” Dossett said.