After 43 years on the job, WMNF co-founder Rob Lorei was unceremoniously cut loose from the Tampa community radio station in April. The longtime director of news and public affairs has refrained from discussing the circumstances of his dismissal. Until now.
In this far-reaching St. Pete Catalyst interview, Lorei explains that a heated political exchange with a listener, via email, didn’t sit well with (new) station manager Rick Fernandes.
The incident, according to Lorei, took place in January, and ended – so he thought – with him agreeing to discontinue the charged back-and-forth with the listener.
Lorei says he was taken completely by surprise when Fernandes fired him, on a Friday afternoon, three months later. His vehemently anti-fascist emails had not been discussed since February.
CLICK ON THE ARROW TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW:
As the host and moderator of WEDU’s panel discussion program Florida This Week, Lorei is still in the thick of all things political. WMNF, however, was his home for four decades, and he still cares passionately about it, and believes in its early pledge to speak out against oppression and corruption.
“I always intended to retire in about two years,” he says during the interview. “The way to fight this is to file a lawsuit against the station, but here’s the station that I helped build. And we went from a budget of zero dollars to $1.7 million. And I’m not about to file a lawsuit or hurt the station. I want the station to continue, because I think that we’re entering some dangerous times.”
He believes Fernandes is more concerned with WMNF’s musical programming. “I think that’s what his focus is, and I think the station needs to be more than just music.”
This was Lorei’s second departure from WMNF in as many years. It was in February 2019 that then-general manager Craig Kopp gave him his walking papers (he explains this incident in full in the interview).
Lorei was re-instated then, after listeners protested and threatened to pull their financial support from the station.
That didn’t happen this time. “I was fired once, and because of the good wishes of thousands of people I was re-hired,” Lorei says, adding with a laugh: “I think a lot of people would say ‘Well, if the guy’s fired twice, there must he something wrong with the guy.’ And so I’ve decided not to fight it. Because I don’t want to be that cranky person that tries to get his job back …”
He’s in a good place, thanks for asking.
“I just don’t want to put the station through a lawsuit and that kind of struggle. I hope the station regains its footing and begins to put on programs that challenge the Proud Boys. And there are a few people on the station that still do that. But there’s a lot less of that programming than when I was there.”