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Ousted WMNF co-founder Rob Lorei breaks his silence

Bill DeYoung

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Rob Lorei. Photo provided.

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.”

 

 

 

 

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    July 13, 2021at3:10 pm

    Well done, Bill.

  2. Avatar

    Rose Hayes

    July 13, 2021at3:22 pm

    Sorry to see him go.

  3. Avatar

    Russ Offenbach

    July 13, 2021at3:53 pm

    Rob Lorei has been an outstanding member of the news/broadcasting community and is a voice that is needed on the air, now more than ever! We are heading for very perilous times with the current political climate what it is and the direction in which we will find ourselves. This is not a time to be “politically correct” and there aren’t always “2 sides”. We need an honest truth telling voice on the air.

  4. Avatar

    Leslie Bouwman

    July 13, 2021at5:05 pm

    Thank you for this report and thanks to Rob for his contributions to our communities. Now we need to pull together to urge and support WMNF in continuing its role of bringing thoughtful, progressive reporting and dialogue to us all.

  5. Avatar

    Chris

    July 13, 2021at5:16 pm

    I probably wouldn’t agree with him on much, but sad to see someone who was on the same station for 40+ years let go over something as trivial as this. Too many people these days are getting canceled for no good reason.

  6. Avatar

    Alice Wakes

    July 13, 2021at6:53 pm

    Didn’t Rob break his silence when he spoke at Sweetwater farm earlier?
    If someone who clearly matters to an organization gets fired twice, that certainly indicates something.

  7. Avatar

    Bob

    July 13, 2021at7:03 pm

    But I thought he didn’t know why he was fired.

  8. Avatar

    Rita Sewell

    July 13, 2021at7:22 pm

    Rob and many of us have very strong opinions about the current divisive world in which we live. If WMNF is just about music and not about public affairs we are in trouble. Clear Channel and Fox have such a strong voice and WMNF needs to remind listeners that there is another voice. Unless we take a stand against racism and fascist ideals. He will continue to speak for us.

  9. Avatar

    A. Fan

    July 14, 2021at12:17 am

    Rob, congrats on a great career in a tuff business. If WFLA had any guts they would hire you!

  10. Avatar

    Mona Harding

    July 14, 2021at8:04 am

    Such a shame that WMNF has cut its public affairs programming. The station reaches far into Central Florida, and it is often the only progressive point of view people living in those areas have access to.

  11. Avatar

    Lewis Brinin

    July 14, 2021at9:33 am

    i am really surprised and disappointed in WMNF. I am unfortunately familiar with being at a job many many years then suddenly let go for reasons not quite clear to me

  12. Avatar

    Elizabeth A. Lott

    July 14, 2021at12:31 pm

    As a Member, I am extremely disappointed that Mr.Lorei has been let go.
    It is my hope that another intelligent and aware person be hired in his place.
    I truly love the diversity of the musical programming; but I love WMNF because of the
    educational awareness of community,state & federal “up to date” news and commentary.
    We need more honest & factual discussions of the reality facing us all here.. not less.

  13. Avatar

    Cassaday

    July 14, 2021at4:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing this interview. Hearing Rob’s side of the story is important.

  14. Avatar

    Carol Komater Hewitt

    July 15, 2021at8:39 am

    Am glad for this article,thanks. And thank you Rob for your contribution to our community. ‘These times they are a’changin’ and not always for the better. We can only hope the WMNF re-set can include what had become so unique and special while shifting with the times.

  15. Avatar

    D.A. Fischbach

    July 15, 2021at2:23 pm

    I’m grateful that Rob agreed to this interview. It was important for all of us to hear his side of the story. I also agree with a previous comment that his firing was over something “trivial.” I’m still trying to process the loss of him and his show, Radioactivity. That program was often the highlight of my day as he rarely failed to touch on a subject that held meaning for me be it local, state, nationwide, or global. I’ve tried listening to WMNF since Rob’s departure–and I do enjoy some of the afternoon music–but not one of the “public affairs” shows comes close to what Rob was able to accomplish. It’s a tragic loss for our entire West Central Florida area.

  16. Avatar

    Louis greto

    July 22, 2021at4:48 pm

    I no longer listen to wmnf. It is a shadow of what it once was. It was the only real alternative leftist conduit if information. Our regions’ public radio has already been co-opted and destroyed with their cooking shows and game shows.
    My present sources of information are YouTube with Kyle Kulinski, Jimmy Dore, Sam Seder, and Chris Hedges. Wmnf will soon be just as bad as Usf’s radio station and soon after that be even worse. If people want to listen to music go to YouTube or any of the other music outlets available. Within 5 years the station as we know it will be gone. And then good riddance to that idiot who is now the station manager and the gang of thieves who supported his ridiculous decision. We can’t have anyone insulting a white supremacist, can we?!

  17. Avatar

    David DeBlois

    July 24, 2021at9:07 am

    Thanks Rob,
    For all the years and work to better the community.

  18. Avatar

    kristy

    July 24, 2021at9:38 am

    I wish WMNF would provide a recording of what went down that day so I can draw my own conclusion.

  19. Avatar

    Peter M Burkard

    July 25, 2021at11:33 am

    Right on, Rob. Agree with every point you made. Have listened to and supported the station since the beginning. Have also been a guest on-air. Too bad they hired a manager who doesn’t appreciate the public affairs and lacks the life experiences that led to the mission statement, as you alluded to. I’m afraid that the station will proceed to lose what made it so special and needed. Withholding support for now.

  20. Avatar

    John Palm

    July 28, 2021at7:53 am

    Please join the coalition to return community to our community radio station and return Rob to our station too. These injustices shall not stand. Join with us in solidarity:
    http://www.facebook.com/savewmnf

  21. Avatar

    Jim Turner

    August 10, 2021at10:34 am

    I’m very disappointed that after several emails to wmnf radio hosts I never got an answer as to why Rob wasn’t on the air anymore. Unfortunately I was in the hospital for a severe back surgery when this went down. Unable to listen to the station. After getting out of the hospital I noticed something was different. No more Rob. No more radioactivity. I started emailing Shawn, Randy and other hosts to find out what happened. None answered my email so today I decided to Google, what happened to Rob lorei and came across this interview. Now my next step is to call the station and pull my circle of friends donation to the station as I don’t like the program changes that have been made and believe before long they will use my money to put on people like Hannity and Carlson Tucker. I found wmnf when I moved my family here over forty two years ago. Always a fan. Always sending money to support. However I cannot and will not support a continuously falling station

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