Putting the Other Side Out There

In response to Marc’s post on the DJs’ being fired from Roger Williams’s WQRI, program director Mike Martelli has left the following comment (which I’ve also read his expressing in an email that reached me through a series of forwards):

As the Program Director of WQRI it is my responsibility to determine what content is inappropriate to be aired on the station. After much discussion with the entire air staff I have come to the conclusion that the infamous phrase, “nappy headed ho” should not be repeated over our airwaves. I have given the air staff a lot of freedom with the content of their shows. However, when Dee Jays have pushed the envelope sometimes I have to bring them back to a reasonable level.
At the air staff meeting we discussed the First Amendment issues regarding the Imus phrase. It was at this meeting, which took place on Wednesday April 18th, we discussed whether or not the air staff felt as if they would be censored if I asked them not to repeat the Imus phrase. Mr. Peloso and Mr. Porter were not in attendance. The consensus from the air staff was that there was no problem to the ban. I had to call a special meeting with Jon Porter and Dana Peloso on Monday the 23rd in which I passed on the order. We were all in agreement that the phrase should not be said.
I don’t think that the phrase needed to be said again, especially since the Imus incident had taken place more than 2 weeks prior and was no longer newsworthy. I also felt that phrase could be offensive to some and with WQRI’s FCC license up for renewal I did not want to risk offending the community. We are a music station and we have spent lots of time trying to build up a reputable image with the community and have successfully done so.
The issue here is that the College Republicans have failed to comply with direct orders and station policy. My decision was based on WQRI issues only; my personal beliefs had to stay out of it. It is unfair that the media is pulling my blog posts and taking them out of context. The only reason I chose to suspend and fire Dana Peloso and Jon Porter is their blatant insubordination. The First Amendment was not an issue here as there was an obvious disregard for WQRI policy and leadership.
The accusations that I acted in collaboration with Vice President John King to censor the College Republicans is completely false and completely ridiculous. I have stood against VP King on many occasions and I can describe our relationship as professional but not one of great chemistry. VP King and I have clashed on issues of Student’s Rights and I have consistently stood as an advocate of these Student Rights. The issue with King and the CR’s has been misunderstood. VP King had only mentioned in passing to our General Manager that the content of the show might not be the best to display during the Accepted Students Day, and I completely agree.
VP King never, I repeat never, gave us an order to take any kind of action against Mr. Peloso or Mr. Porter. In fact he never even suggested that anything should happen to the College Republicans. Just because he mentioned that the content was not appropriate for Accepted Student’s day does not mean he wanted us to give the CR’s the Axe. He is an ambassador for the University and he has the right to comment. The comment had nothing to do with my decision. At no time did VP King or any other Administrator tell me what to do.
Jon Porter and Dana Peloso were suspended because of insubordination and have consequently been fired because they did not have the patience to take part in an investigation by the station’s student run executive board. If Jon and Dana let us examine the tape of their show they would also have had time to defend their actions in front of the board. Since they decided to jump the gun and go to the press I am lead to believe that this has little to do with concerns of censorship and has more to do with gaining attention. Jon and Dana mentioned the Imus Phrase more than 30 times in 28 minutes, they did little to actually discuss the first amendment and it was quite clear that Jon and Dana were trying to cause trouble. Their actions were irresponsible and had no journalistic character. This is the reason I have decided to let them go. The University has nothing to do with this decision, it is 100% mine.
Mike Martelli
WQRI Program Director
(401) 254 3282

Personally, I’d be interested to hear the offending tape, myself (and if Porter and Peloso wished, I’d be happy to host a streaming version on Anchor Rising). From what I’ve read so far, although one can argue the merit of each decision leading up to the firing, my impression remains in sync with the instinct with which I received the initial “breaking news” announcement: I worry that coastal conservatives — by necessity a countercultural lot — can too easily be manipulated by attention-seeking yutes. That a particular incident reinforces our beliefs or advances our cause doesn’t mean that we ought uncritically to pounce on it.
It might arouse less suspicion if the students were out in the public offering their own intellectual position and explanation, as Mr. Martelli is, rather than merely pointing to the fact that they’d been canned.

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17 years ago

You may be able to find some audio from WPRO, as Dan Yorke played the allegedly offensive tape on his show when this first broke. It wasn’t particularily offensive, though I would submit that “the phrase” was used a lot — basically in the context of “we were told not to say … over the air” — even though TV, radio, and print media have all made use of quoting it. While Mike is trying to appear reasonable, and to some degree is a reasonable if not overly cautious person (I know him from when he used to be involved in the College Republicans, as well as Dana and Jon), he was offended that Dana and Jon took their issues to the public, instead of handling it privately. Of course, by “handling it privately,” that would mean following Mike’s directive, which they felt was irrational or wrong. Mike announced their firings to the Projo news blog before he even told Dana and Jon, which if anyone was listening, was done live on Dan Yorke’s show, after Mike had spent a considerable amount of time saying that they were only “indefinitely suspended.” Dan called Mike out on that, and the rest of the show went downhill from there. The reason that was stated over the air by Mike was that he was using the media as a means of firing them, because they had used the media to air their grievances about the attempt to silence them from using those words in a news context. It came off as pretty tasteless. I think there could have been better communication, and that Mike’s rationale for asking them to refrain from using the phrase was based on erroneous concerns. The VP doesn’t have to “order” anyone to do anything, if he thinks he’s… Read more »

17 years ago

“It might arouse less suspicion if the students were out in the public offering their own intellectual position and explanation”
While “suspicion” might be a bit strong, Justin is correct that the students need to continue exercising their right to speak by elaborating on the incident. The big question for me is why they repeated the phrase in question several times.
I would also agree with Will that neither the students nor the program director covered themselves in glory by announcing major developments to the press rather than taking a minute to first inform the affected party.

Justin Katz
17 years ago

Now wait a minute, Will. At 6:01 p.m. on Tuesday 4/24, I received the following email from Dana Peloso: As of 5:15pm April 24, 2007 student lead radio hosts Dana Peloso and Jon Porter, hosts of the Tuesday morning conservative talk show “Morning Again” on 88.3 WQRI at Roger Williams University have been suspended indefinitely for their coverage of the recent Don Imus Firing. They received the word of the suspension from WQRI program director Mike Martelli who has been heavily influenced by the Vice President of the University, John King. King contacted Martelli last week in a feeble attempt to have the show pulled when the dual hosts covered the news worthy item on a special Sunday edition of their show. King said the wording “Nappy Headed Hoe’s” was distasteful for the radio even though the hosts weren’t using the phrases in a derogatory inflammatory way, rather reporting the news as it was current. This morning’s edition of the show started out as normal, with the two leading into the now current news of Kings attempt to un-justfully censor the radio show. This morning’s show has been recorded for further press releases and on request, although the quality is not the best due to the technology in the studio, but it is more than understandable. Martellis order to have the two pulled from their morning routine comes only after King was asked to appear on the show and defend his stances on the issue; King not only refused, but subsequently Martelli Has ordered the “Morning Again” radio show pulled until further notice. When asked who made the complaints about this mornings show, Martelli responded only with “That’s not for you to know, you work for me, not the other way around.” I suppose the 5:15 p.m. firing could have… Read more »

17 years ago

Justin, As far as I recall, the “firing” did not occur at 5:15pm. That time I believe refers to the day before when they were told that they were being “indefinitely suspended” (which is what they were still under the impression was the case when they first came on Dan’s show in the 3:00pm hour the following day). I believe they were on Dan’s show the day after being put on the indefinite suspension. I will try to clarify the rest. The RWU controversy with Dana and Joe took up almost the entire Dan Yorke show, beginning in the 3 o’clock hour. Dan had Dana, Jon, Mike, and Mr. King on at various points, all whom were acting more or less civil (though Mr. King all but called Dana and Jon liars). At some point between 4:30 and 6pm (I was busy during that time, so I don’t know what precisely was said during this period of time), Dana and Jon received word over the air by Mike himself, in reaction to Dan mentioning something that he claimed he was reading off of projo.com (not sure if that refers to the normal site or to the 7to7 blog) that stated that they had been “fired.” Dan asked Mike to confirm it (because it was diffent than what had been said over the air up until then) which eventually he did. Mike gave an interview with someone at the Projo stating that they had been “fired” before he actually told them personally. Mike also said over the air that he had used the media to announce the firings because Dana and Jon had used the media (in the form of the widely distributed press release) to bring this out in the open. Dan then berated Mike with various epithets, including but… Read more »

Justin Katz
17 years ago

I apologize; I wasn’t reading closely enough. I guess I’m just not clear on the difference between indefinite suspension and the show’s being “pulled until further notice” and firing (which, of course, can be undone).
My initial concerns still stand, though. I suppose I’m tempermentally inclined, as well, to think that an email sent to everybody and anybody in the Rhode Island media within forty-five minutes of a suspension is not the best way to come to a more satisfying agreement. It seems more like jumping at an opportunity for recognition.

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