N.J. jazz radio station hires new president after racial diversity concerns

Posted Nov 07, 2020

WBGO, a non-profit jazz radio station based in Newark, has picked a new president and CEO after its former leader resigned earlier this year amid concerns about diversity among its executive staff.

Steven Williams, who once worked as director of programming for WBGO, will take the helm on Jan. 4, 2021. Bob Ottenhoff, the founder of WBGO, has been serving as interim president and CEO after Amy Niles resigned from the position in January following concerns - both internally and from Newark leaders - about the station’s leadership being mostly white.

Williams was hired after a national search that was conducted by a committee that included current and previous WBGO board members, the station said in a release. He noted that diversity would be one of his goals as leader of the station.

“I’m thrilled to lead Newark Public Radio in this new chapter of its storied legacy,” Williams said in a statement. “I welcome this tremendous opportunity to continue and strengthen WBGO’s commitment to promoting the art form of jazz and ensuring diversity in both its workforce and audience.”

The so-called jazz aficionado has worked at multiple media organizations throughout the United States, including CBS and Sirius Satellite Radio. Williams most recently worked as director of audio production at KUOW Public Radio in Seattle and has been doing consulting work for WBGO.

WBGO has played a pivotal role in engaging with the community as Newark began to mend from racial divisions in the city that reached a tipping point with the 1967 riots. The station was founded in 1979 and has been an anchor institution, broadcasting segments like Newark Today, where Mayor Ras Baraka is a regular guest.

But community leaders said they noticed the radio station begin to shift from its roots.

Ronald Glover, a retired Newark police lieutenant who works closely with many of the city’s anchor institutions, penned an op-ed published by NJ Advance Media in November 2019 that accused the station of being managed by an “elitist white faction with little to no ties or commitment to be a voice of the community.”

TAPinto Newark first reported two months later that Josie Gonsalves, a development officer at the station, was terminated after raising concerns about a majority of leadership at the station being filled by white people. Gonsalves also wrote a guest column for the station before her termination about race relations and some decried her views as extreme, NJ Advance Media previously reported.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wrote a letter to the station’s board of trustees after Gonsalves was fired calling for her to be reinstated.

“Our corporate community supports your station, as do many Newark residents,” Baraka said at the time. “It would be hypocritical of me to ask these people to support a station that seems rife with the racial tension we have long strived to eliminate.”

Niles, the woman who previously held the CEO position in a permanent capacity, resigned shortly after Gonsalves was terminated. Niles' resignation came after the board requested a counsel review of WBGO’s management policies.

WBGO is beginning to undergo other changes since Niles' departure.

A 22-member bargaining unit of producers, hosts, anchors and reporters at WBGO was formed late last month. Their petition called for accountability, transparency and equity in compensation.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-11-08 02:51:56 -0800