Protesters marched outside the station, called in repeatedly to disrupt pledge drives and took to other local media with their complaints. WYPR's Citizen Advisory Board, which was not told in advance of Steiner's firing, recommended that he be put back on the air.
"You have to have confidence that radio professionals know how to make the right decisions," he says, pointing to WYPR's growth over the past year as vindication. "You can not waver because there are protests from a small group."
The successorIt was Steiner who came up with the idea of naming the station WYPR, for "Your Public Radio." And if Dan Rodricks has learned one thing since taking over for Steiner last February, it's that his listeners take that "Y" very seriously.
"I get kind of long, thoughtful letters about my style on the air, my selection of the guests, how it could have been better or different, what I should do next time," Rodricks says as he prepares for another edition of Midday, which airs from noon-2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays on WYPR. "I think people are a little more invested because it is public radio. They send in their donations, and they feel they have a right to give me aesthetic input, to be the art director, to help me out."
Rodricks was hardly a media neophyte when he took over the show. A columnist and reporter for The Baltimore Sun since 1979, he also spent more than a decade as the host of nighttime and Saturday morning shows on WBAL-AM (1090). And from 1995 to 1999, his Sunday-morning Rodricks for Breakfast program aired on WMAR, Channel 2.
When WYPR program director Andy Bienstock offered him Steiner's old time slot, Rodricks didn't hesitate.
"It wasn't the most ideal circumstance," he says, "but once it was offered to me, I couldn't see saying no. I love radio."
"Preparation for this show is a lot more involved than preparation for AM talk radio, which is all I had done to this point," he says. "This requires a lot more time and preparation, reading books, reading articles on the subjects so that I'm conversant by the time I get here."
Brandon, Rodricks' new boss, says Rodricks was chosen, in part, because he was already an established media presence in Baltimore, with experience at tackling social issues - including a years-long effort to help ex-convicts find jobs and turn their lives around.
"He walks the walk," says Brandon, who regards Rodricks' performance thus far as an unqualified success.
Ratings for Midday's time slot have been climbing, going from a 1.4 audience share for the last quarter of 2007 (Steiner's last full quarter at WYPR) to 1.9 for the last quarter of 2008, with Rodricks as host. (Curiously, a decline in listeners ages 12 to 54 was offset by a gain in listeners 55 and older.)
Rodricks himself thinks he's become more polished on the air, in keeping with the expectations of the public radio audience. But there's another, and perhaps more important, change he's seen develop over the past 12 months.
"I started getting some e-mails from people saying they were upset about the change [from Steiner], but have gotten used to Midday now," he says. "Some even say they like it."
The protesterDrive past WYPR's studios, and you might still see a man in a lawn chair, holding one of several signs, protesting both the firing of Steiner 12 months ago and the direction station management is taking.
"Take Back YPR," reads one. "Don't contribute to WYPR," reads another.
Protest is nothing new for Max Obuszewski, a longtime city resident and founder of the Baltimore Nonviolence Center. He was one of the first to sign on to the "Bring Back Marc Steiner" movement that started shortly after Steiner's firing and drew a handful of fans for daily protests in the weeks afterward. He stuck with the group after it morphed into the "Take Back WYPR" movement. He's also one of the few to continue protesting outside the station - although his appearances are down to about twice a week. On really cold days, he's been known to stay inside his car and tape a sign to the window.
"A public radio station has to reflect the community, and it has to also deal with community problems," he says. "WYPR is intentionally watering down the local programs. ... They're trying to get another audience to listen to that station. Some people may like a Rodricks' show about vocabulary. Well, I can handle a show about vocabulary, if I've got four or five shows about the conflict in the Gaza strip, about Obama wanting to go into Afghanistan, closing down Guantanamo, etc. And that's not happening. We're looking for those kinds of programming where you're dealing with real, real issues."
Obuszewski is looking forward to Sunday, when Steiner is scheduled to speak at a forum the movement is sponsoring at 6 p.m. at St. John's Church, 2640 St. Paul St. Obuszewski canceled his WYPR membership, but he still listens to the station, including Midday. And because he has commitments into the early evening, he's rarely able to listen to his old friend, Steiner, on WEAA.
Still, he misses his old friend, and the spirited discussions he would encourage between people of vastly differing backgrounds and mindsets. From such conflicts, he said, often came better understanding.
"Steiner would have different points of view on, and they would often parry with one each other," Obuszewski says. "When you have people on with different opinions, that can be the best way to learn something."
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