By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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The WLRN grapevine has it that one problem involves Cooper and administrators bumping egos. Another problem arises from the ongoing struggle over what the primary mission of the radio and television stations should be: professionally topnotch public broadcasting stations, or outlets for and tools of the educational bureaucracy that owns them. One former WLRN staffer who asked not to be identified claims that as difficult as Cooper can be, he's not alone in his ability to produce a dramatic tirade. "[Adiba Ash] is difficult," the former staffer believes. "Joe's been there forever, and he resents her because she doesn't have any kind of background [in radio]. He's a nice guy but very opinionated. That said, I think it was ridiculous for him to do what he did."
Alan G. Greer, chairman emeritus of Friends of WLRN, a fundraising and support organization for the stations, ascribes the Cooper incident to "an unfortunate confluence of events" or changes at the station that has made some long-time employees like Cooper uncomfortable. "I'm assuming this thing is a tempest in a teapot and won't have any legs in the long run," Greer says. "I like Joe, but I'm also concerned about the best interests of the station, and near as I can tell, there is not a systemic problem I should be worried about. There are changes, but change happens. I'm hopeful everything will be resolved amicably from Joe's perspective."
Greer won't speculate on the interpersonal details. "I don't know what happened," he notes. "Sometimes even the mellowest person gets triggered." For his part Cooper's immediate boss, Eldredge, says there's nothing to talk about. "It's an internal matter," he comments. "It's been handled. Joe's here, he's been working here for over twenty years, and he will continue to be here for the foreseeable future." (Cooper declined comment.)
LaBonia says he does plan to make other changes at WLRN, but most of those will concentrate on the television side. The station is working to meet a federally mandated deadline of May 2003 to convert to digital broadcasting. On a practical level that will mean WLRN will be gaining extra channels it can use or lease to other organizations. WLRN radio is undergoing a digital conversion as well, although at a slower rate. LaBonia also plans to produce more local programming on Channel 17. "We're looking at providing more culturally diverse programs, more public affairs," he reports. "We want to do more for the community we serve. That's part of why public stations exist, and a lot of them are getting away from that. Part of our core mission is to serve the public schools, but our mission extends beyond that."