Monday, January 20, 2014

And now...a little bit about the Miami Herald's cozy relationship with radio station WLRN [UPDATED 2x]

$$$ Michael Peyton, 
director of 
corporate marketing,
Friend$ of WLRN $$$
See UPDATES below.

Last month Miami New Times staff writer Michael Miller reported that...
Miami-Dade County Public Schools and [the school board-owned radio station] WLRN are both making serious cuts to part-time employee hours, supposedly because of Obamacare.

The cutback will affect "several hundred" school employees, including substitute teachers, custodians, and security guards, according to an MDCPS spokesman. Also seeing their hours slashed are part-time WLRN employees, some of whom are paid by the school district.
However, not everyone connected with WLRN was affected by the cuts. One of those, I reported, is WLRN's general manager, John Labonia.

Labonia, it turns out, lives in a half-million dollar home in Weston.

Meanwhile, WLRN staffers are struggling to make ends meet.

And, this morning, New Times' Michael Miller is reporting that Michael Peyton, the director of corporate marketing for Friends of WLRN, the private, non-profit entity that raises money for WLRN, "pulls in $400,000 a year."

According to his Linkedin profile, Peyton has been with WLRN for 20 years.


UPDATED at 2:35 p.m: A June, 2010 post on reported:
During a January meeting, [Miami-Dade school superintendent Alberto] Carvalho described compensation for Friends’ employees as “tantamount to insulting” in light of school salaries and the system’s budget problems, according to minutes.

"Carvalho didn’t identify the employees he referred to, but cited compensation detailed on the nonprofit’s tax returns. Michael Peyton, a senior sales rep who receives a commission for sales performance, earned more than $315,000 in 2007. Rick Lewis and Patrick Harris, a corporate sales rep, earned more than $120,000 each, according to the nonprofit’s tax returns.

Carvalho also objected that the Friends staff rebuffed his requests for financial statements and other documents and disregarded his concerns about a proposed change to the nonprofit’s bylaws, according to the minutes. [Editor's note: Carvalho's concerns were never reported on by the Miami Herald.]

"He makes that kind of money on the backs of other people," a WLRN staffer told Miller.

From Miller's New Times piece:
The discrepancy in pay is just one symptom of the strange relationship between WLRN and its fundraiser. "They are two separate, very distinct organizations," says Miami-Dade Schools spokesman John Schuster. "They have separate structures with distinct purposes, although at times their missions do overlap."

Few donors realize the difference. When WLRN holds a telethon, money donated doesn't go directly to the station. Instead, it belongs to Friends of WLRN, which can keep as much of it as it likes.
In other words, if you're a WLRN listener, and you pledge money to the station, Peyton and his cronies keep a huge chunk of your money for themselves.

New Times' Miller writes: "According to [Miami-Dade Schools spokesman John] Schuster, Friends contributes roughly $5.2 million to the radio station each year. Records show Friends spent nearly $1.8 million in salaries in 2011 -- the last year available -- including $700,000 for just three execs."

Meanwhile, a post on WLRN's website says that Friends of WLRN's "revenues for the current year are projected to reach $10 million."

UPDATE #2: See chart below to learn how your pledge money to WLRN is being spent. 

Source: Division of Consumer Services,
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

So what does Peyton do with his handsome salary?

According to the Miami-Dade property appraiser's website, he owns a very nice home in the King's Bay neighborhood of Coral Gables.

His home, according to a real estate website, "is a single-family home with 5 bedrooms, 2 baths, and approximately 3,545 square feet. The average listing price for similar homes for sale [in the neighborhood] is $1,287,443 and the average sales price for similar recently sold homes is $900,750."

Earlier this month, Daniel Ricker, publisher of the "Watchdog Report," wrote this of Friends on his website:
School Board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman sponsored legislation that would require updates on “the actions and status of Friends [of WLRN] to members of the school board quarterly." 
Friends, the not for profit entity’s revenues are “projected to reach $10 million,” in contributions and corporate funding states the legislation heard at one of the board’s committees Wednesday.

Hantman, the longest [serving] member on the school board noted that there “had been some questions” about what was going on over at Friends over the years. She said the fund raising arm for WLRN radio and television with 500,000 weekly listeners from Palm Beach to Key West has “always been a mystery,” and to this day, she thought Friends “still is a mystery.” [See excerpt from Jan. 15, 2014 school board meeting embedded at the bottom of this post.]
If you're a news junkie, like me, by now you're probably asking yourself, "Why hasn't the Miami Herald, or the Herald's school board reporter, David Smiley, reported any of this?

Answer: Because they're M.I.A. (Missing in Action.)

A search of the Miami Herald archives turned up zero results for Michael Peyton, or any critical reporting on WLRN, for that matter.

The Herald and WLRN joined forces over 10 years ago. (Ironically, it was New Times staffer Rebecca Wakefield who broke the news in 2003 of the impending WLRN/Miami Herald partnership.)

Today the Herald and WLRN "work together through a partnership, but the news director works for South Florida Public Media, under the umbrella of WLRN," Herald managing editor Rick Hirsch told me last July.

And what that means is that you, as a news consumer, will almost never see anything negative written about WLRN in the pages of the Herald.

Example: In a Herald story published last November, Herald staffer Nancy Dahlberg wrote of "leadership changes" at WLRN.

Dahlberg wrote that Terence Shepherd had been appointed as the station's news director. What Dahlberg conveniently left out of her story was that Shepherd was replacing Dan Grech, who had been fired under mysterious circumstances just a few months earlier, something the Herald never reported.

It will be interesting to see if school board chairman Hantman follows up on her desire to learn more about the "mysterious" Friends of WLRN.

But whatever happens, I'm fairly certain you won't read about any of it in the pages of the Miami Herald.


  1. This is an outrage to those who are making contributions to support WLRN.
    Until I read this, I was naive enough to actually believe consumer contributions were helping to maintain public supported programming .Formats like the Mon-Fri evening jazz broadcast by Tracy Fields cannot be found anywhere else. Is there no way to stop this

    1. I agree with you. My dial is tuned to WLRN every weeknight to listen to Evening Jazz With Tracy Fields. It’s one of the best music programs I’ve ever listened to and I’m so proud to have such a quality programming right here in Miami. However, the way things are going with WLRN and Friends, I fear that Evening Jazz will become a thing of the past if Friends has their way and with the encroachment of the Miami Herald. Yes, there’s a vital need for news and I get it all day long which if fine. But, when evening comes, I want to hear jazz. It’s not just about pleasant listening but Evening Jazz gives me an education in jazz that I was lacking in. Before I moved here I listened to classical music mostly, but Ms. Fields’ program has broadened my knowledge and appreciation of the music that was born in America. I don’t want to overlook the Caribbean music programming either. Isn’t this station all about education? Doesn’t WLRN stand for We Learn or what?

  2. And to think I even considered sending money to WLRN. I sent donations to other public radio stations that actually are public radio stations. Thanks to the internet I don’t have to listen to WLRN anymore. I’m appalled at the School Board for allowing Friends to scam the public. This has to stop now. I would like to support my local NPR station but damn if I’m going to give a dime to WLRN, I mean Friends, while they are screwing the station’s and other School Board employees out of decent wages and healthcare and using the public’s hard earned money for their personal greed. Please, please School Board, put an end to the Friends’ egregious and unethical behavior.

  3. These reports are alarming yet no surprise. I've long suspected that listener donations did not directly impact WLRN radio's programming decisions, let alone properly fund the operating budget which affects the livelihoods of on-air and other worthy WLRN employees. I have not donated for the past few years for that very reason. Still, it's one more hit over the head - public radio not at all dedicated to it's public. I'm aggravated and saddened by uncovered facts re the corporate greediness and deceit behind our "trusted" Public Radio station WLRN. And I especially feel for the many dedicated staff who continue to positively impact our lives every single day! South Florida loves and appreciates you all!

  4. Is there any way to avoid "Friends of WLRN" and directly contribute into the operating budget or other fund that would be useful to the local station and not line the exec's pockets?

  5. Nothing to see here, folks. WLRN has always been kind of a cross between a halfway house for talent-challenged fixtures (ahem, Joe Cooper) and a piggy bank for nefarious "Friends" and admins.

  6. There can be but one explanation for Joe Cooper's longevity: I always figured he banged some dowager back in '77 whose endowment stipulates the young man must remain on the air until six months after his death...

  7. No, it has not always been this way. There was a time when WLRN was owned and operated by MDCPS. I don't know who decided we needed "Friends of WLRN" to serve as a colander for funds the station would have gotten anyway. If you study the source of the funding, you'll see very little that needed to be "raised" by these people. All of these "cutbacks" and "pension reforms" for the average workers are so infuriating when proposed by these blood suckers. ARGGHH

  8. excellent reporting.

  9. Nice job, the station has been taken over by a mafia.
    1. Why does the Miami-Dade School Board even serve Palm Beach, Broward and Monroe counties? Not just by adjusting their signal but with repeaters, towers and alternate frequencies?
    2. If "Friends of Lolcats" took over and ran the station at their whim as the MH has done, would they say something, launch a fierce campaign?
    3. If the population from PB through KW is about 5M people, do 500,000 per week listen to WLRN? Really? Are these person-minutes?
    4. Could the $400k/yr GM's living in Weston affect his interest in M-D affairs, say compared to one that lived in the Grove?

  10. ... not to mention the anti-union activity of management at WLRN... the on-air personnel are NOT represented by any union, in spite of efforts and desire to be represented...


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