On December 6, 2017, in the wake of a multitude of firings of prominent figures accused of sexual impropriety, Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz, two longtime WNYC radio hosts, were put on suspension by WNYC’s owner, New York Public Radio. This surprising and startling move was announced by CEO Laura Walker. No details were given; management, acting behind closed doors, did not clarify what Lopate and Schwartz are accused of. Lopate has been on air with WNYC for more than 30 years, hosting a daily interview program focusing on people from the media and entertainment industry. He told The New York Times that he is “baffled” and “really quite shocked and upset” by his suspension. Lopate’s show is continuing in its regular time slot with a substitute host.
Jonathan Schwartz, who has declined to comment about the situation, joined WNYC in 1999, and has been hosting The Jonathan Channel, featuring primarily the music of the Great American Songbook, several days a week. There is no plan to replace Schwartz or to provide a substitute for him. If Schwartz is not cleared of the still unknown charges, this could mean the end of an important major outlet for American Songbook and popular music. The genre cannot afford such a loss. It is a crucial and integral part of our national cultural fabric. The content of The Jonathan Channel is not disposable programming.
In response to the suspensions, unhappy listeners flooded WNYC’s web site with comments, demanding an explanation. The station’s response was a December 14 open Board of Trustees meeting in which the public was invited to attend and voice their concerns. According to comments on the station’s web site, the majority was not assuaged. Many unappeased listeners called for the immediate firing of CEO Walker. Typical comments, such as these, were liberally posted on the WNYC web site:
- “My husband and I miss Jonathan Schwartz… Please put him back on the air.”
- “This is like a Russian purge. And all we have is WNYC’s word for it all. NO!”
- “I am hereby revoking my financial support of WNYC until upper management has been replaced and the charges against Leonard and Jonathan have been fully reported and resolved.”
- “Lopate and Schwartz should be considered innocent unless proven guilty at the end of the investigation.”
- “The abruptness and secrecy in suspending Lopate and Schwartz can only be about protecting clueless management.”
Jonathan Schwartz must be replaced, whether temporarily or permanently, to ensure that this music – particularly the contemporary versions of classics that Schwartz championed – continues to be presented. This momentous genre of music should not be blithely swept aside. That would be not only unthinkable but an unfair debasing of the long-standing record of excellence the 79-year old Schwartz has professionally established. The continued support of The Jonathan Channel is vital to keeping this music prominently placed on a major metropolitan radio station. There are those who can handily take it over, if necessary. We think of James Gavin, Ron Forman, Mary Foster Conklin and Richard Skipper for starters. Of course there are others. We’re happy to make a fuller list for WNYC (who did not respond to our request for commentary). We mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. To lose this vital air time to keep the classic Songbook music of America alive is unconscionable. WNYC must act now to ensure the preservation of a significant chunk of our cultural heritage.
To learn more or contact WNYC, go to: http://www.wnyc.org