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2016-12-02 digital edition

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


December 2, 2016  RSS feed
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Long-running local Jewish radio show faces cuts


Steve Schwersky is the current “Sunday Simcha” host. He has been told he can re-apply for the volunteer job under the revamped format for the show.Steve Schwersky is the current “Sunday Simcha” host. He has been told he can re-apply for the volunteer job under the revamped format for the show.
“Sunday Simcha,” the only locally produced radio program showcasing all things Jewish, will get reduced airtime and may lose its current host come January.

WMNF (88.5 FM) station heads announced plans for “Simcha,” along with other 2017 programming changes at its biannual meeting on Nov. 17.

Though airtime for the show is definitely being cut from two hours to one, there are still decisions being made in terms of hosting, station manager Craig Kopp told the Jewish Press.

Applications are now being accepted for host and current host Steve Schwersky has the option to reapply, Kopp said.

“The thinking is we are going to realign the show a little bit,” said Kopp. “Looking at the history of the show, it was more about music and the Jewish culture. This is one of the oldest shows at the station, and I don’t want it to go away.”

“Sunday Simcha” has been part of WMNF since 1980, one year after the unique listener-supported station hit the airwaves. Along with Jewish music, the program showcases social topics, news, and features a Dvar Torah with Rabbi Sholom Adler of Chabad of Pinellas.

Schwersky is a Jewish community activist and current chair of the Community Relations Council for the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties. He has volunteered in various capacities at WMNF for more than 30 years. He joined “Sunday Simcha” in 2010 as a co-host with Kevin Frye. Since Frye, leader of the Mike Eisenstadt Band, stepped away from hosting duties for personal reasons, Schwersky has shared the mike with his daughter Jordyn Schwersky.

At the bi-annual meeting, WMNF Program Director Randy Wynne said the program had been on a downward spiral for a long time and call-ins to the show had dropped dramatically. Schwersky said he had made changes to the show in hopes of garnering more listener engagement.

“We’ve reduced the news down to 5 to 10 minutes,” Schwersky said. “We’ve opened up the phone lines. We’re still doing better than other niche shows.”

Another reason why the show is slated to lose time is the steady decline in donations. WMNF is community-driven and that means every show on the air is required to fundraise and solicit pledges from their listeners. Donations are what pay for 70 percent of operating costs at the station.

“Simcha” has a goal of about $4,500 every four months, but the show has fallen short of that goal for the past eight or nine drives.

Schwersky said the show’s lack of support from the Jewish community might have something to do with the content of other shows at the station. According to him, the news programs at the station seem to have a “bash Israel” philosophy.

“Israel is an extremely important thing to Jews,” Schweresky said during the meeting. “There are a lot of shows that bash Israel and do it on a fairly consistent basis and that’s why listeners don’t want to donate to the station.”

Though his daughter used the term during the meeting, Schwersky said he is careful not to say “anti-Semitism” in terms of what is being said on other programs. He described one specific news show in which he felt the host was shaping a topic in a “this is how Israel is bad” way, inviting a pro- Palestinian guest to agree and putting a pro-Israel guest on the defensive.

Kopp said that he listens to all of the shows and doesn’t see it that way. After being asked by “Latino 54” radio host Franco Silva if Kopp agrees there could be a “perception of anti-Semitism,” Kopp said “absolutely not.”

News Director Rob Lorei spoke up to say he was tired of defending his program. “When it comes to anti-Semitism in the U.S., no other show addresses it like we do,” he said during the meeting. “We did a half hour about it. When the KKK is on the rise, we talk about it. We have given time over and over.”

Schwersky told the Jewish Press he is trying to understand why things have changed for the long-running show.

“Why don’t people give is the question,” he said. “It might also be apathy from the Jewish community, but I’m just guessing. I don’t know for sure.”

Kopp doesn’t know either. He said he supports the show and the proposed changes to it are in hopes of breathing new life into a station staple. He wants “Simcha” to focus more on music and culture, and less on politics, saying he wasn’t sure “how politics got into the mix” at all.

Kopp said the proposed changes of the show are in no way a political decision, but a decision to revive a still viable program.

In response to comments about “Israel bashing” or perceived anti-Semitism, the station manager rejects the idea wholeheartedly. He acknowledged that any discussions about Palestine and Israel are going to draw criticism from one side or another. “You are never going to have a discussion about that without someone saying someone is biased,” he said. “Do we not have the conversation? I lean toward having the conversation. In this post-truth age that we seem to be going into, it seems if you report someone’s view, you’re wrong. You can’t have a reasoned argument anymore.”

This is not the first time the show has been threatened with reduced hours or even cancellation. But in the past, it has won last-minute reprieves when members of the Jewish community stepped up with donations.

“Simcha” is one of several WMNF shows slated for change next year. Among others, the “Urban Café” will gain an hour, “Poetry Is” will move to Sundays, and Silva’s “Latino 54” will be cancelled altogether.

For more information or to comment, call the station at (813) 239- 9663.

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