Allegations of racism causes shake up at WBGO

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By Bradford Mason
Managing Editor

Newark-based WBGO, the Tri-State area's top jazz radio station, is in turmoil after after allegations of racism causes a whirlwind of events including the resignation of station's president and CEO and even an appeal from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

Reports indicate the situation stems from the recent firing of WBGO's Black development officer Josie Gonsalves, who says she was let go in retaliation for blowing the whistle on what she describes as a racist culture at the station.

Gonslaves, who's been with the National Public Radio-affiliated station since 2019, said in a recent published interview that the culture included no minorities in top positions at the station. She was fired earlier this with no explanation. 

“When I first arrived, and I noticed that the executive team was filled only by white people, I raised concerns to the CEO about having a person of color on the executive team. And she said to me that there was not a training program or such," Gonsalves said in the report. “I said this was blatant racism.”

Josie Gonslaves (LinkedIn photo)
Shorty after news of the Gonslaves firing broke, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka sent an open letter to the station WBGO Board of Trustees Chairman Karl Paul Frederic. Baraka, who says he frequently listens to the station, said he was troubled over allegations about the station's environment. He also said he's ceasing broadcasting his program broadcast “Newark Today” at the station until the issues are resolved.

"From what I have heard from various employees of WBGO as well as what’s referenced in the most recent Community Advisory Board meeting minutes, the radio station may no longer reflect the ‘Newark Forward’ values of my administration specifically in terms of equity," Baraka said. "This letter reflects the vision that I have for my community, who are also my family, neighbors and friends. If what has been shared is even slightly true, I ask that these problems be addressed swiftly and immediately to the satisfaction of your employees, or I can no longer continue to support the station in our community."

Baraka also provided a list of demands to improve things at the station including, reinstating Goncalves, an investigation of the station's practices, partnering with the city's public school system for an internship program.

Following the letter, WBGO president and CEO Amy Niles announced to staff via email the she was resigning from the station.  

"It is with mixed emotions that I have decided to move on from WBGO, an organization that I love and have dedicated myself to for more than 13 years," said Niles. "This has been a rewarding professional chapter and I look forward to my next challenge. I am proud of all that we have accomplished together for our music and our city. I consider it an honor to have been a part of this tremendous organization."

According to reports, WBGO’s Board of Trustees approved several measures recommended after an independent review by at national law firm. The measures include, workplace discrimination training for all staff and management, establishing a more formal human resources function and mandatory training for executive leadership. 

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