Embattled WLVT founder Shel Siegel to retire at 58

Originally published in Current, March 28, 1994

After months of controversy over his leadership at WLVT in the Allentown/Bethlehem of Pennsylvania, Sheldon Siegel announced his retirement last week, effective March 31 [1994]. Under the terms of an agreement negotiated with the station's board of directors, Siegel, 58, will continue as a consultant to the board on a three-year contract, but he will not have a role in WLVT's management, according to Annabelle Creveling, board chairman.

"By stepping down from his position as president and c.e.o., he is relieved of what has become an increasingly complex administrative burden,'' Creveling said in a press release. "By retaining him as a consultant, the station will continue to benefit from his unparalleled wealth of knowledge and experience in public television.''

Siegel is WLVT's founding manager. "He saw the birth of the station, he nurtured it and saw it grow,'' Creveling told Current. "After 30 years his assessment was there was a time for a change, for him as well as for the station.''

Negotiations on his retirement were ``initiated from both sides'' and ``were not associated with the CPB audit report or any other issue occurring'' over the past several months, she said.

Siegel's admission last fall that he had authorized fake bids in WLVT's on-air auction triggered a long-running controversy in the Lehigh Valley (earlier articles). A draft report by CPB's inspector general sharply criticized Siegel and called on the board to take a more active role.

"After 39 years, I leave Channel 39 as what most professionals in the public television system consider to be one of the nation's most financially viable, sound and successful stations,'' said Siegel in a press release. He did not respond to a reporter's request for an interview last week.

Donald L. Roberts, v.p. of programming, will temporarily assume Siegel's responsibilities after this week. The board is seeking an interim g.m. with "very exceptional financial skills,'' said Creveling, and will launch a separate search to permanently fill the position.

Later article
Siegel on 3-year contract

Originally published in Current, May 9, 1994

Sheldon Siegel, the longtime president of WLVT in Allentown, Pa., who retired after taking a beating in the local press, is continuing to work for the station at the consulting rate of $113 an hour or $136,792 a year.

When his retirement was announced last month, the WLVT Board okayed a contract paying Siegel $11,316 for 100 hours of work per month, the Allentown Morning Call reported.

Responding to donors' complaints, the station decided to designate all on-air pledges for programming, said David Donio, director of development and community relations. ``That empowers our membership to do with the money what they want to do,'' he explained.

The board named retired businessman Robert T. Weed as interim g.m. while it searches for Siegel's successor. Weed retired in 1989 as a v.p. at Reckitt & Colman Inc., owner of the consumer products company Durkee-French-Airwick.

Siegel admitted ordering false "house bids'' during WLVT auctions before 1992 and was criticized for management practices.

Home Current's home page
Earlier articles Earlier articles: Inflated "house" bids were meant to boost auction prices, 1993.

Later article

CPB takes back $81,000 in Pa. auction scandal

Originally published in Current, Aug. 1, 1994

Recent changes in management practices at WLVT-TV, Bethlehem, Pa., saved the station from the most severe financial penalities recommended late last year by CPB's inspector general.

Ending a nine-month investigation of misleading on-air fundraising practices at WLVT, CPB in late June announced its decision to withhold $81,527 in federal payments for fiscal years 1991 and 1992.

In a draft report released late last year, auditors had recommended penalities of up to $110,000 (earlier stories).

"CPB is pleased that this audit has resulted in a change of management practices, increased station board of directors involvement, improved internal controls and increased attention to the proper reporting of nonfederal financial support,'' wrote Frederick DeMarco, senior v.p. for system development, in a June 28 letter to WLVT Chairman Annabelle Creveling. "All those improvements should position the station to provide additional quality services to its community and help restore the community's trust in the operation of the station.''

"We have no quarrel with it whatsoever,'' said Robert Weed, new g.m. of WLVT, of CPB's final report. "Quite honestly, we're delighted that it's behind us.''

CPB initiated the audit last fall after Sheldon Siegel, then general manager, admitted that he had authorized bid-rigging in WLVT's annual on-air auction. The revelation threw the station into a furious controversy that undermined public support for WLVT and eventually prompted the board to negotiate an early retirement package with Siegel, the station's founding g.m.

"In its final audit report, CPB disallowed more than $1.2 million in WLVT's nonfederal financial support (NFFS) for fiscal 1991 and 1992. The largest portion of that deduction, $858,096, was for misreported income from those fiscal years, but the "most troublesome area of the recommended disallowance,'' as DeMarco described it, was $376,085 in auction income.

"CPB's concern for the practice of house bidding cannot be overstated,'' wrote DeMarco. "Public broadcasting must be committed to operating in the community's best interests and in a manner that is above reproach. The practice of house bidding cannot be tolerated in that environment.''

For the time being, CPB has waived auditors' additional recommendation that WLVT be penalized for house bidding as far back as 1988. If auditors see in their next examination of WLVT that the station has implemented all of the reforms they called for this time, CPB will permanently waive the retroactive penalties. DeMarco informed Creveling in the letter that CPB's auditors will visit the station again within 18 months.

Under the formula CPB uses to calculate federal payments to stations, the disallowed NFFS figures reduce WLVT's Community Service Grants by $35,899 for 1993 and $43,347 for 1994. Interconnection grants also will be reduced by $2,281 for those years. The funds will be subtracted from WLVT's federal payments for fiscal 1994 and 1995.

Since joining WLVT as interim g.m., Weed said he has spent much of his time implementing the reforms that CPB's auditors called for. In May, the station ran its first post-scandal auction under "extremely tight rules'' that included requiring studio volunteers to sign a "pledge of compliance'' with clearly defined rules and regulations on the conduct of the on-air event. Internal controls have been strengthened and accounting of volunteer hours and other income sources have been revised. Five new directors have joined the WLVT board, which has reorganized its committee structure and redefined its responsibilities; and the community advisory board has been "revamped and revitalized'' into an active, functioning body.

"We have indeed taken quantum steps to reconfigure and reorganize ourselves,'' said Weed.


Web page posted July 3, 2003
The newspaper about public television and radio
in the United States
A service of Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.
Copyright 2003