Why the radio silence?

After longtime classical host Gregg Whiteside leaves WRTI, questions remain

3 minute read
Gregg Whiteside has left the mic at WRTI. (Image via PxHere.com.)
Gregg Whiteside has left the mic at WRTI. (Image via PxHere.com.)

The sudden departure of Gregg Whiteside from WRTI’s morning programming had classical-music fans scratching their heads last month. The station’s radio silence has been even weirder.

WRTI announced Whiteside’s departure in a farewell message on its website January 22. General Manager Bill Johnson paid tribute to Whiteside’s decades of service to the station and to classical radio, and Whiteside offered a parting reflection.

“Though I cannot deny that the thought of retirement has occurred to me a few times in the recent past, I always banished the thought because I knew how much I would miss you,” Whiteside wrote to his listeners and fans.

“Those of you accustomed to 6 AM reports on the Eagles or Sixers, or waking up to the Sousalarm, know that our colleague and friend Gregg Whiteside has stepped away from the mic,” Johnson wrote, alluding to the surprising absence of the morning host over the previous four days.

The post labeled the split a retirement.

More puzzling

“That is not how retirements are typically announced,” said a longtime Temple employee with experience in such matters. Recent retirements of senior program and executive staff, including David Conant, WRTI’s previous general manager, operating director Tobias Poole, and midday host and former WRTI program director Jack Moore, were announced well in advance of their departures, which typically coincide with the end of a calendar year, and “allowed ample time,” the source said, to plan celebrations.

Whiteside boasts a storied career in classical-music radio, notably in Philadelphia for 17 years and at WQXR in New York for 22 years before that. To local listeners, he was synonymous with classical music. He was the voice of classical music on weekday mornings and on Sunday broadcasts of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

More puzzling, though, than the precipitous departure of a pillar of the radio community without warning or explanation is the way the station handled it. There was no party, no end-of-year planning. No press release about Whiteside’s departure, by either the station or Temple University, WRTI’s parent organization, was available while writing this story.

Instead, news that WRTI and Temple had severed ties with Whiteside came to the station’s staff in an internal email from Bill Johnson on Monday, January 18, that read: “Effective immediately, Gregg Whiteside no longer works for WRTI or Temple University.”

The announcement came some time after an employee complaint was being investigated, sources close to the matter said.

A familiar narrative?

This narrative will be familiar to followers of Whiteside’s career in classical-music radio. While his devotion to audiences is without question, his service has been marred by more than one unceremonious parting of ways.

In 2003 WQXR fired Whiteside for “inappropriate comments which he admitted making,” the New York Post reported at the time. The story explains that he was dismissed even though the comments were made off-air. Whiteside expressed his dismay at the decision, asserting his innocence and explaining that he believed his comments were made in confidence. In the article, he did not apologize for the comments themselves.

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer January 22 noted that Whiteside and Johnson had declined to comment further on the popular radio host’s sudden exit. BSR's requests for comment from Temple and WRTI staff have not yet been returned.

Image description: A close-up photo of a modern recording-studio microphone.

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