By GABBY DACOSTA
USFSP Student Reporter
TAMPA – As the morning news played on a nearby television and music streamed over the radio, Rob Lorei sat behind piles of newspapers and books, clicking away on his computer as he gathered the latest news to share with listeners.
As news director of Tampa based radio station WMNF-FM 88.5 and host of an hour-long show called “Radioactivity,” Lorei focuses on breaking news and what he calls “local shake-ups.”
“If the highway is shut down, I want to tell them about it,” said Lorei, 65.
He and six others founded the station 40 years ago. After working at his campus radio station at Antioch College in Ohio, he heard about efforts to start a community radio station in Tampa and came south to help in 1978.
“I knew Tampa didn’t have one and I wanted to bring a positive impact,” Lorei said.
He and the other founders started the station on the second floor of an old house with a few dollars and a lot of determination. There was virtually no equipment.
WMNF first went on air in September 1979. As a community radio station, it relies on grants and listeners’ donations – not commercials – to stay on the air with a mix of public affairs programming and varied music.
Even its call letters are distinct. WMNF stands for Member-sponsored Non-commercial FM.
With much of its budget coming from listeners, WMNF encourages its audience to interact with the station in many ways.
During his “Radioactivity” program on Nov. 15, Lorei spoke with Michael Mann, a climatologist and geophysicist who is director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. Mann spoke about how burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation affect climate change.
Listeners were able to call in and ask Mann questions themselves.
And throughout the program, listeners called in to share their own opinions on everything from climate change and veganism to the Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings.
Listeners can also leave a voice mail sharing their opinions on the show or what was discussed and have it played during the next broadcast.
“It’s a way for people to give feedback so it’s not only a one-way communication,” said Lorei, who interviews guests respectfully and chats with callers in a calm voice.
Lorei shared his appreciation for the station’s listeners when describing his most memorable days at WMNF.
After funding for the station was cut, WMNF asked listeners to donate. Lorei said that they raised more than $100,000 in one day.
When the station staged a fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more than 100,000 people donated, he said.
“When you attract those type of viewers, you know you’re doing something good,” Lorei said.
Lorei is also a managing editor and debate moderator of a weekly panel discussion on WEDU-TV called “Florida This Week.”
It is the longest running news and political affairs program in west-central Florida. It welcomes journalists, community leaders and political insiders to discuss important stories from the week.
Every Friday the show is prerecorded and then broadcast at 8:30 p.m. on WEDU.
Over the years, Lorei has moderated a number of political debates on TV. On TV and radio, he has interviewed countless public figures, including former presidents, governors, senators and authors.
Earlier this year, Lorei himself became a figure in the news.
He was fired from WMNF in February 2019 by station manager Craig Kopp, who cited low ratings, programming that offended Jewish audience, and Lorei’s reluctance to use Facebook.
Lorei was reinstated the following month after public outcry and a drop in listener pledges. Kopp resigned shortly afterward.