Leominster, MA

Citing lack of access, area residents ask mayor to set up interim board of directors at WLPZ

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Sound board at WLPZ, Leominster's community radio station.Courtesy photo/Facebook

LEOMINSTER — Citizens and area residents hoping to increase access to Leominster’s community radio station are asking the mayor to establish an interim board of directors at the station.

“The mayor told Danielle Ray at the Sentinel & Enterprise that he is planning a public meeting,” said Leominster resident and former WLPZ employee Domenic Ciccone. “And that's what I want, WLPZ to be run like Sholan Farms, with complete transparency to the people of Leominster.”

WLPZ 95.1 FM is a low power FM (LPFM) station. LPFM stations are a special class of FM stations authorized exclusively for noncommercial educational broadcasting that are licensed to operate with 100-watts, or a three and half mile radius.

Only government or non-profit entities are eligible for LPFM licenses, which are issued by the Federal Communications Commission. According to the FCC’s website, the commission created the LPFM radio service in January 2000 in order “to create opportunities for more voices to be heard on the radio.”

According to Ciccone, only two Leominster residents presently have shows at the station. And while the FCC doesn’t stipulate how members of the community can access LPFM stations - leaving it up to the license owner - Ciccone believes that greater access to WLPZ would be more in line with the goals of both the commission and mayor.

“The mayor, earlier on, wanted this to be a place where Leominster citizens got on the air to do programs, but there are only two Leominster residents who have programs,” said Ciccone. “The other six are from surrounding towns...who decides?”

In August 2020, Ciccone and six others sent an interim bid proposal to Mayor Dean Mazzarella. The proposal calls for the creation of an interim board of directors to oversee several committees at the station, including a membership/volunteer committee and programming committee.

“With over 70 years of combined experience in commercial and non-profit radio, we propose assigning the submitting party as an interim board of directors committee to: ease the responsibilities of the mayor and his staff, increase volunteerism by allowing more citizens to have access to the airwaves, define the station as being owned collectively by its members, volunteers, staff and board of directors,” the proposal said.

According to Sec. 2.3 of Leominster’s charter, the mayor is in charge of appointing all committee members, which are then confirmed by the city council. That means Mazzarella would have to approve of the proposal and submit it to council for a vote in order to establish the board.

Ciccone said that the pandemic has stalled the progress of the proposal, which the mayor hasn’t addressed for two years. Earlier this month, Ciccone and three others sent an email to the mayor’s office asking for a meeting to discuss the proposal, which has yet to be scheduled.

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Sonny Levine, the station manager of WLPZ.Courtesy photo/wlpz.org

Ciccone’s time at WLPZ

From June 2018 to October 2019,

Ciccone had a two hour-long show of eclectic music on WLPZ. Called "Exotica-Cool, Strange Music," Ciccone’s show ran from 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday. Ciccone’s time on the air ended abruptly on August 23, 2019, when Station Manager Owen “Sonny” Levine fired him, later telling Mazzarella Ciccone was fired for playing bootlegs. Ciccone denies these claims, stating that his playlists were mostly online and/or downloaded to Mixcloud.

On the day that he was fired, Levine called the police on Ciccone for refusing to return his key to the station. According to Patrol Officer Garrett Hardy, who wrote the police report for the incident, Levine flagged him down on 29 Church Street, informed him that he had fired Ciccone, who then refused to return his key, which made him, “scared he would go into the station to cause issues.”

Ciccone, who was sitting in his car next to the police station, told Hardy, who was with Levine at the time, that he didn’t return his key because there was a $10 deposit that he didn’t get back yet. According to the report, Levine then “took ten dollars out of his wallet and gave it to Domenic, in which Domenic then returned his key” adding “nothing further at this time.”

Despite this incident, Ciccone credits Levine with founding the station, he also describes him as a Vietnam War hero and cancer survivor.

“The founder has also done a lot of good,” said Ciccone. “Spent at least a few thousand of his own money building up WLPZ, paying for fines to SoundExchange for internet fees between July 2018 and August 2019.”

Another former WLPZ volunteer, Scott Lanciani, who hosted a show at the station about three years ago, was not as forgiving. Lanciani said that he had done about four episodes of a show and when his work schedule changed, he attended station meetings for weeks waiting for a new slot until one day Levine kicked him out saying the meetings were “only for people who are on the air now, so you don’t need to be here."

“It’s so crazy,” said Lanciani. Later adding, “Say you want to put a news show on Sunday morning, you should be able to go over there and say ‘this is what I would like to do’ and ‘is there a slot open?' They tell you when a slot is open and then, obviously, you would need to be trained on the equipment and then when you feel comfortable going on air, as long as you keep it clean and it isn’t overly sensitive material, you should be all right.”

He added that the mayor often sends people interested in doing shows to the station and unless they’d like to produce an oldies or country music-based show, Levine will turn them down. Lanciani doesn’t think this is fair for a community radio station.

“Quite frankly, I think he believes the station is his, that’s his interpretation,” said Lanciani. Adding, “Supposedly the mayor never gave him no money to start this thing, so he invested money into it because he wanted to hurry up and get on the air and all that stuff, which is fine. We’re not knocking him for doing the money thing, we are knocking him for making it like ‘I spent the money, this is my show, tough for you, I get to choose who shows up and who doesn’t.’”

In March 2019, Levine told the Leominster Champion that he was largely responsible for paying for the operation of WLPZ, which he affectionally dubbed his “baby.”

Levin said, “the city is not funding us. The only thing that we get out of the city is the use of the room and the electricity. Everything else I have to fund. It comes out of my pocket ...and everybody contributes. But yeah, this is my baby. God forbid if a computer breaks down or a monitor, that’s it. We’ve got no way to replace it.”

When I reached out to Levine for comment, he declined the interview, saying that since he runs the station for the mayor, he’d need to seek his approval to speak with the press. Then he added that he called over to the mayor’s office and they don’t know who I am, which isn’t true because Mazzarella knows my family personally and I interviewed him two weeks ago.

I responded saying, “what is that, an ego blow?” then we ended our discussion. He followed up in Facebook messenger saying he has a recording of the interview and he’ll be turning it over to the police.

When I asked why, he said, “You may have me on tape but not talking to me as you did. I consider this harassment and I will also turn it over to my attorney.”

Then I told him I was “being professional” with him and he said “tell it to the judge.”

I reached out to the mayor’s office twice for comment without response. I also reached out to everyone on the City Council.

Councilor Susan Chalifoux Zephir responded saying, “I don’t know anything about an interim Board of Directors at WPLZ so I don’t believe I could provide any information for your story.”

Likewise, Councilor Peter Angelini said, “Unfortunately, I have almost no knowledge of the radio station issue that is the focus of your article.”

Councilor Todd Deacon offered to interview, and when I called him, he said he needed permission for the council president to interview.

None of the other councilors responded.

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