Radio host fired over involvement with anti-Wall Street protests

Classical music on radio isn't usually a hot-button issue, but a program produced by Davidson's WDAV-FM has pulled the station into the latest flap over National Public Radio and politics.

A Capitol Hill website revealed this week that the host of "World of Opera" - a longtime radio program distributed by NPR, but produced since 2010 by the Davidson station - also acts as a spokeswoman for a group involved in anti-Wall Street demonstrations in Washington.

Coming in the wake of a much-publicized dispute about NPR's firing of talking head Juan Williams over his views, the news quickly spread through the blogosphere. Sites from Fox News to the Huffington Post chimed in on the subject.

"World of Opera" host Lisa Simeone, a veteran broadcaster based in Maryland, was fired Wednesday from another radio show unrelated to the opera program or WDAV. But the Davidson station is sticking with her.

"Lisa Simeone is an independent contractor of WDAV Classical Public Radio," the station said in a statement Thursday. "Ms. Simeone's activities outside of this job are not in violation of any of WDAV's employee codes and have had no effect on her job performance at WDAV."

But there will still be a change: NPR will step away from the show. WDAV announced Friday that it will take over distribution of the show. "Listeners' experience of the show will be unchanged," the station said.

"I don't think that in the last 25 years, 'World of Opera' has gotten the publicity it has in the past 24 hours," said Ben Roe, WDAV's former general manager, on Friday. It was Roe, now an executive at Boston's classical-radio station, who brought "World of Opera" into WDAV's stable.

The show features opera performances recorded in theaters across the United States and Europe. Simeone, working from her Maryland base - not WDAV's studios - records introductions and other connective material. NPR distributes the show to 61 U.S. stations.

The Capitol Hill journal Roll Call reported Tuesday night that Simeone also acts as a spokeswoman for October 2011, a group involved in anti-Wall Street demonstrations in Washington. NPR promptly put out word that it was looking into Simeone's actions.

Simeone was fired Wednesday as the host of another program: "Soundprint," a radio-documentary show that airs on some NPR stations but isn't produced by NPR. Meanwhile, WDAV general manager Scott Nolan went into discussions with NPR about "World of Opera," and the station decided to keep her.

Simeone wasn't available for comment Friday. She told the Baltimore Sun earlier that her work with "World of Opera" puts her far from politics. "I've never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I've done for NPR 'World of Opera.' What is NPR afraid I'll do - insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of 'Madame Butterfly?' "

WDAV has published its updates on its blog, Classical Music, on wdav.org. At the bottom of the blog, more than 50 comments, overwhelmingly favoring WDAV's sticking by Simeone, had been submitted. An entry signed John Middleton thanked the station "for doing the right thing."

"I've long supported WFAE in Charlotte," it said, "but it now appears I'll be sending WDAV a check, too."