THERE was a walkout at Irvine’s community radio station last week after five volunteer presenters were ‘sacked’ in a single evening.

Presenters Laura Macpherson, Jim Higgins, Robert Jones, Tommy Monaghan and Neil Macpherson were dismissed from their posts last Tuesday.

This prompted station stalwart Ronnie McGhie, David Hammond and Ian Taylor to walk out in support.

In a social media post last week, Laura Macpherson wrote that they were dismissed by programme controller Jack Bennie after presenters questioned the station’s spending and the treatment of its volunteers.

However Irvine Beat FM said the presenters had been removed to ‘freshen up the station’ and while denying any misuse of funds admitted some of the dismissed volunteers questioned station funding being diverted to pay the manager’s salary.

After resigning, Ronnie McGhie told the Times: “I was disappointed that I had to take that action but as far as I’m concerned I can’t work at the station while this is going on. I don’t wish the station any harm but things need to change.

“I am hoping this all gets resolved but I don’t know how. It is sad as Irvine Beat FM has been such a big part of my life for the past seven years.

“If my friends are reinstated I’ll have to come back – if they’ll have me of course.”

In a statement, the dismissed volunteers said: “Four presenters were informed face to face or by phone by Jack Bennie the self appointed Programme Controller, that they were no longer required for their shows as the Board wanted to freshen up the sound of the station.

“A fifth presenter was informed on the phone later on Tuesday evening that he was not required during a conversation by Jack Bennie as the volunteer said he didn’t want to resign. It is important to point out that none of these presenters had raised any formal concerns about financial irregularities to the Board.

“Some of the initial four presenters have in the past been vocal in their opinions on how IBFM has been run butin the usual democratic process at AGMs or other volunteer meetings.

“The behaviour of Jack Bennie has been a concern to many volunteers for a number of years due to his perceived bullying and aggressive method of managing the volunteers. Some had expressed feelings of fear and stress when they had gone in to do their shows.

“Many of the Board who are still in place had not stepped in to stop this style of management which in effect condones it, therefore, their suitability as Board members must be seriously questioned also.

“It is imperative that the Chairman looks at past and present behaviour of Jack Bennie and exercise his power to ensure that this does not continue and the only way to ensure this is the removal of Jack Bennie.

A statement from Irvine Beat FM said there has been no misappropriation of funds by any member of the board, but that station funds being used to pay the office manager’s salary had ‘been a bone of contention’ with some volunteers.

A statement from Irvine Beat FM said: “There has been no misappropriation of funds by any member of the board at Irvine Beat FM.

“Irvine Beat FM has an office manager. This is a paid position and as such we apply for and receive grants to fund this wage. This has been a bone of contention with several of the volunteers who were removed from on air slots last week. They feel the money should go towards equipment. We cannot stress enough that if we did not pay this wage we would not have this money at all. The money is ring fenced for a salary. They also objected to money from the general station funds being used to pay the salary when funding was not in place, and this was raised at the recent AGM, but as trustees we had a duty of care to pay the salary in keeping with the manager’s contract of employment.

“The decision to remove some presenters from their shows to refresh the sound of the station was taken by a majority of board members. It is worth noting that Ronnie McGhie, who resigned last week in support of the presenters removed from their shows, was involved in the decision to implementing changes to programming and felt several presenters should be moved from their slots to freshen things up including Tommy Monaghan and Jim Higgins.

“Laura Macpherson was removed from her show because she had become increasingly unreliable and had regularly cancelled at short notice meaning we then had to find another presenter available to do the show.

“Removing or moving presenters from specific slots is common practice in radio. The board accept that removing all four presenters on the same day does look like a cull but when you are changing things it needs to be done quickly to enable the station to move forward.

“The allegations of misappropriation of funds and money being diverted to pay the manager’s salary were not made public until Laura Macphersons post on Facebook.”

“The 5th volunteer was removed when he refused to go on air one hour prior to his show on Tuesday night and would not confirm if he would be available in future.

“The chairman has since verbally offered to meet with these presenters but that offer has been declined.” 

In response, Laura Macpherson said: “Every show I have hosted on Irvine Beat FM has been done live unlike many many other shows done by other presenters. Some presenters never broadcast live because they can record their shows. I unfortunately have never been trained to record shows and so when the occasion arises that I cannot broadcast live, I don’t have that option. I’ve never been trained although I requested it on numerous occasions. I have covered many shows for other presenters when asked.

“I find it really quite ironic that one of the colleagues in my absence was also sacked along with me. In my opinion it has nothing to do with reliability and everything to do with a vendetta against certain people.”

Ronnie McGhie said: “I can categorically deny that I had any say in said decision to axe presenters. I am very disappointed that after many years of service to the station, during which I have bought equipment essential to the running of the station, that I have been singled out.”

An Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) spokesperson said: “We can confirm that the charity has been in communication with OSCR. Any concerns we receive about a charity are handled in line with our Notifiable Events and Inquiry policies.

As stated in our Inquiry policy, we will not comment on ongoing concerns as it may prejudice the work of the charity or OSCR.”

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “This is a matter for Irvine Beat to deal with through their own established procedures.

“We continually monitor all the grants awarded to third-sector organisations to ensure the funding is used correctly and in line with the grant-awarding pr oce ss. The grants currently awarded to Irvine Beat will continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis within this process.”