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What’s happening at KPFA?

November 11, 2010

by Carol Spooner

At this rally, on July 14, 1999, one of many to protest the threat of corporatization of KPFA, gray-haired white folks predominate. Eager to bring more young listeners, especially people of color, to KPFA, they insisted on more programming to attract a new generation of listeners, culminating in Hard Knock Radio, heard every weekday at 4 p.m., and Full Circle, heard Fridays at 7 p.m. Rallying in the same place – outside KPFA – on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010, KPFA listeners insist that those programs not be cut but be given more support and that KPFA get serious about growing its listening audience and fulfilling its mission “to promote cultural diversity and pluralistic community expression.” – Photo: Susan Druding
I’ve been getting phone calls and emails asking me what’s happening at KPFA. This is my best understanding of the situation after speaking with many participants and watching this situation develop over the past several years.

Below are excerpts from Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s report to the Pacifica National Board made two years ago, on Sept. 20, 2008, when he was the treasurer of the KPFA Local Board and member of the Pacifica National Finance Committee.

Brian was mainly talking about the poor financial condition of WBAI and KPFK back then – although KPFA had just had to hold its fall fund drive a month early because they were out of cash. But what he said then also applies as a very clear explanation of what is happening today at KPFA.

Just recently KPFA too exhausted its cash reserves and had to borrow money from Pacifica station KPFT in Houston to meet its Sept. 15 payroll. As with WBAI then, layoffs at KPFA are absolutely unavoidable at this point. You can listen to the recording of the meeting here:

Excerpts from Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s report to the Pacifica National Board made in September 2008 when he was the treasurer of the KPFA Local Board and member of the Pacifica National Finance Committee:

05:00 – “We have spent, and budgeted, as if a one-time spike in listenership and listener support was long term growth, which it was not.”

06:40 – “We have a lot more people on payroll; and it hurts to cut jobs … it hurts us as social-justice people. …

“And you get pushed back, you get politicking, you get coalitions to block any kind of job cut, so the path of least resistance is to first spend down your savings, as long as you got money to pay the bills, and then go, ‘Oh my god, we’re headed over a cliff now,’ which is where we are now.”

11:25 – “So we’ve gotten ourself to a place where there’s not just a spending crisis, where we’re out of balance, but where there’s a cash crisis. There is not the money in our accounts that affords us the flexibility to take some of the steps we need to get the [Pacifica] Foundation back in balance.”

12:00 – “The income you have coming in, the revenues in that budget has to be proven. You have to be able to demonstrate that you’ve raised that kind of money by that kind of means in the past, or you can’t count on it.”

13:50 – “Stations without any cash in the bank, who are starting the year with zero, or as in the case with a couple of our stations, in the hole, negative money, have to budget a surplus …

“What I’m aiming at is not having the foundation go belly up in three months, because that’s what we’re heading for right now.”

20:55 – “What I dread even more is the day that everybody at the five stations [that comprise the Pacifica network] and Pacifica shows up to work to collect their paycheck for their last two weeks of work, and hears, ‘Sorry, we don’t have the money for you, our bank account’s empty.’ …

“And if we don’t make the cuts now, and honestly some of these cuts should have been made one or two years ago, that’s the real prospect we face, because we’re running out of cash.”

The big difference is that two years ago Brian was saying that others should be laid off and warning about the political push-back, but today Brian is the one being laid off and doing the political push-back.

I can’t improve on Brian’s explanation of the financial situation or the political push-back against layoffs, but I have prepared a chart for the numbers junkies at the end of this post. Of course the big difference is that two years ago Brian was saying that others should be laid off and warning about the political push-back, but today Brian is the one being laid off and doing the political pushback.

Why the Morning Show?

After a two-year delay in necessary layoffs and months of wrangling with the union this past year, the KPFA management’s proposal for layoffs was to cancel Flashpoints and Hard Knock Radio. Why did Pacifica management decide to cut the Morning Show staff instead?

After a two-year delay in necessary layoffs and months of wrangling with the union this past year, the KPFA management’s proposal for layoffs was to cancel Flashpoints and Hard Knock Radio.

There are two reasons: 1) Seniority – both the Flashpoints and Hard Knock staff have more seniority than the Morning Show staff, and 2) Uniqueness – Hard Knock is the only program on KPFA targeted towards young people of color, and Flashpoints is an award-winning investigative newsmagazine with a long-standing and passionately supportive audience particularly around their reporting and expertise on Palestine, Haiti, the U.S.-Mexico border and elsewhere. Flashpoints, in the afternoon drive time, is also the second biggest fundraiser at KPFA.

But the Morning Show is for the most part a set format local public affairs and cultural interview program. Aimee Allison replaced Andrea Lewis, who replaced Kris Welch, and Brian Edwards-Tiekert replaced Philip Maldari.

KPFA didn’t fall down when those personnel changes occurred. The program remained popular and a big fundraiser in the morning drive time.

This isn’t meant to disparage Brian or Aimee – or Andrea, Kris or Philip – but it is the reality of the morning drive-time program on KPFA. There are several other more senior staff members, and some combination of them could move into the Morning Show at least temporarily with very little if any change in its focus and popularity – Philip Maldari, Kris Welch, Davey D, Anita Johnson, CS Soong, Sasha Lilley, Dennis Bernstein – and probably some members of the unpaid staff who could also fill in for a while.

No particular person’s job is more important than the survival of KPFA.

Democracy Now could also temporarily move into an hour of that time and probably raise even more money than the Morning Show does. While money isn’t everything, of course, right now money is critical or KPFA won’t survive. And no particular person’s job is more important than the survival of KPFA.

How you can help

You can help KPFA get through these hard times by doubling your contribution this year and asking everyone you know to do the same. You can also help by not getting caught up in the drama and destructive rhetorical battles.

This isn’t 1999. The Pacifica board of directors is now elected, not self-appointed. Pacifica’s new executive director, Arlene Englehardt, isn’t trying to corporatize or NPRize KPFA.

She is trying to save KPFA from its own previous uncontrolled spending and bad management that had been supported and protected by the staff who are now doing the most complaining against the new fiscal responsibility measures. She is trying to save the whole Pacifica Network – the only network of its kind in this country – that distributes essential programming to over 100 affiliated community stations across the country to counter these crazy political times, programs like Democracy Now, Free Speech Radio News, Letters to Washington, Flashpoints, Uprising and many other programs produced at the five Pacifica stations

Thanks for your support for KPFA and Pacifica.

Carol Spooner was a KPFA Local Board member from 2000 to April 2005 and a Pacifica National Board member from January 2002 to January 2005. She was founder of the Committee to Remove the Pacifica Board and lead plaintiff in the “listeners’ lawsuit” from 1999 to December 2001. She can be reached at wildrose@pon.net. “Who is Carol Spooner and why are her views important?” wrote Marc Sapir, MD, MPH, on Sept. 9, 2009, on Indybay. “Carol is the lawyer who was the lead plaintiff and circulator of the petition representing the many thousands of KPFA listeners who signed onto the lawsuit that successfully brought KPFA and Pacifica back under listener control when, in 1999, the Pacifica National Board under then chair Mary Francis Berry, threw the KPFA staff out on the street, locked the doors and had the intention of selling off one or more of the five Pacifica stations and their assets. After the success of the listeners’ lawsuit, Carol was a long time member of the KPFA station board, polling first in most elections in which she competed, and was for several years a member of the Pacifica National Board. A few years ago she withdrew from KPFA activism to pursue her own career.” Carol is currently development director and a member of the board of Free Speech Radio News, heard weekdays on KPFA at 3:30 p.m.

12 thoughts on “What’s happening at KPFA?

  1. Ann_Garrison

    Very concise, calmly reasoned summary, but, I'm confused by this statement:

    ''There are several other more senior staff members, and some combination of them could move into the Morning Show at least temporarily with very little if any change in its focus and popularity – Philip Maldari, Kris Welch, Davey D, Anita Johnson, CS Soong, Sasha Lilley, Dennis Bernstein – and probably some members of the unpaid staff who could also fill in for a while."

    How can you move any of these people into these jobs without moving them out of the jobs they already have and killing the programs they're producing now, or, making them work twice as hard for the same salaries, or ??? Up to this point, this argument makes sense, but what are you going to do with the programming these people are already producing if you move them into the morning hours? Are volunteers going to take over their shows? If that's the argument, I wish Carol/you would make that clear.

    Reply
  2. Nalini Lasiewicz

    I would say that the loss of financial health can be traced to two primary factors. 
     
    Number one is the "experiment in democracy" of structural change which turned listeners into "voting members."  This indulgent and misguided effort has diverted funds and staff resources away from programming and transferred them to an incompetent and wasteful creation of huge local boards and complex elections at all the stations. The "experiment" has produced "factions" and "lobbies" financed outside the Pacifica organization and led to a CONSTANT state of internal wars and rancor which have turned off and confused listeners. There is a lot of negative fallout in terms of staff morale or anything resembling continuity in listener support.  After ten years of chaos, nearly all involved have agreed the new "democratic structure" is a charade and is completely dysfunctional but no one can figure out a way to change it. 

    Reply
  3. Nalini Lasiewicz

    The other major factor is the extraordinary backroom programming deal that was cut benefiting Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez back in 2002. Gonzalez launched a national listener boycott, hiring professionals who specialized in union campaigns that use legal pressure and paid organizers to force a change in the management of the organizations they target. He quit his Pacifica job on the air, directing listeners to the web site he had prepared and proceeded to target members of the Pacifica Foundation national board.

    The campaign was successful and Amy and Juan's collaborators were victorious in seizing control of the network. After that seismic shift in internal leadership, the first order of business was payback to Juan and Amy.  The ownership of the program was given away, in a contract transferred ownership of DN! to Amy Goodman's new non-profit.  The interim Board of Pacifica voted to rubber stamp acceptance of a five year contract without even reading it.  Literally.

    Reply
  4. Nalini Lasiewicz

    That contract, written by Amy Goodman's attorneys was renewed under virtually identical terms for a second five year period and together, these contracts have cost millions since 2002.  Democracy Now! continues to charge Pacifica an estimated $2,115 every week day, year round, for a one-hour program that is given away free to other radio stations across the country and on the Internet.  DN! reported nearly 16 million dollars of assets on hand in their 2008 IRS papers.  They are flush and have a self sustaining funding base at this point. Amy Goodman could help out the entire network if she agreed to suspend the daily payments and offer to broadcast the show gratis on the network that gave her a start and the assets that launched her organization.

    Reply
  5. Virginia

    http://www.supportkpfa.org has some good articles. Support KPFA AND Pacifica. Pacifica finally intervened when local KPFA management simply didn't balance the budget for months past it was due. More to say another day. Here's another point: Morning Show: local news, local connection — many many many of us want so much more local conversation and community-building, not limited to just one or two shows.

    What about collaboration amongst shows amongst communities all over the Bay Area and beyond?

    Reply
  6. Aaron Aarons

    Nalini Lasiewicz raises quite a number of points here. I'll respond to two of them.

    1) Like the entrenched staff + Wellstone Democrats faction at KPFA, Ms. Lasiewicz complains about the democratic governance structure at Pacifica and the factions it has allegedly produced. But in the days before the institution of elected boards, one faction — right-wing, Clintonian Democrats — ran the network with a heavy hand, and with the compliance and often active cooperation of those, like Mark Merikle, Aileen Alfandary, Kris Welch and Philip Maldari, who are now senior members of the entrenched staff faction. Personally, I'll take open political struggle over the direction of KPFA and Pacifica over Democratic Party — including "Progressive" Democrat — dictatorship any day. The biggest problem is that there's not enough democracy in the process because the entrenched staff and their allies do their best to limit both on-air and printed debate in the lead-up to elections. In addition, there's too much insulation of station management from the democratic decision-making process, and not enough insulation of that management from pressure and sabotage by the entrenched paid staff.

    2) If Democracy Now! costs Pacifica, for the entire network, $2,115 every weekday, it's a far better deal than, for example, KPFA News, which probably costs over $1,000 per weekday (does anybody have the figures?) for their hard work of deciding which wire service stories to read and in what order, and where to insert replays of stories from Free Speech Radio News.

    Reply
  7. HardKnocksFan

    KPFA has not simply replaced the Morning Show hosts with other paid and upaid staff. They have dumped it entirely, and instead are piping in a show from KPFK. I fail to see how that move helps KPFA in any way.

    Reply

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