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Vote ‘United for Community Radio’ for the KPFA Local Station Board

November 18, 2012

by Akio Tanaka

Current situation and background

As long time observers know, there never seems to be peace at KPFA-Pacifica.

Minister of Information JR Valrey interviews Theo, King of Carnaval, on May 16, 2012. JR’s Block Report, the Wednesday Morning Mix show at 8-9 a.m., is one of KPFA’s most popular programs, according to Arbitron, yet JR is a volunteer, not a member of the paid staff.
After the 1999 crisis, Pacifica reorganized with new bylaws which called for democratic governance by a board elected by the listeners and staff, both paid and unpaid. Immediately, a divide formed over the new governance. The current conflict is a continuation of this divide.

The current conflict began with the layoffs in 2010, when the union accused the Pacifica management of union busting and usurping local control. While it is the duty of the union to fight to save jobs, anyone who has seen KPFA’s annual audited financial reports can see that KPFA’s local management more than doubled the payroll during the boom years of 2000-2006 and then failed to make the necessary cuts when the economy collapsed and listener support plummeted in 2006-2010.

The number of staff the station can afford to pay is directly tied to the level of listener support, which in large part depends on the state of the economy. By 2010, the station was in danger of insolvency, which is the ONLY reason Pacifica stepped in.

There have also been claims that the layoffs were political and did not follow the union contract, but the National Labor Relations Board has dismissed as “without merit” all five complaints filed by the union regarding this matter.

Underlying problems

One major area of friction is programming. It stands to reason that a trade union looking after the financial security of its members will prefer programming that appeals to the more affluent, if progressive, audience. But the mission of Pacifica is to be the commons of the airwaves, to represent a broader and more diverse community, to include the voices of the voiceless and marginalized.

Davey D, host of Hard Knock Radio, heard Monday through Friday at 4-5 p.m., and of the Tuesday Morning Mix, 8-9 a.m., is another very popular KPFA programmer.
Another area of friction is the working relationship between paid and unpaid staff. Until 1996 both were represented by one “industrial” union. In 1996 this was changed to a “craft” union that no longer represented the unpaid staff. This created a kind of a class system resulting in an uneasy working relationship between the paid and the unpaid staff.

Possible solutions

So what to do with these conflicting needs and interests? How does a union look after the financial security of its members in a non-profit organization that does not make profits and must live within a balanced budget?

The primary task of the station should be to fulfill the mission of Pacifica. The management and union should carefully work out a paid staffing level that can be sustained over the economic ups and downs and avoid the temptation to add too many people during the economic boom times, like what happened in 2000-2006.

A sustainable paid staffing level would help remove the one main source of anxiety and tension. It would also end the practice of measuring the value of a program only by the amount of money it brings in, a sad and ironic state of affairs. This is not to devalue well-produced programs but to invest more resources into training and support, thereby increasing the production value of all programs.

Pacifica holds the unique position of giving a platform to the powerless and voiceless, as the union did at one time, and while the notion of workers’ rights resonates to all within the progressive community, it must be remembered that it is to respect and honor ALL labor, not just paid labor.

In this archival photo, Langston Hughes is being interviewed at KPFA. Though prominent Blacks, even those as controversial as Paul Robeson and the Black Panthers, have been featured on KPFA throughout its over 60-year history, Black hosts are rare and the few there are must fight to stay on the air. A democratic Program Council would help bring strong advocates of all stripes to the millions who can be reached by KPFA’s powerful 59,000-watt signal. – Photo: KPFA Archives
It is important to note that KPFA relies on a large number of unpaid staff; 75 percent of the programming is done by the unpaid staff. At KPFA there simply is not enough money to pay all those who contribute to the station.

A progressive organization like KPFA should have one all-inclusive union for everyone who works at KPFA.

Bringing peace to KPFA and Pacifica

It is time for all the staff, paid and unpaid, and for listeners to embrace the democratic victory that was won for us in legal and street battles of 1999-2001 and by the people who formed the original “Save KPFA” in the mid-1990s. KPFA was not sold from under us, and thanks to their efforts, it never will be. It is time to bring peace to KPFA and Pacifica and help strengthen this priceless resource.


United for Community Radio (UCR) coalition stands for:

Community Resource – Reclaim the mission of Pacifica and KPFA as commons, with broad and diverse participation, not to be controlled by any particular group or party.

Program Council – Programming decisions to be made in a fair, collaborative and respectful manner.

Mutual Respect – Foster cooperation and equality for paid and unpaid staff.

Please vote for the following United for Community Radio listener candidates:

  • Ramsés Téon Nichols, chair of the Organizing Committee at SEIU Local 1021, SF Green Party
  • Laurence Shoup, historian, author of “Rulers and Rebels,” former Green Party candidate
  • Karen Pickett, environmental campaign leader, organizer of Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters
  • Andrea Pritchett, incumbent KPFA LSB member, schoolteacher, a founder of Berkeley Copwatch
  • Samsarah Morgan, writer on birth, health and family, Occupy Oakland, Oakland Green Party
  • Dave Welsh, delegate San Francisco Labor Council, member Haiti Action Committee, Occupy Oakland
  • Oriana Saportas, community and labor activist, former KPFA local election supervisor
  • Kate Tanaka, incumbent KPFA LSB member, anti-corporate stalwart
  • Beth Seligman, vegetarian occupier, permaculturist, writer, law degree
  • Virginia Browning, longtime KPFA supporter, former radio programmer

Staff candidates: David Landau, Frank Sterling, Joy Moore

UCR is endorsed by Carol Spooner, Gray Brechin, Michael Parenti, Barbara Lubin, Peter Phillips, Jack Heyman, Clarence Thomas, Robbie Osman, Willie and Mary Ratcliff and many others. See all the endorsers and the UCR platform at

Akio Tanaka, a member of the KPFA Local Station Board from 2006 to 2012, can be reached at


5 thoughts on “Vote ‘United for Community Radio’ for the KPFA Local Station Board

  1. Chris Stehlik

    " according to Arbitron" KPFA doesn't subscribe to Arbitron, so how do you know how KPFA shows are rated by Arbitron? If you have Arbitron ratings, it would be great if you could share them with the station. I would help us make decisions and gain insight into shows.

      1. Ann_Garrison

        Well that's curious because I always seem to be hearing various members of SAVE KPFA refer to Arbitrons. Most recently Roger Marquis told me he was working on a grant proposal with Sasha Lilly and Maria Negrete for web development, and that they were gathering Arbitrons to submit..

        1. Chris Stehlik

          We have how many people listen to the web stream and how many pledge pledge, but we don't have Arbitron reports for specific shows and I don't remember anyone saying that we do, or I would like to know about it.

          1. Ann Garrison

            You should ask Roger Marquis or Sasha Lilly. I will try to remember to ask them the next time I run into them.

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