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Heightened security: White Citizens Council bans popular KPFA host JR Valrey from Pacifica radio network

September 18, 2013

Editorial by Dr. Willie Ratcliff

On Friday the 13th, Sept. 13, 2013, the 17th anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s assassination, Pacifica Radio Interim Executive Director Summer Reese emailed this memo to the staff at 5 p.m.:

Pacifica memo to KPFA staff banning JR Valrey 091313

Who is this terrorist, this big bad JR Valrey who poses some sort of threat to the whole Pacifica network of five major radio stations around the country? First, he’s my friend and comrade at the Bay View, where we’ve worked together for over a dozen years, all his adult life. JR is our associate editor.

Black Media Appreciation Night Willie Ratcliff, JR Valrey smiles Yoshi's 112612 by TaSin Sabir, web
The great success of Black Media Appreciation Night at Yoshi’s is reflected at the end of the show in the happy faces of Bay View publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff and associate editor JR Valrey, who organized it. Listen to KPFA’s broadcast of the unforgettable event at http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/88711. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
During the same period, he’s also volunteered at KPFA radio, where his hard and highly acclaimed work finally won him a prime time show – Wednesdays at 8-9 a.m. – starting in May 2011. Immediately, listeners flocked to KPFA to hear this exciting new show, where voices from around the block and around the world, everyday people and celebrities, engaged in fascinating conversations with JR, responding to his provocative questions.

One of the few points that everyone in the often dysfunctional KPFA family – listeners and staff – agree on is that the station needs a larger audience, one that matches the power of the station’s 59,000-watt signal, an audience that can use the information broadcast on KPFA to influence the course of events, locally and globally. JR was doing that better than any other broadcaster, and within months was KPFA’s second or third most successful fundraiser.

Voices from around the block and around the world, everyday people and celebrities, engaged in fascinating conversations with JR, responding to his provocative questions.

Nevertheless, he was abruptly suspended in March of this year. For 26 weeks, substitutes have hosted JR’s show every Wednesday morning.

But his passion for reporting stories other journalists ignore or don’t understand was not entirely absent from KPFA. When an astounding 30,000 California prisoners kicked off the largest prison hunger strike in history on July 8, 2013, JR requested time for what became a four-part series of one-hour specials. The series has been widely praised as the best coverage anywhere of the 60-day hunger strike. Here are the four hour-long shows:

California Prison Hunger Strike Special, Part 1, Aug. 3, 2013

California Prison Hunger Strike Special, Part 2, Aug. 11, 2013

California Prison Hunger Strike Special, Part 3, Aug. 26, 2013

California Prison Hunger Strike Special, Part 4, Sept. 2, 2013

Praise for the hunger strike specials came from inside as well as outside KPFA, and the series appeared to be opening the door for JR’s return to his Wednesday morning show. That’s what the following email to JR from KPFA Interim General Manager Richard Pirodsky seems to say:

Richard Pirodsky email to JR 090713

The transformation of JR from valued broadcaster to terrorist took only six days and came with no warning. He had never even been told why he was suspended, but it may have been his mention on air during his Feb. 6 show of the White Citizens Council, referring to the handful of paid staff who constitute both management and union leadership at KPFA.

In “Davey D: JR’s voice is indispensable to KPFA’s conversation on race,” JR’s long time comrade and host of the 4 p.m. weekday show Hard Knock Radio on KPFA writes: “According to the reports, JR has been suspended because he talked station business on the air and said some things that were unflattering about some of the on-air folks.

Free Wheelin' Franklin, Sinista Z, G1 of Rebel Diaz, JR, Rod Starz, Deanna, Holly Works at KPFA Oscar Grant special 0608
While JR Valrey has been accused by some members of the White Citizens Council of creating a hostile work environment – apparently by being a Black man – at KPFA, what he really does there is to bring people together. Here he is with Free Wheelin’ Franklin Sterling, Sinista Z, G1 and Rod Starz of Rebel Diaz, Deanna and Holly Works at KPFA recording a special on Oscar Grant, on June 8, 2010. JR broke the story of Oscar’s police murder on KPFA.
“First, let’s put this into context. What JR did was not the first time in the long history or recent history of this station that dirty laundry was aired and particular individuals made to feel uncomfortable. What’s ‘dirty laundry’ to some is truth and clean sunshine to others.”

Davey lists numerous examples, then writes: “But when dirty laundry is aired about racism and unbalanced practices resulting in people made to feel uncomfortable or toes stepped on, then it’s a problem. When that happens, a second set of rules gets applied. That’s unfair. …

“Things have got to change. Everyone has got to play by the same set of rules. That’s one of the first things we must do to eradicate institutional racism at KPFA.”

Davey emphasizes JR’s role at KPFA: “We must make a commitment and find ways to include marginalized voices in the community. … JR was a part of that, was doing great work and bringing new voices to the forefront. To have him suspended for 20 weeks [altogether 26 weeks] is not only about having the individual gone, but also the community he holds it down for.

“At KPFA, we as a station should be growing, not shrinking down. We as a station should be adding more voices – especially as we have this Trayvon Martin case, a hunger strike inside the California prisons and increased incidents of police terrorism.

Rally to Save Hard Knock Radio Flashpoints and Full Circle at KPFA JR speaking 111110 by Lisa Dettmer, web
Anita Johnson of KPFA’s Hard Knock Radio (holding the bullhorn) and JR organized a very well attended and exceptionally harmonious rally outside KPFA on Nov. 10, 2010, to save Hard Knock and Flashpoints, two of KPFA’s most revolutionary shows, when the entrenched paid staff, sometimes referred to as the White Citizens Council, tried to shut them down. – Photo: Lisa Dettmer
“More space and airtime is needed to highlight the voices and perspectives of those most afflicted. JR has played a key role in doing that and must be supported. It’s time he be allowed back on the airwaves. It’s time we draw up a new set of rules that are transparent and fair to all,” Davey concludes.

My own suspicion is that the White Citizens Council – JR’s term has now come into general use at KPFA – see JR as a competitive threat. As I observed in “Bring JR back to KPFA now!” in March, three weeks after JR’s suspension: “Getting punished for doing ‘too well’ happens to Black folks much too often. … JR, a volunteer, unpaid host at KPFA, whose show costs the station nothing, has raised $50,000 for the station’s paid staff during his short stint as a drive time host.”

JR is by no means the first Black broadcaster to be driven from KPFA. Those who preceded him read like a who’s who of media giants, including several whose work you often read in the Bay View – Kiilu Nyasha, Wanda Sabir, Donald Lacy, Leroy Moore. And whether it happened recently or decades ago, it’s still too painful for them to talk about.

“In my six years on the KPFA Local Station Board, I heard countless complaints of racism. Racism, practiced with impunity by some of the paid staff, has lost KPFA many excellent broadcasters of color. Like theirs, JR’s complaints have been ignored, while the complaints filed against JR by the Communications Workers of America, the union representing KPFA’s mostly white paid staff, are the excuse for his suspension,” I wrote, speculating about the reason JR was suspended.

The damage that memo does to JR’s career prospects and his ability to support his family is enormous. And his three beautiful little children – like JR himself in my estimation – did nothing to deserve it.

I encourage you to read the outpouring of support for JR by the many, across all demographic lines, who agree with the headline, “Bring JR back to KPFA now!” Their comments demonstrate a passion for the news and information JR presented them that’s as great as JR’s passion to report it. If those supporters were to vote with their feet, KPFA, already in perilous financial condition, might suffer severely.

Cartoon JR & White Citizens Council 'I'm ready for our conversation on race' by Signe Wilkinson
The People’s Minister of Information JR, suspended for 26 weeks from his prime time radio show while an “investigation of racism at KPFA” was conducted, tried hard to have a discussion with the folks he calls the White Citizens Council – management and the leaders of the unionized paid staff, who at KPFA are the very same people. That may not be the aspect of the presidentially mandated “conversation on race” that the cartoonist had in mind, but it fits. – Cartoon: Signe Wilkinson
Rumor has it that the bizarre letter from Summer Reese posted above and the investigation it apparently culminates were prompted by KPFA’s insurance company, which reportedly refused to renew its policy unless better management and policies could stem the many lawsuits filed against KPFA, mostly by staff whose complaints, like JR’s, were ignored.

If that rumor is true, Summer Reese’s Friday the 13th memo is evidence of KPFA’s racist and classist blind spot. The use of such inflammatory language must assume that the alleged terrorist JR Valrey is too poor and too Black to fight back with a lawsuit charging libel. I don’t agree, and I urge attorneys to contact him, at blockreportradio@gmail.com or (510) 338-8219.

The damage that memo does to JR’s career prospects and his ability to support his family is enormous. And his three beautiful little children – like JR himself in my estimation – did nothing to deserve it.

Bay View publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff can be reached at publisher@sfbayview.com or (415) 671-0789. To tell Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese how you feel, email summer@pacifica.org or call (510) 333-1965.

 

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16 thoughts on “Heightened security: White Citizens Council bans popular KPFA host JR Valrey from Pacifica radio network

  1. John Wilmerding

    I support JR and his dedication to objective investigative journalism. I have done so for many years, and will continue to do so.

    It seems 'Pacifica' is no longer about peace.

    John Wilmerding
    Founder and Convener
    John Woolman College of Active Peace
    Brattleboro, Vermont USA

    Reply
  2. Ann_Garrison

    This is not to disagree, just to clarify one point. The investigation was about the whole workplace environment. KPFA IGM Richard Pirodsky told me that Pacifica's insurance company refused to continue to insure the foundation for legal liability unless they hired a workplace investigator to investigate and write up a report, because the station has been the source of so many lawsuits. I get the impression that this is not widely understood, though it should be.

    Reply
  3. Seamus

    Sounds like he was fired & made a stink. The mgt asked him to leave & not come back. Pretty standard stuff after an employment termination.

    Reply
  4. Bill

    JR is the cutting edge. Pacifica's 'Democracy Now!' show was criticized for having less people of color being interviewed than the mainstream show 'Face the Nation.' For years there was no Black affairs programming on KPFA. JR are is a true radical, his programming is revolutionary. Bring back JR!

    Reply
  5. Andy

    No, he made a stink then was fired. Or rather, was told his volunteer services were no longer wanted. Other programmers have complained about harassment for years from him. KPFA put up with him for far longer than any other institution would have.

    Reply
  6. Ann_Garrison

    The whole station has a confrontational culture. When Aimee Allison and Brian Edwards-Tiekert were laid off as the Morning Show hosts, they stormed in the next morning and took over the station and berated management for several hours on the air, with the help of other staff. Can you imagine anyone keeping their job after doing that at NPR or any other radio station?

    Brian Edwards-Tiekert was able to get back on the news staff by claiming seniority, and then become the new Upfront host. The station takeover wasn't held against him, but JR has been thrown off the air for some confrontational behavior.

    Reply
  7. Mitchel Cohen

    While the private investigator may have concluded that JR acted rudely to KPFA and Pacifica management, firing and banning him and not others who acted similarly or even worse is not only discriminatory, it runs counter to the recommendations in Pacifica’s contracts with staff. Those call for “progressive” punishment beginning with censure, and then suspension from the air, except in extreme cases (actual violence, for example, and not just nasty words). A permanent removal and ban, as the interim Executive Director states in her letter above, is neither warranted here nor in accord with the rights of staff and the recommendations in the contracts. JR has done some great reporting that I listen to when I’m out in the Bay area and also sometimes over the internet; but even if he hadn’t done such great reporting, his banning from Pacifica would not be warranted in this case, regardless. One would hope that the unpaid staff organization at KPFA would defend JR. Are they?

    Mitchel Cohen
    former Chair, WBAI Local Station Board (2008-2012)

    Reply
  8. Mitchel Cohen

    While the private investigator may have concluded that JR acted rudely to KPFA and Pacifica management, firing and banning him and not others who acted similarly or even worse is not only discriminatory, it runs counter to the recommendations in Pacifica's contracts with staff. Those call for "progressive" punishment beginning with censure, and then suspension from the air, except in extreme cases (actual violence, for example, and not just nasty words).

    A permanent removal and ban, as the interim Executive Director states in her letter above, is neither warranted here nor in accord with the rights of staff and the recommendations in the contracts. JR has done some great reporting that I listen to when I'm out in the Bay area and also sometimes over the internet; but even if he hadn't done such great reporting, his banning from Pacifica would not be warranted in this case, regardless.

    One would hope that the unpaid staff organization at KPFA would defend JR. Are they?

    Mitchel Cohen
    former Chair, WBAI Local Station Board (2008-2012)

    Reply
    1. Ann_Garrison

      I'm an elected member of the KPFA Unpaid Staff Organization, Mitchel. I wrote a letter, just as myself, to the IGM urging JR's reinstatement as soon as he was suspended, but JR didn't file a grievance with the UPSO because he didn't think we had enough power to help him. It's true that we don't have anything remotely like the power of the union, CWA, which has union coffers to pay legal fees behind it, and various labor law protections. We're not quite as powerless as he thinks, but nowhere near as powerful as the union.

      Reply
  9. Seamus

    After reading the articles on this website for a year or so, I am convinced it is the authors of SFbayview who are racist. I think this is a racist website.

    Reply
  10. Robert B. Livingston

    Everyone with something to say, and many with nothing new to say drool over KPFA's "power."

    59,000 watts and a sea of potential donors to keep the creaky experiment in "free speech" going.

    Almost anything worthwhile that broadcasts from that phony progressive alternative source was dug from its archives or resulted in someone losing their job. I stopped listening years ago as protest– and I don't believe the station can be reformed.

    It has been led for years by various dictatorships which formed by function– not always a white club– but always an inscrutable, mostly affluent or aspiring, inbred bunch wed to bowdlerizing class issues, promoting acceptable politicians, and feathering their own beds. Needless to say, the members of that club are usually overtly or covertly at each others throats, and usually don't give a fig for democracy accept as a costume to keep the sham going.

    I feel very sorry for JR Valrey and his devoted listeners, and what they must be going through now. I suggest they say good riddance to KPFA and work toward creating something new– and independent– if possible.

    Wouldn't it be nice if the SF Bayview had its own radio station?

    Reply
  11. SaveKPFA

    How does Cleveland Valrey Jr support himself and his family anyway? Other than from a settlement for abuse at the Port of Oakland, where does their revenue originate? Did Cleveland benefit from City of Oakland after the arson incident?

    Reply
  12. Gary Dantzler

    i love that Brother, God bless you and your family very proud of you . do not let these monster trap you in there game of life/ this is who they are as people it is in there nature , if you would like to contact me Brother Gary email truly blessed101405@yahoo.com

    Reply

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