by Karen Hutton
On April 11, a large number of people affiliated with KPFA radio station convened at Laney College in Oakland to discuss a number of issues that have been plaguing the station for decades and are threatening to rip it apart with a race and class civil war. Unaddressed racial and class disparities at KPFA have caused a number of Black broadcasters to abandon ship, including Carrie Core, Donald Lacy, Kiilu Nyasha, Wanda Sabir, Nadra Foster, Leroy Moore and Malaika Kambon to name a few.
One major issue that sparked the recent conflict was the March 6 suspension of Block Report Radio’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, who is also the associate editor of the SF Bay View newspaper. According to the suspension letter, Valrey was suspended because the CWA (Communications Workers of America) union, which represents only the 20 percent of the staff at KPFA who are paid, has flooded the Pacifica Radio Network with complaints about JR addressing racial issues at the station on the air.
Valrey had repeatedly contacted the management at KPFA and Pacifica two months prior to discuss these problems, but his emails were never even acknowledged. So he went to the airwaves beginning on Feb. 6 to hold management accountable by educating the people who pay the bills at KPFA, the listeners, to the circumstances he and others are forced to work under.
JR Valrey’s suspension was originally for 60 days, but it was recently extended by Pacifica Executive Director Summer Reece, who claims that she wants the new interim general manager to handle the investigation, which basically means that the investigation has not even started, be it that the old interim general manager, Andrew Phillips, is still at work. On April 12, he was asked by Reece to step down as KPFA’s interim general manager because of rampant acts of racism going unaddressed at the station under his tenure.
Some of the other issues discussed at this historic KPFA townhall meeting – the first one in many years – were unequal distribution of resources and the lack of bargaining power of the 80 percent of the staff who are not represented by CWA. That unpaid 80 percent are largely people of color, while most of other 20 percent – the paid, unionized staff, commonly called the entrenched staff or White Citizen’s Council – is largely white.
KPFA News and its affiliated morning news program Upfront, broadcast weekdays at 7-8 a.m., has over 12 paid employees, while most other shows, including the Morning Mix, broadcast at 8-9 a.m., have none. Hard Knock Radio has two, La Onda Bajita has none, Flashpoints has two, Africa Today has none and Transitions on Traditions has none.
To represent the different sides of the debate at KPFA on April 11, the panel was composed of Pacifica National Board Treasurer Tracy Rosenberg, member of the Local Station Board Frank Sterling, Steve Zeltzer of Work Week Radio on the Morning Mix, Gerald Sanders, formerly of the Local Station Board, and Tiny of Poor News Network on the Morning Mix. Janet Korben of the Local Station Board and Ann Garrison of the Unpaid Staff Organization also pitched in.
Tim Killings of the Laney College Black Student Union organized the townhall meeting and The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey was the host. Throughout the evening 50-60 people came to hear and speak out on what’s going on at KPFA.
The next townhall meeting is at Laney College on the fourth floor of the student center, Room SC401, on Tuesday, May 7, at 6:30 p.m. A rally in front of KPFA will be scheduled at this meeting.
Bay Area writer Karen Hutton can be reached at email@example.com.