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Toward an Understanding of the Causes of KPFK's Conflict: A Voters' Guide

by repost Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009 at 5:16 PM

Looking for the truth at KPFK? Check this out, by a long-time insider. Read this, and get your ballot in by Thursday.


I've been reading all the KPFK election analyses, charges and countercharges, and arcane commentary, and I can imagine how confusing it must be to be plowing through this to fill out a ballot.  If your ballot is still on your desk or over there on the table, go grab it and a pen, and lay it out in front of you while I try to sort out what you've been hearing.  When you finish, fill out your ballot.  You need to get it to the station by Thursday, so if you're too late to mail it, grab yours and your friend's ballot and head to 3729 Cahuenga Blvd. West in North Hollywood.  Your choices in this election matter that much.

Full disclosure: I'm sitting here in the catbird seat on the Pacifica National Board, and I'm rooting for the candidates with the Ad Hoc Committee to Strengthen KPFK:

Kahllid A. Al-Alim (you need to write him in at the bottom of your ballot and mark him #1)
John Parker
Lawrence Reyes
Chuck Anderson
Fred Klunder
Ruby Medrano
Tej Grewall
Cuco (Refugio Ceballos)
Ian Johnston
Luis Garcia
Dutch Merrick
Sandi Stiassni

What You're Hearing Is What's Going On

Let me take a moment to break it down for you, because all of the confusion really does come down to what you want KPFK and Pacifica to be.

You heard some of the confusion in our fund drive: is KPFK going to keep its cutting edge in public affairs, or is it going to be a self-help station, geared to the narcissistic needs of those of us trying to cope with aches, pains, and wrinkles?  One side is betting that you're looking for "Ageless Answer" to firm up that sagging jawline.  I'm betting that you want to be part of the dialogue about our neighborhoods and our world.

One side, the Committee To Strengthen KPFK, was founded by Grace Aaron and now promotes her spouse among their candidates.  Grace was chair of the Local Station Board when Eva Georgia left us, and in February Grace became the Interim Executive Director of Pacifica and Chair of the Pacifica National Board.  Under her leadership, General Manager Sean Heitkemper resigned and two other general managers' positions were vacated.  The two largest stations, KPFK and WBAI, have interim appointees for both their general manager and their program director.  At the National Office, the Chief Financial Officer has been temporary for eight months and the Executive Director has been interim for over a year.  Our professionals are leaving in droves.

For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, the preliminary balance sheet shows a total for net assets and liabilities of $9,253,098.03.  The audit for September 30, 2008 indicates the same total was $10,229,082.  When Grace tells you this board majority has turned a corner in the financial crisis, consider that the total for September 2007 was $8,613,848, and look at the direction of that turn.  The last significant budget cuts were staff layoffs in November 2008.  It was just last year that we in Southern California were shocked at the twenty-day fund drives at WBAI in New York.  Our just-completed fund drive was 25 days long.  So now you know why we heard KPFK's longest fund drive.

Where It's Coming From

Besides the programming changes you've heard, the exodus of management and the programmers you've wondered about, and the financial "turn around," there's a fundamental difference in vision.  One side wants Pacifica to be bigger, and the strategy to get there is to appeal to a broader audience.  That means less community programming and more national programming, broadcasting the same "flagship" shows across all five stations, like (you can fill in your favorite mainstream radio network here).  If you listen closely, you can hear that in our newly combined evening news broadcast dominated by KPFA in Berkeley, while KPFK's news department is left with a single full-time reporter.  The simultaneous pitching at KPFA and KPFK is another hint.  "Something's Happening" is bragging about its extra half-hour, while the morning Spanish-language news show "Informativo Pacifica" has been pushed to a late evening slot. The evening Spanish-language programmers are left to wonder where they're going to fit, and the predominantly Black late night music programmers worry that they'll have to give way.  Expect more programming changes, especially to the so-called "narrow interest" public affairs shows, in the weeks ahead.  When bigger means broader, it means something closer to the middle.  Amy Goodman has already put the Interim Executive Director on notice that she's not happy with similar changes at WBAI, and one of the CTSK candidates is openly suggesting that Amy is getting money to cover up the truth of 9-11.

In the year ahead, your contribution will help KPFK will pay for extensive Arbitron statistics.  Arbitrons are the standard measure of the number of listeners to commercial radio.  Arbitron methodology is now under investigation by the House Committee for Oversight and Government Reform, which has cited "persistent problems"; with undercounted minority sample audiences, but that might not matter so much if KPFK's programming continues in the direction its heading.

Broader audiences mean bigger costs, and, for a year, rumors have been buzzing about how to pay for all these changes.  One of the most insidious is the mumbling about underwriting: having foundations and other non-profits pay for shows of their choice in exchange for mentions on the air.  You can hear underwriting on any NPR station. One Pacifica director (from another station) told me we need, "an audience that can afford us."  And maybe that's an audience that will donate to foundation underwriters.

Don't pick up your pen yet.  Lean back and imagine that the Pacifica National Office threatens to lock KPFK management out of our transmission tower and summarily replaces both the General Manager and the Program Director with friends of the Executive Director.  Imagine the new management's first actions, in just two weeks in, were firing your favorite paid staff and banning volunteer programmers.  You can stop imagining now.  That's the WBAI story.  In the midst of an economic depression and strapped with fixed expenses for its building and tower that are more than triple that of any other station, the National Office's solution is to overturn everything familiar at WBAI.  Perhaps you've heard that the Interim Executive Director has "saved" WBAI, that contributions, the money promised to WBAI, are up under the new management, but this weekend we heard that fulfillment rate, the number of people who actually paid that money, is down by close to 20%.

Some Uncomfortable History

Allow me a brief digression into recent history.  It's uncanny that the current actions of the leadership of Pacifica mirror, to a remarkable degree, the board of directors that was unseated in 2002 after demands for participatory governance: 

  • Back in 1999, Pacifica National Board Chair Mary Frances Berry began a series of interventions in local stations following a widely broadcast concern that Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds were in jeopardy; in 2009, Pacifica National Board Chair Grace Aaron (also Interim Executive Director) begins a series of interventions in local stations after a widely broadcast concern that the network was facing a financial shortfall.
  • On December 22, 2000, Executive Director Bessie Wash changed the locks at the WBAI station; on April 1, 2009 the iED orders the locks changed at the WBAI transmitter tower.  It was a decade earlier to the day, on April 1, 1999, that then Executive Director Lyn Chadwick fired KPFA's general manager Nichole Sawaya for refusing to cooperate in consolidating the Berkeley's administration and staffing into the National Office. Today, most of WBAI's finances are now managed out of the National Office.
  • In December of 2000, Wash replaced WBAI's General Manager Valerie Van Isler with Utrice Leid; on May 4, 2009, the current iED replaces WBAI's General Manager Anthony Riddle with LaVarn Williams. 
  • In December, 2000, Leid fires programmer Sharan Harper and progressive Program Director and popular Wake-Up Call host Bernard White, and locks them out of the station; in May, 2009, Williams fires programmer Ayo Harrington and progressive Program Director and popular Wake-Up Call host Bernard White, and locks them out of the station.
  • On January 24, 2001, Leid issues a "gag order" prohibiting on-air discussion of Pacifica; on April 20, 2009, the iED issues an order that effectively prohibits any uncomplimentary comments about people associated with WBAI. On July 17, the order is extended across the network.

The Other Side

If you've followed me this far, I should assure you that there is hope short of another Pacifica Struggle.  There is another side, one that wants KPFK to be deeper, not broader.  We want to reach more progressive, future-oriented people.  That means community-based programming, more autonomy for KPFK, and greater diversity among our listeners. We want to find a thousand new $50 members, before we solicit a single $50,000 major donor.  Right now, we're the minority, but with your vote, we won't be in 2010.  Locally, we're the Ad Hoc Committee for KPFK Community Radio, and we need you to stand and vote with us. 

We have as our principles:

  • Implementing the core values of the Pacifica Mission: voices by and for people not commonly heard in the mainstream media
  • Greater autonomy and local decision-making for our radio station
  • Fiscal transparency and responsibility: people, not corporate underwriters, supporting people's radio
  • Local, diverse, multilingual, and young voices from and for our communities
  • Spanish language programming to bring progressive messages to Spanish language communities
  • Effective, participatory governance that is accountable to listener-sponsors and responsive to the diverse needs and interests of the Southern California listening community

And we have listener candidates committed to those principles

Pick up that pen now, and start filling in those tiny squares.  Some of you fought the Pacifica Struggle for this moment, the chance to change KPFK with a vote instead of a lawsuit.

Kahllid A. Al-Alim (you need to write him in at the bottom of your ballot and mark him #1)
John Parker
Lawrence Reyes
Chuck Anderson
Fred Klunder
Ruby Medrano
Tej Grewall
Cuco (Refugio Ceballos)
Ian Johnston
Luis Garcia
Dutch Merrick
Sandi Stiassni

Our staff candidates include Rodrigo Argueta, Fernando Velazquez, Omar Burdett, and Nadia Lee Richardson.

We're not alone.  Our endorsers include Yousef Abudayyeh (National Coordinator, The Free Palestine Alliance, USA*), Elahe Amani (Iranian women and human rights activist, mediator and artist), Yolanda Anguiano (LSB member*), Lydia Brazon (former iLAB Chair, former PNB Director, human rights activist), Bill Gallegos (Communities for a Better Environment*), Sherna Berger Gluck (LSB member, programmer for "Radio Intifada"*), Sundiata Griotts (African storyteller), International Action Center Los Angeles, Dedon Kamathi (programmer for "Freedom Now"*), and Hamid Khan (South Asian Network, programmer for "Beneath the Surface"*).

Did I mention Peggy Lee Kennedy (Venice Justice Committee*), L.A. County Peace and Freedom, Nativo Lopez (Mexican American Political Association*), Norma Martinez (programmer for "Informativo Pacifica"*), Elizabeth Mejia (programmer for "Insurgencia Feminina"*). Calvin E. Moss (Venice/Santa Monica Food Not Bombs*), Michael Novick (Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror*), and the Puerto Rican Alliance.

Don't let me forget Jerry Quickley (former producer and host), Victor Rodriguez (Department of Chicano and Latino Studies, CSULB*), Pedro Sanchez (programmer for "Suplemento Comunitario"*), SEIU Local 721 Latino Caucus, Jim Smith (Free Venice Beachhead*), South Central Farmers, South Central Farmers Action Fund, South Central Farmers Cooperative, Southern California Immigration Coalition, Bernard White (fired and banned program director and host from WBAI), and Tim Wise (anti-racist speaker and author)

We're a nascent movement, the beginning of returning KPFK to its Mission, to its roots, and to its communities and to its future.  We'll be here for you after the elections too, and we hope you'll be with us.

Leslie Radford
Delegate, KPFK Local Station Board*
Director, Pacifica Foundation National Board*

*Oganizational affiliations noted for identification purposes only.

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add your comments

Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 7 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
Wow! K Friend Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009 at 10:31 AM
no hope no hope Friday, Oct. 16, 2009 at 7:12 PM
Stop insulting the very people who could help you. Just a listener Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009 at 12:08 AM
yes? check it out Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009 at 3:19 AM
Blatant pluggiing with a definite racial minority bias and discriminatory emphasis too KPFK stakeholder, but for how long ? Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009 at 10:48 AM
a major disappointment. a major disappointment. Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009 at 1:26 PM
mr g lachner Friday, Oct. 30, 2009 at 9:42 PM
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