KPFA Is More Than a Radio Station

Written by Guest Contributor. Posted in Media, Opinion, Politics

Tagged: , , , ,

Published on November 22, 2012 with 17 Comments

By Andrea Prichett, guest contribution

Editor’s Note: Ms. Prichett is responding to a recent op-ed by Brian Edwards-Tiekert.

November 23, 2012

It is not clear to me that Mr. Edwards-Tiekert actually believes what he is saying. Hopefully, he is just moved in the heat of intense electioneering. His November 19th guest editorial to the Fog City Journal, “Why I’m Supporting SaveKPFA in KPFA’s Board Election” makes me think that he is not really able to see, let alone understand, the motives of those who are not exclusively driven by the need for funds and fundraising.

And no, the issue is not austerity for its own sake. Fundraising is important, but only is as much as it serves the mission of the station. The issue is about serving our community.

KPFA serves as the one point of contact for local organizing and provides exposure to others who might share a like mind. It is the life-blood of Bay Area movements for change. According to the mission statement of Pacifica, we would be wrong to base all of our programming decisions on who makes the most money during the morning drive time or which show raises the most money. We actually have a mission; to give voice to the voiceless.

Long before I was elected to the Local Station Board in 2009, and before the movement to democratize, I remember when Jerry Brown had the four o’clock slot on weekdays. He was an example of what KPFA should never be; condescending, dismissive, and exclusive. He used the airwaves to further his own ambitions and, maybe he was a good fundraiser. But is that what we want? Is that the only criteria? Fortunately, one by-product of the struggles of 1999 was that Hard Knock Radio took over that 4pm time slot. Although it may not be the biggest “money maker”, it provides news and culture, it appeals to diverse and younger audiences (people under 50) and it is connecting this station to cutting edge local struggles that will win the loyalty of various communities around the Bay Area. Deciding how to balance our need for funding with the urgent need to serve our community is a delicate task.

Our candidates with United for Community Radio advocate that there be a process for making these kinds decisions. We have supported re-establishment of the program council several times. Most recently, our delegates supported a vote in which a Program Council, including two listener representatives, would begin to evaluate programs based on a number of considerations. The “Save” KPFA people voted to limit the program council to just staff and management. In fact, some of the SaveKPFA folks were in power when the last Program Council was simply ignored and allowed to languish and die. They believe that only “professionals” should have a say in what programs are offered. We believe that KPFA is a unique experiment in community radio and in order to serve the community, we must take every opportunity to include the community.

Brian also refers to a “purge” that happened at the station. Perhaps he calls it a “purge” ,but the rest of us know a seniority list when we see one. The shrill protests about purges and diabolical motives is a bit of drama that only inflames the pain of KPFA’s internal divisions. Yet, Brian’s slate (he is campaigning to be a staff representative) has the mic and access to a site they call “KPFAWorker” even though it doesn’t officially represent staff, paid or unpaid. They will probably be able to disseminate their analysis far and wide. But Brian, I just want to remind you that you are the steward of a great resource and I wish you held it with a greater sense of responsibility to the truth,. You are a point of contact for so many. I wish you felt more of a sense of responsibility to them.

Your narrative account of the aftermath of the seniority list layoffs is contrary to what the record shows. As a currently serving board member, I am not allowed to provide details of personnel issues. However, I can mention as a matter of public record that the staff who sued all eventually lost their cases before the NLRB. To this day, I believe that the dramatic shift that occurred as a result of that round of lay-offs may have saved the station. It was horrible and shocking, but we did get the budget back into line. We stopped the financial hemorrhage.

The “balanced budget” that Brian claims that SaveKPFA proposed was a matter of fiction. Remember that an optimistic board can get rid of a deficit in no time flat- just INCREASE the PROJECTION for listener donations. Make it as big as you wish it to be. If you got a big donation this year, just go ahead and pretend that another one just has to come. If you have the majority, I guess you can pass your own budgets, make your own projections, but that doesn’t make them balanced or just. Really, that is no way to balance a budget when we are already skating so close to the edge.

The main demographic of the listening community is white males over 50. They also have the most money. What principles exist to make sure that we don’t simply put on programming that will appeal to one single community just because they are able to give money?

In fact, we should not become accustomed to expanding our level of staffing until we have expand the base of listener support. For all of the shifting in fundraising that SaveKPFA has done, they have done nothing to attract new listeners. We had 22,000 listener members in 2010. Now we hover around 19,000. If the all-we-need-is-more-staff crowd were right, then we never would have had a downturn. But we did because great programming is not all we need. We need involved communities who don’t just listen but who participate! We need to forge deep ties within our listener community.

We need to have some balance. Yes, we need money, but we need a lot of things. Our main objective is simple and clear; to make our diverse programming available to those who want to hear it.

The UCR ticket believes in the network. By maintaining five centers of journalistic training, sound production and information management, we strengthen our movement. The SaveKPFA people have been so hostile to the very idea of a network that maybe now, after witnessing the outpouring of love and support for New York station WBAI that was badly damaged by hurricane Sandy, they will realize that together we are stronger. It is not good enough to just worry about KPFA. We must be good stewards of all that is owned by the people, through Pacifica.

The Pacifica Network makes it possible to balance a rich local programming grid with news that we all, as Californians or as Americans, need to know. That is the beauty of a well-run network. It can make lots of content available for re-broadcast on other stations and individual stations can choose whether to broadcast it. And although the network is not perfect, it is amazing that the Pacifica stations are part of a republic of stations that all have an empowered voice in how the network is run. We have the democratic process that allows each LSB to send delegates to the Pacifica National Board. What system would the opposition propose?

KPFA is not just a radio station. It is the hub of a large movement of resistance and nobody can lay claim to it. Let us build a better democracy within the station or else we risk being taken over from either outside or within. We are United for Community Radio at