The mood was somber at a late-afternoon rally Wednesday in front of the KPFA studios on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The horrific events of the destruction in the east reinforced the need for a strong nation-wide network of radio stations that act as an alternative to CNN and the other TV networks, radio host Larry Bensky told the crowd of about 75 people, adding, as he asked them to join hands, that he was originally from Brooklyn and personally felt the loss of the people in the World Trade Center.
But the rally wasn’t called to talk about the terrorist hits or about the government reaction to them. People had come to talk about the state of the radio station.
Earlier on Wednesday the Pacifica board had held a telephone meeting during which they had chosen five new board members. They include Marion Barry, former Washington, D.C. mayor, actor Dick Gregory and three other lesser-known people.
The Pacifica Foundation holds the license to KPFA and four other stations around the country. Local station employees and supporters, and groups of Pacifica listeners around the country, have been at odds with the board for more than 18 months, claiming that it does not operate democratically, that it has squandered the listeners’ donations - the station is listener-funded – and that it has not opened its books even to its governing board to show how it spends its money.
The new members were chosen by the board consisting of five “dissident” members – those questioning board policy – and six other members.
Standing in the crowd outside the station, KPFA programmer Robbie Osman said that the board did not allow the “dissidents” time to submit names, but Michael Powell of Westhill Partners, the board’s public relations firm, said, in a phone interview Wednesday, that the nomination period was made clear to board members.
“There was a 30-day notice for nominations to be filed,” he said. The board received “just those five.”
“There was no process at all,” countered programmer Mary Berg, a speaker at the rally and a Local Advisory Board member. Normally, candidates’ names must come through the governing board or are submitted from a Local Advisory Board, but that did not happen in this case.
Moreover, “There was no information on the candidates” at the time the board voted, Berg said.
With the new governing board of 16 members, seven are from the Washington, D.C. area and two are from the KPFA listening area.
“Two people from the Bay Area are not enough,” said KPFA Station Manager Jim Bennett.
The board tries to “reach out and get geographical representation,” Westhill Partners’ Powell said, noting that, like KPFA, the KPFT station in Houston has only two representatives.
Defending the board majority’s actions, Powell said that “the opposition is hell-bent on knocking people off the board.” There have been demonstrations at various board members’ places of work and their homes, as well as e-mail campaigns. Powell claimed that some board members had received death threats.
“The new directors replace four previous board members who had resigned in recent months as the result of an organized campaign of threats, intimidation and harassment by a vocal minority of Pacifica opponents,” said a press release sent out by Westhill Partners.
Supporters of the opposition to the board went to court in Oakland Tuesday to try to stop the election of the new members, but failed in their attempt. (The court heard the arguments as part of pre-trial motions for several lawsuits that listeners and programmers have filed against the board.)
“We’re trying as hard as we know how to do what this organization was founded to do,” Larry Bensky told the crowd, noting, however, that Pacifica had not been paying the station’s bills, even though KPFA raised the amount required by Pacifica at every fundraising period.
Bensky railed against New York station WBAI for not airing the morning magazine show, “Democracy Now!” which has been producing its shows at a community television studio, due to alleged threats against programmer Amy Goodman when she was doing the show at the station. The show, which airs currently on KPFA from 9-11 a.m., is especially important at this juncture, when people are trying to understand the destruction in the east and its aftermath, Bensky said.
Lawyers for Goodman and for the station are talking, trying to mediate the situation, Powell said, noting that Goodman’s show “is one of the most popular shows on Pacifica.” When asked, he explained the firings of other WBAI staff as “more due to (poor) ratings.”
There may be an emergency board meeting in two weeks to try to resolve the issues around “Democracy Now!” said Station Manager Bennett. “The board needs to get ‘Democracy Now!’ back on right now.”
“We are the last voice there is,” programmer Mary Berg told the receptive crowd.