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KPFA Staff Claims General Manager Threatened Host By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday June 03, 2005

A few tossed chairs and a sidewalk showdown are the latest signs that Berkeley’s peace-loving, left-wing radio station, KPFA, is in the throes of another civil war. 

The latest casualty of the station’s battles may soon be General Manager Roy Campanella II. 

On May 5, Campanella, who has made enemies with several staff members during his short tenure, got into a screaming match with Weyland Southon, the co-host of KPFA’s “Hard Knock Radio” show. 

According to Southon, Campanella, in an expletive-laced harangue, ordered him outside to settle their differences. “I felt like he was going to swing on me,” he said.  

The two didn’t come to blows, but Southon said he didn’t return to work for over a week out of fear for his safety. 

Campanella, under pressure from the KPFA board that had considered placing him on administrative leave, took three days off last week to reflect on the confrontation. 

Campanella said Pacifica, KPFA’s parent network, wouldn’t let him comment for this story. The incident remains under investigation. 

On the day of the fracas, Campanella sent out an e-mail to KPFA staff reminding them that “Pacifica has a policy of zero tolerance for violence in the workplace.”  

The reason for the e-mail was that two days earlier a station engineer hurled four metal chairs during a meeting of the KPFA Program Council. The employee, who has not been disciplined, was furious that the council was set to give a new show to Bill Mandel, a former host who lost his previous show a decade ago.  

For many, Mandel represents the predominantly white old guard at KPFA that younger broadcasters say is keeping them from getting shows, said board member Joe Wanzala. 

“At KPFA, programing is the third rail,” he said. 

In the battle for limited air time, a war has broken out between listener activists who want to change programming they see as either too moderate or stale, and the KPFA staff who feel under siege from their attacks.  

“There is no recognition among the listeners about what is working at the station,” said Susan Stone, the station’s former director of arts and humanity programming. She added that the station’s “culture of complaints” had left staff feeling besieged and the quality of programming lacking. 

“We’re missing the opportunity to develop quality radio because there is so much acrimony over what is owed to whom,” she said.  

Six years ago KPFA had what many consider its finest hour. Faced with a move by Pacifica to moderate the station’s left-wing shows, listeners and staff took to the streets and later the courtroom to win back control of the station, and the four-station Pacifica network. 

Activist listeners who fought the war to democratize Pacifica expected to get a stronger say over programming. But instead they say the staff has succeeded in stonewalling efforts to reform the station.  

“Ther seems to be some [staff] at KPFA that are very suspicious of democracy,” said Stan Woods, a member of People’s Radio, a Pacifica faction that represents listener activists on KPFA’s Local Station Board. The group is opposed by KPFA Forward, which includes staff members and their supporters.  

The staff’s clout, Woods said, was illustrated by the attempt to change the time of Pacifica’s flagship show “Democracy Now.” Despite the support of the program council on which Wood serves and former General Manager Gus Newport, staff resistance has kept the show from moving, Woods said. 

Although staff said there was no connection between the Campanella incident and the programming battle, some People’s Radio members say the two are related. 

“There hadn’t been managerial oversight for quite some time, so the staff could do what they wanted,” said board member and listener activist Chandra Hauptman. “Now that a manager is trying to set up a structure and protocol, the staff is resisting.” 

According to Wanzala, staff opposition forced out Newport after less than a year, and Campanella might meet the same fate. 

“There’s a big push among the staff to get rid of Roy,” he said. 

Although several listener activists gave Campanella lackluster reviews, Wanzala said they fear ousting him would concentrate further power in the staff. 

“If Roy is forced out, it will make it more difficult for listeners to have input on the station,” he said.  

The strife at KPFA so far hasn’t seemed to have cost the station the support of its listeners. The station raised over $1 million during its recent spring pledge drive. 

But Sherry Gimbelman, of KPFA Forward warned that ultimately listeners would not stick around if the station’s behind-the-scenes drama proved more compelling than its shows. 

“Eventually if KPFA doesn’t deliver dynamic programing people will go elsewhere,” she said. “They’re not interested in the 100 years war.”