Six years ago hundreds of KPFA-FM listeners poured into the streets surrounding the downtown Berkeley studios minutes after drive-time programmer Dennis Bernstein cried for help on the air. The popular host was being arrested, hauled out of the listener-sponsored radio station on the orders of his bosses, the Pacifica Foundation Board of Directors.
Pacifica, which holds the licenses for KPFA, KPFK Los Angeles, KPFT Houston, WBAI New York and WPFW Washington, D.C., was commandeering the Berkeley station after months of conflict with local programmers and listeners. The national board had already removed a popular general manager and ousted staff with the temerity to denounce the manager’s termination on the air.
The July 13, 1999 arrests and lock-out at KPFA were followed by months during which thousands of people marched, picketed, broadcast via the Internet and camped out in front of the station. Staff, volunteers and listeners chanted in one voice: “Whose station? Our station!”
Three lawsuits and dozens of protests later, the old national board and management were out and a new national board, with new bylaws and a new national executive director – Dan Caughlin, a news director fired by the old board – was in. It was, as protesters had demanded: “our” station.
But the unity of “us” was short lived.
Today, both the Berkeley and New York stations are in turmoil. Once a hero, Bernstein is being sued, accused of a pattern of harassing female co-workers. KPFA General Manager Roy Campanella II, on the job for a little more than half a year, is blamed for ignoring allegations of harassment. He’s even accused of harassing and demeaning women at the station and attempting to intimidate those who would report the abuse, charges he forcefully denies.
A major issue that sparked the 1999-2001 fight was the right of listener-sponsors to access the network’s financial records. Now again a group of listener and board members contends that current national management refuses to allow inspection of financial records. They also say KPFA management is squelching democracy by ignoring recommendations of its Program Council. (The KPFA Program Council is made up of listeners and staff appointed by the Local Station Board, which is elected by KPFA’s listener-sponsors.)
Disabled listeners and programmers are threatening lawsuits, claiming the Pacifica stations may be legally accessible, but that practically, disabled producers face restricted access. And the national executive director has left – pushed out, some say, although he claims to have left voluntarily. At New York’s WBAI, where new local interim management has just been put in place, fundraising has plummeted and popular programmers have been fired.
Pacifica Without Peace
Listeners tune to KPFA to learn of efforts to stop war in Iraq and halt police violence at home. Aggressive behavior inside the radio station, however, generally hovers under the radar. Former Flashpoints co-host Noelle Hanrahan’s much-publicized lawsuit accuses Flashpoints Executive Producer Dennis Bernstein (who did not return calls) of sexual harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination, and the previous management of not taking the complaints seriously. It has brought listener attention back to the station.
Others besides Hanrahan have called KPFA a hostile workplace. One of those is Solange Echeverria, who has now left the station. She says in a memo posted online at KPFK Listener Forum that “unfair treatment, favoritism, abuse and hostile working conditions on the Flashpoints program (were) perpetrated by Executive Producer Dennis Bernstein...” Further, Echeverria alleges that when she reported the situation to Campanella, “I was met with complete disrespect and disregard.”
Though unwilling to comment on specific personnel issues, Campanella responded briefly to a question about what he could do about allegations against Bernstein. He said he is unable to judge the veracity of the claims of out-of-control behavior aimed particularly at females because Bernstein’s personnel files have been destroyed.
Complaints lodged against Campanella were to be discussed by the Local Station Board behind closed doors Sunday. However, because the meeting was not properly noticed, the board received a report from attorney Dan Siegel, who investigated the allegations, but did not deliberate, according to board members. The discussion will be held at a July 9 closed session; the board can recommend discipline or termination of a general manager, but the decision lies with the Pacifica executive director.
The board was also to look at a June 11 letter (acquired by the Daily Planet), where 15 paid and unpaid female staff accuse Campanella of “inappropriate, gender-biased, and disturbing behavior.” Allegations include asking female subordinates on dates, demeaning women, not supporting a woman verbally abused by her supervisor and retaliating against women who participated in a Pacifica investigation of his conduct.
The letter concludes: “Having such behavior take place at an institution committed to social justice and gender equality has been deeply disturbing to us. The union of paid staff workers, Communications Workers of America Local 9415, has officially demanded an end to a hostile work environment for the women of the station….”
The allegations are false, Campanella says, questioning why incidents that occurred in December, and which were investigated by Pacifica at the time, would be raised again six months later. Campanella concedes he asked staff – both men and women – to go to movies, but argues it was “never presented as a date.” He said he apologized and stopped asking staff to join him when he was told it made people uncomfortable. Further, he said he neither demeaned women nor queried them about their responses to a Pacifica investigation.
Money and Power
Program possibilities are limited by the number of hours in a day, and programming funds are determined by the economics of the 56-year-old listener-sponsored station. So it’s not surprising that tensions that boil over in KPFA’s hallways and production studios are often the result of maneuvers for airtime and funding.
Weyland Southon, executive producer of Hard Knock Radio, a five-day-a-week show aiming its mélange of “news, views, breaks, and beats” at the urban hiphop community, says management does not give his show the respect and funding it deserves.
“There needs to be a redistribution of the land and the wealth in KPFA,” Southon says, pointing to a five-year struggle for phone lines, computers, paychecks and office space.
Programmers go to their listeners for donations four times a year, but some shows attract wealthier listeners. “Our community doesn’t have deep pockets,” says Anita Johnson, Hard Knock programmer and co-founder. The younger crowd is more likely to contribute at fundraising concerts, she said.
Southon discussed the concert fundraiser idea with Campanella. His version of the story is that Campanella shot down the plan, saying funds raised must go back to the common station pot. Campanella told the Daily Planet that Hard Knock can fund-raise independently, pass funds through Pacifica, and get them back for their programming.
Escalating tensions between Campanella and Southon were reported to have come close to blows early last month. Southon filed a grievance, and in support, the Communications Workers of America alleged that “Mr. Campanella was recently involved in an incident where he followed an employee, Weyland Southon, outside of the building apparently to commit physical violence. Such conduct constitutes an assault… Mr. Campanella, in his position as a General Manager representing KPFA, is expected to defuse possibly violent situations, rather than inciting or participating in them. It is our belief that this incident creates a potential for both criminal and civil litigation against KPFA.”
Siegel’s report on the incident was to be part of the board’s closed-door discussions Sunday. At that meeting, the board was also to receive memos supporting the general manager, including one from KPFA Business Manager Lois Withers that says she observed Campanella remain calm in the face of violent challenges from others. In another memo, KPFA’s chief engineer, Michael Yoshida, praises Campanella for keeping his door open to discussion in the face of hostility.
The interaction with Southon has been blown out of proportion, Campanella argues. The two never made physical contact, he says. “I’m a New Yorker,” he says in his defense, and asking Southon to go outside was a “sarcastic remark.” He added, however, “It shouldn’t have been made.”
Stephanie Hendricks, interim Sunday Salon producer, defends Campanella, even though their working relationship hasn’t always been easy. “He’s gruff. He needs to become more compassionate,” she said, noting, however, that when there have been disagreements, she’s found him open to working through the issues. “The attacks against Roy are not honest or forthright,” she says. “They are ego-driven.”
Hard Knock’s Johnson says support for the program has to come from the highest ranks of Pacifica. The highest ranks of Pacifica, however, are in some disarray with the June 15 exit of the executive director and his temporary replacement by Pacifica Board Chair Ambrose Lane, who has stepped down as chair while acting as the corporation’s chief executive. “We’re asking for a chance to develop and grow,” Johnson says. “We all love KPFA. We all want to support it. It needs to stay truly progressive. We need community support. Community is what makes the station.”
But attachment to the station is not enough. Because, in Southon’s estimation, KPFA is offering insufficient resources, he and his crew plan to create an independent entity and produce Hard Knock away from the station, similar to the model Amy Goodman constructed when she took Democracy Now! out of WBAI. (Goodman’s independently produced show airs on Pacifica stations and numerous other radio and TV outlets across the country.)
LaVarn Williams, local and national board member, expressed little sympathy for the plight of Hard Knock Radio and other programs asking for more funds. “Everyone wants more staff,” she said. “Roy (Campanella) has indicated that is not the best use of resources.” She thinks paid staff is “bloated” and needs to be reduced by attrition.
“Are we here to build up staff or are we here to build up programming?” Williams asked. “We need to bring ideas from those who are not paid, rather than building up fiefdoms.” Staff and equipment should be shared among shows to equalize resource distribution, she said.
Follow the Money — If You Can
Under the circa 1999 iron-fisted rule of Pacifica Chair Mary Francis Berry, network supporters had no idea how their donations were spent. Financial transparency became key to the reform movement.
But LaVarn Williams and other members of the People’s Radio listener group (www.peoplesradio.net) say financial data is still difficult to access. Earlier this month, some 15 people demonstrated in front of the Pacifica offices, calling for fiscal transparency.
“A director has the absolute right to inspect records (and) books at any reasonable time,” said Richard Phelps, local station board and People’s Radio member, and an attorney advising Williams and Patty Heffley, WBAI representative on the national board. “I don’t want to disrupt the institution; I want to make it responsible.”
According to CWA Shop Steward and Morning Show co-host Philip Maldari, part of the access problem is that personal information, including social security numbers, is filed with financial data. Files should be redacted before being made public, he said, adding that the employee union also wants transparent station finances. “Our only concern is confidentiality,” he said.
Satisfied with the financial data she gets at monthly meetings, KPFA board member Sherry Gendelman says that claims that Pacifica is hiding information stem from mistrust of the national organization built up during the 1999-2001 period.
Unknown to many listeners, a battle has been raging at the station for a year or so concerning the Program Council’s proposal for a time change for the news magazine Democracy Now! The fundamental question is who makes the decision: the KPFA Program Council chosen by the elected board or a professional.
Richard Phelps says Campanella should implement the change as per the Program Council’s request. He asks: “Should (the general manager) do what is right for the station and the listeners… and implement the time change or should he capitulate to those ‘turf before mission’ staff… and let them continue to control major programming decisions despite our new bylaws that are designed to move us into democratic process and decision-making and away from patronage?”
Mary Berg, programmer and Local Station Board member, argues that the Program Council is advisory only, and that programming decisions must be left to the general manager, who should study data to determine the time most people are listening. Having taken a position on this issue in opposition to the People’s Radio group, Berg says “there are people I’ve know for 20 years who no longer speak to me.”
Seeds of Dissent
Gendelman, an attorney who led the local board during the crisis period, says mistrust hurts relations among board members and extends to mistrust of KPFA employees. The factionalism prevents the local board from doing its work of bringing in creative programming and outreaching to underserved communities, Gendelman said.
Historian Matthew Lasar, author of Pacifica Radio, discussed the People’s Radio movement in an e-mail to the Daily Planet: “I think that some of the dissident energy surrounding KPFA right now is fueled by a sense of nostalgia for the collectivist vision that characterized KPFA in the 1970s … [when various political groups] emphasized collective, consensus decision making, not only as a good way to get things done, but as a way of life.”
Over time, Pacifica has moved far from that structure, he said. “After years of bitter struggle, Pacifica's governors tended to see the organization’s active listeners and volunteers as their enemy, and often regarded professional consultants tied to mainstream public broadcasting as their friends,” Lasar wrote. Taken to the extreme, this trend helped provoke the 1999-2001 crisis, he believes.
The dissident movement captured station governance, instituted elections for Local Station Boards and created a representative national board. But tensions between democracy and professionalism run high. Lasar explains: “Substantial disagreements remain about the extent to which democracy should prevail at Pacifica and KPFA. It is one thing to put listener-subscriber elected Local Station Board delegates on hiring committees for the general manager and program director. It is another thing to allow them to appoint “community” and “listener” representatives to the Program Council, which makes decisions about what KPFA should broadcast. Does this system truly bring the “community” into the process? Or does it just expose KPFA programming to narrow-minded pressure campaigns?”
While fires flare internally, listeners still tune to Pacifica to hear what’s really happening in Haiti and Iraq. There’s new women’s programming; the voices of disabled people, younger people and people of color are growing stronger on the air, and there are plans for a national Spanish-language news show.
“The conflict is not preventing us from doing our mission,” says Philip Maldari. “Democracy is a pretty difficult thing to do.”