Letters to the Editor: Readers Respond to Story of KPFA Turmoil

Friday July 01, 2005

Mary Berg, programmer and member of the KPFA Local Station Board, has informed the Daily Planet that she believes KPFA’s program council is a decision-making body. She told the Planet that she is strongly opposed to the idea that it should be advisory only. She said she agrees with the People’s Radio Group on that point. “Programming decisions should be made by the Program Council working with a program director, if there is one. They should not be left to the station manager,” Berg said, adding that she disagreed with a Program Council decision to move “Democracy Now!” to 7 a.m. “because in my opinion it was poorly thought out and poorly planned, not because the Program Council didn’t have the right to make it. That’s why people who were friends have ostracized me.”  


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Judith Scherr’s June 28 piece, “Turmoil again at KPFA,” is easily the most comprehensive and accurate of the several recent articles in the local press regarding the situation at KPFA. There are a couple of inaccurate statements that I would like to correct. The KPFA Program Council does have decision-making power and has been exercising that power since the “recapture” of the station from the pro-corporate, mainstream Democrat “highjackers’’ in 1999. In November 2003, after months of discussion and debate, we voted to move “Democracy Now!’’ from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. Our logic was simple: The most listened-to show should be broadcast at the most listened-to time. Despite the support of then General Manager Gus Newport and many, many listeners, that decision incurred fierce opposition from a few but influential programmers and was thus never carried out. Shortly after Roy Campanella (the current general manager) arrived at KPFA he stated that he agreed with our decision, planned to implement it, and proposed that “Democracy Now!’’ also be rebroadcast in the evening from 7 to 8 p.m. Like Newport before him, he also encountered a firestorm of opposition from the same people who, as Richard Phelps of Peoplesradio described in Scherr’s article, put “turf before mission” those who feel that they, not the listeners, “own” KPFA and Pacifica. Thus Campanella felt that, given the political reality at the station, he couldn’t carry out our decision at this time. Despite this impasse we have made and have carried out many other programming decisions. Mary Berg, who erroneously stated that the Program Council was “advisory only,” should know better, since she serves on the Program Council as a rep of the unpaid staff organization on the Program Council and has actively participated in our decision-making process! This is only one of several battles between those of us who believe in a Democratic KPFA and Pacifica with open, transparent finances, job postings, and decision-making processes and those who basically, all in the name of “professionalism” of course, want to ape the way the “big boys’’ of the corporate media run their operations. We of Peoplesradio.net, who won six out of the nine listener representative seats on the governing Local Station Board up for reelection last December, are betting that most listeners agree with our perspective.  

Stan Woods 

Listener Representative, KPFA Program Council  


Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to Judith Scherr’s much-appreciated effort to add some background and context to the “Turmoil at KPFA” stories flooding the Bay Area alternative press, I’d just like to make a few comments in regards to KPFA’s Program Council—which I think has been dragged into this story somewhat unfairly. What hasn’t been mentioned and needs to be is that the KPFA Program Council (which has been in existence for 25-plus years) serves an important function as the place where the unpaid volunteers who compose the vast majority of the programmers have input into what the station broadcasts. Without compensation or union protection, these folks, many who have worked for KPFA for a dozen years or more, play an integral role in running the station. Without the access the Program Council provides, they would be entirely closed out of contributing to internal programming discussions. Like board members and community representatives, they bring perspectives to programming decisions that are broad, often informed by their out-of-the-station work and activities, and free of the internal concerns that are always a factor when paychecks are at stake. 

KPFA’s Program Council is numerically dominated by the combination of the volunteer representatives and the paid positions, i.e. there are more “staff” than there are listener-elected reps. It is impossible for any idea, concept or plan to gain majority support in the body without significant support from station workers—as was the case with the proposed “Democracy Now!” time change. The question is when a decision is supported by a razor-thin majority (a lá 51-49 percent), do you charge ahead on a majority rules platform and to heck with the minority and what they think (a position we are all familiar with in Washington), or do you delay and try to work towards a more definite majority? It all depends on whether you value politicized democracy or whether you value collective decision-making. Reasonable people can disagree on this, and do, but to posit that the only two alternatives are managerial dictatorship or slam-bang voting is, in my opinion, a straw man of an argument. If it is to be “our station,” then we need to learn to talk to each other and solve problems together, not institute rigid, pointless (and often unenforceable) mandates, from any source. 

Thank you for mentioning some of the positive things going on (albeit in the last paragraph). There is some exciting programming going on at KPFA and that needs to be said. To address two comments in the article: I’ve been on the Program Council a long time, as both a community representative, and previously, an employee in the programming area, and I’ve seen very few pressure campaigns succeed over the years. The idea that they would stop or cease to be were there no listener representation on the Program Council is absurd. 

If anything, they would become much more intense (as the recent petitions, marches and demonstrations have shown). Pressure campaigns result from lack of access or perceived lack of access. That’s what they’re all about. Engagement with those who pressure to address their concerns as much as possible reduces the pressure. Walling oneself off increases the pressure. And since I have had the pleasure of serving with Mary Berg on the Program Council and through many hundreds of hours of conversation, I can assure you that whatever her position may be on the broadcast time of “Democracy Now!” she does not believe that a Program Council is or should be advisory, irrelevant, or unnecessary. It cannot be in a community-supported and sponsored organization. 

Tracy Rosenberg 

Community Representative/Facilitator, KPFA Program Council 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a 35-year member and listener I have found my politics moving miles ahead of the mostly stagnant, predictable and often boring and passionless Pacifica Radio programming. Basically we are no longer living in 1949 and that year’s mission requirements are way out of date. We have to admit that we the people are all oppressed by the $3 billion used to short-cut elections, voting and free speech protesting which do not add up to democracy and never have under our Constitution which facilitates the use of these vast sums to shackle real democracy. What’s more, my studies concerning the reality of our Constitution teach me that the 40 signers of that legal document never intended anything else to flow from it. They had complete contempt for we the people whom they called the “Great Beast” behind closed doors, and used both violence and deceit to obtain its adoption in nine of the 13 state legislatures. 

With that background and our more and more continual defeats, it is not difficult to understand the turf battles and self-serving actions at Pacifica. When you do not even bring up the obvious need to organize for liberation from oppression rather than pretending that our urgent needs for liberation do not exist and that we are still in 1949. The “we the people” of Venezuela understood that empowerment required a new 1999 people supporting a constitution to replace their privilege- and property-enabling former one, and that is why they have become one of the most democratic nations in our present times. 

Let us prove that a better world is possible if we use our intelligence and believe Albert Einstein when he warned us that repeating the same actions and expecting different results is a form of insanity. 

Werner Hertz 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Noelle Hanrahan is an all-American basketball player and prison-rights activist. Dennis Bernstein is a world-class journalist and radio news producer. Their tussling over control of the tiny Flashpoints on-air studio was inevitable, once they were paired to share production and leadership roles.  

But this conflict has reached the point of no (sensible) return. I want both Dennis and Noelle to put aside their respective egos and bury the hatchet. But not in each other—or, by default, in KPFA.  

Could I suggest a community “coming together party” at Ashkenaz or at a similar venue? I’d be glad to work with anyone to help pull together such an event. 

John Lionheart