Public Comment

Commentary: Other Choices for KPFA Host are Possible

By Richard Phelps
Tuesday July 31, 2007

I am writing given your recent editorial comment about KPFA’s new Sunday Morning talk show host, Peter Laufer and his reply. Some history is important. Right after Larry Bensky announced that he was leaving the Sunday Morning show I approached Sasha Lilley, the recently appointed interim program director, while at an event at the Berkeley Unitarian-Universalists Hall at Cedar and Bonita. I suggested that they should consider breaking up the two-hour block and getting some diversity in that time slot: Women, people of color, and political diversity. Having the same politics controlling the questions and direction of the interviews every Sunday can get tiresome and redundant. Having different expressions from diverse people with diverse politics could reach more people and be much more interesting.  

With eight hours a month there were lots of possibilities. Four hosts rotating each week, two hours a week or one hour each week, or eight hosts with one hour per month. The possibilities were numerous. I also pointed out that they could all help during fund raising and thus reach a much larger audience. Also, with them all being volunteers it would cut down the payroll expenses. As I recall KPFA has the highest payroll expense of the five Pacifica stations and the highest percentage of payroll to funds raised in the network. 

What did we get? Two hours a week from a reasonable facsimile of what we have had for several years. No women, no people of color and no political diversity. I raised this issue with Lemlem Rijio, the interim general manager, and suggested that we had local folks that have developed political analyses and that it would be interesting to have them on the air one hour a month, someone like Michael Parenti. She sent back an e-mail race baiting me for suggesting a white male. Mind you, I suggested him as part of widening political diversity and as part of breaking up the Sunday segment and including people of color and women on Sunday morning. Her decision was to give the entire two hours every week to an older white male with politics very similar to the older white male he replaced, as far as I can tell.  

The Program Council was not included in the process of deciding how to fill the time. As far as I know the Local Station Board (LSB) was not consulted about this decision, not that it is required and yet a meet and confer on such important issues would be helpful toward better communications and transparency. Perhaps some of the LSB members that support anything the current management does were consulted. I wouldn’t know since I am not part of that group. My allegiance is to the Pacifica Mission, transparency, accountability and democratic process.  

As to my thoughts about the new host. I find him boring, arrogant and rude to our listeners, the people who pay his salary. Peter Laufer interrupts every guest and almost every person that calls in. Perhaps we have a different perspective on talk shows. I think they are to bring on interesting people to see what they have to say and to invite our listeners to participate. I see the host as a facilitator to allow the guests and the listeners to dialogue and debate on important issues. Mr. Laufer seems to feel that he needs to overly control the process and constantly interject his views. Sure sometimes one needs to bring the program back to the topic and that doesn’t require constant interruption. Here is an example of what I am talking about: Sunday July 8 at 1:44.10 on the archive recording Mr. Laufer interrupted an articulate African-American woman caller, Dee, who was trying to make a point about the lack of anti-war activity in the communities where most of the youth that are going to Iraq come from. When he interrupted her, less than one minute into her comment, she asked if she could finish her thought and he responded as follows: “Yeh, yeh, I have a propensity to know where someone is going and to get on to the next point because I just watch the clock tick, Dee, and I know how long you waited and I want to get on the other Dees out there.”  

On a personal level I found this offensive. On a political level, for a white male host of a station that is supposed to be working toward racial harmony and diversity, to tell an African-American Woman caller that he knows what she is going to say and must interrupt her is beyond belief. Perhaps if he knew this woman or she sounded like a nut case his conduct could possibly be justified. If you listen to the archive you will see that neither apply. He doesn’t have to agree with her point and he should at least let her finish it without telling her he knows all and must interrupt her. This is no way to build an audience or increase subscribers on a station like KPFA.  

I am not talking off the top of my head, I worked as a radio announcer for five-plus years both AM and FM in my young adult years and I have hosted several LSB Shows with call-ins on KPFA. I have been a listener/subscriber for 33 years and an LSB member for two-plus years, and I spent 14 months as chair of the LSB. I have also participated on several LSB and Pacifica National Board committees.  


Richard Phelps is an Oakland attorney  

and mediator.