Public Comment

Commentary: The Struggle for Listener Democracy at KPFA

By Noelle Hanrahan
Friday November 02, 2007

The situation at KPFA radio, some encouraging signs notwithstanding, remains grim. The idea of participatory democracy was conceived as a response to the crisis of the ‘90s, but has yet to take hold. Many members of the KPFA staff, who embraced the concept when it helped save the station, do not support it now that listener members have been given real governing power. In other words, while the 'savepacifica' era was characterized by solidarity between staff and listeners, the 'save(d)pacifica' era has been characterized by polarization between these two groups. 

The station management, as well as some staff, perceives KPFA’s listener members and the Local Station Board (LSB) as a threat to their control of the airwaves. Those in charge would prefer that the “unprofessional” volunteers” who help run the station take no active role in station governance or programming decision-making. They function autocratically and consider such entities as the Program Council to be a mere obstacle they can easily bypass. When Larry Bensky retired the Program Council which had been making programming decisions at KPFA for the last four years was not consulted about what to do with his time slot. Out of a pool of over 60 candidates, mainstream political pundit Peter Laufer (another older white male) was selected. Apparently no thought was given to dividing up the time among younger, more diverse, non-white voices. 

History is repeating itself and the agenda of the old Pacifica National Board (PNB) is still manifest among some who were ostensibly involved in the effort to save Pacifica. In October, 2005, Fred Dodsworth of the East Bay Daily News quoted current board member and Concerned Listener candidate, Sherry Gendelman as saying: "the board is bitterly divided…’undemocratic' is the mantra they're using to bring the network down. They're attacking the paid staff. They want to reduce the staff and move in more esoteric conspiracy theorists. Nonprofit community radio is still a business and it needs to be run professionally, by professionals...". 

Gendelman's advocacy against “unprofessional volunteers” at the station suggests that she, and her allies on the LSB and on the staff, either do not grasp what the struggle to save Pacifica was about or have resolved, without irony, to lead the station down the same path that the old PNB tried but failed to do. In many respects, we are again where we stood a decade ago. This time the effort is to drive the “community” out of community radio. 

The Concerned Listener group has sought to increase their power and influence on the KPFA LSB by cultivating ties to the local Wellstone Democratic Club. For the second year in a row they are running a slate of candidates for the LSB. While some LSB members who were part of last year’s Concerned Listener ticket seem to be charting their own paths, there remains a core group who are closely linked to KPFA’s interim General Manager (iGM) Lemlem Rijjio and interim Program Director (iPD) Sasha Lilley. Significantly this latter group abstained when the LSB, at its August, 2007 meeting, voted to support a resolution requesting that the iGM rescind her decision to de-certify KPFA’s 17 year old unpaid staff organization. 

Beyond seeking to eviscerate democratic governance, the Concerned Listener group has also sought to re-write the history of the Program Council. The 'Orientation Packet for Concerned Listeners,' a document apparently put together by the group's leaders, contains talking points which misinform the otherwise uninformed Concerned Listener candidates about recent station history. For example, the packet tells the candidates that the Program Council never had decision-making power, and that the dispute between the iGM and the unpaid staff organization has been resolved. Both pieces of this false mantra have been repeated on the air and elsewhere by Concerned Listener candidates who do not appear to have performed their own independent due diligence about what is really going on at the station. 

In closing let us urge you, who are eligible to vote in this election, to support independent, progressive-minded candidates. It is important that you select independent candidates who best epitomize listener democracy and who want to achieve it through collaboration and consensus with those on both sides of the political divide. 

Please consider voting for the I-Team: Integrating Independence and Integrity (names listed in alphabetical order): Steve Conley, Chandra Hauptman, Joe Wanzala and Tracy Rosenberg. For more info check out their website: 


Noelle Hanrahan 

Adrienne Lauby 

Henry Norr 

Sepideh Khosrowjah 

Akio Tanaka  

Hep Ingham  

Perrine Kelly