Public Comment

KPFA: Ten Years After the 1999 Hijack Attempt

By Richard Phelps
Thursday July 16, 2009 - 10:47:00 AM

After mass listener support rescued KPFA and Pacifica from a self-appointed Pacifica National Board (PNB) that was planning to sell KPFA or one of the other stations and take the “community” out of the network, new democratic bylaws were written and adopted. Pacifica’s bylaws state a commitment for peace and social justice, Article One, Section 3. It seems inconceivable that peace and social justice can even be approached with out a democratic process with transparency and accountability. As Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

As Pacifica embarked on its new democratic path it became clear is that everyone that fought the hijackers didn’t do so for the same reason! Most listener activists and some staff supported the new democratic process and welcomed the involvement and input of the listener/subscribers who are the regular audience and the financial supporters of the station and Pacifica.  

At KPFA some staff and their supporters sought to defeat the hijackers so that they could control KPFA and make the decisions about who/what gets air time and who gets the paid jobs. This latter group has used the power of the stations progressive reputation and the power of the microphone to maintain control and frustrate the new bylaws in many ways. The staff group I am referring to was identified by an e-mail from Brian Edwards-Tiekert to the other “insiders” that became public in 2005. You can read the e-mail at The author acknowledged its authenticity. Their group now claims that it never met to discuss “dismantling the Local Station Board (LSB),” aka the democratic process, or “how do we make our enemies own the problems that are to come.” This group has been supported by their electoral counter part, first called KPFAForward (2004) and now Concerned Listeners (CL).  

In the five-plus years under this leadership group KPFA subscribers have gone from 28,000 in 2003 to 20,000 now! That is a 28 percent decrease while they increased the paid staff by 50 percent. Bringing us a $300,000 deficit this year. At the same time they refused to do anything about the financial problems hurting Pacifica. Their conduct actually precipitated a major financial crisis at Pacifica.  

Let’s see what these folks have done toward “dismantling the LSB.” In 2003 the KPFA Program Council, made up of paid and unpaid staff and listeners, voted to move Democracy Now! (DN!) to Prime time, 7-8 a.m. and move the morning show to 8-10 a.m. There was/is significant listener demand/support for this time change. It is common practice and common sense to put your most popular/dynamic program in prime time. In May 2004 the LSB voted to move DN! to prime time as per the Program Council’s prior vote. This has never been implemented. Why? 

In 2007 GM Lemlem Rijio, quietly ended the Program Council. The LSB’s CL majority ignored the previous Resolution codifying the Program Council and did nothing to save the Program Council.  

In 2007 GM Rijio took away the official status of the Unpaid Staff Organization (UPSO). UPSO existed to represent the unpaid staff at KPFA, more than 200 people. These are the people who do the majority of the work that goes on the air.  

The CL slate literature for the 2006 and 2007 LSB elections was silent on the important issues of the Program Council, UPSO and the DN! move to prime time 

In 2009 the CL LSB majority voted to meet only once every other month, instead of every month as all the other stations do and KPFA had done for five years. They ignored the backlog of work to be done and how it delayed the selection of LSB members to important PNB committees. 

Over a year ago they took the link to the LSB page off the front page of the KPFA web site. They don’t announce the LSB meetings on the front page of the web site and often don’t announce them on the air as required by the bylaws. 

How has the CL maintained its slim majority on the LSB? Here are some of the dirty tricks they have used to dominate the elections. In 2006 and 2007 GM Rijio refused to allow any election information to be broadcast when the ballots were sent out. Rijio’s justification was that there was a fund drive in progress despite election information being broadcast during fund drives at other Pacifica stations. In 2006 and 2007 CL spent thousands of dollars and sent out a slate mailer to arrive with the ballots during the election information black out, imposed by their ally GM Rijio. To top that off, in 2007 when they finally did run some candidate carts, they ran all 22 at once, with CL candidate Sherry Gendelman’s first.  

After the 2007 KPFA election there was only one news story on KPFA about the election. Interviewed were Sherry Gendelman, Matthew Lasar, a CL endorser, and Dan Siegel and Larry Bensky both CL allies and supporters and both guilty of using station or Foundation resources to support CL or attack their opponents in violation of election ethics. No listener activist candidates were interviewed. Why is there a FOX in our newsroom?  

In the upcoming election there will be ample airtime for the election since the new PNB majority has resolved that it will be so. Bonnie Simmons, a CL/Rijio group member, recently made a motion to rescind the Resolution to require ample airtime for the election. Does an open inclusive election scare them?  

“Our leadership elite may still want to believe in democratic principles—they certainly profess that they do—but in practice they have shown themselves all too willing to violate those principles in order to gain or retain power”, Cornel West from his book Democracy Matters, page 28. If democracy matters to you, it is time for a new majority on the KPFA LSB.  


Richard Phelps is a former chair of KPFA Local Station Board, a 35-year listener/subscriber and former AM and FM radio announcer.