Public Comment

Putting the Community Back in Community Radio at KPFA

By Akio Tanaka
Thursday September 03, 2009 - 11:15:00 AM

As many Berkeley Daily Planet readers are aware, the 2009 election for the KPFA Local Station Board has now begun. Although most candidates running for the board claim to espouse progressive politics, there is a clear difference in the direction each wants to take KPFA. 

The “Concerned Listeners” (CL), who have held the majority on the board for the last three years, want to make the station more “professional and mainstream,” as expressed in their coy slogan, “quality radio with a radical edge,” which suggests they would prefer that KPFA focus on superficial technical “quality” while toning down the radical content, shifting it away from the heart of KPFA to the “edge.” They believe that the management should set station policy and make programming decisions. 

The “Independents for Community Radio” (ICR) want to put the community back in community radio; it is our belief that programming decisions and other significant station policies need to be made collaboratively. 

KPFA subscribers can see the distinct differences between the CL and the ICR by looking at two issues: programming decision-making and the status of unpaid staff. 

On programming, the CL platform says: “We think bodies like the Program Council are vital to the development of new programming at KPFA, but we think such bodies are advisory.” “If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, we shudder to think what radio station programming would be like if it was designed by the Program Council.” 

The CL seems to distrust participatory decision-making and prefers that all power be vested in management. This is the rule in commercial media, but the ICR thinks community radio should follow a more democratic process. The Program Council was a well-established institution at KPFA and included representatives of the paid staff, unpaid staff, LSB, and listeners. 

In fact, the Program Council made most of the programming decisions from 2003 until 2007, a period when the Program Director job was vacant. Among the programs the council brought to KPFA’s airwaves were APEX Express, Bay Native Circle, Education Today, Guns & Butter, Voices of the Middle East, the Women’s Magazine, and Youth Radio. The council, when it was allowed to function, was an embodiment of the principle of “fair and collaborative” decision-making required by the Pacifica Foundation bylaws. In fact, KPFA’s Local Station Board passed a resolution in 2004 formalizing the decision-making authority of the Program Council. However, the present managers have ignored that resolution, claimed the power to make programming decisions unilaterally, and halted Program Council meetings altogether. And since Sasha Lilley became Program Director in 2006, no new permanent public-affairs programs have been created at KPFA. During her tenure, our “progressive” radio station has mostly stood still—or even regressed: management canceled Youth Radio in 2007. The ICR candidates call for the Program Council to be promptly restored and its decision-making role respected.  

On the status of the Unpaid Staff Organization, the CL platform claims the UPSO’s “criteria for membership violate Pacifica bylaws.” They also insinuate that unpaid staff are “packing” the unpaid-staff organization with “people who have only a tangential relationship to KPFA, thus allowing this sectarian group to control which staff members get elected to the LSB.” 

In fact, the Unpaid Staff Organization has been around for about 30 years, during the tenure of many managers, and its standards for membership do NOT violate Pacifica bylaws. The bylaws specifically authorize unpaid-staff organizations to set their own membership criteria (Article Three, Section 1B). 

There has been no attempt to “pack” the unpaid staff organization. Although volunteers come and go, the total number of qualified unpaid staff has remained relatively constant, at slightly under 200. These KPFA workers are the majority of the staff and are responsible for a majority of KPFA’s programs and broadcast hours. They are news reporters, DJs, public-affairs hosts, and members of the KPFA Apprenticeship Program. It is shameful for the Concerned Listeners to refer to these programmers, who give generously of their time for no compensation, as “tangential to KPFA.” Without its unpaid staff, KPFA could not exist. Equally disgraceful is that the CL candidates who come from a labor background can stoop to rhetorically attacking the UPSO, a workers’ organization (and the nearest thing KPFA’s unpaid staff has to a union). 

KPFA subscribers should be concerned about the Concerned Listeners doctrine of concentrated management power, and its disrespect for the unpaid staff; this approach to radio could turn KPFA into another mainstream station and marginalize the listener community. 

The Independents for Community Radio are for putting community back in community radio. 

The candidates endorsed by the Independents for Community Radio are Akio Tanaka, Henry Norr, Banafsheh Akhlaghih, Andrea Pritchett, Eveyln Sanchez, Lara Kiswani, Adam Hudson, Rahman Jamaal, Sasha Futran, Annie Hallat and Shara Esbenshade. Read more about them at www.indyradio2009. org. 



Akio Tanaka lives in Oakland and is a member of Independents for Community Radio.