Public Comment

New: The Crisis at KPFA Redux

By Tracy Rosenberg
Thursday August 26, 2010 - 10:36:00 AM

This is a response to an essay by Matthew Hallinan called "The Crisis at KPFA 

I know that Save KPFA is worried about KPFA's future. So am I. The difference is how we express those concerns. Matthew is focused like a laser on certain things: the vast Pacifica bureaucracy, and the costs of elections and board meetings. I agree these things should be looked at. It may be that you don't need 8 employees to maintain 5 radio licenses and serve 110 affiliate stations. Certainly the 2% or so of the budget that goes to board election and meeting expenses shouldn't escape scrutiny. 

But what about the other 98%? Does that play no role in the problem? 

Math will tell us that a 15% decline in listener revenues cannot be addressed with a 2% solution. 

What is disheartening in Matthew's essay is the disingenous attacks on anyone trying to examine the other 98% as "out of control" and "out to threaten the professional staff". 

As an incumbent board member, I was just trying to balance the budget. 


Matthew knows this perfectly well. In 2008 and 2009, the Concerned Listeners - Save KPFA majority on the board presented and passed budgets for KPFA that called for massive staff reductions. $300,000 in 2008 and $425,000 in 2009. 

They knew, as surely as the Independents for Community Radio board minority did, that layoffs were unavoidable given the decline in listener donations. 

But the layoffs were never made. Not until the spring of 2010, after the board majority turned over and the manager changed. 

Not until one million dollars, the entire cash reserve in KPFA's bank accounts, had been spent. Leaving not one red cent for a rainy day reserve in the middle of an economic collapse. 

How wildly irresponsible can a board of directors be? 

I don't know if it was carelessness, lack of understanding of math, or a loyalty to some of the professional staff that overwhelmed Save KPFA's common sense. But it was appalling. 

For Matthew to spend any time at all detailing comparatively trivial nonsense is stunning. Where is the awareness of the catastrophe they caused? 

Does Save KPFA not understand the reason KPFA must be saved is their own actions as a board majority? 

A Sadder Little Narrative 

To indulge Matthew a bit on his pet peeves: 

KPFA's Unpaid Staff Organization is 20 years old. It predates the board election process by more than a decade. It was forged in the people of color strikes that occurred at KPFA when movement struggles demanded their place at the table of what had been a largely white, elitist, academic institution. UPSO's purpose was to send representation to programming decision-making and to institute a grievance procedure for the large unpaid workforce. 

I realize Matthew may not know this, but ICR-affiliated staff representative on the board, Renee Yang Geesler, who won the "extra" staff seat last year, is a CWA member and a paid staffer at KPFA. 

An UPSO would have been a big help when Nadra Foster was summarily banned and then beaten up by the Berkeley Police Department in an incident that shamed progressives everywhere in 2008. 

On the other two issues, I can only say Matthew is entitled to his opinion, but his opinion was over-ruled both times on firm legal grounds. 

Noelle Hanrahan, Executive Director of Prision Radio, was entitled to complete the last six months of her board term, despite the outcome of union arbitration proceedings in her favor. 

And former board members whose terms expired on December 5, 2009 were not allowed to remove a board colleague on that day. They were not legally able to take any actions on behalf of a board of directors they were no longer on. 

I agree that such behavior is ugly and unpleasant. I wish Concerned Listeners - Save KPFA would not engage in it. 

Where We Are Taking KPFA 

Leaving aside the petty little battle waged by Concerned Listeners - Save KPFA to avoid losing their majority status in December of 2009: 

Matthew expresses high dudgeon at the 2010 managerial change. But in addition to the million dollars that left the building, another problem emerged in early 2010. 

That problem was a large sum of money, $375,000, that was supposed to be in one of KPFA's bank accounts, but wasn't there according to auditor Helin Donovan LLC. 

Where was it? Why had Pacifica been told the money was in the bank when it wasn't there? 

It turned out the uncashed check had been sitting in a KPFA desk drawer since October of 2008. It was now expired. Oops! 

What was the board to do? Hold someone accountable? Not according to Matthew Hallinan. But yes, according to me and others who now held the majority on the board. That is the responsibility of a nonprofit board of directors. Money has to be where it is reported to be. Otherwise the board is asleep at the wheel. ICR does not intend for KPFA to go the way of the Vanguard Foundation. 

I realize Matthew and most of the rest of the Concerned Listeners crew were not around during the 2002 to 2006 period when KPFA had an active program council and no program director. So he's afraid of what he doesn't understand. 

But in fact, the Program Council on the whole did a great job: adding the excellent Voices of the Middle East and North Africa in 2002, when Arab-Americans were suffering terrible indignities and injustices after 9-11, Guns and Butter, which is one of KPFA's top moneymakers and has been for years, APEX Express - the Asian-Pacific Affairs Show, Pushing Limits, a disability rights program, Education Today with Kitty Kelly Epstein, Full Circle, the training program hour, Rock en Rebelion, the best rock and roll Latin liberation show around, The Women's Magazine and more. Programs that have only added to the richness of KPFA and that reflect vibrant communities here in Northern California. 

Isn't that what we want? 

Matthew is terribly concerned about the "fringes" of popular opinion. Does he forget that Lew Hill was a World War II pacifist who went to jail rather then fight in "The Good War". Now that was an opinion shared only by other "crazies" in 1945. 

He founded this place particularly and specifically to broadcast wildly unpopular perspectives that could never get on the air anywhere else. 

It was a vision so exciting and so radical that it survived for 60 years in spite of itself. 

Despite an eternal lack of money, despite relying largely on volunteers and an overworked and underpaid staff. 

Because that is what community radio is. 

So lets stop all the nonsense, get the expenses in line with the revenues, find the "crazy" voices of today that will be the luminaries of the future, and get on with doing what Pacifica Radio does. 

The world needs it. 

Tracy Rosenberg is the Executive Director of Media Alliance, blogs on media policy at the Huffington Post, and is a member of the Pacifica Foundation Board of Directors and the Media and Democracy Coalition Board of Directors. .