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Press Release: Outpouring of listener support after KPFA lays off news anchor and threatens to "restructure" newscast

Wednesday March 02, 2011 - 03:48:00 PM

Back from reporting on Wisconsin's historic labor rally this weekend, KPFA news producer John Hamilton arrived in Berkeley to a layoff notice this week from the station's interim program director Carrie Core. Hamilton, who has worked at KPFA for three years, was told his last work day would be March 30. 

Listeners responded with an outpouring of financial support during Tuesday's Pacifica Evening News, which Hamilton anchors. More than $7,000 was raised during the 1-hour newscast, the highest amount raised during the news this fund drive. 

When asked who made the layoff decision, Core admitted that it was Pacifica's executive director Arlene Engelhardt. Core did not explain how much the station would save by laying off Hamilton, nor how KPFA would make up the shortfall that would come from dismissing one of the station's most effective fundraisers. Hamilton is employed part-time and makes only about $25,000 a year, according to 

The layoff comes less than a week after former KPFA Morning Show co-host Brian Edwards-Tiekert was reinstated with back pay, but was given a job description as a reporter rather than a morning host. Facing a loss in arbitration, Pacifica placed him in a paid job last week. {Details: see the East Bay Express.) 

"John Hamilton is an amazingly talented journalist and fundraiser -- he was able to raise over a quarter of his yearly pay in just an hour on the air," said Margy Wilkinson, chair of KPFA's local board. "It is ironic, to say the least, that as we start to rebuild KPFA, management starts demolishing elsewhere," she added. 

Union activists at KPFA allege that Hamilton's layoff is retaliatory. Hamilton has been a prominent union activist at KPFA and a public critic of actions of Pacifica management. Last fall he earned the ire of Pacifica's executive director after filming her storming off after listeners asked what her salary was, as well as producing another video of a union protest. He was also listed along with Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Aimee Allison in a letter targetting staff for layoff by a group of Pacifica board members last fall. Hamilton says he's filing a grievance over the layoff. 

Meanwhile, newly-released balance sheets show that KPFA outperformed its budget by $290,000 by the end of 2010, casting doubt on management claims that it needs layoffs at all. In addition, listeners have raised an additional $63,000 in pledges for Pacifica to restore the cancelled KPFA Morning Show to the air. "That's enough to restore both paid Morning Show co-hosts and staff to the air for the rest of the year," said Wilkinson. To date management has refused to accept the pledges or restore the Morning Show. 

When asked about how the news department would function with Hamilton laid off, management said it planned to "restructure" the newscast. More KPFA listeners tune into the Evening News than any other evening program, and it was the station's biggest fundraiser during the last marathon. After Pacifica took the popular Morning Show off the air, fundraising in the 8am hour went into a tailspin. 

"The news is the heart of KPFA," said KPFA local board member Mal Burnstein. "We don't want to see Pacifica do to it what they did to the Morning Show. The station has suffered a steep drop in quality and credibility -- not to mention financial health -- as a result of these ill-advised disruptions."