KPFA’s Interim Managers Take the Station for a Joy Ride–How will it Affect You?

It’s hard to write much less think about all the problems which beset us these days. After all, it is the anniversary of the BP oil disaster and we are only now getting reports about the true devastation while President Obama’s government is busy giving out new permits to drill in deep water. Our entire social safety net from laws against child labor to the provision of social security and Medicare is under attack.

In Michigan, whole towns are being taken over and given to corporate ownership. Our own Robert Bobb has become one of the overlords and is busy shutting down democracy as I write. I’m really not too surprised at that. I always thought he had a strong authoritarian streak and was a very top-down manager who didn’t necessarily know what was going on beneath him-that’s why I never joined the Robert-Bobb-for-mayor movement.

Given all this, I have always turned to KPFA for real news local, national, and international. Of late, it’s been more difficult. The majority of us listen to radio in the morning or evening drive-times. For many years KPFA hosted the excellent “Morning Show” which encompassed local news stories, national and international interviews, and cultural events. One of the former hosts, Aimee Allison, has gone on to provide local news and culture in the “Oakland Seen”.

Everyone who relied on KPFA for information and as an organizing tool were saddened and shocked when the tradition that was the Morning Show was so abruptly removed (many listeners organized to raise additional funds to bring it back-see SaveKPFA.org for more info on that). The anchors were then laid off (a month later though not allowed on air during that time), but Brian Edwards Tiekert has been brought back based on the CWA contract.

In a few days Pacifica will enter arbitration over its treatment of Aimee Allison. Here is a letter from some of the KPFA staff who are concerned about the cost and effects of Pacifica refusing to return Ms. Allison to her position in favor of expensive arbitration at listener expense.

Dear KPFA Colleagues,

We’re writing to let you know about some very serious choices facing KPFA in the next week.

On April 28th, Morning Show co-host Aimee Allison’s grievance over her termination is scheduled to go to arbitration. Pacifica management has hired the $400/hour law firm Folger Levin to represent it. Pacifica will be charged $500/hour by the arbitrator just to hear the case. But the bills will be sent to KPFA.

We know that Pacifica already spent more that $32,000 of KPFA’s money on Folger Levin before it conceded Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s grievance and returned him to work. As nearly every union member at KPFA is part-time, this is more than most of us earn in a year.

Now, Pacifica is poised to do it again.

This is a lose-lose proposition. If our union wins at arbitration, Pacifica still will have wasted the equivalent of someone’s annual salary defending an action it never should have taken in the first place. If Pacifica wins, KPFA is stuck without its biggest fundraiser—and, soon enough, it will be laying off more of the staff who keep the station running.

Here’s the calculus: The Morning Show accounted for one out of every four dollars that came in to KPFA during pledge drives. In our most recent fund drive, every hour of KPFA’s schedule changed by Pacifica – 6 AM, 7 AM, and 8 AM – raised considerably less than before. In addition, fundraising dropped significantly during the 9 AM broadcast of Democracy Now! The drop in 9 AM fundraising was a predictable consequence of moving the first airing of Democracy Now! up to 7 AM, where it essentially depletes some of the 9 AM audience. In total, morning pledges dropped nearly $140,000 from the 2010 Winter fund drive.

If we extend that gap over a year’s worth of fundraising, translate it into cuts, and work up working from the bottom of KPFA’s seniority list, here’s what we could get: John Hamilton and Brian Edwards-Tiekert would be out (again). So would Laura Prives. Flashpoints would lose Eric Klein and Miguel Molina. Letters and Politics would come to an end:Mitch Jeserich would be out. (Since Mitch is currently KPFA’s biggest fundraiser, that could trigger still more cuts.) There’d be no-one updating KPFA’s website–Miguel Guerrero would be gone. So would Chris Stehlik – which means there would be no-one to actually bill KPFA’s subscribers for the pledges they make . . . If management decided keeping a website and a membership database were indispensable, Chris and Miguel might keep their jobs – but KPFA would lose its state capitol reporter, Christopher Martinez, and the only paid staffer left running its Apprenticeship program, Mickey Mayzes.

There’s no way to continue down that path, and preserve KPFA as we know it.

But there is an alternative: Pacifica management could work with KPFA’s staff and listeners, instead of against us. When John Hamilton got a layoff notice, five union members and one manager willingly sacrificed some of their own pay to keep him funded – that’s problem-solving. When Pacifica announced it was cutting The Morning Show purely for financial reasons, SaveKPFA raised over $63,000 in pledges from people willing to give extra to KPFA to bring The Morning Show back. That money’s still on the table.

Pacifica management could concede Aimee’s case right now, and welcome her back to the air. The SaveKPFA pledges would pay her salary, and benefits, and then some. Pacifica would save the listener money that’s about to go to overpaid lawyers. And it could put The Morning Show back to work raising money for the rest of KPFA.

Between now and April 28th, we have to convince the powers that be that management should be working with KPFA’s staff and listeners to bring Aimee back, not fighting to keep her away. Please, talk to whomever you can in KPFA and Pacifica management, and ask them to work this out instead of fighting it out.

In solidarity,

Aileen Alfandary, News Dept. Co-Director

Phil Osegueda, Subscriptions Director

Chris Stehlik, Database Manager

Okay, that was bad enough. When I personally asked Ms. Englehardt, the Pacifica overlord, I mean, Executive Director, how much more of KPFA’s money would be spent on lawyers this year, she told me $5,000 to $10,000 and no more. That would be bad enough, given the station’s financial condition and the low pay of its programming staff, but now it looks to be much more.

Last night the station’s Interim General Manager and Interim Program Director, note the interim, sent out a letter announcing a complete overhaul of programming without any kind of input from anyone-at least that we know of-not the Community Advisory Board, not the Program Council, which doesn’t even exist yet, nor station department heads, nor any listener or staff input.

These changes will turn listener habits on their heads and completely eliminate local news programming from the morning drive-time while abolishing the traditional 9 AM slot for Democracy Now. If you missed it at 7 AM, you missed it.

They have determined that young adults will tune into Hard Knock Radio, cultural and political programming for the Hip Hop generation, at 9 AM and folks used to getting a full hour of Dennis Bernstein at 5 PM will want to hear national and international news, similar to that covered by Democracy Now, at 8 AM just following DN.

Here is there announcement. Note these changes will occur immediately following the next fund drive. By the way, just for fun, the Pacifica bureaucracy will be collecting an extra tithe on this fund drive just for them, subtracted from the funds donated for the station.

FROM: Carrie Core iPD, Andrew Leslie Phillips iGM.

A CHANGE IN OUR LINE-UP.

As you all know KPFA has been struggling to maintain itself over these
past years and months.

Since 2005, KPFA suffered a 27% drop in annual income, including a 30%
decline of more than $1.2 million in annual listener support.  There
has been a corresponding drop in membership. In the meantime the
overall economy is depressed and raising money is difficult.

The old model is not working. Programming is not the only reason but
is likely part of it. On going internal disputes have also drained our

resources.

We all know that a controversial program change was made by Pacifica’s Executive
Director Arlene Engelhardt when the KPFA Morning Show was removed from
the air. There were staff layoffs. Some paid staff agreed to resign
their positions and were offered compensation packages. And some staff
agreed to reductions in hours. Restoring the old Morning Show is not
the answer. We need to step into the future, not back to the past.

With this in mind and in an effort to get KPFA on a new track, it is necessary
to make program changes. It is one of a number of strategies new
management is working on with staff, to move the station and the
network forward.

We note that under the Union Contract; Section 2 – Management Rights –
management rights include: “…the right to hire, classify, assign,
promote…” and “…to locate or relocate work assignments.”

Immediately following the May fund raiser and membership drive we will be

instituting the following program changes:

1) The Morning Mix and the 9am rebroadcast of Democracy Now will be
replaced by Flashpoints and Hard Knock Radio – Flashpoints at 8am and
Hard Knock at 9am. Both programs are lead by amongst our most experienced
broadcasters and award winning producer/hosts. As well as reaching out to our
current audience they will embrace a new, vibrant, multi-cultural audience.
We have plans to take our new morning line-up on the road reaching deeply
into our community.

We want to thank and praise those who pitched in on the Morning Mix
over these past months. Most were unpaid staff and they did a good job
under difficult circumstances.

2) Against the Grain and Living Room will be moved to 11am following
Letters and Politics.

3) The morning music line-up will move to noon and be given an
additional 30 minutes. This means our afternoon line-up will move
forward one half hour commencing on the half hour at 1:30pm – 4pm.

There will be no changes in this line-up other than the time.
4) Free Speech Radio News will run at 4pm followed by an updated
thirty minute newscast from Al Jazeera.

5) A proposed new program slated for 5-6pm called Talk Back will
run five days a week and will invite our audience to “talk back” to
the host. There will be five different hosts for Talk Back. Hosts are
currently under consideration.

As you probably know, we want to reinstate the program council and we

are moving forward in that regard. The program council will be invited
to review and evaluate these changes.
Finally, you will note that nobody has lost their program. Nobody has
lost their job. We believe these changes will strengthen and diversify our
lineup.

The above mentioned program changes will be shared with the
KPFA Community Advisory Board and LSB over the weekend. They will
be announced to our audience during the Morning Mix this Monday.

It’s probable that the evening drive-time will turn into the Afternoon Mix, with no cohesive programming. As one of the union staff put it-have they checked the Arbitron numbers, looked at the online listening statistics or pledge drive behavior-given that they turned down additional funding to bring back the Morning Show-that would also be a no.

Most importantly, have they attempted to gather listener input? As one wag said, “of course not, then they’d be managing the station instead of just taking it for a joy-ride!”

This is how interim managers operate at KPFA. They see the station as a giant jar full of pieces which they can upend and shake without causing any disturbance. They do not see the station and its evolution as anything they need to respect and the listeners are just those folks who pay their legal bills.

I don’t know how listeners will take this wholesale shift but I would like to hear from you, unlike the managers hand-picked by Pacifica, I still think this is our station. Go to SaveKPFA.org and let us know what you want to do about Pacifica’s takeover of programming, spending, staffing and our complete loss of local control. Do it now!

3 thoughts on “KPFA’s Interim Managers Take the Station for a Joy Ride–How will it Affect You?

  1. Hi Pamela,
    I appreciate all you’re doing to keep us informed about Oakland matters and about KPFA.

    It might be good to keep us informed about the dates/locations of KPFA station board meetings. Is there some place where that info is posted?

    Because of the recent take over of KPFA governance by ideologues (who, among other things, detest everyone and everything related to the Dem. Party), I’m no longer a subscriber. I realize that that may make it easier for the marginal lefties to hold and increase their power over the station. But I decided to vote with my feet, although I did so reluctantly.

    I do intend to remain involved, albeit peripherally, in this struggle.

    I hope KPFA does not go under.

    Raymond Barglow

  2. Raymond, I’m sorry you are no longer a member. Please reconsider as we need more voting members to take back local control. Our next LSB meeting is May 21st, no location yet, but you’ll be able to find that soon by going to kpfalsb.org where we will also post the agenda.
    Friday morning, April 29th, at 8 AM, I’ll be the host of the LSB hour where we’ll talk about some of these issues, including a treasurer’s report and take calls. A number of board members will be present including our chair, Margy Wilkinson.

    • September 2011 Update: Aimee Allison lost the union arbitration hearing. All 3 complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board were dismissed. Democracy Now is still on at 9am, although it attracts much higher listenership and support at the 7am airing than at 9am. Unlike last year, there is no half a million dollar operating deficit and financial results have improved by 85%. As with the federal government, there is plenty of evidence that splitting with the Democrats is a pretty good thing – they generally screw things up 🙂

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