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Richard Wolinsky

KPFA, the case against an all-volunteer station

Richard Wolinsky

Richard Wolinsky

Pacifica radio is running its semi-regular Local Station Board elections. If you subscribe to a Pacifica station, you should be getting a ballot soon for listener or staff candidates for your signal’s respective board.

Here at Pacifica outlet KPFA-FM in Berkeley, to which I donate money, there are two big slates running: SaveKPFA and Independents for Community Radio. I’m not endorsing anyone this year. In fact, I’m not a fan of these elections, which I think are a waste of Pacifica’s resources.

But I am a fan of Richard Wolinsky, whose “Cover-to-Cover” book author interview  programs on KPFA are just terrific. Richard has an interesting essay that responds to the endless call for KPFA to go all or mostly volunteer. It’s definitely worth a read, since it narrates the station’s history since 1975:

KPFA today starts with its paid producers, engineers, and board operators, people whom you barely hear on the air but are doing their jobs quietly and professionally. Competent board ops: What a novelty in 1975. You were lucky if, when you dropped off your tape, the announcer didn’t completely mangle what was heard on the air. The simple transition…show to PSA to station ID to theme cart to tape…sounds simple, right? Guess again. The good board-ops stayed a few months, then got jobs and left. The bad ones usually just stopped showing up, often without notice. Remove the paid board ops and the sound quality drops precipitously. Remove the behind the scenes people and force the on-air hosts to do the production work, and you’ll lose half the hosts. Stop paying them, and they’re all gone because they have to earn a living. Their replacements? Again, once a week or once a month, the best of the rest gone the moment a real job in radio opens up.

Read the rest here.

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2 Responses to KPFA, the case against an all-volunteer station

  1. Tracy Rosenberg August 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    Hi Matthew,

    I’m not clear who thinks KPFA should go back to being an all-volunteer station. The problem is KPFA does have to pay its bills and it can’t if the payroll requirements are heavier than the funds coming in can bear.

    KPFA ran a deficit of $652,000 from 10/08 to 9/09 and has run one of $424,000 between 10/09 and 7/10. No philosophy, just numbers. And now there are no savings left in the bank to draw upon, so continuing to run at a deficit is impossible.

    The last two boards, controlled by the slate you endorsed in 2009, and Richard is endorsing this year, passed budgets put together by station staffers that called for large layoffs to balance the budget. Only way to balance it, according to them.

    Then they didn’t make the layoffs, preferring to spend ALL of the rainy day reserve instead.

    Now there must be layoffs, but more of them and worse ones than if prudent action had occurred when the economy first collapsed, almost 2 years ago.

    Blame must be laid where at belongs: at the Save KPFA – Concerned Listeners board, which was financially irresponsible and at station management for futile hopes that listener donations would rebound, which they have not.

    Together, they have endangered KPFA’s survival.

    I’d like to see a little more realistic talk about that and a lot less about trying to shift the blame elsewhere for the financial strain.

    It’s not about the national office. Remove Democracy Now from the schedule and the associated donations it brings in and you have less revenue to work with, not more.

    Nor is it about philosophies about volunteer workers.

    It’s about what foundation members can afford to donate and how you provide the best possible alternative radio with the funds available to you.

    You can’t spend money you don’t have. Concerned Listeners – Save KPFA already tried that.


    Tracy Rosenberg
    Pacifica Foundation Board of Directors.
    KPFA LSB member
    Independents for Community Radio

  2. policymaven September 25, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    Journalism, Ethics, and the KPFA Board Election

    KPFA Radio, America’s first listener-sponsored station, has an impressive history of groundbreaking journalism. Throughout its 61 years, the station has been justly famous for hard-nosed reporting, award-winning radio documentaries, cutting edge and wide ranging music, and coverage of some of the key events of our time—whether Iran Contra or the Iraq War.

    It has also been no stranger to conflict. The conflict that besets the station today, however, could remake KPFA into something quite different than listeners have come to depend upon for decades. The outcome of the current local station board election will determine what the station will look like a year from now. And it will determine whether the KPFA programs that listeners tune into in the greatest numbers will remain at all—programs like Letters to Washington, Against the Grain, and even the Morning Show.

    The slate that I am part of, SaveKPFA, believes that in a moment when professional reporting has become an endangered species in America, that KPFA should set the standard for critical, ethical journalism. Consistently high quality programming takes labor and resources, as well as a commitment to fairness, accuracy, and a willingness to ferret out the truth. Radical journalism is ethical journalism.

    Our opponents revile professional journalism and openly have stated that they would like to get rid of the unionized staff at KPFA. They have long argued for a mainly volunteer station, where the door is wide open to 9/11 “truthers” of all stripes, Lyndon LaRouchites, gold bugs, and those who argue the government is spraying “chemtrails” on the U.S. population as a form of mind control. (Their allies have called for an investigation of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman to find out if she is taking CIA money to cover up 9/11 “truth.”) The economic crisis of the past several years, which has hurt KPFA along with media outlets everywhere, has provided an opportunity for people like Ms. Rosenberg to bring their own brand of austerity to KPFA. Ethics and high quality journalism be damned.

    These two sides’ differing approaches to ethics in journalism can perhaps be best illustrated by a few examples involving the leader of the Independents for Community Radio slate, which is running against my slate. Tracy Rosenberg has used all candidate forums and on air spots to point out that she is executive director of Media Alliance, an organization whose stated mission is to promote “diverse, accountable and ethical media.” She has also been using Media Alliance’s e-newsletter and postal permit to promote her own candidacy. Unfortunately for Media Alliance, it is against the law for the director of a non-profit to use its resources for personal gain. That’s a very serious matter for a 501c3 non-profit. The members of Media Alliance, as well as KPFA, deserve better.

    Last month in the Huffington Post, Ms. Rosenberg published an article in which she attacked the slate that I am running with, SaveKPFA. In a story on the lack of truthfulness in journalism, she inaccurately accused the slate’s members of circulating misleading information about an event they were holding. Bizarrely, what Ms Rosenberg neglected to disclose in her piece on media ethics was that she is, in fact, a candidate running against the folks that she assailed. In other words, she failed to reveal her personal interests in having these candidates lose—an enormous breach of journalistic ethics.

    If these breaches were not astounding enough, Rosenberg bought a website with our slate’s domain name and deceptively posted an endorsement for her own slate on it. When challenged, she said that we might be able to get the domain name–if we named a price. This unethical practice, of extracting ransom money for a domain name, was the recent subject of a NY Times article and is called “cybersquatting.” Needless to say, we refused to bow to such extortion. Now she wants your readers to believe that the budgetary problems at KPFA are all due to those of us running on the KPFA slate. Well to put it mildly, her numbers just don’t add up, especially when one considers that Pacifica has held on to $150,000 of money raised by KPFA. And let us not forget how well the other Pacifica stations have been doing in their fundraising efforts these past 2 years.

    KPFA listeners need to ask themselves whether they would entrust the station’s governance to people with such a flagrant disregard for ethics.

    If you support professional journalism, radical and progressive politics, and basic media ethics, I urge to you check out our website,, and vote for those running with me on the SaveKPFA slate. Our endorsers include Norman Solomon, Raj Patel, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Pratap Chatterjee, Carlos Munoz, Ignacio Chapela, and Jello Biafra.

    The SaveKPFA candidates are Matthew Hallinan, Margy Wilkinson, Suzi Goldmacher, Mal Bernstein, Terry Doran, Mark Hernandez, Dave Saldana, Jack Kurzweil, Tanya Russell, and Don Goldmacher.

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