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Will “community” governance mean a staff bloodbath at KPFA?

Goya, El Tres De Mayo

source: wikimedia commons

The rivals in KPFA’s governance election are in full combat mode these days. Up for grabs are a bunch of seats for delegates on the Pacifica listener-supported signal’s Local Station Board. Two slates are pushing for a majority on the board: Save KPFA and Independents for Community Radio. My favorite outbursts come from Independents most vocal candidate Tracy Rosenberg, a frequent commentator on this site as well, who characterizes Save KPFA as thus on the Huffington Post (without mentioning she’s a candidate herself).

“Save KPFA turned out to be a bunch of folks in their sixties and seventies (and maybe eighties, too). Their call to arms? The cause to donate my money? More professionalism and more hierarchical structure. Run the famously radical radio station like a proper corporation and get rid of all this community empowerment mumbo-jumbo.”

She then compares these (inappropriately aged?) individuals to Google, which I presume she doesn’t like because of its watered-down stance on net neutrality.

“I guess if you can’t beat the Googlezon, the only thing left is to impersonate the Googlezon.”

I think this prose confirms Rosenberg’s attitude towards professionalism. But interestingly, here on Radio Survivor, she assumes an entirely different personae. Taking exception to KPFA staffer Richard Wolinsky’s warning that the station going all volunteer won’t work, and calling for staff layoffs, Rosenberg sounds to me like a cross between Meg Whitman and various Tea Party candidates.

“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,” she insists. “You can’t spend money you don’t have.”

The problem is that in this same commentary, Rosenberg also leaves me with the impression that even she doesn’t think that last claim is true.

“Remove Democracy Now from the schedule and the associated donations it brings in and you have less revenue to work with, not more,” she adds.

So there’s ‘no money’ at KPFA for KPFA’s local staff (who, it should be noted, also bring in listener donations), but funds to send to the Pacifica National Office for Democracy Now!?

And apparently, there’s always going to be money for these expensive, wasteful elected boards (five for all five of Pacifica’s stations), which have cost the organization almost $2.5 million since 2002. I refer RS readers to my debate with Rosenberg about Pacifica’s absurdly overdemocratized board system, which she defended.

To sum up thus far—there’s cash for governance and Democracy Now! but, oops, gosh darn it, you can’t spend money you don’t have (oh well) for much of KPFA’s local paid staff, whose politics, coincidentally, are hated by not a few of ICRs’ endorsers.

Look—I’ve been around Pacifica radio for longer than I care to admit, and I’m just going to call it as I see it here. If ICR gets a bigger majority on KPFA’s Local Station Board, I’m expecting a paid staff bloodbath, followed by replacement programming on the mysteries of Building Number 7, the Truth About HIV, and God knows what else.

Sure, ICR’s more reasonable sounding backers will tell you that I’m just being an alarmist. But I doubt that they’ll be able to stem the flood of demands for air time coming from forces rapidly slouching towards this particular Bethlehem. How will they be able to when Rosenberg publicly insists that Pacifica founder Lewis Hill created KPFA “specifically to broadcast wildly unpopular perspectives that could never get on the air anywhere else.”

Sounds wild. The problem is that while ICR won’t acknowledge what’s really on the table, neither will Save KPFA, most of whose capable and committed principals I’ve endorsed in past elections. Their backers are insisting that this is a “moment of truth” election, and the most important in years.

But the reality, as they know, is that these elected boards have always been a disaster for Pacifica. That means that every race from now on is going to be the most important in years, because these elections are nothing but beachheads to launch assaults on KPFA’s tradition of professionalism and meaningful local coverage. KPFA and Pacifica’s road to health begins where they end.

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5 Responses to Will “community” governance mean a staff bloodbath at KPFA?

  1. Tracy Rosenberg September 18, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    Hi again Matthew,

    I didn’t know you were such a fan of Google’s 180-degree turnaround on net neutrality. Most of the activist community is not so pleased with them on that.

    In case you don’t know this, on August 13th, Move-on and Color of Change hand-delivered a petition with 339,000 signatures at Google headquarters decrying the Google/Verizon deal. Read more at

    I can’t help it that the Save KPFA slate you so ardently support is 70% white, 70% male and 80% over the age of 60. I don’t think there’s a single person on it who is under 60 years of age. While that may be a little too representative of KPFA’s current demographic, it doesn’t bode that well for reaching out to the increasingly young, increasingly multiethnic majority minority California that is the 21st century reality.

    We’ve had the math conversation before. You can’t keep running an institution with operating deficits in the hundreds of thousands of dollars every year whether you want to or not. It’s impossible.

    It’s not caused by board costs which are 2% of the budget. Its not caused by Democracy Now which is owed thousands of dollars because KPFA hasn’t paid for it since April while keeping the revenue it generates.

    This country is in the middle of an economic bloodbath. Millions have lost their livelihoods and fallen into poverty. It is horrible. I know that professionals don’t like to think that the economic travails of the country will ever have an impact on them and their important work, but we’re all in the “bloodbath” together and we have to find ways to survive.



  2. Matthew Lasar September 18, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    Tracy Rosenberg’s response to my article contains two notable falsehoods. The first is that I support the Google/Verizon net neutrality proposal. If Rosenberg had bothered to go to the link that I provided in the piece, she would have noticed that I am an outspoken critic of the plan.

    Second, I do not support Save KPFA. If I did, the group would have put my name on its list of endorsers. Save KPFA didn’t because I don’t. I’m not even voting in this election. I certainly think that Save KPFA’s candidates make better board members than Rosenberg and her colleagues. But my bottom line is that these elections have been an unblemished catastrophe for Pacifica, and they should end. That’s what I support, because it’s the truth.

    It would be interesting to discover the actual, aggregate percentage of Pacifica’s exchequer that these boards have consumed since the democratization process began. In an earlier post Rosenberg put it at 2.5%. Now it is two percent. Perhaps it will keep getting smaller as we argue.

    Bottom line: I think that the $2.4 million the network has spent on Pacifica’s boards would come in real handy right now. I hope that Independents for Community Radio agree. I would hate to think that they see these deficits as a great opportunity to get rid of programmers who they consider insufficiently radical. That, of course, would be an awful way to run this organization.

  3. Debbie Speer September 19, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    Well, Tracy’s response includes at least one other falsehood and many omissions.

    Tracy says she doesn’t believe there is one candidate under the age of 60, and Mark Hernandez is well under that demonized age. (WTF?) As for people of color, some of Tracy’s colleagues have in the past demonized him also as being insufficiently Latino. To paraphrase with apologies to Mel Brooks, yes, to divulge a family secret, his mother is Irish.

    But be that as it may, I have chosen to endorse Save KPFA. As a former LSB member representing KFCF in Fresno, and VERY longtime activist in support of of the theory of listener democracy, I must support those who support US in Fresno, with some 30 years of proud association and rebroadcast of KPFA in this most red county in a blue state.

    The loyal opposition, including Tracy and the ICR faction, cost KFCF some pocket change we could not afford, not to mention much goodwill among listeners who traveled from 45 miles away for nothing, last fall when they boycotted a LSB meeting here. Oh, at first there was some sniveling “you can’t prove it” defenses but ultimately the boycott was admitted to.

    Then there’s the not insignificant issue, to me at least, of their embrace of a KFCF board member whose raison de etre is apparently to eliminate OUR paid staff starting with our GM/ED. Well. I feel an obligation to endorse the only faction that is supportive of KFCF efforts, including the stringers who provide Central Valley local news to the statewide broadcast some ICR (maybe not Tracy but certainly her colleagues) and Zeltzer’s Zoo so dearly want to eliminate.

    Of course there will be a bloodbath…and it’s already in motion. Joe Wanzala last week evidently won approval of a PNB motion to review and “if necessary” remove all KPFA paid staff new to their current positions beginning in 2009. I suspect that includes Mitch Jeseritch and Sasha Lilly. I’m told the vote was unanimous…don’t know where the CL/SKPFA director was, but it’s safe to assume Tracy was one of those voting.

    Is vengeance really that sweet?

    And if she doesn’t like being lumped in with the Blankforts, Bernsteinistas, Truthers, etc, it seems perhaps she might have thought more carefully about hitching her wagon to Joe Wanzala when the program council of which she was chair (and boycotted by Wanzala and Khoshrowja a few years back) was put out of its misery.

    So, other than that, how are we enjoying the play?

  4. Tracy Rosenberg September 20, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    Hi Matthew,

    Sorry. I presumed the phase “watered-down stance on net neutrality” meant that you were not such a strong opponent . I guess you got a little carried away with your own rhetoric.

    “She then compares these individuals to Google, which I presume she doesn’t like because of its watered-down stance on net neutrality”

    On the second item:

    “I certainly think that Save KPFA’s candidates make better board members than Rosenberg and her colleagues”.

    That’s an endorsement. To say it isn’t is to descend into somewhat Orwellian depths 🙂

    Purging programmers because they are too radical is more the style of KPFA’s former manager, so supported by the Concerned Listeners/Save KPFA board. That is the reason they chose to skip 20 individuals on their own union seniority list to target Nora Barrows-Friedman of Flashpoints with a 50% hour reduction in violation of fair union practices.

    I’m an advocate of making necessary reductions – in order and without prejudice.

    As for Debbie: I’m not quite sure what all these aspersions are about. The Save KPFA/Concerned Listeners slate is factually, 70% white, 70% male and 70% over 60 (at least). Independents for Community Radio is 70% people of color, 70% female and 70% people under 60. That was not only true this year, it was true last year as well. And that means something about the range and depth of our constituencies and our sense of community connections. In my opinion. That is one of things I would look for as a voter.

    I didn’t boycott your Fresno meeting last year, Debbie. I was speaking at a panel in Reno at the Alliance for Community Media Western Regional Conference. I have a program with my name on it if you want to see it. The world does not always revolve around KPFA.

    Of course layoffs are in motion. What do you people expect when there is no money in the bank, you lose a million dollars in two years, donations decline and KPFA has to borrow money from Houston to make its September 15th payroll? A bouquet of flowers?

    I think we need to grow up. Its not vengeance. Its mathematics.

    Voters should be wary of people who can’t tell the difference between the two.

    Vote Independents for Community Radio.

  5. Matthew Lasar September 20, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    Subtle distinctions do not appear to be Tracy Rosenberg’s strong point. Apparently if I do not use the most denunciation-laden language possible to describe the Google/Verizon proposal, I’m for it. And if I repeatedly call an election bogus, but acknowledge that some candidates are better than others, that’s an endorsement, and to suggest otherwise is “Orwellian.”

    I sympathize with RS readers who are having a tough time following Rosenberg’s logic. On Monday this election is about getting “wildly unpopular” ideas on KPFA’s airwaves. On Tuesday it’s just about mathematics and layoffs.

    I think that for Rosenberg’s slate, Independents for Community Radio, it’s really about both. First, using their version of mathematics to lay a whole lot of people off. Then replacing them with left wing versions of the Tea Party who will make the station unlistenable for everyone except the fringe.

    If this happens, I predict that some of ICR’s more respectable backers will slink away and pretend that they had nothing to do with the result. It wasn’t their intention, they’ll insist. I’ve seen this before many times. I’ve listened to the excuses in person.

    Those of you who actually plan to vote in this election, go ahead, knock yourself out. But the best you can do is pick candidates who will do the least amount of damage to the network.

    These expensive, wasteful races are producing the most polarized boards in Pacifica’s history. They cannot possibly bring the organization back to good health. Candidates who don’t acknowledge this are blowing dust in your face.

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