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What I would do to Save KPFA, by Brian Edwards-Tiekert

Following former Pacifica National board member Carol Spooner’s commentary on what’s going on at KPFA, station programmer Brian Edwards-Tiekert contacted me, asking that I publish his perspective on the station. Edwards-Tiekert is a former staff representative to the KPFA Local Station Board, and was the co-host of KPFA’s Morning Show until Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt laid him off and cancelled the program in late 2010. A union grievance forced her to re-hire him, with back-pay. He’s currently working as a reporter in the KPFA News Department.

If you were in Pacifica ED Arlene Engelhardt’s shoes, Carol Spooner asks, “What would you have done?”

I would have agreed to let KPFA spread catch-up payments over three years, instead of one—which would have saved $100,000 (more than the purported savings from laying off  the two hosts of the Morning Show).

I would have agreed to start paying rent for the KPFA-owned building that my offices are in—which would have saved KPFA around $30,000/year.

If I absolutely could not give up any money for Pacifica National, then I would have gone back to the bargaining table with KPFA’s union.

I would have taken KPFA’s union members up on their offer to switch Medicare-eligible workers to a cheaper Medicare Advantage health plan that would provide equivalent benefits.

An explanation

I would have explained how much we had left to cut, and asked the union to work with me on across-the board wage or hour cuts that wouldn’t compromise KPFA’s ability to continue fundraising. After all, KPFA’s workers were willing to collectively sacrifice pay to keep John Hamilton on payroll. And it’s not a foreign concept: the nonprofit Carol sits on the board of, Free Speech Radio News, has done across-the-board wage rate cuts to deal with its own shortfalls.

I would have cut my own salary at least 20% as a show of good faith. If I were Arlene Engelhardt, I think I could probably still live comfortably on $72,000/year.

If all else failed, I would explain the situation to KPFA’s listeners, and give them a chance to come up with something.

When SaveKPFA raised $63,000 in pledges to support the return of The Morning Show, I would have gratefully accepted the pledges and reversed the layoffs—on a temporary basis, if nothing else—rather than spending over $60,000 paying management attorneys to defend layoffs I wanted to avoid in the first place.

A different agenda

Of course—that’s me. I’d be interested in keeping good programming on the air, maintaining KPFA’s ability to fund raise, and keeping good faith with the station’s staff and listener-supporters. I would have been pretty motivated to avoid cutting a program that raised one out of every four dollars that come in during fund drives.

I think Arlene, and Carol, had a different agenda. Both had strong differences with those of us working on the show, me in particular. Both probably saw an opportunity to eliminate some political opposition within the station. And both probably didn’t think it would cost that much money.

Carol has for a long time been critical of strip programming (programs produced by the same people every day)—she thinks KPFA has too much of it. She and Arlene both have said they believe  that the only reason The Morning Show raised so much money was because it was in a good time slot—not because it was a particularly good program, or the people working on it did a particularly good job. Anything, to her thinking, could perform equally well.

So they put anything on. A patchwork of different hosts every day, largely chosen on the basis of their political allegiances. A structure that didn’t really allow the new program to respond to news developments in a timely fashion—at exactly the time of the day when listeners want breaking news and analysis. According to Carol’s logic, the new program should have performed just as well—or better—than The Morning Show. In fact, the tune-out for that hour was instant, and dramatic.

Then they went through a fund drive. Predictably, fundraising during the 8:AM hour dropped by more than 50%.

Of course, that contradicts Carol’s ideology. So she’s doubled down: blame the people who didn’t want The Morning Show cut in the first place—accuse them of telling people not to give.

That’s cynical.

Go to the web pages of savekpfa.org and kpfaworker.org. Both have been telling people to support KPFA since all the tumult went down six months ago. KPFAworker.org has raised over $13,000 in challenge funds, off-air, to support KPFA’s ailing fund drive.

Look at the pattern of pledges: the drop in fundraising at KPFA hasn’t been across the boards. Donations are up, year-over-year, for The Evening News, for Letters and Politics, for the annual Grateful Dead Marathon. The major drops are during precisely those hours Arlene re-programmed.

Compare it to 7:AM: Democracy Now! is raising only slightly less than The Morning Show did at that hour. The drop off is nowhere near as dramatic as the time slot Arlene replaced with her patchwork. Which suggests, to me, that there is some value to having the consistency of a strip program covering current events in drive time.

But what do I know?

Please feel free to respond to Brian’s commentary, but please also know that posts that contain insults, ad hominem attacks, or more than one hyperlink will either be held for moderation or deleted.

 

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