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Andrew Phillips: the education of a KPFA general manager

Andrew Phillips

Andrew Phillips at the NFCB [photo: Matthew Lasar]

I attended the National Federation of Community Broadcasters conference on Friday. No sooner did I wander into the main drag of the San Francisco event than I spotted KPFA’s beleaguered General Manager, Andrew Leslie Phillips, staffing a table.

“Matthew!” Phillips cheerfully exclaimed after I introduced myself. “Got a lot of respect for what you do. Sit down and let’s talk.”

The enthusiasm, the compliments, the banter, the Melbourne accent . . . it’s pretty easy to be charmed by this guy—except if you are his boss, it seems. According to Phillips, the Pacifica Foundation, which owns Berkeley, California based KPFA, has put him on “paid administrative leave.” His ultimate fate, I tentatively divine from various unreliable sources, will be determined by an investigation of what could be a few or perhaps over a hundred “complaints”. This all depends on which self-appointed authority you quote. Initial reports [Facebook login] claimed he was fired (I emailed Pacifica Executive Director Summer Reese for the details, but received no reply).  Allegations of “racism” are also in the air (they often are at Pacifica). Facts about those charges, however, remain just as scarce.

And so, having interviewed Phillips at length, I’m going to explore a different take on his hiatus—that it is really about his attempts to repair KPFA’s badly damaged morning schedule. Some background is in order:

Back in late 2010, the Pacifica Foundation’s then Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt decided that KPFA could no longer afford its two hour Morning Show and it would have to be dumped. Full disclosure: I was appalled. I loved that show and the voices of its two hosts, Aimee Allison and Brian Edwards-Tiekert. Now it was gone.

Over KPFA’s airwaves I listened to the official excuses. “Nobody wants layoffs, but . . . ” apologized various Deacons of the Church of Pacifica. Actually, from the basement computer where I do most of my writing I could almost hear the collective licking of lips at the prospect of all that available airtime. Haters of the Morning Show had long since damned Allison and Edwards-Tiekert (and their predecessors) as Democrats, liberals, anti-911/truthers—you know, all the Bad Things. It was time to replace them with true representatives of The Community. Now at last they had an Executive Director’s ear, and a credible excuse: saving KPFA payroll cash in the middle of a recession.

So out went the Morning Show, and in came the “Morning Mix”—five work days, five different volunteer hosts (sometimes more). Some of them were awful. Several of them were good. But the overall daily production wasn’t—a textbook example of how a community radio station can quickly devolve into a single occupancy motel for programmers. I remember one Morning Mixer interviewing somebody about some new exercise dance thing. “See you next week,” I recall her saying to her audience at the end of the hour. What was coming up next on KPFA or even on the Morning Mix tomorrow was apparently none of her concern. This was her slot; that was what mattered.

The station quickly split in two over the canceling of the Morning Show. Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations outside the Berkeley building ensued. Subscribers elect KPFA’s board. The two main slates: pro-Morning Show SaveKPFA and pro-Morning Mix Independents for Community Radio had themselves an electoral battle royale over the move. It was in this context that Phillips was brought in as the station’s new General Manager.

Phillips had a lot of experience with Pacifica. He’d been central to New York sister station WBAI in the 1980s. But he engaged in some serious dorkery when he first got started at KPFA. He showed up at a Local Station Board meeting and went into a tirade against SaveKPFA, calling its principals “Fifth Columnists,” a dig that did not go unwasted on some of the faction’s old left activists. “That went over like a lead balloon,” Phillips told me with a chuckle.

A lengthy food fight began. By the time it concluded the SaveKPFA dominated LSB had issued a statement of ‘no confidence’ against his and Pacifica’s “anti-union” actions. But behind the scenes, KPFA’s GM and the station’s senior staff were talking, and when Engelhardt left, Phillips felt like he had some room to maneuver.

“For about a year, remembering that I was employed by Arlene Engelhardt at Pacifica, I basically did her bidding,” Phillips continued. “I did what she wanted and what she expected. But I realized over time that what she’d expecting and what she implemented was the wrong strategy.”

And he explained why:

“Drive time, particularly in the morning, is the time when most people listen to the radio. KPFA had a very credible and respected morning show. It was doing pretty well. It was basically supporting the station. It was paid staff, yes, and you have to deduct the salaries to get the net amount that it was making, but it was still driving the morning. Arlene Engelhardt took it off. We put on this sort of mish mash program. It was the wrong time for the program. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t have more volunteer programming on the station, programming like the Morning Mix. But not at eight o’clock in the morning with five different shows and many different hosts changing constantly. That is not the recipe for good listening.

At that time, we were running Al Jazeera at six, Democracy Now at seven, the Morning Mix at eight. People tuned in at seven for Democracy Now. Many of them went away for the Mix and they came back for the Dem Now rebroadcast at nine o’clock.”

So after another fund drive had gone “down the tubes,” Phillips recounted that he “threw up his hands” and asked for suggestions. “We’ve got to do something about the mornings. Let’s talk about it.”

“And so I opened it up to the staff. They’re pretty professional people. We started a long discussion. A lot of to and fro. And out of which finally I made a decision to give the seven to eight o’clock hour to the News Department. Not to Brian Edwards-Tiekert per se, but to the news. Let them take responsibility. They’re pretty professional. The news some people consider conservative. So be it. There’s much more radical stuff on KPFA. Whatever. I wasn’t interested in that. I was interested in helping to create a program that would give the morning more weight.

They decided to bring in Edwards-Tiekert in the morning for an hour at seven am. We brought Sonali Kolhatkar in from [Pacifica sister station] KPFK in Los Angeles, and in three days they had a program up [Up Front] that sounded professional. All of a sudden the morning sounded like something. And the Morning Mix benefited. And if you look at the ratings now, like the streaming ratings, you’ll see that at 6 am now (we moved Democracy Now back to six) we have a very steep rise. People tune in. They stay in for the Up Front program. They stay in for the Morning Mix. They stay in for Democracy Now. And they climb again for Mitch Jeserich at ten o’clock. So from a radio point of view we’ve got a better profile.”

I asked Phillips what he would do with KPFA mornings if he had his druthers:

“Well, Tiekert is way overbooked. He needs a full time producer and he needs another host. And it probably should be on for two hours. The Mix should really be moved. The reason that it is there now is essentially political. It’s not because it’s a good program. I mean some of the programs in the Mix are good programs, but as a five day a week program, it’s a mish mash. It’s a mix!

I don’t know where I would move it. Look, Davey D’s already got a show. He’s paid. He doesn’t have to be on in the morning. The Thursday show (Project Censored) is a good show. The Friday show (Andres Soto) is a good show. And maybe Steve Zeltzer, but that doesn’t have to be on in the morning, but Zeltzer’s show is not bad either. The best of them are the Thursday and Friday shows.”

I would probably say that Andres should be a contributor to the Morning Show. The Project Censored Show could go anywhere. It’s a very good show. A very important show, but it could be located elsewhere in the schedule.”

That’s what Andrew Phillips says he wants, but he’s not in charge at this point. I am told that Pacifica is currently paying his salary and another general manager’s at the cost of around $70k a year each. “Nuts,” Phillips summarized the whole situation with a cocked eye. “Just nuts.”

Ironically, SaveKPFA, which used to be at odds with Phillips, is now his biggest supporter. In April, staff launched a petition declaring their opposition to his removal (signers here and here). Not surprisingly, the signers list is top heavy with SaveKPFA supporters and light on Morning Mix folk. Even some of the Morning Mixers he praises did not sign.

Phillips takes these somersaults with good humor. “I was branded anti-union when I got here and now I’m being branded a racist,” he mused. “WTF?”

More significantly, last week he gave the welcome address [Facebook login] at the NFCB, a sign of his stature within the community radio community. He told the audience that community radio’s job is to “go deep” on stories that are given “cursory coverage” by the rest of media:

“For instance, I suggest that what happened on September 11th, 2001 is one such story. Since the September 11 attacks, doubts have been raised about the mainstream account of events. There have been a number of 9/11 conspiracy theories suggesting that members of the U.S. government may have deliberately covered-up and falsified events, in order to hide negligence or even complicity.

A number of 9/11 opinion polls – including Zogby International – find more than 40 percent of New Yorkers don’t believe the official story – 40 percent don’t believe it. And almost 12 years after that horrendous day – and I was in New York that day – I saw it first hand and was breathing in my fellow citizens – we still have inadequate answers to what really happened that terrible day.”

I personally don’t have a lot of sympathy for this perspective on the role of community radio. I know there are people at KPFA who say they treat these issues with rigor. My experience with most conspiracy theory oriented programming is that it is very critical of others, and very uncritical of its own logic—top heavy with rhetorical questions and cherry picked, ad hominem evidence. Aside from the question of whether public opinion surveys help us understand what happened on September 11th, that Zogby poll was commissioned a coalition of groups predisposed to believe that there was a conspiracy. A more recent Angus Reid poll indicates that most Americans reject the most famous “9/11 Truth” claims.

“Only 15 per cent of respondents think claims that the collapse of the World Trade Center was the result of a controlled demolition are credible,” the Vancouver based pollster noted in 2010.

But while I may not concur with Phillips’ on that issue, I think that Pacifica urgently needs to keep him on as general manager of its historic first radio station. As his NFCB commentary suggests, he finds sympathy for almost all of KPFA’s tendencies and components. After two years of experience, Phillips is probably the closest thing that Pacifica will ever find to someone who can harmonize the disparate forces that make up KPFA.

I asked Phillips if he had anything to add to our conversation. “All this attention to Andrew Phillips is unwarranted,” he modestly explained. “I am very sorry that this has become about me.” But right now it is about him. He is the general manager that KPFA needs.

Feel free to respond to this post. Comments with obscenities and epithets will wind up in our filter queue, as will responses with lots of hyperlinks. Please keep it civil and refrain from personal attacks. 

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32 Responses to Andrew Phillips: the education of a KPFA general manager

  1. Ann Garrison June 3, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    @Matthew Lazar:

    This is an interesting statement:

    “. . . And if you look at the ratings now, like the streaming ratings. . . ”

    I believe that by that, Andrew means that the #s of people listening to the webstream are the only measure KPFA now has of how many people are listening. I talked to Andrew about this once and he showed me a log of the #s of people listening on the webstream compiled by Brian Edwards-Tiekert.

    I asked him how he knew that the # of people listening to the webstream was proportionate to the #s listening to the fm signal. He said because Brian Edwards-Tiekert told him it was.

    Brian may well be right. I don’t know, but my guess is that no one really knows whether the rise and fall of webstream listeners mirrors that of fm signal listeners. I’d like to see some verification, from either Brian or Andrew, or from those like yourself, who have always seemed more concerned with the fm signal than the webstream.

    • andrew leslie phillips June 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

      I don’t believe I attributed anything to Brian Edwards-Tiekert regarding streaming stats.

      The web stream mirrors tune-in. It is a guide and it works. There is no doubt at all that UpFront improved KPFA’s audience in the morning and that it carries over to the Morning Mix. And there is also no doubt that UpFront returns way more income than the Mix – by a factor of x2 or x3 and sometimes more. And that without UpFront and the dedication of BET, KPFA would be in very bad shape.

      • Ann Garrison June 3, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

        @Andrew: You seem to be responding to arguments that I didn’t make. I didn’t question Upfront’s fundraising success, and I didn’t question your claim that Upfront increased audience or that that audience carried over to the Morning Mix. I didn’t make any sort of statement regarding Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s impact on the station.

        I questioned only the assumption that, as you put it, “the webstream mirrors Tune-in.” Listeners on the webstream are easily measured, but so far as I can tell, the station has no way of measuring Tune-in listeners.

        You state simply that, “The web stream mirrors tune-in. It is a guide and it works.” How do you know it works? That’s an assertion in need of plausible media research.

        As I recall, you showed me a collection of bar graphs of listeners on the webstream that you said Brian had compiled and also said that he had told you they mirrored tune-in. However, I won’t insist that my memory is infallible anymore than I will ever insist that anything is true simply because “it works,” which seems to mean that it’s a convenient belief in the absence of evidence.

  2. Mara Rivera June 4, 2013 at 12:11 am #

    It seems to me The Morning Show, Letters & Politics, and Upfront have/have had lots of help in the way of producers, perhaps trainers (such as Aimee Alison had), researchers, that the Morning Mix hasn’t had. It is not promoted the way Upfront has been, by B E_T soundbites and even flyers. The plan after the MS hosts were laid off was to get other paid hosts to staff it, but the paid staff was told not to take it over, so others volunteered to take it on, in a pinch – what a Andrew is calling “mish mash”‘ (but others like).
    And the Morning Show was not “discontinued ” by “haters” – nor people “licking their lips for airtime” – can we give that a rest? It was because paid staff fte’s had to be reduced, and the union contract specified how this was to be done.
    There is no communication with Morning Mix folks as to how all can cooperate to cover the news effectively, between them. No overall planning of public affairs programming. No promotion of all programming. Still a complaint about David Bacon not having 1/2 hour of labor news once a week, when we have Steve Zeltzer on for one hour, (and we could use a lot more labor news).
    And I see Tracy Rosenberg still being demonized, by Andrew now, as a “venal LSB member”, for his suspension. See his Facebook page.

  3. David Direngezi June 4, 2013 at 1:20 am #

    What is “cherry picked, ad hominem evidence” pray tell? Perhaps this query will disappear into the ranks of “rhetorical question,” being addressed to Matthew Lasar.

    • Ann Garrison June 4, 2013 at 8:37 am #

      Yes, that was unique coinage. First time I’ve ever heard of “ad hominem evidence” as opposed to “ad hominem argument.”

      ad ho·mi·nem
      /ˈad ˈhämənəm/
      (of an argument or reaction) Arising from or appealing to the emotions and not reason or logic.
      Attacking an opponent’s motives or character rather than the policy or position they maintain.

      • Matthew Lasar June 15, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

        Oh please, is this nitpicking really the best you’ve got? Dictionaries attribute a variety of qualities to ad hominem, including “appealing to personal considerations rather than to logic or reason.” Thus citing a public opinion poll as evidence of a subject’s worthiness can be construed as a positive ad hominem argument, or evidence in support of one’s case. 45 percent of Americans say they believe in the existence of demons. Does that mean that KPFA should run a show on demons? Give it a rest.

  4. rekz June 4, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    Great writeup!

    Impressed that you left the one main culprit of mismanagement, a woman who KPFA chose to have a recall vote and she stopped the vote count with legal shenanigans (paid for by Pacifica) and blah blah blah. We want her out, she’s blocking it AND getting chronies in to continue her Pacifica domination maneuvers…

    I didn’t know all this about Andrew, but I enjoyed hearing him on-air during fundraising. That was smart. And his observations on morning programming — perfectly mirror my own. Hated Al Jazeera taking Democracy Now. Hated the end of Morning Show. Can’t listen to Morning Mix (b/c it sucks balls) but I DO enjoy Mickey Huff. And I listen sometimes to first 10 min’s of Up Front for news recap and to see what the show’s about. But I don’t know why I’m listening to Sonhali at KPFA — she’s very radical (which I like) but based in LA. Can’t we have someone local on the air in SF Bay Area? But I agreed that Brian ET needs a co-host up here. He’s actually a star, he just doesn’t know it yet. (And the Arlene shows were amazing radio — and she came off like the buffoon she was.)

    KPFA is still under attack by people trying to gut any quality programming and any paid positions. Hopefully we can boot them soon!

    • Tracy Rosenberg June 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

      The problem that KPFA has is the amount of money to work with has been steadily declining since 2005 and there has been no change in that pattern. In fact, it’s worse. The 2011 May fund drive made $50,000 MORE than the May 2013 one. ($750K vs $699K). So when you’re looking at numbers like that, you have to have a conversation that goes differently

      Total subscribers in 2005 : 26,000
      Total subscribers in 2007: 24,000
      Total subscribers in 2010: 21,500
      Total subscribers in 2012: 19,500
      Total subscribers in 2013: 18,000

      None of the things that anyone chooses to write about or to fight about has any impact whatsoever on these numbers. There is no correlation of increased subscribers with any programming changes at all. Nor any appreciable difference in the rate of decline which is steady and bleak.

      It’s unfortunate the culture at KPFA is to pit programs against each other instead of to support the good of the overall whole. What difference can it possibly make (except to narrow parochial interests) if Upfront takes more money in a time slot and the results are that all of the other produced shows like Letters and Politics, Against The Grain, Flashpoints, Hard Knock Radio etc, take in much less? That’s not more money, that’s less money. Training the listeners to “vote” for programs by pledging during this time of day or that time to day to support programmers in various tussles with their managers, is simply moving a smaller and smaller pool of money around. It doesn’t increase the total amount of money, nor add any institutional capacity. And sadly, it seems like all the energy goes into trying to win a pointless game of “claiming” a large share of a shrinking base of income. It’s a depressing version of deck chairs on the Titanic.

      Income is shrinking. Since Upfront came on the air, KPFA has less subscribers and less income, not more.

      So why all the avoidance of the real issue? I know its fear, but reality is its not getting better. It’s scary as hell when KPFA has less than 2 weeks of payroll in the bank, which is exactly where the station was on May 1, a day before the recently-concluded fund drive began. Not very far from a BAI-like meltdown. And with the somewhat disappointing results last month, exactly where it will be in another 6-7 weeks, when it will have to start fundraising again or it will be insolvent.

      I can hear the groans already, but that is what happens when the model doesn’t work and there is too much resistance to change. Change is the only way to adapt to the conditions around us.

      There are many different kinds of change and they can include technology upgrades, varied content streams, greater community engagement, changing the image of the station, reducing operational expenses, trying to find collaborative partners to share expenses, but there is no option not to change and 7 years is a very long wind-up period. Unfortunately KPFA spent it running through its entire cash reserve by funding operating deficits and now there is no margin and no safety zone. One bad fund drive and it’s all over.

      Or one more employment lawsuit, which makes the current large pile of grievances a bit of a loaded weapon for which casualness is not indicated. I don’t think you can fault anyone for listening when human resources sends up an alarm bell about the number and the handling of grievances. To do anything else is a game of russian roulette with the license.

      All I know about the grievances is there are 4 of them from different individuals expressing discrimination concerns about 4 incidents that happened at different times. I don’t think anyone needs to scream perjorative things. But I do think they need to be taken seriously, treated with respect, and investigated and anyone who thinks it is at all okay to be dismissive, rude or insulting regarding them is very, very wrong. That’s not only the wise course of action from any financially responsible point of view, it’s also what the Pacifica mission demands and generally what you want to do as a moral imperative in a society still deeply troubled by a host of “isms”.

  5. Kim Kaufman June 4, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Lasar doesn’t even bother to talk to anyone else who might have a different viewpoint and perhaps some facts. One assumes, and Lasar should also, the interim Executive Director is too busy to return calls to an outspoken SaveKPFA supporter and biased writer. Amusing to see what the propagandists are trying to sell to the public but shame on Lasar. Additionally, if Phillips is such a great manager and programming whiz, why is the Morning Mix so bad? Isn’t that his job — or someone that he manages job — to make it better? In fact, isn’t it his job to improve all the programming and actually get more listeners? And not on some webstream but in the community that KPFA serves? Why, yes, it is.

    Editor: Read Matthew Lasar’s response to this commment.

    • Tracy Rosenberg June 4, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      The web stream is an irrelevant marker. The total capacity is about 300 people listening at one time, for a station that has 18,000 subscribers, 100-200K listeners and can reach a potential audience of 6 million people. Any statistician will tell you that making statistical corollaries from such a teensy sample (3/10 of 1 percent *at most*) is impossible and tells you nothing. If there is a desire to get real statistics, then you need to use the tools available for this purpose. Otherwise it’s like asking Aunt Tilly what her favorite program is. Not data 🙂

    • Matthew Lasar June 8, 2013 at 9:03 am #

      Kim Kaufman’s criticisms of me and Andrew Phillips seem very unfair. First he faults me for not talking with anyone else with a different viewpoint. Then he suggests that the person I needed to talk to the most, Pacifica’s Board Chair/Executive Director Summer Reese, shouldn’t have replied to my query! Then he criticizes Phillips for not fixing the Morning Mix, when almost all of his quoted comments are about how he has tried to do just that. Finally, Kaufman describes me as a “SaveKPFA supporter,” which I am not. While I have a lot of sympathy for the KPFA programmers associated with the slate, I do not vote for or endorse SaveKPFA, because I do not support elections at Pacifica radio.

      Yes, just like Kim Kaufman and just about every other person at Pacifica, I have biases. But Radio Survivor is open to any perspective on Pacifica. We have published statements by former Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt, former board member Carol Spooner, and current WBAI board treasurer Mitchell Cohen, all of whom strongly disagree with my perspectives on the network. If you want to post a commentary about something related to Pacifica radio, send it to me here. All I ask is that your missive be non-defamatory, respectful, and clearly identify your position within the organization.

      • Matthew Lasar June 8, 2013 at 9:15 am #

        One more thing: Summer Reese has an open ongoing invitation to post a commentary on Radio Survivor. Operators are standing by . . .

      • Kim Kaufman June 14, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

        “First he[sic] faults me for not talking with anyone else with a different viewpoint.”

        Well, yes.

        “Then he[sic] suggests that the person I needed to talk to the most, Pacifica’s Board Chair/Executive Director Summer Reese, shouldn’t have replied to my query!”

        I didn’t suggest she was the person you needed to talk to most at all. In fact, I’m suggesting you should have spoken with others. And not that she shouldn’t have replied to your query but that 1) it’s probably a given that she wouldn’t be commenting on legal issues on your blog and 2) that she’s very busy managing a network with 7 entities who need her full-time attention. Your stuff is a one-sided distraction and, in my opinion, not worth her time at this point.

        “Finally, Kaufman describes me as a “SaveKPFA supporter,” which I am not. While I have a lot of sympathy for the KPFA programmers associated with the slate, I do not vote for or endorse SaveKPFA, because I do not support elections at Pacifica radio.”

        You’re obviously a partisan, giving voice to only one side there. It does a disservice to readers who might want to genuinely understand what it’s all about. And a quick search of your site found this (although I do believe I’ve seen more recent endorsements of this team as they renamed themselves SaveKPFA, it didn’t come up in the search):

        Full disclosure: I’ve endorsed the Concerned Listeners slate, whose candidates, I’m happy to say, have offered me nothing but their thanks.

        Again, Matthew, you do a disserve by writing ridiculously biased pieces on Pacifica. Pacifica deserves so much more.

        And for the record, I am a female, I am on the KPFK LSB, I was the Treasurer for the previous two years (I did not run this year) and am currently Chair of the Finance Committee, now for three years in a row.

        • Matthew Lasar June 15, 2013 at 11:24 am #

          Kim Kaufman accuses me of spinning "distractions." I think it is the other way around. The issues that Andrew Phillips raises are absolutely crucial to community radio. Focusing on me is the distraction.

          Since Kaufman is so interested in my background, I’m sure that she will not object to my discussing hers. As a member of Pacifica’s governance system, Kaufman vocally supported board members and activists who called for the destruction of the KPFA Morning Show. Now she has to face an embarrassing turn of affairs—the general manager who was brought in by Pacifica to oversee the Morning Show’s replacement program (the "Morning Mix") calls it a failure and recommends the Morning Show’s return.

          Rather than deal with this inconvenient and embarrassing development, Kaufman throws out phony flares: my alleged partisanship and my supposedly unfair coverage of Phillips suspension. In pursuit of this sideshow she has found a precious post in which, some years ago, I endorsed pro-Morning Show SaveKPFA’s predecessor, Concerned Listeners. Actually, it is even better than that: I helped to found Concerned Listeners. At one point I even mentioned that I thought that SaveKPFA was the best slate (after that year’s election was over). But by then I had concluded that these "democratized" boards do much more harm than good, and stopped endorsing Pacifica electoral groups, a point that I’ve emphasized over and over, going so far as to criticize SaveKPFA’s bid to recall board member Tracy Rosenberg.

          I’m a SaveKPFA supporter? That would be news to SaveKPFA. Read one of my debates with SaveKPFA on the group’s Facebook page. Kim Kaufman accuses me of being one sided, then ignores evidence to the contrary herself.

          As for not talking to someone besides Phillips, sorry, but the person I needed to talk to was and still is Summer Reese. It is my understanding that she is Pacifica Executive Director AND the Chair of the Board. I want to be fair to everybody interested in Pacifica. Around a year ago Pacifica ran into some hot water for hiring an anti-union law firm. I ran a story about it which published the response of WBAI Local Station Board Chair Mitch Cohen, who is no friend of SaveKPFA. Nobody at Pacifica was quoted, but eventually I got then Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt to post an op-ed piece on Radio Survivor explaining her position. "Thank you for being fair in trying to understand what’s going on," Cohen wrote to me in a response comment.

          Sure: I have my opinions about these matters. But I endeavor to get civil responses to my concerns that reflect other views.

          In pursuit of that goal, I invite Kim Kaufman to post an opinion piece on the situation with Phillips. She can easily collect comments expressing disagreement with Phillips from her allies at KPFA and elsewhere. There’s plenty of ammo in the comments on the story. She can criticize me or anyone else all she wants. All I ask is that the piece be civil and non-defamatory (send it to me here Kim).

          But I’ll bet that Kaufman turns me down, because her posting a counter-op-ed on Radio Survivor would crash her case that I’m just a SaveKPFA hack. And frankly, given her and Pacifica’s disastrous policies regarding KPFA, that’s all she’s got.

      • Ann Garrison June 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

        That’s a good thing that you’re willing to accept submissions from opposing viewpoints, Matthew, though I think it’s a little silly to say that this piece of yours is not defamatory, because you’ve included a lot of denigrating speculation about the subjectivity of various individuals which you can’t possibly be privy to and can’t verify.

  6. Arlene Krebs June 4, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    While the comments focus on radio programming content, they do NOT focus on leadership, which is the true issue here. Andrew has provided leadership with fairness–a quality that the report infers and that the Pacifica Board previously supported. But now a shift…and why? Local in-fighting destroy the station’s reputation, its energy, its fundraising ability, as well in the larger picture, support for all non-mainstream media. The sad fact is that the KPFA situation just feeds into the stereotypes that “all those lefties can’t manage themselves, let alone manage ‘something larger’. It is truly short-sighted to lose quality leadership from Andrew who has such a rich history and dedication to public radio.

    • Ann Garrison June 5, 2013 at 9:37 am #

      Summer Reese could not get away with suspending Andrew and bringing
      in an investigator over disagreement about how to program the morning hours even if she wanted to. This argument manifests the tendency to reduce everything that happens at KPFA to an argument about the 7 to 9 am hours.

      Pacifica is so contentious and litigious that it would probably be a cost savings if the Foundation hired a full-time human resources professional instead of an expensive consultant employed on demand.

  7. Tracy Rosenberg June 4, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    The infighting is “eternal”. I remember sitting in a KPFA staff meeting in *2002* when I worked there and having a news reporter crack that the station was “unmanageable” and everyone happily agreed. It still is, and that is correlated with the financial trends described above. There are ways to define good management. Many of them have to do with posting performance results, not getting into HR trouble etc. At KPFA, the definition sometimes morphs into not doing much of anything, but that may not be the best definition if you care that the station survives. Unmanageability has not led to increasing levels of subscribership.

    Here’s some stuff from the wayback machine. (partial snips for brevity). Y

    KPFA’s interim general manager abuses station’s email list for partisan purposes
    Posted on January 24, 2012 by KPFA Worker
    On December 26, 2011, Andrew Leslie Phillips, who was appointed by Pacifica over the objections of local board members, prefaced his end-of-year fund pitch with a rant blaming the station’s union workers, falsely, for $200,000 in costs spent “defending [KPFA] from grievances.”

    “Your email is inaccurate and offensive,” wrote Christina Huggins of CWA 9415 which represents KPFA’s unionized staff. “You continue to paint yourself and fellow KPFA management as ‘victims’ of our Union. There you were, just standing around trying to ‘do good’ and the Union attacked you.

    “It’s this attitude by the interim general manager that led to the local board’s overwhelming vote of ‘no confidence’ in him,” said one KPFA staffer. “Andrew has demonstrated an anti-union bias from the day he stepped through the station’s doors, and he’s spent most of his time trying to create divisions between the unpaid and paid staff.” Phillips has a history of inappropriate behavior toward KPFA’s staff.

    KPFA interim general manager promotes right-wing conspiracy theories
    Posted on October 29, 2011 by KPFA Worker

    Interim general manager Andrew Phillips promoted a questionable “thank you gift” to listeners who subscribed to the station during KPFA’s 2011 autumn fund drive. On Wednesday, October 12th, Phillips hosted and pitched excerpts from Zeitgeist: The Movie. which combines speculation about the origins of Christianity with 9/11 conspiracy theories and far right-wing claims about the Federal Reserve and impending world government.

    The movie argues that no plane hit the Pentagon on September 11th and that elites have a plan to put mind-controlling Radio Frequency Identification microchips in people’s brains and, if they protest, stop them by turning off the chips. Ron Paul supporter Aaron Russo is featured in the film claiming that the Rockefellers are in on the nefarious ploy. The film suggests that some people already have been duped into having microchips implanted in them. Phillips, who referred to himself during the broadcast as “a conspiracy nut,” described the film as “extraordinary” and “loaded with an amazing potpourri of information.”

    Management reacts

    At a local station board meeting during the final week of fundraising, KPFA’s interim general manager Andrew Phillips launched into a rambling, contradictory and at times profanity-laced attack on KPFA’s staff, its union, and other critics of Pacifica, who he called a “fifth column” (a reference to fascist infiltrators during the Spanish Civil War). He also quipped, ominously: “You can run a radio station with no paid staff if you have to.”

    Then, after KPFA’s Spring Fund Drive wrapped up, Phillips took to KPFA’s airwaves at 8 AM on both Thursday and Friday to again berate the station’s staff and their listener allies, and lash out against this website in particular.

    Phillips attacked reporting both here and from the KPFA News Department on $15,000 in gifts to Pacifica station WBAI from a Goldman Sachs partner and Phillips’ own statements opening the possibility of future underwriting at KPFA. The main problem: Phillips’ clarifications tend to re-affirm the original reports. To wit: “I didn’t say that I supported corporate underwriting. I did say that I supported exploring corporate underwriting”

    Where did this guy come from?

    That’s a question we’ve been getting asked a lot. For instance, listener Nancy Arvold writes: “I’ve been a KPFA listener and donor since 1960, and am fearful about what is happening to my anchor for intelligent news and analysis. I don’t even know who to go to to complain about Andrew what’s-his-name, the new station manager.”

    “He obviously knows nothing about either the listeners nor the Bay Area’s needs for KPFA coverage,” Arvold writes. “He is condescending, insulting to listeners, and tells lies and skews this conflict. Since he ‘owns’ the airwaves, he can say anything he wants. I woke up to listen to Mary Berg’s lovely Sunday music, anticipating the usual 9AM morning show, only to hear Andrew introduce Robert Bly is such pablum-y terms I turned of the radio. I might as well be listening to NPR. He and the national board, for whom he is obviously a front man, must be stopped.”

  8. andrew leslie phillips June 4, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    That’s the way Rosenberg rolls – selective facts and distortions. It’s true I had differences with the SaveKPFA faction when I first arrived at KPFA in 2011. It’s true they called me incompetent and lots of other things. But over a year’s time I came to realize that SaveKPFA had a point and I changed my position. No apologies for that. I listened and learned and gradually managed to ameliorate the situation. Ask the staff. Ask the LSB. It’s not perfect but it’s better than it was.

    Many don’t know this but Arlene Engelhard’s “kitchen cabinet” meet monthly – they were all anti SaveKPFA and hated that I was listening to ALL the staff, not just Rosenberg’s faction. After long discussions with paid and unpaid staff – all documented – I decided to give the 7-8am slot to the KPFA News Department who created UpFront. It was a programming decision not the political one Rosenberg wanted. Suddenly KPFA was reaching its goals. Rosenberg’s faction were apoplectic and Engelhard tried to fire me and its the same MO now. And now the LSB overwhelming support this manager -most of the staff do too – rare at KPFA. Gee maybe I was doing something right. Just not supporting Rosenberg’s position. And Rosenberg may not know this but Pacifica (Summer Reese) specifically told this manger back in January not to engage in HR matters – that Pacifica would deal with them. This applied to CWA grievances as well and union stewards can verify – it’s all documented. As for “racism under my tenure”. I guess the contracted investigator will have to sort that out but I have never been told what the grievances are, who filed them, never asked my side of the story. Just told – in a phone call I might add – to get out of the way. Rosenberg continues to throw red herrings in every direction and it really stinks!

    • Tracy Rosenberg June 4, 2013 at 9:59 pm #


      I don’t know what you’re trying to achieve with a public lying campaign, but it’s sad to witness. Do you not realize that all the grievants corresponded with you about their grievances and all of them have the responses you provided? I’m not privy to much of it, but the investigator will be. Emails do not disappear into the ether.

      As well as your statements to Summer Reese that you knew the system at KPFA was unfair but there was nothing you could do about it. But discrimination is in fact, against the law and as the responsible person, you have to do something about it when it is brought to your attention. Or we all won’t have a station for very much longer.

      I know KPFA’s a difficult environment and you probably got tired of getting picked on by Save KPFA, but that’s no excuse to mis-state the facts. KPFA doesn’t have a dime, not one dime, more in revenue from your Upfront decision. Subscribers are down by another 1,000 people from 19,500 to 18,500, listener support is at the same 2.6 million it was without Upfront, and KPFA didn’t have a months worth of payroll in the bank on May 1st of this year. By every indicator of management performance, things have gotten worse, not better. All that happened is you got Save KPFA off your back. It was you that made the political decision.

      But that’s not what’s needed here. Sliding from 21,000 to 19,000 to 18,000 listeners isn’t the right direction. You had an opportunity to do something fresh, to get the station out of the technological dark ages, to find the new young talent in the community and get them on the air, to reinvent the station for the people now in their 20’s and 30’s and struggling with economic catastrophe and a system designed to swallow them whole and instead you just got bogged down in the same old crap and not wanting to get picked on anymore by those who resist change at any price.

      KPFA is 64 years old. That is both a blessing and a curse. It means there is a proud history. It also means there is a lot of baggage and a terrible need for redefinition and renewed relevance. I so wish the articles I find when I google KPFA weren’t like this. If Matthew Lasar, you, others who continue to pretend that you can substitute a public relations campaign for real change really cared about the station, this is not what you would put out there. You’d be beating the bushes for new voices and cultivating them – there would be new programs every year, special programs all the time, a folio, an email newsletter about the *content*, training classes day and night, expanded streaming for 1,000 people, not 300, mobile applications, internet channels – there is so much that is possible. And instead it’s like this.

      A place of pain where the complaints are never-ending and the dollars are never going to be enough.

      I’m still hopeful, but time is running out.

  9. george pursley June 4, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    When you are hired as the highest paid member of and manager of an organization, you should actually know something about the place before you take the job. That he was the Pacifica lapdog before he figured out what was going on and after his boss was chased out – is pathetic.
    That being said, this is the very same way that coporate America is “managed”- elite networking by and for spineless buffoons that is why the station is in serious trouble.

  10. Dan Siegel June 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    I am one of those who changed their minds about Phillips. I was angry that Arlene Engelhardt fired Lemlem Rijio without local station board consultation and then imposed Phillips on us. But Andrew did a good job, and I agree with Lasar that he is KPFA’s best chance at decent leadership.
    The charges against Phillips are silly and being used to discredit him for purely partisan political reasons. They have no chance of going anywhere in the real legal world.
    Pacifica is really about to go over the cliff – not enough money, not enough listeners, not enough good programming, and not enough leadership. The national board is paralyzed, dragging its feet on hiring a competent executive directing and refusing to hold the interim director accountable for anything. Worse yet, it has not moved on beginning the process for this year’s local station board elections, which means at very least that we are further than ever from developing national leadership that can lead the network from its current state of perpetual disaster.

    • Ann Garrison June 5, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

      You know what the grievances are? You have read them? I thought that they were confidential.

  11. Mitchel Cohen June 6, 2013 at 1:39 am #

    May I interject something from afar, please?

    At this point in time, every Pacifica station and the national & local boards must develop and carry out written plans for increasing membership by 50 percent, if Pacifica is to survive the next year, let alone to become sustainable.

    This must entail a multi-pronged approach which will be different in different areas. At WBAI a few of us have proposed a $1 trial-membership campaign in which every single person affiliated with WBAI becomes an organizer and gets out into the streets. We’d take out ads on OTHER stations, so that we’re not just reaching the same listeners. We’ve actually been proposing this for 7 years under the management of every faction. We’ve proposed involving local supportive politicians to talk with the Empire State Building about providing a not-for-profit rate for use of the antenna and transmitter (right now WBAI pays $50,000 A MONTH for use of that antenna). A coherent plan to increase membership must also involve developing online access platforms and social media, use of parallel “stations” on the internet channels and better integration of shows from affiliates, which are Pacifica’s real hidden strength.

    Has anyone seen such a proposal? If not, why not? If management hasn’t presented one, they’re not doing their jobs. If the Boards have not presented one, they should all be shot. (There, I said it. Now we can bicker over that.)

    Good management and good governance would develop those plans and organize hordes of listeners and staff to implement them, to vastly increase listenership.

    A lot of folks in every faction are very good organizers, but we’re locked in battles with each other that don’t make use of our skills for expanding the station, and instead we use them to mobilize warring camps to slash each other to bits. That goes for all parties. I include myself here as well as the writer of this blog and the debaters on it.

    Sure, it’s obvious to me that one side is more correct than the other, and sure (again), I’ve had to delete from this own post dozens of references to individuals, the historical record, and the like to convince the 3 of you who are undecided to vote with US and not with them!
    . But what good, really, does arguing out the Pacifica equivalent of who did what at Kronstadt, or the Hitler-Stalin pact, or the Spanish Civil War? We engage each other in tit-for-tat, and it is a sign, sorry to say, of very damaged people (ALL of us) as we look for the holes or openings in the other’s arguments. Maybe it shouldn’t be about correcting the historical record — at least not at the present time — but about abandoning that impulse, that smackdown way of doing things.

    I know it’s become sort of a perverse joke of sorts to laugh at Rodney King’s “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?” plea. I’m not arguing for that. I already know why we can’t. I’m arguing for something else: For developing a plan and putting it into action for expanding paid membership by 50 percent. We’re never going to be trustful of each other, too much poisoned water under the bridge. But we still can organize (I hope).

    O, man, in re-reading this it seems so mealy-mouthed, so pathetically “liberal”. Eeeesh, I can’t stand myself! 🙂 Combat Liberalism, Mitchel!!! Politics in Command!

    Look, I just returned from an event in Manhattan (I live in the bottom of Brooklyn) billed as “Unifying the Left”. Hundreds of people came, and yet with the first words from the first speaker I got that old sinking in quicksand feeling again. Five organizational spokespeople gave talks on how to talk about whether they should talk about what it would mean to talk about “unity”. Not a single organization — Not the Communist Party, DSA, Committees of Correspondence, Jacobin Magazine, or Freedom Road (please forget that this is hardly the spectrum to present itself as talking unity, as quite a few speakers from Occupy Wall Street, Red Youth, and others pointed out from the audience) mentioned the revolution occurring right now in Turkey — can we unify in support of that? There’s a vast movement against the natural gas and oil pipelines, tar sands, fracking, nuclear power — can we unify around those issues? Nothing. Shame!

    I am BEGGING us to unify around one or more plans for increasing paid membership immediately. Where are those plans? Has anyone in “authority” in Pacifica presented them? Let’s forget about why they haven’t done so, at least for one moment, and take a step forward.

    Can we talk about THAT, here? Please!

    In loving memory of WBAI’s Ibrahim Gonzalez, who died very unexpectedly this week.

    Mitchel Cohen
    former Chair of WBAI Local Board (2008-2012), and
    Brooklyn Greens

    • Mark Hernandez June 6, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      The problem is that no one in control of Pacifica is actually qualified to operate and manage a radio station, let alone a radio network. Your commentary, albeit heartfelt, offers nothing to a subscriber, paid or potential, save that they can be beaten about the head and ears of the political agenda of the moment, whatever depth to the Left it may be.

      When you understand what subscribers WANT from their radio station instead of telling them what you IMPOSE on them is when you will start reaching out successfully.

    • Tracy Rosenberg June 6, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      You can shoot me, Mitchell. It’s okay. I’ve written those plans, more than once over the years, as a staffer, as a volunteer, as a board member – and have watched them go nowhere. The latest one dates from February 2012 and here we are in May of 2013. It’s maddening.

      Why are there such problems doing what it is fairly obvious needs to be done? Three reasons, primarily.

      The first is straightforward enough. It’s hard and the challenges are real. Media is changing and the old financial models don’t work anymore. All journalism now, basically, is trying to fall back on the listener-support model pioneered by Pacifica’s Lew Hill and there is virtually endless competition for audio content providers. Spend a few days at the National Federation of Community Broadcasters Conference like I just did and there is enough fear to go around. If the keynote luncheon had a theme, that theme was “scared shitless”. People know the needs in the community are there, but the path to sustainability in a looted economy are very unclear. No shame in not knowing all the answers, no one does, but there is shame in not trying with your whole heart and all the resources you can muster. The fingers in the ears approach many sectors within the Pacifica stations have taken, as Mitchell points out, can’t work. Doing the same old thing and expecting different results …

      The second reason is institutional trauma. And that’s what we’re really talking about when the conversation turns to grievances. We’re talking about workplaces that are toxic, and where the stress and conflict level isn’t conducive to people taking risks and being creative and innovative. KPFA is far from alone in that and each station has their own mishegoss, but its foolish to see people in positions of authority continuing a long tradition of minimizing ongoing evidence of workplaces that need to address issues of fairness. There is no doubt when the police are called in a dispute about copy machine usage that ends with volunteer worker beaten up — there are some long-standing issues. To pretend that’s not the case is another version of the fingers in the ears. That’s five years and 20+ grievances ago. Getting some help changing what needs to be changed should be welcomed.

      The third reason is duplicity. Some of it is probably intentional and some of it probably isn’t, but you don’t get much of anywhere where you’re dealing with fantasy issues – or just plain old lies.

      Like this (posted by Dan Siegel earlier in the thread):

      “I was angry that Arlene Engelhardt fired Lemlem Rijio without local station board consultation”

      One would say “okay” except that it’s a bald-faced lie. Not only was the local station board consulted, it held a long discussion and a VOTE on January 9th, 2010 and sent a recommendation directly to the executive director suggesting termination months before the manager chose to resign. (She wasn’t fired). And Dan Siegel was on the local station board and present at the meeting where the vote occurred. As was I.

      Instead of increasing membership, pursuing development funding, getting that stream up to 1,000 people instead of a mere 300, pursuing partnerships that could help KPFA and all the Pacifica stations, what are two members of the Pacifica National Board doing? Posting on Radio Survivor about an event recorded in foundation minutes about which there is no debate.

      The Dan Siegel post is a bit like reading an out-of-body-experience. This post is by the person who has probably been the most influential and deeply involved in national Pacifica governance for the past decade. The executive director twice, the corporate counsel for years, even the election supervisor once. And a member of Pacifica’s board for the third consecutive year.

      The problems are real. The conversations, unfortunately, often aren’t.

  12. Ann Garrison June 6, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    This hadn’t occurred to me when I read Dan Siegel’s response, but now i remember this bit of history, when the LSB voted on January 9, 2010 to recommend terminating Lemlem Rijio:

    “I was angry that Arlene Engelhardt fired Lemlem Rijio without local station board consultation” (Dan Siegel)

    One would say “okay” except that it’s a bald-faced lie. Not only was the local station board consulted, it held a long discussion and a VOTE on January 9th, 2010 and sent a recommendation directly to the executive director suggesting termination months before the manager chose to resign. (She wasn’t fired). And Dan Siegel was on the local station board and present at the meeting where the vote occurred. As was I. (Tracy Rosenberg)


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