The Old Regime's Legacy at KPFA
The slow motion takeover of KPFA began in 1992 and reached its climax in 1999. During those years, the highjackers recruited assistants, trained proteges and created a culture which permeates the station to this day. It's the background of the March 2014 firing of Summer Reese -- a "coup" which was resisted by an occupation of the Pacifica HQ.
THE AUTHOR: Maria Gilardin, a former KPFA programmer & department head, & present independent program producer (TUC Radio) documents the staff role (or lack thereof) in the attempted hijacking of KPFA during the 1990's. The first part is in chronology form, & the last is an analysis of the present relationship of some staff to democracy & change at KPFA. Written six years ago, it is still relevant today.
SEVEN LONG YEARS: 1992 - 1999
by Maria Gilardin
During the slow motion take over of KPFA that began in 1992 and reached its climax in the attempted sale of KPFA and the lock-out of station staff in 1999, we, community members and members of Take Back KPFA and the Coalition for a democratic Pacifica (CdP) waited, first patiently and then with more and more anxiety for a letter or statement from staff, alerting the community to the hijacking of KPFA and Pacifica.
That letter was never written. Had not three courageous programmers finally gone public KPFA listeners might never have known and the logo of another network might be disgracing the building on MLK Jr. Way today.
As somebody who picketed the Pacifica National office in Berkeley dozen of times in those seven years, who attended protest rallies when staff was kicked out, who was present at countless KPFA Local Board meetings where the restructuring of Pacifica became apparent to anybody taking the trouble to go and listen, I was amazed -- as were many other Pacifica activists -- at the passive, fearful silence, not to mention instances of outright support for those changes, coming especially from the long - time paid KPFA staff.
Since 1992, and for seven long years, we put flyers into staff mail boxes, issued press releases to the media and copied them to staff; even setting up a micro power radio station outside of KPFA and tuning the receivers inside KPFA to the pirate frequency. We wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk for you to see when you came out -- and saw you leave through the back door. We called you personally on the phone, asked friends of yours to intervene and help rescue KPFA and Pacifica before it was too late. But save for the one exceptional action by three staff members, none of you who were there did anything for almost seven years -- until the summer of1999.
When Dennis Bernstein and two others called attention to the 1997 union contract that was signed as a sweetheart deal with KPFA management, they were denounced by staff. Much later, when Nicole Sawaya was fired and her firing protested by Larry Bensky, Robbie Osman, and Dennis Bernstein, no unified support of Nicole came from staff who returned to the station without her.
From 1992 to early 1999, respected programmers went on the air, supported the purges of 1995, when 165 community programmers were dismissed all at once, and maligned Take Back KPFA and the CdP.
The New Pacifica is just 6 months old. When the National and Local Boards were seated in February of this year the time of hijacks and takeovers finally ended. This should have been a time to celebrate.
NOW, all of a sudden, in July 2004, you are writing a letter claiming that the newly elected board -- or at least some of the members -- are your enemy. Others have dealt with some of the complaints. I am addressing those of you who signed the letter.
I am troubled by the signatures of unpaid staff whom I know, respect, and like. Why would you have signed a document that is largely based on incidents you did not take part in or witness? I asked some of the parties accused and their recollections differ considerably from the statements in the staff letter.
I am addressing the question of the presence of "saboteurs from former Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott's regime" on KPFA staff because I think these parts of the letter are addressed at me.
It is easy to blame Pat Scott for everything. Bertolt Brecht wrote in his poem on history: (Julius) "Caesar conquered Gaul. Did he not at least have a cook with him?" Pat Scott could not have done what she and those who followed her did, if she had not had a lot of help. And having knowledge and not acting on it is a serious matter. There are issues of integrity, ethics, and responsibility involved. I am, of course, excluding all those who signed this letter who played no part in this. I am addressing those among paid staff of the period of 1992 to 1999, many of whom are still there, who were the supporters of the take-over.
The time line below gives the most important events in that slow motion take-over of KPFA and Pacifica, during which anyone present should have been aware of fundamental change taking place in the structure of the station, the bylaws, the governance, and the national office. It was a very serious matter, involving the plunder of millions of dollars of listener money over those many years. The time line shows how benefits accrued to those who collaborated, and lists the many missed opportunities to protect KPFA and Pacifica from the takeover. For the most part names have been withheld by me to still protect the guilty.
We, who worked for years in the Save KPFA and Pacifica movement, have never addressed that most important question:
Why did staff inside KPFA not prevent the 10-year corporate raid?
Many of current paid staff were inside the station between 1992 and 2002. You saw what was going on from day to day. Some of you held positions directly assisting the hijackers. And if you did not see it you saw us picketing the station, pleading with you to act. However, instead of ringing the alarm you ignored us and persecuted the lone whistle blowers inside the station.
You could have prevented the take over. We did not want to blame you. We were sure that ultimately even the collaborators would welcome change. Even those who helped Pat Scott and those who followed her could not have been happy in that role. We understand that the amount of intimidation was immense. Not everybody has the guts to stand up. We thought you would be relieved to live and work without fear and compromise.
However, now, just five months into the new era of Pacifica, many of the names of those who collaborated with the old regime appear on the staff letter of July 22, 2004. I know that the mainstream media feels empowered to re-write history, but when it happens at KPFA it must become a cause of wider community concern.
I am writing this because there are now two stories, two parallel narratives. The inside and the outside story of KPFA and Pacifica and they are totally different. Collaborators have become heroes, victims made perpetrators; actions and in-actions reverse their order. Michael Moore is right. We are living in fictional times. But we cannot allow fiction to invade KPFA.
Here is a list of some of your missed opportunities to save KPFA and Pacifica:
In June, 1993, KPFA was picketed by African-American programmers from KPFK in L.A. They were protesting Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott's purges at our sister station. They had hoped for help from you -- none was forthcoming.
1994: Pat Scott changed the face of community radio by voting as a member of the CPB task force to peg CPB funding to Arbitron ratings, a decision that almost defunded KPFK and several other community stations. There was not a word from staff.
February 1995: Pacifica program directors were told to mainstream programming. The staff of KPFA voiced no opposition. Instead management at KPFA began to prepare the purges of August 1995.
March/April, 1995: Pat Scott hired the American Consulting Group, listed by the AFL-CIO as a notorious union-buster, to break the KPFA union (United Electrical Workers). Did nobody notice that they were there?
May 1995: Bill Mandel was fired for deviating from his subject matter and breaking the "Gag Rule". More than 60 people picketed the station -- no paid staff among them. Some of you went on the air and said it was good thing to fire people who had been there so long and were "old". Now, that some of you have been there for almost as many years, "term limits" is no longer talked about.
June 1995: The National Board began to hold secret meetings in violation of CPB funding guidelines. For the next two years, Take Back KPFA activists picketed at National Board meeting sites, often struggling to raise enough money to send representatives to other cities. There was never, in all these years, any participation from paid staff until it was almost too late, in 1999, until your own sinecures were threatened.
August 1995: All 7 to 8 pm weekday public affairs slots were replaced with music and 165 programmers, many of them community activists, were removed from the air. Some were informed, as they went on the air, that this was their final program. (The large number of 165 was due to the fact that these evening slots were programmed by collectives: Native Americans, Gay community, the Women's Department, Pacific Islanders etc.)
This mass removal changed the demographics at the station in a dramatic way, since a substantial number of the evening programmers were people of color.
In the context of the 1995 purge four KPFA departments were eliminated without resistance from paid staff.
The Women's Department had as department heads, over time, an African-American, a Native American woman and a Latina. The Third World Department had an African-American woman as the long-time department head and the Public Affairs Department had an African-American department head and later two Latino directors. KPFA paid staff also agreed to the firing of the last FOLIO editor, and the termination of the FOLIO department, ending publication of, not only a literary supplement, and reference guide and resource, but an essential form of monthly outreach to KPFA's listeners, continuous since the station's founding in 1949.
All three programming departments (Third World, Women, and Public Affairs) had a degree of diversity. They also allowed for community participation in the programming of KPFA that no longer exists in the tightly controlled "air-strips" and remnants of PA programs that have become the private property of a host. Several paid staffers voiced approval of the demise of these departments on the air.
November, 1995: Brian McConville, investigator from the Inspector General's office of the CPB (Corp. for Public Broadcasting) launched an investigation into the violation of open meeting rules of the Pacifica National Board. Following Pat Scott's intervention with his boss, he was fired 17 days later and the investigation is suspended. At the time, both management and staff never bothered announcing that the meetings were even taking place.
May, 1996: The presence of the American Consulting Group at KPFA, and Pacifica, was exposed by Take Back KPFA. The producer of the labor program on KPFA did not have the courage to mention its presence in KPFA's union negotiation while interviewing a union activist on the role of the ACG in preventing union organizing at the Lafayette Park Hotel The rest of the staff also maintained radio silence concerning ACG's role at the station.
December, 1996: CPB's Deputy Inspector Mike Donovan was fired after attempting to continue the investigation into the violation of open meeting rules of the Pacifica National Board. No word from staff. Unconcerned with anything outside of the station's front door, paid staff probably didn't know about it.
1996-1997: The union at WBAI, the United Electrical Workers (UE), refused to submit to Scott's order to kick the unpaid staff from the union. While the WBAI/UE fought all the way up to the NLRB for inclusion of the unpaid staff in the bargaining unit -- and even initially were victorious at the New York level (Feb. 1997) -- KPFA paid staff knuckled under to Scott and left the UE and joined the CWA (Communication Workers of America), breaking solidarity with their sister union members in New York, and as well as with KPFA's unpaid staff who they unceremoniously booted out.
There was, however, a pay-off. In return for two-tier pay raises, job protection and a pension plan, staff agreed to NOT go on strike, NOT do sit down actions, and NOT employ work stoppages, slow downs or boycotts, sympathy strikes or corporate campaigns against management.
A courageous letter signed by three dissident staff members and former union stewards appeared in the S.F. Bay Guardian in October 1997, pointing out that: "CWA members granted management the absolute right to fire at will all on-air personnel hired after Sept. 1, 1997. "
And "The new agreement, which both CWA and Pacifica have called "win-win," creates the same kind of unfair two-tier pay system that BART and UPS workers successfully opposed in their recent strikes. It specifically states that management can hire temporary workers for as low as $7.50 an hour for work for which other employees receive a substantially higher wage."
Paid staff gave up all these rights at a crucial time where any such action as a work stoppage, slow down or boycott, sympathy strike or corporate campaign would have exposed the hijacking of Pacifica and the enormous financial fraud committed by the leadership.
March, 1997: Community members hired a lawyer to fight to retain the rights of local board members to sit on the National Board while Pacifica began to change the bylaws to make the National Board self perpetuating and exclude station board members and staff from the National Board.
1997: National Board meeting in Oakland: Take Back KPFA had a sizable picket outside the Oakland hotel where the board was meeting. Inside Mary Frances Berry was voted in as the new chair of Pacifica. KPFA representative and Board Secretary Roberta Brooks attempted to have a motion entered into the minutes as passed that had not been approved at the last meeting. A Take Back KPFA member held up a tape recording of that meeting to prove it. At that moment KPFA paid staff entered in their new CWA T-shirts. They read a prepared statement regarding their personal pay issues and left. We ran after them, pleading with them to stay and listen or to join the picket line outside. One and all, they refused.
With the exception of KPFA, the media were beginning to take interest in the story, and articles were posted and disseminated via the internet.
While the urgency of the KPFA/Pacifica issue became increasingly apparent, paid staff kept completely silent.
The last chance for KPFA staff to write a letter came and went in February, 1999 when Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Ed Herman wrote a moving appeal, alerting the public to the imminent danger. We -- the activists on the outside -- hoped that, finally, staff would have the courage to put their names to that letter. They did not sign on -- not even under the wings of luminaries such as Chomsky, Zinn and Herman.
That was the last chance to rescue KPFA and Pacifica before the lockout and occupation of the station by security guards. In retrospect it is evident that paid staff only began to act when their personal jobs were at stake. It is sad to say that a large number of paid KPFA staff seem to be people who see this not as a station that belongs to the community, accountable and inclusive, but as a place to pick up a pay-check.
When on July 14, 1999 armed guards, hired by Pacifica, tried to arrest Dennis Bernstein after he disclosed the attempt to sell KPFA on Flash Points, Dennis tried to find a way to warn listeners of the take-over by running upstairs to the news department. Mark Mericle was just reading the headlines and was getting ready to lead with a story on health care.
As Dennis tried to get his attention and removed the feed reel with the story from the tape deck, Mark refused twice to deviate from his schedule. Only when the board operator opened the microphone and the sounds of the struggle went on the air did Mark report on what was going on.
The battle for Pacifica was not over when staff returned to the station after the 1999 lockout. Paid staff returned without Nicole Sawaya and accepted the appointment of Jim Bennett by the Pacifica National office in her stead.
Silence among the paid staff fell again on the station at the end of 1999 as the fight over the dissolution of the national hi-jack board of Pacifica continued. Most of staff did not participate in the law suits, in the pickets of National Board members, or in the boycott of Pacifica National News. Staff was very late in supporting Free Speech Radio News -- started in a garage in Berkeley -- and even late in supporting Democracy Now!
While members from community organizations, most notably from the CdP, were arrested at picket lines, and organized and financed the first two rounds of elections for a KPFA Local Station Board, staff retained their silence. Staff as a whole did not allow the Local Station Board to report on the developments of the bylaws via regular Local Station Board reports. Listeners who depend on the station to keep them informed about such things had to wait for sympathetic programmers to offer time.
KPFA staff as a group refused to participate in the boycott of Pacifica National. From 1999 until removal of the last hijackers from Pacifica's national staff in 2002, KPFA transferred to that office hundreds of thousands of dollars of listener donations used to fight the community and the lawsuits.
The crucial period from early 2002 until very recently saw KPFA and Pacifica under judge's orders to develop a new set of bylaws. The Local Station Boards and committees, several dozen people at each station worked, very hard at consensus. At KPFA the board held meetings at the station to make it easy for staff to participate in the writing of the bylaws. One staff member participated.
Listeners wrote into the bylaws unprecedented rights and representation for staff on the local and national boards, giving them 25% membership on all boards. Under the old bylaws staff representation was zero.
Community stations across the country interviewed members on the bylaws committees, and even participated in the process. But staff at KPFA for which the bylaws were written maintained an almost uniform silence.
The story repeated itself in changes concerning Program Councils. Many community stations have such councils: Madison, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; and the GRC (Grassroots Radio Coalition) contributed from their experience. KPFA staff almost entirely ignored the debates over responsibility and rights of Program Councils and then sabotaged the outcome by not attending meetings or overturning decisions taken in them.
In the years from 1999 to today, KPFA staff had unprecedented freedom to run the affairs of the station as they pleased. Pacifica's national office no longer interfered. There was an in-house General Manager who was willing to cooperate fully with paid staff. There was no Program Director for most of that time. KPFA paid staff was in charge -- and is now.
If there have been no significant changes in all these years, is it because KPFA is already perfect? Even the paid staff majority would not say that. Even friends of staff, such as Doug Henwood, say -- terrible to hear -- that "KPFA is irrelevant". KPFA is known as Pat Scott Radio because it still operates under the same system of NPR -- derived structures, in violation of the founders intent, and with a paid staff lacking in diversity as it was in 1995.
KPFA, as a station, in spite of its freedom from interference by the National Board, has not participated in the media democracy movement, in the resurgence of community radio via the GRC, the micropower movement, Indy media or other efforts to free the air and open access. As a station with a huge staff and unprecedented resources KPFA has been unable even to conceive of what Amy Goodman has actually done, initiating a national media collaboration involving] radio (ranging from community to NPR stations) with television and the internet.
Democracy has a hard time coming to KPFA in spite (or some would say, because of) the leanings of so many paid staff members towards the Democratic Party. There can hardly be a clearer indication of entrenched and reactionary power, than more than a year's adamant resistance to shifting the station's most popular and respected program, Democracy Now! to a time when most working people can hear it. Ownership of airtime, turf and power have also prevented an open, honest discussion over strategies to produce the best possible programming for the station as a whole.
To those of you who read through this long and critical letter, please consider what is truly most to your advantage, and that of the community you have obligated yourselves to serve. Please support a free and democratic KPFA.
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UNITED FOR COMMUNITY RADIO
KPFA 94.1 FM is one of five stations of the Pacifica radio network which are located in major cities across the country. The other stations are WBAI 99.5 in New York, WPFW 89.3 in Washington DC, KPFT 90.1 in Houston, and KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles. There are also about 160 affiliate stations.