The Blame Game at KPFA

by Tracy Rosenberg
October 16, 2012

KPFA Radio, the first listener-sponsored radio station and progressive media outlet, is having board elections in November. Many of you will say “again?” - having recently received postcards and ballots for a recall election just a few months ago. This time, however, your vote will count, and there are some important decisions to be made. This article is intended to help you decide how to vote if you are a KPFA member – and encourage you to do so. It’s not as hard as it may feel to decipher all the rhetoric!

Basically, there are two slates of candidates--United for Community Radio (UCR) and Save KPFA --and you will make a choice to largely support one or the other. Details on the candidates running and their statements can be found on the web as each slate has a website: UCR at votecommunityradio.org and Save KPFA at savekpfa.org.

But let’s cut to the chase and answer the question: what is the fighting all about?

It all began five or six years ago. KPFA started to show declining membership numbers in 2006 and hit a deep crevice when the economy collapsed. The decline was up to 30% by the spring of 2009. At a non-profit where 85% of all income derives from listener-member donations, that is a big crisis.

When then-board treasurer (and Save KPFA poster boy) Brian Edwards-Tiekert presented the draft budget to the board on July 11, 2009, here is what he said:

“The bottom line--with all the caveats about rough numbers that I spelled out above--is a minimal (sic) operating surplus before capital expenses, and a minimal cash deficit afterwards. But getting to that break-even point requires cutting around $430,000 in salaries and benefits, and eliminating most consultant spending”

A year before, in May of 2008, Edwards-Tiekert had addressed the national board of directors and said:

"We have spent, and budgeted, as if a one-time spike in listenership and listener support was long term growth, which it was not. … We have a lot more people on payroll; and it hurts to cut jobs … it hurts us as social-justice people. …And you get pushed back, you get politicking, you get coalitions to block any kind of job cut, so the path of least resistance is to first spend down your savings, as long as you got money to pay the bills, and then go, ‘Oh my god, we’re headed over a cliff now,’ which is where we are now.”

In fact, neither the final 2008 nor the 2009 budgets contained the cuts necessary to get to the break-even point, and just as Edwards-Tiekert anticipated, the station went right over the cliff., losing $575,000 in the year ending September 30, 2008 and another $585,000 in the year ending September 30, 2009. By 2010, there was no money left to pay the bills and the cuts happened.

The tragic thing for KPFA, besides the fiscal crisis itself, was that the scenario Edwards-Tiekert laid out went down exactly as predicted: There was push back, there was politicking, there was a coalition to block any kind of job cut. Ironically, it was Edwards-Tiekert himself who led the charge, along with his comrades in Save KPFA.

They inundated KPFA members with accusatory and angry emails, filed (and lost) five different complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, filed (and lost) a union arbitration, filed bogus lawsuits and a recall election, ran competing private fund drives and basically did everything they could to make people (and KPFA itself) “pay” for getting back to the breakeven point from the bottom of the cliff where they never should have gone in the first place.

There’s a fundamental dishonesty to that.

So here we are in 2012. The last two years have been filled with charges and denunciations. Recall elections have been launched. Another executive director has bitten the dust. Yet KPFA’s website is technologically backward, no Internet channels have been launched, KPFA hasn’t gotten a grant in years, and the current fund drive is struggling. What have we gotten from this Save KPFA coalition to block any kind of job cut, this politicking, this push back?

Obstruction, anger, declarations of revenge. Making people pay.

I don’t want it to seem as if this article is an attack on Brian Edwards-Tiekert. It’s not. I would fight to save my job if it was in danger and everyone’s job is in danger when their employer experiences huge losses and a fiscal crisis. Nowadays, everyone’s job is in danger all the time because the 1% has looted this country and brought it to the brink of catastrophe.

Which is why we have to stop messing around with one of the few progressive media outlets we have and hold Save KPFA accountable for their destructive and fear-based campaign. They aren’t helping KPFA. In the year since the recall campaign was launched last fall, KPFA slipped from 21,455 members to 19,800 in July of 2012. That’s the wrong direction. It’s not working.

So to you 19,800 remaining members and anyone reading this who isn’t a member and should be, we don’t have to keep falling over the cliff again and again. $3.4 million dollars (KPFA’s current annual budget) is a lot of money. Stations all over the country demonstrate every day that you can have a vital, healthy, radical voice for change for a lot less than that. You just can’t piddle it all away in a pitched battle about who is to blame for financial stresses everyone understands and no one likes.

Join Larry Shoup, Karen Pickett, Ramses Teon Nichols, Samsarah Morgan, Andrea Prichett, Dave Welsh, Oriana Saportas, Beth Seligman, Kate Tanaka and Virginia Browning, and vote United for Community Radio (
votecommunityradio.org) for a vision for KPFA's survival a little deeper than the blame game.


TRACY ROSENBERG is the executive director of Media Alliance, and a local and national board member for KPFA. She knows a little bit about the blame game.


The above article was posted on the Berkeley Daily Planet website on Oct 14, 2012. This is the updated version of October 16th.


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