What’s Happening at KPFA?

Carol Spooner: What’s Happening at KPFA?
November 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I’ve been getting phone calls and emails asking me what’s happening at KPFA. This is my best understanding of the situation after speaking with many participants and watching this situation develop over the past several years.

In the box below are excerpts from Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s report to the Pacifica National Board made two years ago in September 2008 when he was the then KPFA Local Board Treasurer and member of the Pacifica National Finance Committee. Brian was mainly talking about the poor financial condition of WBAI & KPFK back then (although KPFA had just had to hold its fall fund drive a month early because they were out of cash). But what he said then also applies as a very clear explanation of what is happening today at KPFA. Just recently KPFA too exhausted its cash reserves and had to borrow money from Pacifica station KPFT in Houston to meet its September 15th payroll. As with WBAI then, layoffs at KPFA are absolutely unavoidable at this point.

“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.”

“So we’ve gotten ourself to a place where’s there’s not just a spending crisis, where we’re out of balance, but where there’s a cash crisis. There is not the money in our accounts that affords us the flexibility to take some of the steps we need to get the Foundation back in balance…”

“The income you have you have coming in, the revenues in that budget has to be proven. You have to be able to demonstrate that you’ve raised that kind of money by that kind of means in the past, or you can’t count on it.”

“Stations without any cash in the bank, who are starting the year with zero, or as in the case with a couple of our stations, in the hole, negative money, have to budget a surplus.”

“What I’m aiming at, is not having the Foundation go belly up in three months, because that’s what we’re heading for right now.”

“What I dread even more is the day that everybody at the five stations and Pacifica shows up to work to collect their paycheck for their last two weeks of work, and here’s “Sorry, we don’t have the money for you, our bank account’s empty…” “

“And if we don’t make the cuts now, and honestly some of these cuts should have been made one or two years ago, that’s the real prospect we face, because we’re running out of cash.”

I can’t improve on Brian’s explanation of the financial situation or the political push-back against layoffs, but I have prepared a chart for the numbers-junkies at the end of this post. Of course the big difference is that then Brian was saying that others should be laid off and warning about the political push-back but today Brian is the one being laid off and doing the political pushback.

Why The Morning Show?

After a 2-year delay in necessary layoffs and months of wrangling with the union this past year, the KPFA management’s proposal for layoffs was to cancel Flashpoints and Hard Knock Radio. Why did Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt decide to cut the Morning Show staff instead? There are two reasons: (1) Seniority — both the Flashpoints and Hard Knock staff have more seniority than the Morning Show staff, and (2) Uniqueness — Hard Knock is the only program on KPFA targeted towards young people of color, and Flashpoints is an award-winning investigative newsmagazine with a long-standing and passionately supportive audience particularly around their reporting and expertise on Palestine, Haiti, the US-Mexico border, and elsewhere. (Flashpoints, in the afternoon drive-time, is also the 2nd biggest fundraiser at KPFA.)

But the Morning Show is for the most part a set format local public affairs and cultural interview program. Aimee Allison replaced Andrea Lewis who replaced Kris Welch, and Brian Edwards-Tiekert replaced Philip Maldari. KPFA didn’t fall down when those personnel changes occurred. The program remained popular and a big fundraiser in the morning drive-time. This isn’t meant to disparage Brian or Aimee who have been doing a great job (or Andrea, Kris or Philip), but it is the reality of the morning drive-time program on KPFA. There are several other more senior staff members and some combination of them could move into the Morning Show at least temporarily with very little if any change in its focus and popularity — Philip Maldari, Kris Welch, Davey D, Anita Johnson, CS Soong, Sasha Lilley, Dennis Bernstein — and probably some members of the unpaid staff who could also fill in for awhile. Democracy Now could also temporarily move into an hour of that time and probably raise even more money than the Morning Show does. While money isn’t everything, of course, right now money is critical or KPFA won’t survive. And no particular person’s job is more important than the survival of KPFA.

How You Can Help

You can help KPFA get through these hard times by doubling your contribution this year, and asking everyone you know to do the same. You can also help by not getting caught up in the drama and destructive rhetorical battles. This isn’t 1999. The Pacifica Board of Directors is now elected not self-appointed. Pacifica’s new Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt isn’t trying to corporatize or NPRize KPFA. She is trying to save KPFA from its own previous uncontrolled spending and bad management that was supported and protected by the staff who are now doing the complaining against the necessary financial responsibility measures. She is trying to save the whole Pacifica Network — the only network of its kind in this country — that distributes essential progressive programming to over 100 affiliated community stations across the country to counter these crazy political times — programs like Democracy Now, Free Speech Radio News, Letters To Washington, Flashpoints, Uprising, and many other programs produced at the 5 Pacifica stations.

Thanks for your support for KPFA and Pacifica,
Carol Spooner

KPFA Local Board member 2000-April 2005
Pacifica National Board member – Jan 2002-Jan 2005
Founder & lead plaintiff – Committee to Remove the Pacifica Board & the “listeners’ lawsuit” – 1999-Dec 2001

Click here to view 10 Years of KPFA Finances – from audited financial statements in TABLE FORMAT

and, presented as a GRAPH, the same data:
10 Years of KPFA Finances GRAPH


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