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Carol Spooner on KPFA Layoffs

by corrected text
This is the corrected text of Carol Spooner's article that first appeared in the November 11 issue of the San Francisco Bayview.
What's Happening at KPFA?

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. The audio clip is here if you want to listen to the whole thing:


"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 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

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Comments (Hide Comments)
It's sad that we need to form another Committee to Remove the Pacifica Board & a "listeners' lawsuit".
Carol is a clear example of what's wrong. Either she has no clue or is a systematic liar. Either way. she doesn't seam to be qualified to be on the Pacifica Board.
Pacifica needs Board members and directors that can focus their time on fund-raising and not in local station politics and programing.
I'm hopeful that Arlene, LaVarn and Carol resign soon, so the KPFA can go back to fund-raising and producing excellent local programs such as the Morning Show.
I'm against political prosecution, which is clearly what's going on at KPFA.
Yesterday (11-14), Steven Zeltzer, labor activist, gave a critique of the contending sides in the struggle for control at KPFA. The show can be accessed at (about half way through the audio file).

Iaian Boal's pro-Concerned ListenerSave KPFA comments (not how he'd describe himself, but how I would) is available at (also about half way through the audio file).

by Carol's Not on the Board
Carol Spooner asn't been on the board since 2006.

BET and his compadres have been cooking KPFA's budgets for years. In mid-2009, he stated at a board meeting without missing a beat that KPFA hadn't "touched" its cash reserves. At that point hundreds of thousands had already been spent on general operating expenses.

If Arlene and Lavarn quit, the place will sink under in 12 months or less. You better hope they don't.
by Augusto Cardoso
My apologies. You are not a board member anymore. This point was my mistake.

My main point remains. Even if everything you wrote is correct, the way Arlene and the Board planed (or lack of) and executed, was so poor that should be grounds for dismissal. Eliminating a popular program without a plan is a very bad way to act. Everyday since the lay-off of the Morning Show staff, Arlene changes the reasoning for the lay-off. It started with the financial, then was the board decision, then it was because the show was too one sided. Which one is it? Anyone can follow the way she changed the story by listening to the KPFA archives. It's too eerily close to Orwell's "Animal Farm".

I stand to what I said, the main function of the Board and the Executive director of the Pacifica Organization should be fundraising. It shouldn't be to dictate programming or get involved with local station politics.

The worst of all to me, as a listener/subscriber is that I don't have a decent show to listen to in my morning commute. Nothing wrong with the Los Angeles show, but I don't live in LA. I miss my local Morning Show and currently there is nothing else worth listening to in the Bay Area. I'm listening to podcasts and music on my MP3 player and may not listen to KPFA in that time slot anymore.

I can't understand this situation. It's clear to me that this is a political decision. Even if such decision is the best for the station, the way that it was executed, showed me that the current Board and management at Pacifica are not very competent and should be removed. "The ends justify the means" shouldn't be the operating mode of Pacifica. Dialog, negotiation, finding common ground and building solid trust relationships works much better on the long run.

I still hope to get the Morning Show back with the laid-off staff.
The ELECTED Local Station Board should GOVERN the station, not raise funds for the self-perpetuating insider clique to hire their friends with. And the Pacifica National Board, ELECTED by the ELECTED Local Station Boards, should govern the network.

By the way, Arlene Engelhardt never said that the Morning Show people were laid off "because the show was too one sided." She did give its one-sided presentation of the issues around their layoffs as a reason for taking them off the air while they were still being paid in accordance with the notice provisions of the union contract.

But Engelhardt should have fired E.-T., Amy and Mitch Jeserich at the end of September, when they used their shows during the last days of the Local Station Board election to attack their opponents in the election.
by Too Much Koolaid
2001 1,138,255
2002 1,298,056
2003 1,601,167
2004 2,002,210
2005 2,307,656
2006 2,326,777
2007 2,460,240
2008 2,424,060
2009 2,455,184

Save KPFA - Concerned Listeners approved salary reductions of $300,000 to begin on October 1, 2008. Instead the station lost $575,000 and misplaced a $375,000 check on top of that.

Save KPFA - Concerned Listeners approved salary reductions of $425,000 to begin on October 1, 2009. Instead the station lost $475,000.

KPFA Worker claims there were significant cuts in 2009. But the payroll went up. The people laid off (like Nora Barrows Friedman, Kellia Ramares and others) were replaced.

KPFA management, board and core staff have been, beyond a shadow of a doubt, financially irresponsible, intransigent and reckless about the survival of the station.

by average reader
There are only a few key positions in any org that can be used to bottleneck it and destroy it --



Critical communications, such as listserves and organizational meetings

Website control

Membership / elections

If you are not *very* careful about the people who have a vested interest in these areas, they can easily destroy an organization, slowly or suddenly, whenever it is necessary. (website isn't key for KPFA since they are radio, but it can be for others)

I'm not saying anyone did anything intentional. Sometimes it's just incompetence and people's egos. And sometimes it's not. And when it's not, these are the areas which will be targeted.

These critical areas must be protected in any grassroots org, even if that means you only allow 3 people -- long time activists whom everyone knows with a lifetime of consistent work -- to make all the decisions. Democratic organizations are highly vulnerable to infiltration and manipulation because of the process of democracy and because those who would infiltrate are often have far more resources with which to manipulate things like elections and key decision making.

Getting a microphone, too, is the fastest way to develop a massive following of "supporters" who actually know nothing about what's going on and can be easily manipulated. That will be a huge weak link in any grassroots radio that needs to be guarded against -- hosts become "Gods" to listeners automatically. That gives them a huge ego and a lot of power that needs to be monitored and balanced.

Good luck moving forward KPFA. A few good things are coming out of the theft of the nation . . .
by !!!

"long time activists whom everyone knows with a lifetime of consistent work"

Unfortunately, there are only too many longtime activists who've been very destructive to KPFA. Sherry Gendelman and Dan Siegel are just two examples.

As much as BET Brian Edwards Teacup and Save K-Mart for Democrats want it to be all about him and them, we know the issue and struggle for Pacifica/KPFA isn't new, didn't start with them and, and it's about so much more than the Life of Brian and The Morning Show.

As Adrienne Lauby says in her fine, illuminating commentary on the Friday 11/19 Pushing Limits program, we didn't organize and protest in (before/after) 1999 to save the station and Pacifica network "…. so KPFA could have a couple of celebrity hosts bragging about how much money they raise …The protest we held against armed guards and 24/7 piped in music are cheapened when the same sidewalks are used to champion this overblown cause …"

"The majority of staff, paid and unpaid, at KPFA have no say in what is posted on that website you hear promoted so heavily ( … most of the staff want enough paid positions to keep … daily tasks in order … produce regular programs … We want stable management policies. We do not want the same programs and hosts on air for decade after decade. We want training and integration so young people, people of color, volunteers of all kinds can bring new ideas and produce world changing radio. We want 90% less fighting and 90% more collaboration…"

"Can something this positive happen? What creature of power and grace could rise from the ashes of this sad public spectacle? … We still have a chance, we can strengthen Pacifica and haul this station back on the road, and the next chapter is already being written."

Many thanks to the beautiful, gifted Pushing Limits programmers - Adrienne, Eddy Yduarte, and all - for their clarity, courage and humor, and for helping preserve our collective dignity, sanity and hope. Same appreciation for last Monday's 11/15 Women's Magazine program hosts and guests (Arlene Englehardt, Maria Gilardin and Carol Spooner)
Other independent KPFA programmers can and should get into it, although so far they've been mostly silent about these issues on-air, meanwhile organizing and rocking a volunteer/ people of color staff rally outside the station. As I understand it, they're reluctant to compromise their programs or face retaliation from the power clique hoodlums, spin masters and con artists, but we need to hear it from them.
I expect most listeners haven't been exposed to the mid weekday Women's show, the "asthmatic Amazon" Adrienne unedited, or the satirical "super megawatt Grover." Some of us have urged Pacifica ED Arlene Englehardt and CFO LaVarn Williams to preempt multiple time slots for clear, uninterrupted presentations/explanations. Without repeated, unbiased statements of facts and more creative representations of truth, including morning and evening prime times, the continuing core staff clique and CL/DP supporter disinformation campaign prevails, with the resulting divisiveness and damage to KPFA/Pacifica's credibility, listener support and finances. From postings and their petition "I want my Morning Show back!", we see how they are misleading hundreds of supposedly educated, intelligent, progressive listeners. Fox News, Goebbels and (more to the point) Stalin couldn't do a better job.
by Augusto Cardoso
Al Jazeera, CNN, Fox, are all commercial networks (for profit). Not compatible with KPFA mission. Not a community radio. You can get these networks online, satellite, etc. How much is it costing KPFA/Pacifica?
More over, it's also not a free network. This is not conspiracy theories, but facts. Check Wikileaks for the Al Jazeera related cables.
We need locally produce programs. Replacing the Morning Show with this show is possible the worst that could happen. The Morning Show had the best local politics (city, state) and local issues coverage. Big disappointment from a horrible adminstration. Is this the so called plan that Arlene has for KPFA? I'm very worried that this radio station won't be able to survive (fund raise) based on these decisions.
Like CNN and Fox, you can get Al Jazeera online. That's what I'm doing for DemocracyNow, since KPFA no longer broadcast LIVE DN!.
by Tired of Brian's Hypocrisy and Lies
The above link goes to a playlist. This is a link to the actual audio of the meeting where Brian proposed that lay-offs are necessary:

Guess he figured everyone else would lose their jobs, and he was perfectly okay with that. Looks like he didn't consider his own union contract which put him next in line to be laid off.

What a hypocrite!
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