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Grassroots Community Radio Coalition

The following article is reprinted in its entirety from Turning The Tide, Vol 28 No 8, July-Sept. 2016

Critical Time for KPFK & Pacifica Radio

In the last year, KPFK, the listener-sponsored free speech Pacifica radio station in Los Angeles (aired from Santa Barbara to San Diego) has gone from running a nearly half-million dollar deficit to operating, just barely, in the black for the first time in almost five years. It has added the first fresh programming in a long time in both morning drive time and late night, including seasoned Black female journalists and commentators like Thandisizwe Chimurenga (a KPFK newscaster and public affairs host, published author, print journalist at the LA Watts Times and social media columnist for the Daily Kos), Nana Gyamfi (movement human rights lawyer and previously on Internet radio) and sister Charlene Muhammad (long-time public affairs host and producer at KPFK, and west coast correspondent for the Final Call newspaper).

Many new volunteers have been trained in all aspects of community-oriented and -supported radio and have started to work on station operations, radio production and news-gathering. The station's "Film Club" premium membership has been restored and expanded, with new theaters in different parts of the region including Long Beach and Orange County. Listener sponsorship has climbed back up from a low of about 15,000 members to c.18,000. New youthful voices have been added in late night as well, with programming such as Sex Please, a public affairs show about matters some people like to keep private "behind closed doors," looking at issues of racism, sexism and criminalization facing sex workers and others.

KPFK is currently doing the best of all five Pacifica stations, the only one current this year on its payments to the national office and to the Pacifica Radio Archives (which it hosts free of charge on the station's premises, as well as paying the largest fees of all the Pacifica stations). It is provisionally in the black since the beginning of the current fiscal year last October 1, although that has only come at the cost of reductions in hours and pay for all the paid staff and management, as the new station manager, Leslie Radford, who has effectuated these changes, sought to preserve most jobs by implementing across-the-board percentage cuts, including for herself and other managers. Even though the paid staff (unlike the managers) received a subsidy for the lost hours and pay from a CA state unemployment insurance program designed to reimburse workers who take a cut in hours in lieu of layoffs, that has resulted in an arbitrator's ruling that because Pacifica had been unable to present full financial documents to the staff at the time of the cuts, the reductions and a few layoffs that took place must be renegotiated. Radford has followed PNB directives to reduce expenses (the first GM at KPFK to do so) and to predicate reinstatement of hours for managers or staff on maintaining a balanced budget with proven income projections.

KPFK also held its first successful elections for the Local Station Board in five years (previously scheduled elections either failed to reach a quorum of voters for either listeners or staff, or were postponed by the previous majority on the Pacifica National Board loyal to former Pacifica interim executive director from KPFK, Summer Reese, who had also ousted the network's Chief Financial Officer and the station's business manager).  One might think this record of achievement and a dramatic turn-around in the station's downward drift would win support from station governance.

But in last year's election, in which all 24 seats on the KPFK Local Station Board (LSB) were to be filled, a well-financed group from candidateslate.org, also known as the Committee to Strengthen KPFK, won a substantial majority, returning to the local board and the national board Grace Aaron and Jan Goodman, who had been backers of the ruinous Reese regime, along with a group of disaffected paid staff members. Only six candidates from the Grassroots Community Radio Coalition were elected.

In the ensuing months, the new board majority has made it more difficult for listeners to address the board or to serve on LSB committees, requiring non-LSB members on committees to be approved by their Board majority. They enacted an arbitrary limit on the number of hardship waivers for membership that would be granted to listeners who are unable to donate to or volunteer for the station. The LSB has failed to move on holding bylaws-required town halls to hear from listeners, or to move forward on a motion to conduct off-air fundraising for the station. Their slate made clear that it wanted to remove both the new general manager and the long-time interim program director and is moving forward through the committee structure of the LSB to try to achieve those goals.

They have also supported by board resolution the basis for lawsuits against the Pacifica Foundation (on at least one of which Jan Goodman is the attorney suing Pacifica). Their allies around the network, particularly at New York's WBAI, where contested election results have resulted in a stalemate in which their side has been boycotting local board meetings, incapacitated the first two national board teleconference meetings this year with unauthorized call-ins, disruptive noises and loud music (similar to the destructive "sleep-in" Reese staged when she was removed as iED by the national board), so that the protocol for the calls had to be changed in order for the board to conduct its business. Locally, they have criticized the GM for implementing the national board mandate for additional Spanish-language programming, which many of them have always opposed.

Thankfully, there is a new election process underway, the first in a long while actually proceeding under the regular Bylaws schedule thanks to the current Pacifica National Board (PNB) majority (which the Aaron/Goodman faction opposes) and unpaid interim Executive Director Lydia Brazon (a member of the KPFK local board, with the Humanitarian Law Project and the Peace Center). Brazon previously rescued the foundation from ruinous financial penalties that would have been imposed by the IRS due to previous iED Summer Reese's failure to pay to the government income taxes due, that Reese had withheld from the severance payments to the bulk of the staff at Pacifica's WBAI when she laid them off -- withheld from the workers but not paid to the government! Brazon arranged for an interest-free loan to Pacifica from Aris Anagnos of the Peace Center, a loan which Anagnos eventually forgave after he was impressed with the in-person national board that was held (free of charge) at the Peace Center here in L.A. last year, which came in under budget, the most economical and productive PNB meeting in years.

As the elections proceed at all five Pacifica stations, a lot is riding on the outcome. New elections (or the outcome of a lawsuit) will resolve the impasse at WBAI, and hopefully provide new legitimacy at WPFW (which had no election last year because there were not enough candidates to contest for the open seats on the board). Both those stations have suffered a serious decline in listener-sponsorships in the last year, to the point where they are having difficulties meeting their payrolls, let alone their obligations to Pacifica. Successful elections will determine the composition of the national board, which is chosen by and from the ranks of the local station boards at each of the five Pacifica stations (KPFA in Berkeley, KPFK in L.A., KPFT in Houston TX, WPFW in DC and WBAI in NY).

Locally, the Grassroots Community Radio Coalition is backing a full slate of seasoned leaders of grassroots organizations and non-profits, and of paid and unpaid broadcasters from the station staff, even though a number of its current board members, including Brazon, Michael Novick (editor of Turning the Tide), and Aryana Gladney of the Black Riders Liberation Party, are terming off the board.

The Grassroots slate includes veteran labor activist Sabina Virgo, a leader of the MLK Coalition of Los Angeles; Lawrence Reyes of the Puerto Rican Alliance and a shop steward for SEIU 721, a former member of the local and national boards; Reza Pour of the Union of Progressive Iranians, running for re-election to the LSB, where he has chaired the Outreach Committee and indefatigably introduced KPFK to new listener sponsor members; Rick Macias, a union carpenter and leader of Chicanos and Latinos for Bernie; Mariella Saba, a leader of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and co-founder of Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement; Kahllid Al-Alim, a parent activist with the Coalition for Educational Justice involved in the UTLA-supported campaign for "Schools LA Students Deserve," and a former LSB member; Brenda Medina, a union staffer and former member of MEChA, also previously on the KPFK LSB and the PNB; Hsing I Bird, an outreach volunteer for the station, graphic designer and photographer; Alise Sochaczewski, a member of the LSB Outreach committee and a union-member mental health worker; Schyna Pour, a young social worker; Michael Corral, an accountant and board member at the First Unitarian Church on 8th & Vermont; Jack Neff, a long-time station listener sponsor and former board member at Kuruvungna Springs, a Native American sacred site and museum that was located on the grounds of LAUSD's University High School; Jessica Spencer, a young African American community activist and a marketing professional who has helped develop the station's successful outreach strategy; Rose Mary Elizondo, a listener-sponsor from the eastern San Gabriel Valley who has volunteered in the station's phone room during fund drives and on station outreach activities; and possibly several others whose candidacies and inclusion on the slate were being firmed up as Turning The Tide went to press. Full details are available on the Coalition's website, www.gcrc-socal.org.

Staff members running with GCRC (staff members only vote for other staff members, listener sponsors only vote for other listeners, under Pacifica's Bylaws) include Jose Benavides, a paid staff member at the station who has worked on producing a number of popular shows, including Margaret Prescod's Sojourner Truth show as well participating in the Spanish-language programming bloc and in People's School of Broadcasting training project to impart skills to new volunteers [JB withdrew his nomination Ed.]; Tej Grewall, running for re-election to the board, a former LSB chair and unpaid staffer who worked closely with the late Dedon Kamathi and has helped revive his show, Freedom Now, after his untimely passing; Ricardo Hernandez, a member of the Association of Spanish-Language Programmers; and Polina Vasiliev, a multi-lingual participant in the Spanish-language programming bloc. Again, additional staff candidate endorsements may be forthcoming after TTT's print deadline. Check www.gcrc-socal.org for more information.  Ballots will be going out in mid-August and are due back no later than 45 days later. There will be an option of paper ballot or e-ballot (electronic distribution of election materials and e-voting reduces election costs for Pacifica).

Pacifica elections are all held with a proportional representation method called Single Transferable Voting (STV). On such a ballot, you mark the candidates you favor, in order of preference indicated numerically. Please vote for all the Grassroots Coalition candidates. The slate combines youthful energy and enthusiasm, practical non-profit and financial experience, and accountability to grassroots organizations that will help ensure that if elected, GCRC will work to increase the station's engagement with and public service to the actual and potential listening audience. GCRC supports GM  Radford's efforts to breathe life into the station and engage more fully with the community, such as the remote broadcast of the LA Human Relations Commission hearings on gang injunctions and LAPD spying and surveillance. We want a board majority that will once again hold the required Town Hall meetings to receive listener input and feedback, take on the responsibility of fund-raising off-air for the station, and assist in rebuilding KPFK's listening audience by regaining lost listeners, retaining current ones, and attracting a new generation of community-based problem solvers and communicators who can help carry the station forward in the 21st Century. Again you can find more information about the full candidate list, our program, platform and principles, at www.gcrc-socal.org