Program Council at KPFA




What is it? Why is it important? What did it do? Where did it come from? Why should I care that it is gone?

[Written c. 2009, still relevant today!]

The Program Council (or programming committee) at KPFA has existed since the 1970’s – over 35 years. [45 in 2015.] During that time, its been composed of managers for the departments of public affairs, news, music and arts and humanities, representatives of the hundreds of unpaid programmers, often elected under the supervision of the Unpaid Staff Organization (UPSO) and at various times, technical and operations staff, managers from the apprenticeship program, local board members and listener representatives.

At times it has been facilitated by a program director or coordinator, and sometimes by someone else in the group chosen by the members. The author of this piece served in that role from 2004 to 2007 as a listener representative.

Birthed in the mobilizations of the 60’s and 70’s that demanded a meaningful place at the table for the perspectives of marginalized groups (and created at KPFA a Women’s Desk, a Third World Center, and the Unpaid Staff Organization itself), the program council had the philosophy that collaborative decision making about programming was healthy and desirable for a voice of dissent and resistance. Protected by a confidentiality agreement that allowed staff, volunteers and later listener reps to talk candidly about their programming visions and critiques, the program council always played an important role in airing and discussing contentious issues. During the many years the station lacked a program director (including the years 2000 to 2006), the program council took on much of the responsibility for non-emergency decision-making.

Some of the things accomplished in that period of time:schedule

(In the same interval of time – the only programs added to the schedule by management policy were Against The Grain, Sundays with Peter Laufer (since canceled) and imported programs from New York (Behind The News) and LA (Uprising).

  • Evaluated 2/3 of the current programs with a thorough 5 page evaluation form and programmer briefing
  • Developed a program proposal process for new additions to the grid from community members, processed over 40 demos, interviewed the programmers and developed a waiting list of approved programs.
  • Attempted to implement a contract basis for programming where individual programs would sign an agreement for a program slot for a contained period of time (until the next evaluation – projected for 2 years apart).

(Current system is indefinite until programmer voluntarily relinquishes a slot or is taken abruptly off the air; examples: Youth Radio, Peter Laufer)

The program council couldn’t always solve every contentious issue. In 2003, it was temporarily dissolved when its decision to move Democracy Now! from its current airing time of 6 am and 9 am to one daily 7 am airing failed to be implemented by station management.

When the program council was re-assembled, the Local Station Board passed a motion affirming the decision making power given to it.  It also made a highly controversial decision to place a one year moratorium on new proposals from a group called the Labor Collective.

In 2006, after a long interval without a full-time Program Director, KPFA finally assigned an interim person to the position. Unfortunately, the results were:

  • Suspension of meetings from April 2007 to October 2007
  • Unilateral reduction of meetings from weekly to bi-weekly
  • A statement that the program council was advisory only,
  • Removal of program proposals for long and short-term programs from the review of the council
  • Jettisoning of the approved program waiting list that had been created after the program council slogged through a backload of 20+ proposals between 2004 and 2005
  • Replacement of the established evaluation process with a one-page Survey Monkey online survey.

This is not what the unpaid staff organized, fought and went on strike for in 1970’s

This is not what the listeners envisioned when so many of them marched to protect KPFA in 1999.

KPFA is not to be encompassed by any one single person’s vision. The delivery of the mission depends on many perspectives being brought to bear and on sharing experiences, building understanding and resolving differences. If we cannot do that within our own community and build collaborative working groups, how can we hope to do so out in the world?

All the stakeholders sitting down and hashing out the best way to put the 59,000 watts into service for peace and justice. That’s the mission.

by Tracy Rosenberg, Media Alliance


     2015 Postscript – To date the Program Council has not been reinstated because the SaveKPFA majority on the Local Station Board rejected a democratically-constituted Program Council, as existed before. They preferred one dominated by department heads, which would hardly function as a democratic Council, dedicated to community programming.

KPFA: Radio Programs for the Community and Social Change, or for SaveKPFA’s Staff Allies and Their Jobs?

KPFA clock in orangeRecently KPFA/Pacifica management abruptly cancelled the Morning Mix (MIX), 8-9 a.m. M-F, and replaced it with Uprisings, a program produced in Los Angeles by a person who lives in Los Angeles. The MIX was five (5) separate programs, primarily focused on politics in local communities, workplaces, and unions. They were produced by several volunteer programmers who live, work and are politically active in the Bay Area.

This radical departure away from community based programming in the 8-9 a.m. prime time slot appears to be another consolidation of power by the SaveKPFA political faction. SaveKPFA with their long time ally, Justice and Unity at WBAI and allies at the other Pacifica stations, recently gained a narrow majority on the Pacifica National Board (PNB).

For a historical look at their destructive alliance see Pacifica Financial Crisis: Who is Responsible? Tyranny of the majority has been a mainstay of SaveKPFA’s MO. Abruptly taking away the 8-9 a.m. prime time from several community programmers, none of who are SaveKPFA allies, and replacing all of them with a program produced by one of their allies in LA is just the latest example. No poll was taken of the listeners’ desires. No public discussions of this major change were held and there was no discussion of this change at a full staff meeting. Another stark example of SaveKPFA’s tyranny of the majority is discussed in Without Due Process. This article exposes SaveKPFA’s current Pacifica National Board Chair, Margy Wilkinson‘s willingness to blatantly disregard the truth to push their unprincipled politics, denying due process to punish an opponent.  She may become the new Interim Executive Director.

Since the mid-1990s there has been a constant attempt by a small group of paid staff and some unpaid staff allies to control the allocation of air time and paid jobs to the benefit of their political friends and allies, regardless of the cost to KPFA and often in derogation of the Pacifica Mission. When the Pacifica management moved the station toward an NPR sound in the mid-1990s this paid staff group and their allies sat quietly watching as over 100 community programmers were taken off the air. Seven Long Years by Maria Gilardin is a history of these events covering 1992 to 1999.

In 1999 the struggle with Pacifica management went into the streets and then into the courts after a leaked document exposed the plans to sell a station. Out came new Bylaws with a democratic process for the governance of Pacifica and its stations. The SaveKPFA group, formally Concerned Listeners and KPFA Forward and often referred to as the “entrenched staff” (SK/CL), prior to the Wellstone Democratic Club joining with them, have done their best to dismantle the democratic process when they can’t control it.

Not everyone that fought against the “hijackers,” Pacifica management in 1999, did it for the same reason. Most listeners and community activists and some staff, paid and unpaid, fought for a democratic governance that allowed listener input. The entrenched staff fought the “hijackers” to be able to impose their own patronage and cronyism control at KPFA.  Ten Years after 1999 Hijack Attempt documents several of their moves to consolidate control for their group from 2003-2009.Today in Radical History

SaveKPFA is willing to dismantle the democratic governance, not refine it, if they can’t control it. An internal email from Brian Edwards-Tiekert to the strategy group for the entrenched staff was found at the station and it exposed their true feeling about the struggles at KPFA and Pacifica. You will find this email and a discussion about how their selfish politics have hurt KPFA/Pacifica in an article titled, ‘Me First’ Politics and Financial Responsibility.

The majority of the programming is done by unpaid staff, like the MIX producers. The small group of paid staff that works with SaveKPFA to maintain control takes advantage of all the volunteer labor to support their paid positions. The article KPFA’s Working Majority Gets Screwed by CWA Job Trust reviews their practices from a labor perspective.

In 2003 after the US invaded Iraq there was no question that Democracy Now! (DN!) was the most popular/listened to program on the air.  However, it was not given prime time status since prime time, 7-9 am, was reserved for the “entrenched “produced Morning Show. It is long established radio knowledge that you put your most popular program in prime time to increase your audience when the most people are listening. During 2003 KPFA had a Program Council. After continued attempts by the “entrenched” to stop a discussion of a DN! time change to prime time, it finally got on the agenda. The program council voted to move DN! to prime time.

The issue was taken up by the newly-elected Local Station Board (LSB). At a meeting in April 2004 the DN! time change to prime time was on the agenda and the “entrenched” and their allies on the LSB stalled the meeting until it ran out of time before getting to the DN! time change motion. Sarv Randhawa, an “entrenched” ally continually made amendments to the motion after each one was voted down. You could see Sarv writing down each new amendment as the previous one was being voted down. Many of us always wondered about Sarv’s politics and our concerns were reinforced when he appeared on TV at Republican fundraisers for the 2012 election. At the May 2004 meeting of the LSB, the motion to move DN! to prime time was thoroughly debated and passed. As in April the room was packed with listeners, the overwhelming majority in favor of the DN! move to prime time. The time change was not instituted since the Interim Station manager, an entrenched ally, refused to make the move.

Roy Campanella Jr

Roy Campanella Jr

With a slim majority the SK/CL selected Roy Campanella Jr. to be the new permanent station manager. His tenure was going along so so until he announced that he was going move DN! to prime time in the spring of 2005. Roy had worked in media and understood how important it was to put your best/most listened to program in prime time. The proverbial shit hit the fan!

All of a sudden there were flyers up around the station demonizing Roy. Claims that he was sexually harassing staff appeared. There were two investigations of these claims; one by an Human Resources expert and one by the LSB who hired Dan Siegel to do the investigation. As an LSB member, I suggested a woman professional investigator who had a PhD in criminology and who was not on any side in the dispute. I felt that the alleged women victims would be able to talk more openly to a woman investigator, but the SK/CL folks wanted their man, Dan Siegel, on the job. Both investigators found no evidence of sexual harassment.

The LSB voted 15-5 against firing Roy. The entrenched staff message was clear: mess with “our program schedule” and you will regret it. After all the turmoil created by the unfounded accusations and the posting of demonizing flyers around the station Roy left as station manager and LemLem Rigio was appointed interim station manager. She was one of the recipients of Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s 2005 email discussed and linked to above.

SaveKPFA and their allies have used their power over the program schedule to punish those at the station that don’t go along with their desires to maintain control. At an LSB meeting discussing the hiring process for a new station manager in 2007 a couple of women who work on the Women’s Magazine program, the only program specifically for women’s issues, suggested during public comment that qualified women candidates should be given consideration and at the same time they stated that they didn’t think the current interim station manager, Lemlem Rigio, a SaveKPFA/Concerned Listener ally, should be promoted to permanent manager.

Recent Women's Magazine guest, radical queer writer & activist, Yasmin Nair

Recent Women’s Magazine guest, radical queer writer & activist, Yasmin Nair

Not too long after that meeting a new pilot program produced by a SaveKPFA ally was put on the air for a test run. It was given the Women’s Magazine time slot for several weeks before it was given a Monday – Friday one hour time and the Women’s Magazine was allowed back on the air. It should be noted that when this was done there were 30+ music programs on the air and only ONE program covering women’s issues. The message was again quite clear; don’t speak out against any of the control group’s plans for control or you will pay. But for the numerous complaints that came in when their program was abruptly replaced, it is quite possible the Women’s Magazine would have been kept off the air. So much for KPFA being a “Free Speech” radio station, at least internally.

Based on the generous donations during 2003 after Iraq was invaded based on lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction, the entrenched increased the paid staff by 50%, mostly with their friends and allies. The payroll went from 28 to 42 full time equivalents. Many of us in the minority on the LSB constantly suggested that we needed to cut down the payroll. KPFA’s payroll was the largest in Pacifica. Our pleas were ignored despite reduced revenue and lower membership numbers each year until the crisis got very serious and layoffs were necessary. The SaveKPFA folks and their staff allies consistently accused us of being anti-union for wanting to have layoffs if necessary for fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget.

During an LSB meeting discussing the budget in the Fall of 2010, Shahram Aghamir made a motion to have the budget coordinated with the union contract if any layoffs were required. This would mean that layoffs would be done by seniority, unless there were exceptional circumstances. The SaveKPFA response was a major surprise given their constant anti-union charges against all their political opponents for almost any criticism. The SaveKPFA LSB members ALL voted NO! They obviously didn’t want to follow the union contract seniority rules. They wanted to control any necessary layoffs in the same patronage and cronyism manner that they have ran the station for years. More information on their duplicitous pro-union rhetoric can be found in this article, Playing the Union Card.

Prior to getting involved in KPFA and Pacifica I worked in commercial radio, AM and FM, doing music programs, public affairs and some news casts. One of the many things about radio that I learned in those 5+ years was that cross promoting helps build your audience. When I became involved with KPFA I encouraged consistent cross promoting to build our audience and create more loyalty. What the SaveKPFA folks have done at the station I would call sectarian cross referring. During the entire time of the MIX I never heard Brian Edwards-Tiekert or any of their allies mention the MIX other than to say when his program ended the MIX is next. Always when he was pitching during DN! from 6-7 he would promote his upcoming 7 am show and never mention the MIX at 8 am.broken Transmitter tower

SaveKPFA’s sectarian practices take other forms such as how the Evening News, SaveKPFA allies, report on LSB elections. They only interview folks from their slate. When I was Chair of the LSB and brought back to life the monthly LSB Report to Listeners, I would always invite people from their side to be on the program and give them equal time to state their positions on any issues before the LSB or station. When they took over the majority and producing the LSB Report program they didn’t always do a monthly LSB Report and generally when they did it was tightly controlled as to who would be on and who got to speak, almost exclusively their allies.

Their practices don’t square with the KPFA Mission which is to allow the expression of minority opinions in our society to be aired, especially the ones that those in power don’t want the people to hear. From all my experiences at KPFA, I must conclude that the SaveKPFA folks have run and want to run KPFA and Pacifica with the same anti-democratic methods that our ruling class uses: Win power by controlling the information the masses receive; preach democratic principles and practice tyranny of the majority and deny due process to your opponents whenever possible.

…the SaveKPFA folks have run and want to run KPFA and Pacifica with the same anti-democratic methods that our ruling class uses: Win power by controlling the information the masses receive; preach democratic principles and practice tyranny of the majority and deny due process to your opponents whenever possible.

KPFA and Pacifica are in deep financial trouble, primarily due to sectarian practices by SaveKPFA and their allies at other stations, always putting their power, control, jobs and airtime, over and above the health and survival of KPFA and Pacifica. During these tenuous times please ignore their rhetoric and judge them by their consistent unprincipled actions, detailed above, that are always designed for their benefit and most often to the detriment of the Pacifica Mission and progressive movements.

These neo-progressives, folks that espouse progressive politics but practice like Karl Rove, (winning power is Rove’s only principle), must not be allowed to destroy KPFA and Pacifica. Taking off the Morning Mix and replacing it with a program by one of SK/CL’s Los Angeles allies is just their latest attack on the Pacifica Mission and the need for progressive community radio that is responsive to the day-to-day struggles of people in the Bay Area who are fighting for social and economic justice every day.

Demand that the Morning Mix be put back on the air and if there is a LSB election; please do not vote for any SaveKPFA candidates.

Richard Phelps, KPFA LSB Chair 2005-2006. The history I present herein from 2003 on is based on my own direct involvement. 

Feel free to forward this article.

Richard Phelps
Member, California Academy of Distinguished Neutrals
405 14th Street, Suite 511
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 268-9919, Fax (510) 268-0368