Pacifica is refusing to reinstate the Morning Show, despite $60K in pledges

Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt says she won’t reinstate KPFA’s Morning Show, despite being offered $60,000 in pledges from listeners to pay for it, according to this report, which aired on the Pacifica Evening News.
Play here: Pacifica Evening News Jan 21, 2011

A delegation of SaveKPFA members, including KPFA board chair Margy Wilkinson, board member Pamela Drake, and listener-activist Ying Lee, met on January 20 with KPFA’s new general manager Amit Pendyal and interim program director Carrie Core.

“We told them we’d received $60,000 in pledges to restore the Morning Show from very enthusiastic listeners, and that KPFA and Pacifica could avoid costly arbitrations and more lost revenue by bringing the show back,” said Wilkinson. The group also presented a few hundred of the most recent letters from listeners (out of thousands that have been sent to Pacifica since November), as well as copies of letters signed by elected officials and educators.

For instance, Robert Mason wrote: “Please listen to those who have fought to keep the Morning Show and solid, independent, quality news programming on KPFA. Anyone familiar with the situation recognizes that this is not primarily about money, but politics.”

“Please, take our pledges, make good use of them and return the Morning Show to KPFA — demonstrate good faith along with some justice and restore peace,” wrote listener Anne Wayman. “Do what is right,” urged Jonel Larson. “The listening and contributing community has clearly expressed itself. Don’t let a misguided faction rule our station.”

The SaveKPFA delegation also expressed concern about the plummeting listener statistics, which indicate that KPFA’s listeners are tuning out the new programming. (See this graph comparing listener patterns for the Morning Show and the new 8 AM hour.)

But Pendyal told SaveKPFA’s delegation that he had no control over the matter and that Engelhart would handle it. “I told him that it was unacceptable,” said Lee. “We had assumed with a new GM there would be local control, but that was obviously not the case.”

Engelhardt claims “other issues” at stake

After meeting with Pendyal, the SaveKPFA delegation went next door to Pacifica’s office to find Engelhardt, who talked with them for only a few minutes.

“We reminded her that she has repeatedly said the layoffs were for ‘economic’ reasons,” reports Drake. “We pointed out that the $60K in pledges would allow KPFA to put the hosts back to work for the rest of the fiscal year.” The group also told Engelhardt they believed the Morning Show would raise significantly more than it cost to produce – as it did in the past – and that would help KPFA’s difficult financial situation.

Drake says Engelhart mentioned “other issues,” and said “they” had attacked people on the air. “I asked, ‘You mean Brian? But he’s been on the air since as an unpaid staffer,'” noted Drake. Engelhardt quickly confirmed that she had no problem with Edwards-Tiekert’s on-air work at the station.

You may write to KPFA or Pacifica here – they need to continue to hear from listeners on these latest developments. KPFA begins another on-air fund drive on February 14. Now is the time to let management know that if it returns the Morning Show to the air before the drive starts, KPFA has the best chance to make it successful.

We’d also welcome your personal endorsement of SaveKPFA. When we reach critical mass, we’ll post a special LISTENER ENDORSEMENTS PAGE on our website.

Hundreds put up pledges, vast majority under $100

Meanwhile, management’s backers are claiming that SaveKPFA’s supposedly “wealthy donors” are trying to “buy” airtime with the $60,000 in pledges. However, the vast majority of pledges are in amounts under $100, and came from supporters throughout the bay area and the nation.

“Pacifica is offering nothing but continued cuts and no new ideas for raising funds,” said board member Jack Kurzweil. “That will lead to a downward spiral for the station, not the expanded listenership we need.”

“The Morning Show cuts were strictly a political decision taken by Pacifica over the heads of local KPFA managers,” said board member Matthew Hallinan, who has just written this analysis of the situation. “It was an autocratic, top-down decision which has upset thousands of KPFA subscribers.”

Peter Phillips of Project Censored is one of those who volunteered to host the new 8AM program, after Allison and Edwards-Tiekert were terminated. KPFA board member Pamela Drake asked Phillips why he was playing along with management in undercutting the Morning Show staff back in December. “He responded in an email that he would ‘work hard to bring the budget back up and step aside when appropriate.’ But now that we’ve raised enough money to rehire the staff, he’s changed his tune and is circulating an email attacking SaveKPFA’s fundraising.” If you’d like, you can let Phillips know your opinion by emailing him at this address).

“There should be a complete analysis of the programming at KPFA — who listens, when, for how long, which communities are represented, which shows bring in new subscribers,” said Wilkinson. “But it must start at the status prior to the cancellation of the Morning Show, so as not to make a complete mockery of the process.”

Alternatives to slashing KPFA’s programming

Some recent letters from listeners have also made their way to KPFA’s local board, on which SaveKPFA-affiliated reps have a majority. We asked Henry Norr, a board member affiliated with the minority Independents for Community Radio slate, which has supported the termination of the Morning Show, for a reaction to listeners’ comments.

“It is clear a lot of people are unhappy about how things came down and miss the old Morning Show,” said Norr. “I understand it is a bad situation….A lot of things could and should have been done differently, but by last fall, there was no alternative to making drastic cuts. There was no money any more,” said Norr.

But many disagree. You can find SaveKPFA’s analysis of the financial situation in Facts on KPFA’s Crisis. KPFA’s union, supported by listeners and local managers, proposed a sustainable budget that would have avoided deep cuts. “Add the $60K now pledged, plus on-air fundraising from a restored Morning Show, and the picture gets even better,” said Kurzweil.

If you’d like to attend the next KPFA local station board meeting, it is scheduled for Saturday, February 12 at 11 AM, location to be arranged. Listeners may sign up to speak during the public comment period.

Move to illegally unseat KPFA board member

Meanwhile, as we reported last week, KPFA board member Tracy Rosenberg is claiming that Dan Siegel, who is a civil rights attorney in Oakland and a local station board member affiliated with SaveKPFA, can no longer serve because he is volunteering for new Oakland mayor Jean Quan. Pacifica bylaws prohibit individuals from serving on the board if they are incumbents, candidates, or appointees to public office.

Siegel is none of these. He is a volunteer for Quan with no office or salary, and is not a political appointee. Quan herself has issued a statement that Siegel “is a member of the Mayor’s Transition Advisory Committee, as are 24 other citizens [and] is free to give me advice as is any other citizen.”

Last Friday, Rosenberg’s allies on the Pacifica’s board voted to unseat Siegel as both a local and national Pacifica board member, in a meeting that was not advertised beforehand and did not follow due process, as required by Pacifica’s bylaws. Board members did not investigate the situation and did not even speak to Siegel before taking the action. Stay tuned for developments.

Behind the Coup at KPFA

by Matthew Hallinan

In early November, the Executive Director of Pacifica, Arlene Englehardt, seized all power at KPFA, firing the talented hosts of the station’s most popular locally produced program, and replacing it with one of her own choosing. She acted without consulting the Interim General Manager of the station or the Local Station Board (LSB). She didn’t ask to meet with the staff of the station or with the union that represents them. In her rush to fire the hosts of The Morning Show, she violated the terms of the union contract, trampled on KPFA’s democratic system of local control, and created wide discontent and disillusionment among the listeners.

Why would she do this? Why would she take such extraordinary measures and act in such an autocratic fashion? She said it was all about finances. The station was in a cash flow crisis and needed to make drastic cuts. She said had no choice but to do this.

Was there no other choice? A few months earlier, KPFA’s local management, working with the unionized staff, had produced a budget proposal that showed the books could be balanced without making programmatic cuts. This budget was approved by the local station board and forwarded to Pacifica. It involved a number of proposals for reducing the one-way flow of funds to Pacifica – which now absorbs 24% of listener contributions to KPFA. Pacifica made a choice at that point – it rejected that budget without even discussing it with the local KPFA folks.

Then there is the issue of choosing which programs to cut. If finances were the only consideration, why would Pacifica choose to cut the program that raises the most money during the station’s fund drives? Again, Pacifica made a choice – and it was a choice they did not want to discuss.

In December, Ms. Englehardt went before the Berkeley City Council to oppose a resolution that was being considered by the Council. The resolution called on the Pacifica Executive Director to negotiate with the CWA union about the firing process and to enter into mediation with those in the station and on the LSB who are unhappy about the changes she instituted. Ms. Englehardt stated before the Council that Pacifica was opposed to both negotiations and mediation. In other words, Pacifica refuses to sit down and talk with the local folks who disagree with its decisions. Ms. Englehardt says she had no choice: but yet she refuses to listen to any options proposed by others.

Is it really all about money? Ms. Englehardt assures us that the firing of Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Aimee Allison was not a political maneuver, but was based entirely on financial considerations. The SaveKPFA majority on the local station board took her at her word, and called on listeners to pledge the necessary funds to finance the return of the show. Within a short period, the listeners produced $60,000 in pledges – sufficient to cover the costs of the show for the rest of the year. Ms. Englehardt refused to consider that proposal. That is another choice she made.

However, Ms Englehardt is not in this all alone. Anyone who is closely involved with the politics of KPFA knows there is a circle of vocal support for Ms Englehardt’s choices and for Pacifica’s power grab. Indeed, Richard Phelps, a member of the ‘Independent’ faction on KPFA’s local station board, responded to SaveKPFA’s effort to raise pledges by filing a lawsuit against those on the board that supported the pledge campaign. The lawsuit is absurd and will be thrown out. However, it costs the SaveKPFA local station board members money for legal defense and requires an expenditure of time and effort. It is a blatant attempt to intimidate and harass those who are resisting Pacifica’s take over and working to bring the Morning Show back.

Why would Phelps and the other ‘Independents’ on the board support Pacifica’s seizure of power and its dismantling of our democratic system of local governance? Turn the question around. Why would Pacifica want to come in and take over KPFA? The sad truth is that the ‘Independents’ are not ‘supporting’ Pacifica – the ‘Independents’ are Pacifica. They are part of a coalition that currently holds a majority of seats on the Pacifica National Board (PNB). KPFA is not being taken over by some distant, impersonal, Pacifica bureaucracy. It is being taken over by a narrow, authoritarian-minded coalition of individuals and groups who have taken over the PNB. The so-called ‘Independents’ are an integral part of that coalition.

This coalition gained a majority on the PNB about two years ago. Before then, the PNB did not meddle in the affairs of the local stations. Until this coalition took control of the PNB, our local ‘Independents’ had touted the powers of local station boards, championing their rights to make policy and to decide programming issues. They railed against ‘top-down, corporate models of governance’ and talked of ‘community control’ of the station. That was before they realized they were not going to get a majority of the seats on KPFA’s LSB. Sadly, however, their allies throughout the Pacifica system took over other local station boards, and as a result, they were able to get control over the PNB.

Once power had shifted at Pacifica, the ‘Independents’ realized that their best chance for controlling the station was through the PNB, not the LSB. And these folks were quick to jump on the new train. Indeed, our local ‘Independents’ had an epiphany. They now decided that local station boards should have no power: they are simply ‘standing committees’ of the PNB and can be over-ruled on every issue by Pacifica.

However, taking over Pacifica and taking over KPFA is not exactly the same thing. The ‘Independents’ knew that the KPFA community would not relinquish all its rights without a fight. That’s why they started with a coup – a blow. And Arlene Engelhardt’s seizure of power was indeed a real coup. The firing of Brian Edwards-Tiekert was purely political. These folks began their power grab by seeking to get rid of the most forceful opponent they had among the paid staff. They followed this up with an attempt to reverse the results of the staff elections in which SaveKPFA had won a close victory. Court action was necessary to prevent Pacifica from succeeding in this.

They are now attempting to reverse SaveKPFA’s majority on the LSB. There is an effort underway to remove Dan Siegel, one of our strongest voices. Dan, it should be noted, received the highest number of listener votes in the 2008 LSB election. Claiming that his informal advisory relationship to Mayor Jean Quan amounts to an appointment to a political office, the PNB voted last week, without any due process – indeed, without even contacting Dan – to remove him from his seat on the board. Once again, we will be forced to go to court to keep them from reversing the will of the voters.

There is too much at stake here to allow these people to succeed. They would turn the station into a forum for only one narrow slice of the left spectrum. They have taken the formal reins of power and are currently mobilizing all their forces to consolidate their hold over the station. This could spell the death of KPFA as a voice of Northern and Central California’s diverse progressive community. However, we the listeners and supporters of KPFA in the Bay Area, Central Valley and beyond are a force to be reckoned with. We are not about to allow the station we have built and made part of lives to be stolen away.

Matthew Hallinan is a member of KPFA’s local station board.

Stay informed by signing up for updates at www.SaveKPFA.org. Here’s a list of many ways to become involved.

KPFA News report on Morning Show pledges

Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt is refusing to reinstate KPFA’s popular Morning Show, despite being offered $60,000 in pledges to pay for it from listeners. For more, listen to this audio report, which aired on tonight’s Pacifica Evening News.

Pacifica’s response to the outpouring of support for the Morning Show

Since the KPFA Morning Show was removed from the air in November, listeners have generously pledged over $55,000 to rehire the hosts and bring it back to KPFA’s airwaves via SaveKPFA’s PLEDGE TO RESTORE THE MORNING SHOW. That’s enough funding to return the two Morning Show hosts (Aimee Allison and Brian Edwards-Tiekert) for the remainder of the fiscal year (through September 2011). The show was KPFA’s highest grossing, bringing in 3 times what it cost to produce.

So what’s Pacifica’s response? Multiple calls and emails to Pacifica’s executive director from SaveKPFA activists Margy Wilkinson and Mal Burnstein (both elected delegates on KPFA’s local board) have not been returned. Then, on January 14, Pacifica’s national board ordered the network’s CFO to file a complaint with the California attorney general’s office over SaveKPFA’s fundraising campaign.

“This is an absurd move on Pacifica’s part. Instead of taking responsibility for the harm it has done, Pacifica is launching a harassment campaign against SaveKPFA and all the listeners who have stepped forward to preserve quality programming,” said Wilkinson, chair of KPFA’s local board. “These listener pledges will help restore valued programming and benefit KPFA financially. Why would Pacifica want us to stop fundraising, unless the reason for the Morning Show’s cancellation was not economic at all, but political?”

Besides pledging for its return, thousands of listeners have written to give their views. “I love my KPFA,” wrote listener Polly Boissevain, who more than doubled her direct contribution to KPFA, while also making a pledge in SaveKPFA’s campaign. “But I want you to know that my increased support at this time is made in spite of the moves that you have made, not in support of it.” You can read the rest of Polly’s letter here, along with lots of listener mail.

Others who have spoken up include elected officials, educators, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Berkeley’s Labor Commission, all asking Pacifica to resolve the matter fairly and transparently.

Make your voice heard: write KPFA’s new GM

KPFA’s new general manager, Amit Pendyal, has agreed to meet with SaveKPFA. He has repeatedly said he “wants to hear from listeners,” so if you’d like to write him here about KPFA’s morning programming or other matters, we’ll personally deliver your letters during our meeting with him.

We’ll let you know the results. In the meantime, help us send an even stronger message to Pacifica. If you haven’t yet pledged — or would like to add to your PLEDGE TO RESTORE THE MORNING SHOW — you can do so here: ONLINE | BY MAIL

Thanks to an amazing listener response, KPFA’s emergency on-air fund drive in December was highly successful, but analysis of the pledges shows an interesting pattern. Pledges during the hours of 6-9 AM fell by a third of the level they had been at during the Fall 2010 fund drive, when the Morning Show was still on the air. In the December drive, KPFA’s listeners still gave generously but switched their pledging to shows such as Letters to Washington, Against the Grain and the Pacifica Evening News, which had explicitly mentioned restoring the Morning Show.

KPFA local station board news

On January 13, KPFA’s local station board held a civil meeting at which fundraising and other matters were discussed. For a sample, here’s a 4 minute audio file of board member Jack Kurzweil questioning the reasons for the Morning Show’s cancellation.

Just before the meeting began, however, board member Richard Phelps served a lawsuit against some SaveKPFA-affiliated board members, accusing them of “malice” and of not being “loyal” to Pacifica. His suit demands unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Phelps has a history of filing frivolous lawsuits surrounding KPFA, all of which have failed. “This is clearly a SLAPP suit, in which he is using legal maneuvers in an attempt to intimidate those working for locally-controlled programming at the station,” said board member Mal Burnstein.

In addition, board member Tracy Rosenberg is now claiming that SaveKPFA-affiliated board member Dan Siegel, who is a civil rights attorney in Oakland, can no longer serve on KPFA’s board because he is advising new Oakland mayor Jean Quan.

Siegel responds, “I am a volunteer advisor for mayor Jean Quan, with no official city title or authority. I am not a member of the mayor’s cabinet, which is made up of city department heads. I may be asked to attend its meetings on occasion, if there is something for me to discuss with the department heads. The bottom line is that I have been Jean’s friend since the Berkeley Third World Strike in 1968, we have done a lot of politics together, and I am her lawyer.”

Pacifica policy only excludes elected officials and “political appointees,” which has always meant people appointed to a political position, such as a those appointed to complete an unfilled term where the elected person has left the office, or appointed by an elected leader to a policy-making body such as a city commission or board. It does not apply to government employees or staff, of whom there have been many on both local and national Pacifica boards.

What’s behind the move? Rosenberg leads a faction that lost control of the local board in November’s election, which seeks to benefit by removing SaveKPFA’s Siegel from the board. Pacifica also recently attempted to swing the KPFA staff delegate election its way, before an Alameda County judge prevented Pacifica from removing specific voters’ ballots to change the results.

“These kinds of dishonest factional politics are not healthy for KPFA,” said board member Pamela Drake. “We hope the other side will start putting their energy into supporting stellar programming, fair labor practices, and respect for the contributions of the station’s workers and listeners.”

San Francisco Board of Supervisors calls on Pacifica to negotiate in good faith

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a resolution at its January 4, 2011, meeting urging Pacifica to resolve the dispute at KPFA in a transparent and fair manner.

Expressing concern that the termination of Morning Show staff has caused “great disruption at the station” and is “creating conditions that are undermining the democratic spirit of Pacifica Radio’s unique experiment,” the board called on Pacifica to seek mediation with the union, station board, and listeners to negotiate “in a transparent manner a collective solution that will be fair and acceptable to all.” The board also urged the parties to stabilize the financial situation of the station. Read the resolution here, and see details of the vote here.

Unhappy with the Morning Show replacement? Concerned about the direction of the station? Pacifica’s national board needs to hear from you. The next meeting of KPFA’s Local Station Board is Thursday January 13, 2011, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave in Berkeley (one block north of KPFA). This is the meeting at which representatives to Pacifica’s national board will be elected. Come make your voice heard. Notice and agenda are here.

Listeners support good programming

SaveKPFA has asked Pacifica’s executive director Arlene Engelhardt to meet with us about the more than $55,000 in pledges raised to RESTORE THE MORNING SHOW, an amount that would fund the show for the better part of a year. Nearly all of the pledges are from bay area listeners.

Engelhardt has claimed the out-of-seniority order layoffs of Morning Show hosts Aimee Allison and Brian Edwards-Tiegert were for financial reasons, and has told some listeners that if funding were available she would return the program to the air. We’ll report back shortly.

Activists are circulating a Fact Sheet on Boycotting the 8AM Show directed at those who might appear on it.

Meanwhile, after a nationwide campaign in which Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman was one of the spokespeople, Free Speech Radio News was able to raise over $75,000 in emergency donations, enabling it to continue production through the end of January.

Please also read SaveKPFA’s new Facts About KPFA’s Crisis for answers to several key questions about financial accountability and other matters at the station. Please pass it on to others by email or photo copy.

Fresno listeners are increasingly concerned about the KPFA situation. “The KPFA cauldron continues to bubble away, and as the heat rises in Berkeley it may be the people of the Central Valley who get burned,” writes professor and activist Gerry Bill in a second report about the issue in Fresno’s Community Alliance.

Help build a strong KPFA

Want a way to support KPFA without any funds going to Pacifica? All proceeds of KPFA’s local events go solely to KPFA. Check out this list of upcoming KPFA benefit events with writers, scholars and activists such as Richard Wolff, Amy Chua, Mark Stevenson, Russell Simmons, Tony Serra, Paulette Frankl, James Gleick, Robert and Dayna Baer, and Adina Hoffman. We’ll see you there!

And if you have friends who are KPFA listeners, please forward this newsletter to them. They can subscribe to it by writing us or visiting the mailing list signup on the right hand side of www.SaveKPFA.org. Thanks.

Impartial oversight of vote still in question

After an outpouring of listener pressure, management finally certified the recall election to proceed, but has been vague about how it will conduct the vote, or if it will follow Pacifica’s own rules and mail the ballots before year’s end. Hundreds of KPFA listeners signed the recall petition, which lays out the charges of election fraud, email theft, and the destruction of programming by Rosenberg. Hundreds more have signed a second petition demanding that a neutral third party oversee the vote.

Many who signed expressed their frustration with Pacifica’s actions against KPFA, led by treasurer Rosenberg and executive director Arlene Engelhardt. For instance, listener Fred Hosea writes: “The dysfunction, drama, loss of listener support, and mismanagement of the past year amount to an intolerable failure, with Tracy Rosenberg and Arlene Engelhardt at the corrupting center. Rosenberg must go with all due haste, with Engelhardt to follow.” | SEE PETITION OR PETITION SIGNATURES

Help SaveKPFA spread the word
To raise funds to cover possible legal costs and the expense of contacting all of KPFA’s 20,000 listeners, SaveKPFA has set up an online account for those who would like to support our work. (Of course, we encourage you to support KPFA as well.) If you’d like to be added to SaveKPFA’s endorsers’ list, please email us with your name and how you’d like to identified.

Pacifica admits it failed to deposit pension money
Pacifica has finally admitted that it was not depositing employees’ pension contributions into their accounts in a timely fashion “for the past few years.” The network has sent a memo to staff claiming it was a “misunderstanding,” and acknowledging that it must repay the missing deposits with interest. Since early October, KPFA’s union has been investigating the apparent diversion of funds, calling it a form of wage theft.