Monday, August 29, 2016

A noteworthy resignation

Sorry for the length, I couldn't get this into Mediafire using iPad.

I'm writing to submit my resignation as a KPFA Delegate, effective at 11:00 am Pacific on September 10, 2016 (the date and time of the next KPFA LSB meeting). At that time, my resignation as a KPFA delegate will automatically remove me from the PNB, and the National Finance Committee.

I'm leaving KPFA to begin a year-long journalism fellowship at Stanford, and don't feel I can be an effective representative of KPFA's staff while I'm not spending any time at the worksite--so I'm stepping down.

Since I'm going off the air, off the payroll, and off the board, I wanted to leave you with some suggestions about addressing our crisis that are franker than I might have before.

To start, five limiting principles:

1. Assigning blame for our crisis is usually a distraction from fixing it. I've spent almost 10 years in Pacifica governance, and I've never heard a blame-fest produce any solutions. The only conversation the board should be having is "given our circumstances, what do we do now?"

2. Fundraising tactic wish-lists are not going to solve our problems. Good ideas need personnel to implement them. The personnel we have left are already stretched thin, working like mad with the skills they have to raise whatever money they can -- it's not sufficient.

3. Incremental cost cuts are not going to solve our problems. While it's possible to make trims here and there--and they will help--we can't make cuts deep enough to close our deficits without compromising our ability to keep fundraising at current levels.

4. Extending fund drives further is a swift path to an early grave. Many of our stations have already hit a wall of diminishing returns on extended fund drives -- the incessant pitching drives their audience away, so there are fewer and fewer people left to request money from with every passing fund drive.

5. Whatever you think the limitations of our current staff and management are, finding someone brilliant to replace them is unlikely. We pay well below market rate for just about every position in the network; we carry the stigma of being a conflict-ridden, financially-distressed organization; and we subject our managers to acrimonious, often borderline-abusive interactions with members of our local and national boards. Great job applicants are not beating a path to our door--which means leadership purges are unlikely to produce a messiah to deliver us from our problems.

What we need are structure-level changes. That's what our auditors and our insurers are talking about when they ask for a recovery plan. A lot of the things I'll outline below are controversial, not all of them are things I endorse, but I think you need to pick among them, discuss under what conditions some might work, what compromises you're willing to make, and chart some kind of course change--because our present trajectory has us pointed at a cliff, and moving toward it at high speed.

1. Stop the bleeding: Put WBAI into an LMA. This would entail handing control of WBAI (and responsibility for paying its bills) to another nonprofit, while Pacifica maintains ultimate control of the broadcast license. In the past, we've had offers from multiple nonprofits that are compatible with Pacifica's mission.
     Something has to give: WBAI has almost nothing left in the way of money, audience, personnel, nor facilities to re-build itself from. The cost of renting WBAI's tower ($660,000/yr and rising 10% every year) and mataining a legally-compliant station in New York is simply more than Pacifica can afford. The LMA option could eliminate roughly $500,000/year in deficit, and hopefully leave WBAI with a much larger audience than it has today.
    If we can't negotiate an LMA arrangement that would cover the bills, then the final option would be to approximate the same result internally: strip WBAI down to the FCC-mandated minimum number of staff on-site, simulcast one of the West Coast stations during most of the day, carry their pitches during fund drive, and have all the phone room, data entry, billing and premium fulfillment operations associated with fundraising happen out of that West Coast station. That arrangement would cost less. There's a decent chance it would raise more. If it doesn't raise enough to fix the problem, at least you'll have exhausted every option short of a license sale.

2. Save our History: re-locate the Pacifica Radio Archive to a University. Our collection of reel-to-reel tapes currently takes up an entire floor of KPFK's building, plus two rented storage units, plus the work of five paid employees to maintain and slowly digitize. We've had two universities offer to house those tapes at their expense, while Pacifica retains ownership. This could provide a lot of upsides: Pacifica's stations would be relieved of the dues they pay to the Archive; the National Office wouldn't have to keep floating PRA's payroll when those dues come up short, KPFK would get an entire floor of its building back, which it could rent out to shore up revenues. And, in all honesty, a well-resourced University might take better care of the collection than we've been able to, be better-positioned to pursue preservation grants, and digitize that collection faster than the crawl we've been moving at.
    This option could eliminate up to $300,000/year in net costs, and potentially produce tens of thousands of dollars in rental income for KPFK.

3. Fix what we can: focus turn-around efforts on WPFW. Like WBAI, WPFW's deficits approach $500,000/year. Unlike WBAI, WPFW doesn't have insurmountably high overhead.
    If we could put out the fires in a couple other parts of the network, then focus our personnel and resources on WPFW, we could probably turn it around. That would entail getting assistance and advice from the National Office and sister stations on best practices on every front, from how the books are being kept, to how fund drives are being run, to how bills and solicitations are being manged.
     Again: I don't think this type of detailed troubleshooting is possible unless and until we fix some of the other problems in the network first, and give the stations enough breathing room to put time into helping each other out.
    If we can't turn around WPFW under our own power, you should consider requesting LMA/PSOA proposals like we have for WBAI.

4. New revenue channels: the Affiliates Program. The Affiliates Director made a proposal last year to set up an underwriting cooperative for affiliates, which she said would both encourage more stations to join our affiliates program, and result in small direct revenues to Pacifica. The board basically shot it down over the income-splitting formula she proposed (which was problematic, but fixable), and opposition to having anything to do with underwriting (which is a question of political principles that we never fully debated nor resolved). Last year's board left the door open to considering a revised version of the proposal, but management never followed up -- if this is something the PNB doesn't have principled opposition to, it's something you could direct staff to start working on again. This is an actionable proposal for bringing more money in the door -- all it's waiting for is the PNB to decide where it stands.

5. Fast money. We need an infusion of one-time cash to to keep from going under while the long-term solutions listed above go into effect--without it, we will be in court with our creditors (and possibly our unions) within a matter of months, if not weeks.
   There is only one real option I can think of: the real estate we own next to KPFA's studios. It comprises one parcel and two buildings in Downtown Berkeley that are rotting away for lack of maintenance. One of them currently houses the National Office's accounting staff (about four people).
   This is the only real estate we own that isn't crucial to broadcast operations. If we can't get a mortgage against that property, we should sell it before our inability to make payments on other obligations gets a lien slapped on the buildings.
    The National Office Staff could squeeze into KPFA's studios for the time being; KPFA could re-locate the stored items it can't throw out.
    It pains me to propose this, because that real estate is something that the people at my station -- KPFA -- worked hard, and gave hard, to purchase and pay off. But it's a valuable, mostly-idle asset that we're neglecting -- and we desperately need a cash infusion to have a chance of getting out of our downward spiral.
    I would strongly oppose a sale of the parcel if that sale were the only measure on the table--the infusion of cash would only help us delay facing our structural problems. But if the proposal to sell is attached to a plan for addressing our structural problems--something like what I've outlined above--it makes sense.

Most of the moves above will require considerable time from staff and management to develop into actionable proposals that the board can vote on -- so it's important for the board to signal, now, which directions it wants to move in, so that staff know the time they do put into developing plans won't be wasted.

The ideas above also leave unresolved the bigger questions facing us as a media organization: How do we bring younger generations to our work? How do we move beyond terrestrial FM broadcasting, and spread Pacifica's work on digital platforms, social media, podcasts, etc.? And how do we pay for that?
   I don't have easy answers -- it's part of what I'll be exploring during my year at Stanford -- but I do know we can't make progress on those fronts until we've put out the fires. Until we've stopped the bleeding and put some money in the bank, we have nothing we can spend pursuing promising but risky new ideas. And until we've moved our staff and boards beyond perpetual crisis-response mode, we won't be coming up with a lot of brilliant ideas to pursue.

Above all, we have to do something: every day that we don't make major changes, is a day that we go deeper into debt, a day that we lose more room to maneuver, and a day that our audience grows a little bit smaller. Deciding not to do anything is the worst decision we can make.

Of course, deciding not to do anything is mostly what we've been doing. We are an organization that is ruled by inertia. Our boards fight over everything, and decide almost nothing of importance. Our managers have dozens of bosses and no direction. They've learned that initiating change themselves is a great way to get attacked -- so they keep their heads down and try not to get noticed.

Our governance structure contributes heavily to this organizational paralysis, and you have the power to change it. Pursue bylaws amendments that shrink the size of our boards, so they are less prone to factionalization, and so the meetings are less chaotic. Consider longer terms for PNB members, so there's not constant churn, and board members have time to build mutual trust. If those still leave the boards divided and dysfunctional, then revisit whether STV is working. It almost always produces narrowly-divided boards--maybe a winner-take-all election system that gave the organization a clear direction would be preferable to our power-sharing system that produces little more than acrimony and stasis.

Good luck,

Brian Edwards-Tiekert
KPFA 94.1 FM
1929 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Berkeley CA 94704

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Another damaging deception by Reimers...

 Apropos the recent nine hours of  literally dead air, it is just one of the latest instances of Berthold Reimers deceiving the people who work at WBAI, as well as what is left of a listenership his ineptitude has steadily discouraged.

The abrupt cut-off occurred in the middle of something that is all too rare on Reimers' tattered weekly schedule: an intelligently produced and presented program. A highly knowledgeable member of the Creative Unity Collective was paying tribute to audio engineers whose work has enhanced and taken along a new path the recording industry--It was a tribute inspired by the death of Rudy Van Gelder, just a few days before. Reimers has a long-time debt to settle with WBAI and its listener-sponsors. Now he can add this CUC producer/host to the growing list of individuals he has victimized.

Here is what Frank Lefever posted elsewhere earlier today:

 I sent copies of Berthold's E-mail to the Staff, and I've posted about
it up on the bleepin' blue board (,
but the real revelation here was that Berthold, and Tony Ryan, had been
informed about this by a memo from the Empire State Building (ESB) guy
on August 17, a full 10 days earlier.

Berthold forwarded the two E-mails from the ESB guy, dated August 17,
and August 26, at 8:59 AM on August 27, after a number of us had had the
experience of finding the station off the air with no explanation. Randy
Credico was particularly upset this morning. He's not been through
situations where the station is suddenly off the air before.

Even after six and a half years some people's radio management OJT is
still inadequate.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

CFO's report to the PNB--and more.

I picked up the following from Tracy Rosenberg:  PNB meeting last night. If you didn't hear it, check out kpftx or the summary reel here:

I wanted to bring to your attention two Berkeley things that came my way today. The first is a memo from the KPFA manager to station staff. It's attached below. Its emphasis is that KPFA's financial position is much worse than seems to have been previously communicated. 

I'll add a few things, which is that moving up the fund drive to September 7th, while presumably a short-time fix for inability to pay the September 15  payroll, is going to exacerbate the problem of getting all the way from September to December.

Shortening KPFA's fund drives so they do not make enough to pay 3 months of expenses was a management decision. While it did pop up the daily totals, the final result has been not enough money to make it to the start of the following fund drive. 

You may want to instruct KPFA they need to run this next fund drive for 20-25 days and/or extend it until KPFA  reaches a goal that approximates the amount of money needed to operate until the December fund drive. 

The second thing is to correct a mis-perception in the note. 

"Remember the Foundation is supposed to be there to help us financially, not the other way around". 

Not really. Pacifica was founded in 1946, 3 years before KPFA went on the air. It predates KPFA and was founded to hold the license and do the administrative schmutz. 

I can't encourage people enough to actually read the Theory of Listener-Sponsored Radio by Lew Hill. In it , he makes a strong case that fundraising rests with programmers, indicates the strength of relationship with their audiences, and argues for the meritocracy of the listener donation as the criteria for programming decisions:

"Listener sponsorship is an answer to the practical problem of getting better radio programs and keeping them. I will emphasize that neither a “Public Be Damned” nor a “Down with Commerce” attitude enters into this formulation.  It must have occurred to you that such a principle could easily revert to the fabled ivory tower.  Some self-determining group of broadcasters might find that no one, not the least minority of the minority audiences, gave a hang for their product, morally responsible or not.  What then?  Then, you will say, there would be no radio station—or not for long—and the various individualists involved could go scratch for a living.  But it is the reverse possibility that explains what is most important about listener sponsorship.  When we imagine the opposite situation, we are compelled to account for some conscious flow of influences, some creative tension between broadcaster and audience that constantly reaffirms their mutual relevance.  Listener sponsorship will require this mutual stimulus if it is to exist at all.  We make a considerable step forward, it seems to me, when we use a system of broadcasting which promises that the mediocre will not survive.  But the significance of what does survive increases in ways of the profoundest import to our times when it proceeds from voluntary action.  Anyone can listen to a listener-sponsored station.  Anyone can understand the rationale of listener sponsorship—that unless the station is supported by those who value it, no one can listen to it including those who value it.  This is common sense.  But beyond this, actually sending in the subscription, which one does not have to send in unless one particularly wants to, implies the kind of cultural engagement, as some French philosophers call it, that is surely indispensable for the sake of the whole culture.The survival of this station is based upon the necessity of voluntary subscriptions from 2 per cent of the total FM audience in the area in which it operates"


The second kerfluffle here today was with the broadcast of Dave Zirin's show Collision. I'll include the archive below.  Dave was absent and the show was hosted by Etan Thomas. The first 30 minutes consisted of an all-male panel discussing the 1999 Penn State rape case, specifically with regard to filmmaker Nate Parker. I got several emails from listeners extremely upset with the tenor of the conversation. After I listened to it myself, I could see why. The victim, who committed suicide in 2012, was tried and condemned ex-post facto by an all-male jury coming up with gems like: 

'The women change their minds about sex and we end up in handcuffs". 

"I'm not for reprimanding just one side". 

Basically it was 30 minutes of the argument that women make fake rape charges to bring men down and the now-deceased victim, who committed suicide in 2012, drank alcohol.

Finally, a woman guest, Karen Hunter, who has a show on Sirius XM, came on and vigorously argued with the host for the final half of the show.

It was an alienating and dehumanizing thing to listen to in a female body. You talk so much about younger listeners, but you cannot attract them when the host sounds like their crazy wUncle Freddy in the closet muttering about whores who entrap nice young men. Understanding of rape has progressed a lot since the 1950's and this was really way behind the times. 

So the question becomes how do you have some kind of discussion so there is improvement in a) how rape gets talked about and b) some ability to provide enough program direction and editorial guidance so that no one ever broadcasts again an all-male panel savaging a rape victim?



Thursday, August 18, 2016

As Pacifica is torn apart...


Kathy Davis having transported me into Morpheus' arms, I will be back in a few hours. In the meantime, you might wish to read this and comment on it.