, ,

LUMPENPRkpfa-free-speech-take-it-back-logo-121199OLETARIAT—Where are the free speech radio archives?  Gasp.  http://kpfa.org/archives/  “Oh, mama!  Can this really be the end?”  Oh, the horror!  Has KPFA finally collapsed on itself?  Life without KPFA/Pacifica?  Without Guns and Butter, La Onda Bajita, Project Censored, The History of Funk, WorkWeek, Hard Knock Radio, and Flashpoints?  It can’t be.

Free speech radio KPFA (94.1, Berkeley, CA) has launched a new website this week (yesterday, as far as I can tell).  (Away from the SF Bay Area at Kansas City’s UMKC, KPFA’s website becomes a lifeline to stay up on what’s going on back home.)  And I thought the last website was bad enough.  How is your local free speech radio station doing?

It seems KPFA’s archives have not yet been deleted from public access.  But things do not look good at KPFA/Pacifica Radio, the birthplace of listener-sponsored, anti-commercial, free-speech community radio in the USA (and seemingly its deathbed as a national network).  KPFA and the Pacifica Radio network have recently faced perilous financial woes along with its ongoing identity crisis.  At least, it’s still on the air.  This is the first major KPFA website renovation in probably a decade, at least.

I telephoned the station this afternoon, but there was no receptionist on duty.  Then, I called the on-air line during the Thursday afternoon Herbal Highway broadcast.  A kind gentleman answered questions to the best of his ability.  But he did not know much about the new website.  Then, a KPFA cart came on the radio broadcast streaming online, which described the hopes for the new website.  The gentleman on the phone agreed the previous website format was much more functional in terms of accessing radio broadcast archives.  SF Bay Area journalist Ann Garrison and I have long-discussed the downsides of KPFA’s online presence in the past when the ‘green’ version of the site was still up.  What a waste.  I know Ann Garrison surely feels my pain:

I don’t think the new website is bad looking, but the problem with archive access is nothing new!!! Only a few hosts diligently add descriptions that generate tags to their archives. I have never been able to understand why the station has bothered, and paid, to store years and years of unlabeled archives that no one will ever be able to find in a subject search.”

For real.  KPFA (and all local community free speech radio stations) need some kind of open source interface whereby listeners can contribute to content, maybe like Wikipedia does it.  It seems there should be a way for KPFA, a volunteer-based radio station, which spawned a volunteer-based radio network, should have a way for listener supporters to contribute to enriching KPFA’s broadcast content, enhancing its descriptive breadth, and expanding its subject-specific utility as an activist scholarship resource.  Today’s Hard Knock Radio broadcast was labelled as featuring an interview with “Carl Dix, founding member and representative of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA”.  But, after sitting through the entire hour-long broadcast one finds it’s actually an interview with Nelson George, who is promoting his new film “A Ballerina’s Tale”. It was a fascinating conversation ranging through the history of funk, R&B, and black and American culture. But it was not a conversation with Carl Dix.  Time is too expensive to sit through the wrong broadcast.  And, not only are some shows like Hard Knock Radio not possible to directly download, but after a few weeks such shows with unlicensed musical excerpts longer than a few seconds are taken down from public streaming access.  All that would remain of the broadcast is an incorrectly labelled description of a Carl Dix interview that was never broadcast.  Garrison blames management for the website’s archive woes:

“This is a management problem. Nothing will be done about it until management takes the issue in hand. Current Program Director Laura Prives [SaveKPFA faction] was producer of The Morning Show [SaveKPFA faction], Up Front [SaveKPFA faction], and Letters and Politics [SaveKPFA faction], for years and years, while the archives went unlabeled, so I don’t have a lot of hope that this will change, but the issue should be taken to management.”

Indeed.  Some of us had raised website archive issues to management in the past.  The Lemlem Rijio management was largely unresponsive to voices outside of her SaveKPFA faction.  Later, the Andrew Phillips management was very accessible and sympathetic to listener input; but he seemed outranked by the SaveKPFA faction.  (Lumpenproletariat will have to do some catch up homework to fill in the recent history of KPFA management leading up to the current Quincy McCoy management.)  With the previous KPFA website, broadcast archive commentary fields allowed for listener comments to informally label broadcast topics.  But increasingly those KPFA listener comment forums were closed off after a few weeks.  More recently, many shows, particularly the SaveKPFA faction shows, would close the comment function off after 24 hours.

Ann Garrison explains:  “They’re working on the bugs. I think the colors and the design are more appealing, the addition of photos good. I just can’t stand the little guy with the megaphone [on the new logo] and they still haven’t solved the problem of posting segments with headlines, which NPR, Democracy Now, and FSRN all took care of long long ago.

But if management would just insist that hosts with half hours and hours summarize and tag their shows, that would be a big advance. It makes no sense to pay to store 12 years of archives that no one will ever be able to access by subject searching and I can’t tell that that problem’s been solved yet either.

There’s a wealth of news and information at KPFA.  But it’s laid out in such a way that makes it very unaccessible.  Oddly, KPFA’s new website make-over seems to bury even further the vast array of progressive radio broadcast archives and activist history documented by KPFA and the Pacifica Radio network over the years.  The spirit of free speech radio flickers at KPFA, but there are interests which would still NPR-ise it, water it down, erase historical memory, discourage mp3 downloading and dissemination, discourage the free flow of information.  And, of course, the long-standing internecine strife at KPFA between the pro-Democrat Party faction (SaveKPFA) and all the other grassroots activists continues.  We recall various episodes from the long struggle for the soul of KPFA/Pacifica free speech radio:

Some celebrity activists, like Raj Patel, have unfortunately been duped by the pro-Democrat Party faction at KPFA (“SaveKPFA”).  Hopefully, the grassroots KPFA community will preserve the people’s history of KPFA, and clarify the Democrat-funded and distorted history promoted by the SaveKPFA faction.  (SaveKPFA’s faction blogs at sites, such as “KPFA Worker” and “Save KPFA“.)

– Messina [last updated 26 MAR 2015]

The new KPFA website featured the following report:


KPFA General Manager’s State of the Station Report

December 2014/January 2015

There is good news and bad news in the results of our year-end fund drive.The bad news first: We didn’t make our goal during our 2-week campaign, and for a very good reason – we were executing our mission. As you all know KPFA did an excellent job of covering the unexpected local and national protests and demonstrations during the pledge. On air and in the streets, we were everywhere. We sacrificed many pledge hours, united in the belief that getting vital information out on the air wedded KPFA’s progressive spirit and character with our listeners and stakeholders.Which leads to the good news. After the conclusion of the drive, we initiated a series of soft-sell pitches, once an hour, asking listeners to fill in the gap with an end-of-the-year donation. We received a very enthusiastic response that totaled nearly $93 thousand dollars. On New Years Eve alone $38 thousand dollars was donated online. This really wasn’t a surprise. We sensed in our listenership that this was payback for a job well done.Yet, aside from the last gasp donations enabling us to cross the finish line, the poor earnings of the end-of-the-year fund drive is a clear indicator that our current schedule of 5 pledge drives a year is not sustainable. Please hear me when I say we have reached the point of diminishing returns. Our listening audience and our programmers are very fatigued. To break this cycle (not enough revenue sources and high expenses) will take a major commitment to reassess our entrenchment and inflexible culture. Ask yourself are you ready as a group to change? Ready to be mutually responsible in reshaping KPFA into a financially secure community radio station.The old saying applies: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”It takes 3 engines to keep this community powered, non-profit radio station running. On all three our check engine lights are on.Engine Number 1 is our listener support system. Many years ago this was a powerful 12-cylinder engine. A generous major donors base has now turned their backs to us, run off by historical infighting, public protests and damaging lawsuits. This engine now runs on 4 cylinders, has a ton of mileage and is leaking oil.Engine Number 2 is the national office. This engine is being rebuilt. Folks are under the hood trying to find the motor under the gunk of unpaid bills, broken contracts and expired relationships. Without this engine running properly we are missing out on additional revenue aid from the CPB, support from foundations and executive group oversight.Engine Number 3 is you, the local board. This engine has a starter problem – unable to turn over and reimagine itself from a governance board, unnecessarily concerned with micro managing programming, to an empowered and empowering community fund raising vehicle proudly getting and giving the funds needed to keep the radio station cruising toward financial stability.David Gans is a 5 star board member. Over the years his Grateful Dead marathon has raised nearly a million dollars for KPFA. He doesn’t whine or hesitate to use his talent, contacts and connections to benefit the radio station. The next Grateful Dead drive runs from 9am-1PM on Saturday, January 31st.

The PNB Resolution:

The PNB has requested that the KPFA management create a plan to make $250 thousand dollars in cuts, which would include a formula for reduction in management salaries. To accomplish this goal and if such a plan is executed by the PNB, KPFA will not resemble the media outlet it is today. There would have to be layoffs, furlough days, schedule changes and an overall decrease in operating tools and services. This is Pacifica’s history beginning to repeat itself, as KPFA would be headed down the same narrow road as WBAI. When you cut talent, you’re cutting our unique programming, the only thing that separates us from the rest. We already have seen that you can’t cut yourself into solvency. We have a revenue problem because we’re down two and a half engines and not enough mechanics prepared to do the real work needed to raise additional funding.

The management team has met with the union and proposed a cut to our benefits package, with a change in co-pay from $10 to $20. That would be a yearly savings of $42 thousand dollars a year. Since this would alter the contract, the union must have a secret ballot vote on the proposal.

Other Proposed PNB Cuts:

Reduction in workforce, hours and station schedule
Savings = $175,000

Services reductions
Savings = $14,400

December 2014 Fund Drive Re-Cap:

Unfortunately, despite great encouragement from of our listeners, volunteers and board members to bring the phone room back, the volunteer turnout during the holiday fundraiser was mediocre at best. Emails were sent out to volunteers before the drive and there were promos played before and during the drive to encourage folks to come in, however, the room rarely had more than 5 volunteers at a time.

During the first week of the drive, a new system of pledge taking was attempted with laptops. Although there were some software issues with the interface itself, the majority of issues came from a serious lack of familiarity with computers by many of our volunteers.

Volunteers who knew computer basics could troubleshoot minor issues, however, others lacked a basic understanding of how to open new tabs, how to fill in blank fields or simply how to use a mouse. Because of this unprecedented lack in computer skills and a work-around software issue the laptops were abandoned after the first week. During the second week, the old card system was brought back but unfortunately, our volunteer turnout continued to dwindle.

By the final day of the drive we were about $25,000 short. I am confident that if not for the Comnet rollover service to pick up calls when we lacked volunteers, this shortfall would have been far greater. Until the financial health of the station stabilizes, I will not risk losing precious dollars in the hope that more volunteers will show up.

KPFA, along with our sister stations KPFK and WPFW have signed on with a new telephone rollover service called Telerep. WPFW has used them in the past with great results. Already in our dealings with them we find this organization to be more professional and are looking forward to better communication between them and our donor base.

Local Protest Coverage Re-cap:

During the December Fund drive KPFA interrupted Saturday, December 13th fund raising to bring National Pacifica coverage of the Black Lives Matter march in Washington D.C., along with coverage of the many local protests throughout the day in special headlines culminating with a Saturday edition of Flashpoints.

KPFA’s Anita Johnson and Davey D and many others were in the streets covering the shut down of I-80, the Oakland Police Headquarters, the Oakland Federal building to name just a few.

KPFA also organized special call-ins from reporters and programming throughout the run up to and on the MLK Holiday.

It has been a whirlwind of response by the station and in the process we are creating new channels of communication between programmers and the news department to increase our coverage of actions in real time.

Considering our dueling need to fund raise and fulfill our mission, KPFA continues to come through against the odds.

Where Are We Now?

I find it amazing but there are folks on the board who still ask the question, where does the money go? I’ve only been GM for 6 months and it didn’t take me long to find out where it goes, who gets it, and where it’s not coming from right now. Here’s a simple breakdown of our first quarter money distribution.

I should add that this so-called financial crisis we’re in has been caused by a downward trajectory of income for the last five years making present revenues less than our expenses. Examples:

Listener Support has declined

Two years without CPB funding (approximately $240 thousand dollars) that the station has relied on.
Declining income from major donors and foundations run off by historical infighting and lawsuits.
All of the above makes the deficit between revenue and expenses more acute.

Annual Payroll & Benefits Expenses:

  • Benefits = $450,468
  • Payroll & taxes = $1.953 million

BANK ACTIVITY for Oct-Dec 2015:

Deposits $1,170,000

  • Listener support
  • Crafts Fair revenue
  • Events

Withdrawals $537,497

  • Payroll
  • Bank charge

Checks $586,350

  • Premiums
  • Crafts Fair expense
  • Utilities
  • Operating expenses

Payroll for 3 months = $505,800

  • $168,600/month (avg)
  • $84,300/pay period (avg)

Benefits for 3 months= $120,000

  • $40,000/month

Ending Balance = $46,153

The New Fund Drive Campaign: January 27th-Februry 13th

Our goal is $630 thousand. Again the pressure is on because the station lives from drive to drive. The staff’s moral is low because of the looming PNB resolution, yet we all will move forward and do our best to present a mix of interesting and entertaining programming during Black History Month.

Our new campaign slogan is “Pass it On.” Our own in-house research tells us that only 1 in 8 of KPFA listeners actually donate. We will be asking our real donors to pass on the request from us to family members and friends, who listen to KPFA to join in and support us in this drive. The second part of the campaign is to encourage listeners to “Pass On” the link to our donation page onto their Facebook or Twitter accounts in hopes that through social media we can raise additional publicity and funds.

New website:

Unfortunately because of some continued backend technical issues we aren’t able to launch the website as planned for this fund drive. We need more time to workout the tech issues and test the site before it goes public. You only debut once and we want it to be impressive. Right now, the launch goal is late February.

Yet in this drive we will be showcasing our new logo in a PASS IT ON pack of Water bottles, T-shirts and Tote bags.

KPFA Crafts Fair Re-Cap: December 2014

Our first year at The Craneway Pavilion proved to be very successful. Our attendance went from 3,200 in 2013 to over 5,000 in 2014. Our 3 hours of live air (from 9am to noon) both days were well executed and contributed greatly to the culture of the event. Over 200 Artists & Craftspeople, Fair Traders and Non-Profits exhibited. Free parking and plenty of it was icing on the cake. The Craneway Pavilion, a little known destination is becoming an attraction in and of itself. The Managers of the Craneway were thrilled that we moved our event there.

We have already booked the venue for the third weekend in December 2015, as well as for the third weekend in June, when we hope to produce a new KPFA Summer Fair, building on the success of the December show. This is under discussion with management and Jan Etre, because both events offer fabulous opportunities for donor outreach and off-air fund raising.

2014 Numbers

Income + $100,000 (aprox) Exhibitor Fees

+ $35,800 Net Door

Expenses – $47,800

Salaries – $63,000

Net Income: + $25,000

There will be a staff meeting after the winter drive.

Quincy McCoy
GM, 94.1 KPFA, January 21, 2015