The weekend before Thanksgiving I attended one of the most bizarre meetings in my short 30 years living in the East Bay and being somewhat active in local politics.
It was the KPFA radio station’s Local Station Board.
Most of this year I focused on the Oakland school board race, so I ask to be forgiven for not keeping the fact that I was first runner up on the KPFA board election the year prior at the front of my mind.
The fact that one can not serve at KPFA in any function and also run for office or be an elected official slipped the mind of one of the KPFA board members as he ran for Richmond City Council.
I got a call; he was off the board, and I was on, if I was still willing to serve.
Of course I am willing to serve. I feel that it is important to have at least one media outlet that is not corporate or non-profit corporate and really belongs to the community. That might sound abstract, but in practice, it is not. This is the one radio station in our area that the private sector has no influence over. No ads, no donations, no underwriting. That also means that the station does not have a lot of money. The only cash it does have is the dues we members pay. My own contribution is something like $10 a month on automatic payments. That makes me a member and my spot on the board is as a member representative. Staff is also represented.
There are some things I would like to see us do better:
• Local news.
• Investigative reporting.
• Recruitment of youth.
• Renewal of the on-air cast.
• Volunteer reporters.
And in all these things, I think we need to expand the listener base and the membership.
As far as I am concerned, every show currently on the air should be actively doing each and every one of these things or at least actively working to help them happen.
Well, we certainly did not talk about any of this during our November meeting.
What did we talk about? A good half hour was spent discussing if the public question and comment period would be the first half hour of the meeting or the last. Finally, I proposed that we do it the way the public was expecting that day, and TRY the other way at the upcoming meetings and then discuss how it goes. People went along and we got back to business.
That was unnecessarily stressful.
There was a part of the meeting that I am not allowed to divulge. Let’s just say that emotionally when it was over that discussion reminded me of a couple’s quarrel where both kept circling back around to where they took offense, with the original molehill built into a mountain based on “how could you” and “this obviously means” type of talk as we all ran around like Asterix and Obilix covering our heads because the sky is about to fall.
The offended harped on for a long time but yet did not seem to feel the need to moderate their own language as they decried a member’s language in the light of what they thought it implied.
By the time we went back to regular session, it felt like a relief.
And then we got to the big item of the day. The report back from the Pacifica National Board.
Each local station board elects members to the national board, where most of the administration of the network takes place. I think KPFA had three, but hey, this was my first meeting.
My friend, who talked me into running for KPFA board, reported back saying that he works on keeping the antennas working and such stuff, so did not have much to say about the financial crisis affecting the network. It felt as if his work was off topic. Infighting was on topic, but broadcasting was not.
Then what we got was not a report; it was an editorial. If the harsh language from before was not enough, we got dismissive descriptions of national board business saying that the national board does not know what it is doing, has no plans and we got several repeats of how KPFA is the only station to raise any money and the other 4 stations are just riding along.
By the time the meeting was over, all I really know about the National Board is that the majority of the Local Board really does not go along with the program.
Over the past years I had heard a lot of different things about the local board majority at KPFA, most of which I did not pay much attention to. Now I got to see it in person and was really disappointed. There are a couple of people in there that I have known for years and once valued as positive assets to the local progressive community.
I do not see how any of this dynamic helps us build unity around dealing with the financial issues or gets us on the track of building a renewed, 21st century radio station that means something to the youth of the San Francisco Bay Area.
My 70 year old buddy who talked me into getting involved has told us all, several times, that when he was growing up in the Berkeley Area, KPFA was what people tuned into in order to know what was really going on.
KPFA is still sort of that, but we could get off our high horses and do a better job.
Next meeting this weekend.