The battle for the future of the nation's oldest
public radio station, KPFA-FM in Berkeley, grew uglier yesterday
when management tried to bar the public and certain reporters from attending a press conference to discuss
The invitation-only press conference with Mary
Frances Berry, chairwoman of the board of directors of KPFA's
parent company, the Pacifica Foundation, was blocked by a security guard with a list, provoking shouting matches
between the anointed and the outcast.
A 20-year veteran reporter with credentials
from KPFA Evening News was about to be thrown out by guards
when Berry arrived and overruled the guest list, allowing everyone a free seat at the press conference, which was
held at the Oakland Marriott hotel.
Since April, Pacifica and KPFA have been fighting
over local control and the terminations of station manager
Nicole Sawaya, on-air talk show veteran Larry Bensky and ``Across the Great Divide'' volunteer disc jockey
Robbie Osman. Protests, legal threats and bullets have all since landed on the front steps of the station made
famous for its leftist approach to programming.
The vitriol and violence has become so bad
that Berry flew from Washington, D.C., to talk to worker union
representatives and the media. She also announced that KPFA will begin a monthly, hourlong program to let staff
and listeners discuss their frustrations about station changes, so they will not do it during regular programming.
Bensky was let go in April after criticizing
Sawaya's termination during his talk show. Osman also criticized
Pacifica and was let go last month.
``We on the board miscalculated how the people
at the station would respond to a change in management,'' said
Berry, who was joined by Pacifica Executive Director Lynn Chadwick.
But change is imminent, she said, for a station
that has only 200,000 listeners, who are mostly white, mostly male,
and mostly older than 50, she said.
``We're not reaching a large enough or diverse
enough audience, especially in a place like the Bay Area,'' Berry
said. ``We need to have a real discussion about what we have on the air, and if it meets the needs of our
KPFA serves listeners from Fresno to Mendocino,
she said, not just Berkeley. But Pacifica has a hard time selling
KPFA radio programs to its national network because some subscriber stations think KPFA programming is too
outdated, she said.
Because KPFA is listener-supported, its dwindling
listener base is jeopardizing the station's ability to hire more
people and increase salaries, Chadwick said. She said KPFA has the capacity to reach 6.5 million listeners in the
greater Bay Area.
Berry suggested producing more shows dedicated
to gay and lesbian issues and to the multiple communities of
color around the Bay Area.
KPFA already does that, said Bensky, who spent
yesterday working out of his home, where he has been writing
free-lance articles, working on Web projects and preparing to teach broadcast journalism at California State
University at Hayward and Stanford University.
``This station was founded 50 years ago to
be specific and targeted to people who find themselves censored and
eliminated from other media outlets,'' he said. ``I've taken thousands of phone calls over the years from all
different races and ages of people.''
Bensky views the company line as a corporate grab for more power and profits.
``If you start saying the only thing that matters
is massive numbers of listeners, you will do what commercial
stations do and turn into alternative music jukeboxes.''
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