from The San Francisco Bay Guardian,
August 23, 1995

 The Naked Eye
KPFA's Black Tuesday


 AUG. 1 WAS BLACK TUESDAY for a lot of die-hard KPFA-FM listeners, the day they say marked the end of the freewheeling, free-format era of the flagship of Pacifica Foundation stations. Favorite hosts, including MAMA O'SHEA, PHIL ELWOOD, LINCOLN BERGMAN, EMILIANO ECHEVERRIA, KIILU NYASHA, and NINA SERRANO, were taken off the air (though given the chance to reapply for positions later); some of the remaining on-air personnel were moved to different time slots; all on-air personnel were given only a four-month commitment -- and the funky Berkeley offices began to seem ... corporate for the first time.

To some KPFA insiders and listeners, a little more on-air structure and less behind-the-scenes backbiting would be welcome. And there's no doubt that a nonprofit operation at times has to adapt to financial realities. But station officials say this isn't about money -- it's about getting more listeners.

"We looked at the number of people listening, then we looked at the population numbers that were burgeoning in the area, while our numbers remained static," says PHIL OSEGUEDA, assistant general manager at KPFA. "People say that we're only looking for ratings, but they put that in a negative spin."

But in a "July programmers memo," program director GINNY Z. BERSON laid out some strict rules for how the pending transition should be handled:

 At this point, many proposals have been accepted for some of the slots. However, if you are interested in doing a program in the future, please submit a proposal. This is an ongoing process, and we will be putting new people on the air.

 Next comes a section titled "If you are on the air in August," in which those lucky (but increasingly insecure) hosts are instructed on how to behave:

 If you are on the air at the same time, you don't need to say anything. If you are on the air but in a new time slot -- please do not announce the change. With so many programs changing times, this will result in massive confusion for the listeners. If people call you and ask you, by all means tell them.... Again, please do not announce that the program you do is changing times, days, etc.

 But then come even harsher orders for those hosts dropped from the new schedule:

 If you are not on the air in August ... please be very careful of what you say. Please remember that programmers who are not on the air immediately with the new schedule will have ample opportunity to be on the air later -- as early as December. Please remember that if you go on the air and complain, or in any way discuss internal station business, you will be removed from the air immediately and you will hurt your chances to get back on....

When you use air time to discuss your personal grievances, you are alienating listeners, damaging the station, and indicating your lack of interest in doing good programming. If you have any desire to be on the air at a later date, I would suggest that you let listeners know that you are taking a break and hope to be back later ... and that you encourage them to keep listening to KPFA.

 Other memos from the Pacifica Foundation's national office reinforce the corporatization/centralization of power theme. A July 12 memo from the Pacifica Foundation National Board's executive committee to "all local advisory boards of directors" laid out "interim board guidelines":

 In light of the vast changes that are to occur at all stations, the Executive Committee ... [feels] it necessary to remind you that the local station board is responsible to the national board and, in fact, serves at the will and direction of the national board. The local station board of directors' main responsibility is to carry out the directives of the national board and abide by its decisions....

The board mandated that the station managers reconfigure programming to better serve core listeners in each signal area, to develop more relevant and professional programming, and to, thereby, increase the audience.... It will mean that there will be many alterations without the approval or disapproval of the local board.

 At the top of the memo's list of "general guidelines for all stations":

"To act as a primary support body for the general manager and station."

 Pacifica's acting executive director, DICK BUNCE, told us he stands by the new mandates of the advisory board memo.

"They're an attempt to bring a seriousness of work to our advisory boards," he said. "KPFA works very well, but I wish I could say that all are so conscientious. Sometimes we need to remind some people about some things."  

KPFA's advisory board will sponsor a forum Aug. 30 at 7 p.m., North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, Berk. KPFA management will attend the forum.

You can reach Ron Curran at

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