On July 3, 1997 KPFA management announced that Lynne Chadwick, Director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, would take over for outgoing KPFA GM Marci Lockwood. Chadwick is one of the founders of the "Healthy Station Project" which pushed community stations toward commercialization and "professionalization," and advocated the use of more paid staff and a reduced role for community programmers and members in decision-making.
The Grassroots Radio Coalition, whose second annual conference will take place at the end of this month in Boulder, Colorado, is composed of a growing number of stations who have rejected the "Healthy Station" premise. In many cases, these community stations have had to fight long hard battles to take their stations back. Because of this, the GRC conference attendees understood and were supportive of Free Pacifica delegates who attended last years conference to publicize our struggle.
This a further ominous step in the program of the current Pacifica regime of Executive Director Pat Scott, whose "5-year Plan" articulates a goal of re-creating Pacifica Stations as a "professional broadcast organization."
Jesse Walker, a community broadcaster and journalist, has provided the following excerpt from a work- in -progress which explains the "Healthy Station" project and the struggle against it. WERU is one of the co-founders and sponsors of the Grassroots Radio Coalition. (For more info on the GRC, visit the GRC website: http://www.kgnu.org/grassroots)
(An excerpt from an early draft of a forthcoming paper:)
It is now common for NFCB administrators to denounce the "old hippie paradigm" of diverse programming and volunteer-based management. Paid staff, they suggest, should call the shots.
This came to a head in the late '80s, when the NFCB and Public Radio International (then called American Public Radio) launched the Blueprint Project, a CPB-financed "consulting initiative." When APR dropped out, the NFCB rechristened its efforts the Healthy Station Project. According to the program's coordinator, David LePage, the HSP was simply "a curriculum designed to support and create successful local stations," a "method of facilitation and training." It "brings no hidden plan or agenda, no magic wands, no predetermined programming answers. . . . The HSP evaluates a station's health based on its behavior and performance in relation to achieving its mission, not in relation to any particular program format or organizational structure."
This was a half-truth. The NFCB's advice did vary from place to place, depending on what content it felt would build audiences in each particular locale. But the form that content would take was distressingly -- well, blueprintish. The HSP consistently called for reducing the power volunteers have over both station management and the content of their shows. HSP stations were also to embrace predictable strip programming. Their music would be more homogeneous, more "consistent." Oddball shows that didn't immediately fit the new format -- the new "mission" -- would be dropped, no matter how popular they may be.
The idea, derived from the research of programing consultants George Bailey and David Giovannoni, was that listeners like predictability -- that if they tune to a station Monday and hear Public Enemy, then try again Tuesday and get a Gregorian chant, they won't come back. Obviously, there's some truth to this, and many community stations have successfully gained listeners while maintaining their eclectic identity by arranging a more logical flow from program to program. But it's also true that variety can be a station's selling point, its niche, especially if those varied shows are hosted by talented, knowledgeable DJs. Wipe out that variety and fire those volunteer hosts, and your station will be headed for trouble.
One of the first testing grounds for the HSP was WERU in Blue Hill Falls, Maine. Just eight years old, WERU has only six full-time and one part-time paid employees, plus about 150 volunteers. Important decisions are made by all -- one person, one vote. Its funding comes mostly from local sources, although it also accepts CPB subsidies.
Enter the HSP, represented by LePage, Bailey, and a handful of WERU staffers. It didn't take long for the project to wear out its welcome. Cathy Melio, WERU's present station manager, recalls what happened: "It seems that their advice was that in homogenizing your programming, you'll have a lot more listeners and thus you'll be more 'healthy.' And we challenged that. We said diversity is the strength of community radio. Your community is not homogeneous, and thus your programming shouldn't be." And: "Their advice was to let the staff make the decisions and volunteers follow them. But we stood up for the volunteers." The interlopers were eventually ousted, and the station has continued to prosper, recently moving to new quarters.
Less fortunate was KOPN in Columbia, Missouri. KOPN had hit financial hard times, thanks largely to problems that had beset its onetime cash cow, a fundraising bingo game. It was widely agreed that some sort of change was needed. But what kind of change? The station had operated without any paid staff for its first two years; it then hired one manager. Then, from 1976 to 1980, the number of paid workers jumped to 25 -- 23.5 of them paid out of grants. When the Bingo crisis hit, station volunteer Jay Teutenberg pointed out that the previous "year the staff's salaries amounted to $145,000, approximately half our budget. This year the station will carry forward a debt note of $20,000, in addition to the other accounts payable. . . . [I]t has been their salaries and their decisions that have created this dire situation."
That was not the HSP's diagnosis. "They now use [the budget crisis] as an excuse to take control away from the volunteers and community," reported Teutenberg. "David LePage has laid it out in black and white terms, either we can lift the budget to $400,000, or we can run at $100,000 with no paid staff or CPB . . . funding. No one has talked much about what it would be like to run without paid staff, just left it as sort of an 'unspeakable horror.'" And so KOPN took the Healthy Station road, displacing volunteers with paid hosts and homogenizing programming along "Adult Album Alternative" lines.
Different stations reacted to the HSP in different ways. Back in the Blueprint Project days, WRFG, a KRAB Nebula station in Atlanta, found itself in the unlikely position of being told to throw blues programs off the air -- in the name of "multiculturalism." The NFCB also advised it to replace volunteers with paid DJs and streamline its programming. These changes were unpopular with the station's listener-subscribers, prompting the station to reverse some of the changes. The NFCB then withdrew, claiming that WRFG "wasn't serious" about becoming healthy. At KVMR in Nevada City, California, the HSP may have been ultimately beneficial for the station -- but not in the way the NFCB intended. As one staffer reflected, "One of the positive effects of the HSP was the fundamental problems at KVMR were brought out into the open. This was not necessarily the intention of HSP but the anxiety of the volunteer broadcasters about HSP resulted in several meetings of broadcasters, staff, KVMR Board and, at one meeting, David LePage. The result was loud and clear. Not only were the broadcasters worried about HSP changing the community basis of the station, but the broadcasters did not like the content of Board decisions, the manner in which the Board made decisions and its arrogant attitude toward the broadcasters and the public." In other words, by threatening to make KVMR less democratic, the HSP prompted a more thoroughgoing democratic revolution.
Several people have praised specific aspects of the HSP, particularly its requirement that individual stations determine their exact missions. But as a whole, the program met resistance in almost all the stations it invaded. Today, it is in remission, though HSP-like efforts continue to occur around the country -- most notably, at the Pacifica network. -- Jesse Walker email@example.com Seattle, WA
David Giovanonni, an HSP proponent and professional consultant, has been employed by the Scott regime to as part of the strategic planning process. He has advised that Pacifica "moderate its message" to reach a larger audience as well as institute "strip programming." The implementation of this advice is one of the most controversial aspects of the struggle within Pacifica; it has resulted in the removal of programs with a community activist orientation, long-form lectures and experimental cultural material.