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Climate Change At KZYX

by Sheila Dawn-Tracy, January 25, 2012

Despite darkness and nighttime temperatures dipping below freezing in many locales throughout the County, the KZYX Board of Directors met at the Family Resource Room at the Anderson Valley HS on Monday, January 9. All Board members with the exception of Ukiah representative, Tony Melville, were present.

An extremely light agenda left some Board members surprised, especially Laviva Dakers, of Mendocino, who, arriving late from the coast, never had time to remove her jacket.

The meeting began on a warm note with Board President Bob Page apologizing to the three attending members of the public for bypassing them during the round table check-in where Board members recount anything of interest which may have occurred since the previous meeting. He noted the meetings of late have had a family atmosphere about them.

Addressing the only added agenda item from the bare bones standard format, Election Coordinator, Fran Koliner, gave a pre-election update. Of the nine Board seats, four will be open to new applicants. They are the Ukiah (District 1) and Boonville (District 5) seats currently represented by Melville and David Jackness, the At Large seat held by Cole and the Coast seat (District 4) that has been vacant for the past three years. The deadline for applicants, looming ever closer, is January 31. Applicants must be station members as of December 31 2011.

According to General Manager John Coate, no applications had been received as yet. He stated that P.J. Neilson of Handley Cellars had expressed an interest. On further inquiry, Neilson clarified that her company, Neilson’s Computer Services, is contracted to count election ballots.

Ballots will be mailed in February to those whose membership was active on or before the last day of December 2011. March is the time allotted for candidate forums and voting of members. Election results are usually available by the first week of April with new Board Members inducted at the annual membership meeting on May 14.

The trim GM Report, being slightly more than one page, would suggest that the former agitation over lack of reception at the various signals has quieted down. The mild weather has prevented any meaningful testing of the effect of tree removal on the transmission signal between towers. The station has had no problems with the 90.7 signal since the bad circuit breaker was replaced by Cal Fire. Problems with the 88.1 signal were still experienced even after a rebuilt amplifier was installed. Through long distance phone instruction, staff managed to repair the translator unit after bypassing an unreliable internal switch. It was also learned that the twin antennas on that 70-foot tower were hung incorrectly — positioned side by side in opposite directions rather than staggered vertically a specific distance apart.

* * *

Two new programmers have been added to the station schedule. Local school teacher, Ryan O’Corrigan will be alternating with Todd Telfer’s Rockin’ Pneumonia time slot on Wednesdays at 10pm. Anthony Catanzaro will likely be alternating with the Saturday’s Lunch on the Back Porch spot within two months. Mendo Matters will now be aired twice a month on alternate Thursdays at 7pm while Cal Winslow has been given a green light to air new segments of his Community and Ecology series, which according to Coate, were well received.

A new Bill Moyers program, Moyers & Company, will be given to the station free of cost. Staff has subsequently announced that it will air in the 1pm time slot now held by Alternative Radio which is also offered to the station at no cost. That popular program will be cut from a weekly format to alternate weeks and moved to 7pm on Thursdays.

A couple of programmer mistakes involving incorrect settings of the main control board resulted, in one case, in the simultaneous playing of a CD along with the BBC news program for a half hour causing the removal of that programmer.

A programmers meeting will be held on February 12. No mention of the content of some of the expected changes regarding public affairs programming were included. The changes are expected to revolve around information gleaned at a National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) public affairs conference attended by Coate and Program Director, Mary Aigner earlier last year. When David Hopmann asked for the location of the meeting, Coate mysteriously told him he would give him that information after the meeting. When questioned about the secrecy of the location, Coate responded that the meeting was not open to the public. Board members, however, are cordially invited.

Had the information been freely given it would not have even caused a blip on the radar screen. The fact that the location was such an obviously guarded secret raised a red flag for the interminably curious among the public. Did management fear an extension of the Occupy Movement to present themselves at the meeting site?

* * *

The 2011 Audit showed that $17k was deducted from the station’s positive cash balance for equipment depreciation leaving the final figure at $10k in the red. Current fiscal statistics show that expenses exceed income by over $5K.

The holiday auction brought in $5,005. End of year gifts secured through holiday mailers was between $14k and $15k — two varying figures of $8oo+ difference was listed in the GM Report. Accounts receivable was $33k+ which includes uncollected pledges from the August and October pledge drives. Almost one quarter of the money comes from the October fund drive — a possible backlash of frequent program changes after the drive. Over $43K has been received from underwriting, approximately half in income and half in trade. Coate noted that the station is in the third year of the five-year payment plan of past NPR debt.

The budgeted $3K for freelance news stories has not been forthcoming leaving the station’s newly hired newsman, David Brooksher, in a bind, unable to pay, as agreed, for past stories and seeking new contributors who will expect no compensation.

One of the Citizen Advisory Board’s recommendations was to expand beyond the limitations of a one man News department by recruiting qualified reporters. Knowing that Brooksher is operating without the promised funds makes the lackluster reporting of information, largely from the heads of local public agencies, understandable. Hence, a 15-minute report on a change in the weather. To be fair, this occurred during the holiday season, a difficult time to find anyone in local administration at their desks.

To increase cash flow, the management plans to decide whether to add another one or two day pledge drive in the near future. Coate noted that pledge drives are exhaustive. Also noted was the increasingly competitive environment with the popularity of iPods and XM radio. Other fundraising ideas were discussed. One possibility is to have Board members and selected staff phone former KZYX members who have not renewed. In 2011, the station experienced a significant loss of membership. In contrast, KMUD, Humboldt’s public radio station saw an increase in memberships from Mendocino County.

During public comment, Mindy Cairn, easily coasting into her 70s and still going strong, reminded Page of his habit of addressing the public through the use of the generic phrase “you guys.” She noted the presence of other women in attendance and asked for a more appropriate acknowledgement. She spoke favorably of the new programming.

Kelley Arbor, a newcomer to the area and former journalist for the La Haina newspaper published out of Maui, had several thoughts regarding fundraising. One was to have regular monthly fundraisers, like movie showings, in inland areas where there is a large base of support. She was also in favor of reviving the former tactic of big-ticket raffles which do not require excessive of staff energy. Arbor brought to the Board’s attention that she had requested an application to the Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) and had received no response. Coate apologized and said the oversight would be immediately corrected. It was then learned that at this time, there is no limit on the number of members to the CAB.

Two of the outgoing Board members, Jackness and Cole, have expressed interest in serving on the CAB when their three-year commitment on the Board ends in May. Whether this revolving door strategy of former Directors evolving into the role of advisors to the new Directors adequately serves the interests of the broader community was not a topic of discussion at this time.

The lack of any mention of Strategic Planning of the station’s five-year goals was also conspicuous in its absence from both the agenda and the GM report. Secretary Cole, whose energy created the structural format for the future Strategic Plan, explained that the organization of members for the various groups will be delayed until after the programmer’s meeting. Program Director, Aigner expressed the opinion that the programmers meeting was a staff priority. The delay could mean postponing the presentation of the final draft of the new Strategic Plan until the end-of-year November meeting scheduled for the coast. The minutes of the November 2011 Board meeting state that “Cole was advised to refer to the CAB for guidance regarding upcoming meetings and goals.”

Also missing from the GM report was any mention of the decision to terminate the 800 call-in line (499-7117) which gave out-of-zone listeners and members the same access and financial equality as members who lived close to the station. Coate claimed it was a financial decision, but when asked for figures of amount of use versus cost, he did not have the information readily available. Trying to tease some ballpark estimates from him, this reporter asked if the amount of use was 1000 calls. He indicated that it was considerably less — somewhere between 50 and several hundred. At that point Vice President David Hopmann interjected “a point of process.”

Hopmann, who, incidentally, indicated having three years experience in Army Intelligence in his bio for reelection to the Board in 2009, stated: “Public comment is for making statements, not asking questions. Questions may be submitted in writing and may be considered for answering.” This interpretation of public comment left everyone at the table speechless. The room was stunningly silent. I retreated and apologized, thinking I had inadvertently thrown a curve ball, saw it whiz by GM Coate, only to be caught with a resounding thud by Hopmann’s rather oversized mitt. I considered this statement an opinion rather than official Board policy since at every previously attended meeting, the public had asked questions which had been courteously fielded and answered without batting an eyelash.

Even the usually gregarious Page felt the chilling effect of Hopmann’s presence. He made a curious admission regarding coming into the role of Board President, saying, “There were a lot of people standing along side of me, then they all stepped back and I was the only one left standing there.” That seemed to indicate that he regretted that some of the pleasant family feeling had evaporated in the last ten minutes. He then proceeded to renege on his former position of allowing public comment to extend past two minutes when there wasn’t a large audience stating, “He needed to tighten things up.”

The Office of the Attorney General of the State of California has stated that a three-minute restriction of public comment may be appropriate when the number of participants puts constraints on the length of the meeting. Noam Chomsky has posited that it takes five minutes to develop an idea of any depth. So the tightening of public comment begs the question, Whose interests are served by such limitations?

End of report? Not quite.

Believing the station had no reason to be less than forthcoming about the 800-line information (and honestly forgetting about the instruction to submit questions in writing), I called Coate’s office the following day. I asked Coate for the numbers, was refused, and then purposely disconnected. Twice.

Coate’s behavior reminds one of a toddler who, not wishing to acknowledge your existence, turns his/her head to avert his/her eyes. Before the second abrupt ending to our conversation, Coate admitted that it was his decision to terminate the line as early as the October pledge drive. It seems counterproductive to limit access to the station during pledge drive, forcing out-of-area callers to pledge donations on their own dime. Actually, the line was still active at pledge time as some folks called in on it and got through. Staff, however, had been instructed not to give out the number.

A quick call to the phone company ascertained that 800 business lines cost a flat fee of $20 a month with calls averaging from 3¢ to 6¢ a minute depending on distance. With approximately 15 call in shows, including Trading Time, which gets the most out of zone calls, one might guesstimate that the 800 line might cost the station not much more than $600 a year. Hardly a big financial burden, especially considering that $5,451 was spent on meals and lodging in 2011 — 449% of the $1,215 budgeted for that item. Connecting all the dots, it appears that some staff and management are supplementing their diets through the station’s coffers while services to the general membership are cut.

When I called Coate a second time, I told him that as a public radio station “owned by the members,” the station’s financial decisions were less than transparent. At that point he morphed into a 12-year old playground bully, resorting to personal insult. Considering that Coate’s forte is in computers, it is not surprising that he is remarkably deficient in interpersonal conflict resolution skills.

It is much more likely that the line was terminated to relieve the problem of frequent pesky callers who used the line to inform the station of the numerous outages in past months. On public affairs shows, a frequent caller would refer listeners to KMUD’s schedule of programs cut from the KZYX line up.

Recently, on the Point and Click show, host Jim Heid mistakenly gave out the 800-number. Apparently, no one had left a note in the various studios to inform programmers of the change. One listener called up to tell Heid, “The number was defunct because freeloaders were costing the station too much money.” Such a statement smacks of “station speak” and is an uncharitable view of a person or people who may have been past members or could be future members.

Under Coate’s management such polarization of the community is the result of his penchant for turning a hot spot into a wildfire.

The meeting ended at 7:15 — 45 minutes shorter than usual. The next opportunity to attend a KZYX Board meeting will be on the coast on March 12th.

One Response to Climate Change At KZYX

  1. Kelly Arbor Reply

    April 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    As a participant at the January board meeting, I wish to make a few corrections and to offer another perspective.

    To provide some context, I attended the meeting as someone who has been a longtime listener to public radio stations in New York, Hawaii, Oregon and in four regions in California, and who hoped to offer some new ideas to the board and staff. At the close of the meeting, I informed Ms. Dawn-Tracy that I worked as journalist for different Maui newspapers, among them the Lahaina News, (Lahaina is a town; there is no “La Haina” newspaper). Also, I did not suggest a raffle, but did suggest an on-line silent auction, similar to the one that KQED successfully produces. These mistakes suggests note-taking and note review that were done in haste and with a degree of carelessness. Readers might also wonder how many other errors of fact might be uncovered in such a lengthy article.

    Although it is commendable that the Anderson Valley Advertiser is interested in providing so much ink to coverage of a community radio station board meeting, I have concerns about the ethics of a person testifying at a meeting which they are also covering as a freelance writer. Whenever I worked as a freelance writer, a staff writer or as a stringer, I set aside my volunteer work as an environmental activist and refrained from advocacy. I didn’t take public time to ask journalistic questions, which are traditionally asked after the meeting (or during recesses). In the spirit of fairness to the community and to the readers, I always thought a journalist’s job was to take careful notes and present pertinent facts, so others may draw their own conclusions. Testifying or advocating a position at public meetings, or within one’s news writing, has the effect of staining the reporting with one’s own opinion, making the entire news enterprise questionable.

    The interesting tidbits in the article, such as the percentage by which the food and lodging expenses exceeded the budgeted amount, become overshadowed by the intentional, but unneeded, interjection of the writer’s unsupported opinions. For instance, to conflate an anonymous and uncharitable statement, by one caller to a call-in computer show, with community polarization, and then to insist this assumed polarization is directly related to a particular staff member, shows a remarkable lack of rationality.

    I feel the AVA could become a much better newspaper if the editor challenged the paper’s talented writers to withhold their personal judgements, both at meetings and in reportage. For a reporter to assert, and for an editor to let stand the statement “Under Coate’s management such polarization of the community is the result of his penchant for turning a hot spot into a wildfire,” sounds to me as if the newspaper, like a 12-year-old playground bully, enjoys taunts, albeit ones that are metaphorically couched.

    Call me old-fashioned, but I believe such reproachful language should be reserved for the opinion columns, not in the news coverage of a community-minded radio station by a community-minded newspaper.

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