A KZYX Manifesto
by Doug McKenty, October 15, 2013
My name is Doug McKenty and I have been volunteering at KZYX for the last seven years. I began as an engineer for my Tai Chi teacher on a program called “Mind, Body, Health,” which was an alternative health show alternating with Richard Miller on Tuesday mornings. I continued engineering long after my teacher was replaced by Marvin Trotter, and the show took a less alternative bent. Soon after I started work on that program, I was offered the job of moderating the Open Lines show. At the time, it seemed like a great opportunity to promote free and open dialogue around the county about, well, anything, but I also felt like it was a great opportunity to facilitate discussion about the station and its policies in a way that guaranteed transparency and provided “access to all points of view,” as stipulated by the station's Mission Statement. Eventually, I ended up hosting an interview show called “The Thursday Morning Report” and also did a stint as the Programmer-Elected member of the Board of Directors of Mendocino County Public Broadcasting, a tenure which ended a few months ago in May of 2013.
From the beginning of my experience, I thought some things should change about the place. I found it odd that, in a county where marijuana is our biggest cash crop, in a state where Medical Marijuana growing is legal, that there was so little talk of it on KZYX. There were no programs dedicated to it, and even the mention of it on air led to derogatory remarks from staff. The marijuana activists, though around, were not welcomed, and lengthy and informative debates about the myriad of issues surrounding the plant were rarely, if ever, heard over the station's airwaves.
I have always felt that Open Lines should be used, at least occasionally, as a Board Access program where members of the board, as well as staff and management, could participate in healthy discussion and debate about station policy. Not only did I feel that such a program could facilitate community input, helping the board create a station whose policies evolved to meet the ever changing needs of our county, but I thought such a program would help quell the many voices I heard on Open Lines disparaging the station's lack of transparency.
Also, I have felt for a long time that the membership should have more control over what they hear. It has always seemed strange to me that in a county known nationwide for its belief in the ideals of cooperative living, the community radio station reflects little of this in its policies and procedures. Programming decisions are made by the Program Director, with the approval of the General Manager, and that is that.
Most unfortunate to me, as the host of Open Lines, was that those who did call to discuss station policy, especially in the programming department, were simply blown off as fringe. While I was on the other end of the telephone line listening to what people were saying, it soon became apparent to me that no one else at the station heard a word of the constructive criticism that often came my way. Although obviously unfeasible for everyone to have their way, surely some of the ideas that come across the airwaves on Open Lines have merit. At least everybody has a right to express their thoughts in an open forum, and they deserve to have those ideas filtered through a system that incorporates the best of them into actual policy and programming changes. Without such a process, the station cannot move forward, evolving alongside the ever changing needs of the community. For some time I have been frustrated that while the many who have called Open Lines over the years have often had valid points, nobody in a position of authority at the station was really listening to what they were saying.
For a long time I let things lie. At first, I was new around the station and had some respect for the way things were. I did not really know the scene, or the people, or the history of how the station evolved into what it had become, so I just did my program and stayed out of it. I enjoyed being on the radio, and while some of my more outrageous or alternative interviews on “The Thursday Morning Report felt frowned upon, and the criticisms I heard on Open Lines fell on deaf ears, I was mostly left alone to do what I wanted. I tried to fill the gaps I felt existed in KZYX programming with my own interview choices and I tried to listen to those who called Open Lines even if nobody else would.
Then General Manager John Coate asked if I would run for the position of Programmer Elected member to the Board of Directors at KZYX. It turned out that he did not approve of the programmer who had stepped forward to volunteer for the position, and felt that if I ran against him I would win. I had never contemplated the idea before, nor had I ever been on any board of directors before but the idea intrigued me. I believed that, as a member of the board I could advocate for some of the changes I had felt for some time would greatly benefit KZYX and help to serve its function as a communications hub for Mendocino County. I hoped, at last, to institute the occasional board access program into the Open Lines format, and felt I could make some changes to help create an environment where the membership could “control” the station's “programming and operational philosophy,” as dictated by its Mission Statement. I ran, and I won, and thereby began my tenure with the KZYX Board of Directors.
Much like my experience with the station in general, my first impressions of the board fell somewhat flat. One of the first things I noticed was that the Board never voted on anything. At the first meeting I went to the idea was floated that the Mission Statement should be shortened. If you bother to read it, it is two paragraphs long and should be divided into a Mission and a Vision statement like so many other non-profits have done. The need for a short Mission comes into play if you understand how the non-profit grant decision making process works. This statement is the first thing a grantor sees when processing applications and a long one often gets your application put in the “no” pile just because of the time it would take to read it. It's grant writing 101. When I brought up the idea of voting to change it I heard chuckles throughout the chamber and was asked if I would like to bring the motion myself. I backed down and the issue was eventually dropped. Over my two years on the board, the only things we ever voted on were to approve the minutes of the last meeting and to approve the year's budget. That's all we did.
At that first meeting, we also discussed reaching out to the Hispanic community by producing a public affairs program in both Spanish and English that could educate the English speaking members of our community as to the needs and desires of the often segregated, though substantial, minority of Spanish speakers. I volunteered to help produce this program and went about seeking an adequate host. When I approached the station's Program Director with the idea, she simply told me “those people don't give any money during pledge drive.” That was that. The Board's idea was shot down as the Program Director, apparently, makes all programming decisions at KZYX and she did not like the idea. When I brought this up with GM John Coate, he did nothing to rectify the situation. Apparently, he did not like the idea for the show either. My question is, if the board cannot effect programming at all, then how does the membership “control” the station's “programming and operational philosophy?”
At the second board meeting I attended there were members of the Community Advisory Board giving an update about the survey they were putting out to the public. There seemed to be some frustration as to what the CAB was supposed to be doing, and the hope was this survey would produce some results the station might find useful. It was my belief that this CAB could be the missing link between the membership and “control” over the station's “programming and operational philosophy” so I went about asking the Program Director how she felt about it and what value it had to her. The response I got was: “the key word in Community Advisory Board is ‘Advisory’.” This implied to me that she felt no compulsion to follow the CAB's “advice.” Indeed, should you go to the KZYX website right now you can read the CAB's final report entitled “More Fact, Less Opinion,” where they concluded that KZYX should round out their very liberal programming schedule with a few conservative shows, and it should expand its local news coverage. No conservative programming was produced, and local news is down to five minutes a day.
Soon after the report was completed, a year and a half ago, the CAB disbanded, due to lack of interest. Though having a CAB is a requirement of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant (which comprises 50% of the stations funding) a new one has not officially been formed. The current board has been trying to recreate one, but is having difficulty finding volunteers.
Seeking some way in which the membership controls the programming philosophy of the station, I turned to the station's corporate documents to see if they provided some vehicle allowing someone besides the Program Director, at the behest of the General Manager of course, “control” over the station's programming. Turning to the section in my copy of these documents entitled “Programming Policy” I discovered a policy approved by the board on December 9, 2008, which describes the creation of the Program Advisory Council. This Council was to be comprised of one member appointed by the board, one by the CAB, and one elected by the programmers. These three people, along with the Program Director, were to get together and choose three more members according to a “matrix of needs” which was created to ensure diversity among the membership. This PAC was to provide written transcripts detailing how all applications for programs were processed and why they were either accepted or denied and it was to make all programming decisions based on consensus. If a consensus could not be reached, then the Program Director could make the final decision.
Interestingly, though I had volunteered around the station for years, I had never heard of such a PAC. When I asked the Program Director about it, she simply stated that she had “total control” over programming decisions. I guess if a consensus cannot be reached because the PD won't go along with the feelings of the group, she does maintain total control. Later research revealed to me that some semblance of a PAC was implemented, though not entirely, and that the whole thing eventually disbanded due to the fact that the Program Director stopped asking them for advice. The PAC remains official board policy to this day.
Eventually, I very nearly resigned from the Board. Much like being a caller on Open Lines, if nobody in authority at KZYX, and apparently the Board is no authority, will listen to your ideas and input, then what's the point? Board member Laviva Dakers had already stopped showing up to meetings and, as far as I could tell, John Coate put together the agenda for them anyway. Most of what was said at the meetings could be read online in the GM Report. I stayed on hoping some of the newer Board members might start seeing things my way, but they were new. It takes a long time to really get the big picture about what is going on at KZYX.
Upon leaving the Board last May, I was determined to put it all behind me and just stick to Open Lines. Though disheartened by station politics, I was willing to let it all go and do what I could to facilitate good conversation on the one program I had left. However I could no longer defend on air policies that I did not agree with. When callers would call and say they felt KZYX was not following the Mission Statement, I could not explain to them that it was. When they would call and complain about how the station lacked transparency, especially in the programming decision making process, I could not explain to them how station policy was transparent. At one point, the Program Director told me it sounded like I was starting to sympathize with “the crazies” who called up. Management and staff began to essentially harass me to defend them on air when I couldn't even get them to come on Open Lines and defend their own policies themselves. When I finally convinced one of the new board members, Stuart Campbell, to come on the show for a “board access” program, I had to do so behind the GM's back. Afterward, I was called a “bad moderator” by staff on the programmer's list serve.
About this time, I decided to go on the offensive. I knew there was a good chance I would lose Open Lines but decided it was worth it in order to advocate for some member influence over what aired on KZYX. I began to approach the new board in the hopes that they would listen to how the station had been co-opted by management and staff, a management and staff who consistently disregarded both the Mission Statement and Board Policy in order to create an atmosphere in which they, and they alone, had complete control over the station's programming and operational philosophy and the membership had been shut out of the equation all together.
I approached the new Programmer-Elected Representative, Stuart Campbell, about my feelings that the membership needed some say in these matters, and that any reincarnation of the CAB needed some teeth if it was to be effective. I let him know the fate of the last one and about how none of its “advice” was taken seriously. Then I let him know about the PAC and about how that was still official board policy. Surprised to hear about the PAC, Stuart looked inside his copy of KZYX's corporate documentation and found no reference to the board policy at all. There was no section entitled “Programming Policy” and no indication anywhere in Stuart's copy of these documents that such a thing as the PAC ever existed.
As far as I know, I am the last board member to receive this documentation in my copy. Also, KZYX member Dennis O'Brien, who had to threaten to sue the station to get a copy, though the by-laws specifically state that any member should be given one upon request, did not receive this policy paper in his copy either. This represents a pattern. A pattern of a conspiracy to conceal a board policy from current board members and the membership at large. A pattern whereby current management at KZYX has shown itself to believe its authority supersedes that of the Board and the Board's policies, a management which believes itself to be more powerful than the By-Laws and the Mission Statement.
The importance of the corporate documentation cannot be overstated. The primary function of the General Manager of any corporation, whether for- or non-profit, is to preserve the sanctity of these documents and pass them down, unabridged, to new Board members and share holders as needed or desired. These documents represent the legal “individual” that is the corporation. Over the lifespan of a corporate entity, board members come and go, but the documents are the glue that keep the corporation together over time. They represent the collective decision making process of all the people who have influenced corporate policy and created, through this evolution, what any corporation is in the present moment. It is this “individual” that a person makes a contract with when they buy a share of stock or purchase a membership. To unilaterally alter this documentation, without approval at a public meeting written into the minutes of that meeting for all shareholders/members to see, represents a very serious breach of the public trust.
Upon discovery of the missing documentation described above I began a prolonged conversation with as many current KZYX board members as I could, and I also began to organize a coalition, now called “KZYX Members for Change.” I knew I would need the force of the people behind me in order to be taken seriously and not sidelined as “one of the crazies.” I now have a list of over eighty people including five ex-KZYX Board members and two current County Supervisors who have all expressed a desire for change. It is my belief that, after this letter is published, there will be many more.
I also began a review of all the board policies outlined in the corporate documents which include the By Laws, the Policy and Procedures Manual, the Financial Policies, the Board Election Policy, the Programming Policy and the Station Handbook. Many of the protocols outlined in these documents have gone by the wayside. They have fallen prey to what I have called a “culture of complacency” that has, unfortunately, surrounded the station for many years. There has simply been no oversight. The board is supposed to have appointed a system of Committees, including the following standing committees: Nominating and Elections, Finance, Fundraising/membership, Personnel, Long Range Planning, Programming, Equipment and Construction, and Executive. The Executive Committee, voted on at the annual meeting, is the only committee I have ever been aware of in existence. The absence of the Nominating/elections committee has essentially allowed John Coate to seek out new board members of his choosing without oversight from the current board, allowing him even greater control over the station and further minimizing any real input from the membership.
The lack of an Audit Committee, as required by the By-Laws, has allowed John Coate complete control over station finances, with no oversight from the board, and the lack of adherence to the Station Handbook, with no corresponding Personnel Committee to oversee the Grievance process has allowed the Program Director the power to arbitrarily make programming decisions without transparency and created a situation in which programmers and volunteers have a difficult time dealing with personality differences as they arise. This state of affairs has led to a situation where programers are afraid to voice their opinions about station policy on the air, especially if they feel the membership ought to have more control. Such an act could easily lead to the loss of their program.
Also, there has been no Strategic Plan developed as required by the By-Laws. In my experience on the Board, there was little reason to put the effort into creating a long-term plan for the station as all such decisions seemed subject to approval by management. At one point, I wrote manager John Coate in frustration asking why the only way a board member could effect station policy at all was to have him fired, thereby allowing for the possibility that someone else's ideas could effect the direction the station was going.
Unfortunately, it has become my feeling that the station has been co-opted by a few members of management and staff who have asserted total control over station policy and rendered, through their actions, a powerless Board of Directors.
So, how did this happen? I do not write this letter to lay blame on any member of the Board of Directors. They are all volunteers doing their best to help out our local Community Radio Station. This “culture of complacency” of which I speak has become so endemic that, without extensive research and personal experience it is difficult to perceive that things around KZYX are not what they seem on the surface. Often Board members see with “eyes wide shut,” and it is easier to go with the flow than make a big deal out of something. I, myself, would have been willing to let it go had staff not continued to ask me to defend their indefensible positions on Open Lines.
Many station volunteers who have, over the years, become privy to the way in which the membership has been shut out of programming and policy decisions have simply left. They are volunteers, after all, and when, over time, their voices are not heard, they just move on. This situation has led to a kind of apathy surrounding KZYX that has allowed things to devolve to this point.
Through my communications with the current Board, they have become aware that the situation is dire and have begun to make moves to re-empower themselves and the will of the membership. We all must recognize and support their efforts and understand that it will take time to create what is now understood to be a necessary transformation. The Board has been in a state of dysfunction for so long that it has forgotten how to function as a Board. Many conversations are held behind closed doors, but few debates have been held at public Board meetings and fewer still real motions are ever brought to the table. The current Board is going to have to start from scratch, but they are willing to give it a shot. They have been working diligently to set up a new CAB, putting KZYX back in compliance with the requirements of the grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Also, while many of the protocols outlined in the corporate documentation are outdated and sometimes even conflicting, the current Board made clear at the last Board meeting on October 7, 2013, that they are starting with the most important of these, the By-Laws, and have appointed an Audit Committee. They have also appointed an election coordinator coinciding with the Elections/Nominations Committee to ensure oversight of this year's election process. There is a lot of work to be done, many Board policies must be revisited and rewritten, but it is my feeling that this Board is willing to make these changes. They are starting to chip away at the stagnation and apathy that has plagued our station for so long.
During this time of change, it is my hope that the membership and public at large will become more involved. The Board needs your help to develop a new direction for KZYX that incorporates public input and makes policy changes in an open and transparent fashion. There will be a learning curve as protocol is developed to ensure public, on air debate about station policy, and systems need to be developed to facilitate conflict resolution and consensus in the policy decision making process. A Strategic Plan must be developed to which includes the vision of membership participation and creates guidelines for the changes to be made in the future.
Some changes could happen fast. The PAC should be implemented quickly, putting KZYX back in compliance with its current, board approved, policy documents. We could soon start to hear a variety of new programs more reflective of our community's myriad of perspectives, and start hearing a radio station that truly gives “access to all points of view,” as the Mission Statement demands. I have outlined a plan, which would take some personnel reshuffling, to re-institute the News Department. With the right leadership, it is my feeling that the crew of volunteers who used to work with KZYX News would be happy to come back into the fold. We could be producing a half hour to a full hour of news in fairly short order.
What can you do to help make these changes possible? First, get interested in station politics. Help this new Board learn how to effect positive change in a transparent manner. Second, visit “KZYX Members for Change” on Facebook and like us. We need to show solidarity and we need real numbers the Board can see to let them know just how many people in Mendocino County care about real Community Radio. Finally, call KZYX and ask to become a voting member. Despite much talk purporting KZYX's financial stability, few people know that the station, which usually receives 50% of the CPB grant in the Spring and 50% in the Fall, actually received 75% of the grant last Spring, leaving only 25% left for this Fall's installment. Because the KZYX's fiscal year ends in June, this extra money made last fiscal year look incredibly lucrative. Unfortunately, with only 25% coming this fall, this year's budget is not so rosy. Also, its one-day pledge drive in August netted $30,000 less than last year's. These facts together mean KZYX is in for on heck of a bad year unless something really turns around. When you pledge, ask for the $25 Simple Living Membership. In another bit of past Board chicanery, they agreed to raise the yearly amount for a voting membership to $50, but, as usual, this was never voted on, and never became official policy. Twenty five dollars is all it takes and you can vote for Board members who desire change. Remember to tell them that you believe in “KZYX Members for Change.”