Showtime At KZYX

by Sheila Dawn-Tracy, October 15, 2013

The October 7th meeting of the KZYX Board of Directors took place at the Anderson Valley High School before a standing room only public audience. The 25 people crowded into the small classroom included a collage of past Board members, current KZYX staff and programmers and a few general members of the public who seemed content to observe the proceedings.

No reason was given for the increased interest in this particular meeting as Board meetings generally are sparsely attended. However, the recent suspension of the Open Lines show, along with its host, former Board member Doug McKenty was the subject of a flurry of Emails among Board members and programmers. Another landmark development was the acknowledgement by the KZYX Board and management that members are entitled to communicate with each other under state corporate law. The right of members to access the membership list sparked the creation of a new group called KZYX Members for Change, one of whose objectives is to explore the potential of membership voting rights outlined in Section 10 of the Bylaws.

Seven Board members were present including a surprise appearance by member Laviva Dakirs whose last attendance was in March 2012. Absent were Board members Holly Madrigal who was called to an emergency meeting of the Willits City Council and Ed Keller who is currently on an excursion to Africa.

Also new was the presence of Terry Vaughn of Mendocino Television who recorded the meeting as a public service.

The Board was well prepared for its debut on public television with Board President Eliane Herring reading from a prepared 15-minute script.

Opening with a welcoming statement that it is healthy and democratic to have so many people participate in sharing their viewpoints, Herring introduced a comment form to help initiate a process where attendees could expand on their allowed three minute comments and could indicate if a response from the Board was desired. She then gave a biographical sketch of each Board member's background and accomplishments, stating that they were a diverse group of independent thinkers who didn't take orders from either herself or the General Manager. She went on to describe some of the Board's activities — pitching at pledge drives, being visible to the public by tabling at various markets and handwriting personalized thank you notes for membership subscriptions — a practice favored by former Board member, David Hopmann as a successful technique used by the corporate business world.

Stating that the General Manager had the unwavering support of the Board who fully endorsed his decisions, Herring cited some of John Coate's accomplishments — that of turning the station's finances around from one of accrued past debt (NPR) to a positive cash flow; implementing his vision for upgrading the station's physical infrastructure and being knowledgeable on FCC, CPB and IRS regulations as well numerous state and federal laws. She continued that the station is committed to the highest standard of journalistic integrity and programming that invites a multiplicity of viewpoints. “KZYX&Z does not strive to be a mouthpiece for a particular ideology or political agenda. The station does get a lot of criticism from people who would like us to espouse their point if view. We prefer to remain independent.” In regard to programming decisions, which are not the business of the Board, she felt that Coate and his staff had an “intuitive feel” for the needs of the listening audience that is gleaned from hundreds of conversations with members over the years. Seeming to refer to the recent suspension of Open Lines, she stated that Coate and the Program Director, Mary Aigner are reluctant to replace programs they believe to have a sizable fan base and move forward cautiously in making changes to bring exciting new shows and encourage new talent. She stated the station had no empirical method to precisely measure public reaction to the station's programs. She concluded by stating that the station does not rubber stamp decisions of the GM and staff. There have been differences of opinion in the past and the GM fully understands the need to run all major issues by the Board. She added that the Board realizes there is room for improvement and tries to keep an open mind.

The minutes of both the May 6th and July1st meetings were approved by the Board and will be available on the station's website, kzyx.org.

The minutes of both the May 6th and July 1st meetings were approved by the Board and are available at the station’s website, kzyx.org.

An announcement followed naming Programmer Representative Stuart Campbell as the Election Coordinator for the upcoming March election.

Board member John Sackowicz noted that he planned two distinguished guests for his pledge drive show on Friday morning, Oct. 18th. They are Supervisor John McCowen and call in guest Henrik Smith, a 20 year veteran Washington Bureau chief for the N.Y. Times. Smith has won two Pulitzer Prizes for his reports on business and financial news.

 

General Manager’s Report

Finances — Preliminary reports from the 2013 Audit show a profit of over 100K — the best year on record. The current fiscal year is off to a slow start which is typical for 1st quarter income. The August pledge drive netted 15+K which was down from the 46K from last year’s one day drive.

Fiscal statistics for FY14 to date show the station income at 40K — 34K from donations.

Expenses total 101K. Total Accounts Payable — 88K, almost 30K of which is debt from prior years. Accounts Payable for the current year, 20+K with the payable line of credit balance at 38.5K

Accounts Receivable (income from pledges and under writing) — 30K with an available line of credit at 36.5K

Operations — A new higher fidelity FM converter unit (converting audio into a radio signal) was purchased, improving the sound quality of the station while providing a back up unit (the old one) and eliminates one more ‘single point of failure’ in the chain of equipment needed to broadcast.

The station also purchased a new main console control. Installation will occur after the pledge drive. It will be configured in conjunction with the simultaneous installation of a new version of the station’s programming automation system and is a complicated process.

Much money was saved in the conversion to a DSL internet based system. The effort to continue improving the connectivity from remote stations to the Philo studio is ongoing. The Mendocino studio is having the greatest difficulty in that area so staff has doubled the DSL throughput and strung new cables. A separate channel that only handles data from the satellite studios was also set up. Due to continuing problems, the station has contacted Comcast to see about switching to a cable based Internet for the Mendocino studio and is waiting for their analysis of the site. Meanwhile the audio fidelity coming from the satellite studios has been reduced to lower the amount of data going through the lines.

Membership and Development — KZYX&Z is focused on having an eight day successful pledge drive from Oct. 12th to Oct. 20th. Volunteers are needed due to the unavailability of the Membership Coordinator, Diane Hering who is facing a serious medical challenge.

Two fundraisers are planned for the near future. A Ruth Moody concert at the SPACE Theater in Ukiah is scheduled for Oct. 26th. Also, a Celtic concert featuring singer/ musician Colleen Raney and produced by the host of Oak and Thorn, Tim Bray, is planned for Nov. 1st and will benefit both the Caspar Community Center and KZYX.

Programming — The station has suspended the Open Lines show until it is ‘re-crafted’.

Valerie Kim is the new host of the Farm and Garden show. In her early 20’s and a graduate of Brown University she is focused on food and farm issues.

Justin Delmar hosts Sweetsmoke Radio alternating Wednesdays from 10 to midnight. The show is focused on the roots of modern dance music and covers a variety of genres from soul and r&b to rock, pop, dub and electronic.

Katharine Cole is in Atlanta but continues the Sonic Blender show remotely.

Terri Boudreaux now co-hosts Pride Radio Mendocino with Corporal Cin.

Barbara Lamb, Greg Krouse and Dr. Richard Miller are on leave from their respective shows.

Al Jazeera has elected to air their own broadcasts and is no longer available. It has been replaced with ‘The Thom Hartmann Show’ in the mornings and by PRI’s ‘The World’ in the evenings.

Underwriting — David Steffen has secured 5 new underwriters, 2 from the coast and 3 from Ukiah along with 5 renewals.

 

Community Advisory Board (CAB)

Mandated by the regulations for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) grant requirements, “the purpose of the CAB is to assist public broadcasting in being more responsive to community needs by providing for effective public participation in planning and decision making” as well as “develop programs and policies that address the diverse needs and interests of the communities they serve.”

Board member Stuart Campbell has volunteered for the task of reassembling a CAB that has been defunct since the summer of 2011. His goals are to make it a valuable resource for the Board as well as a valuable experience for those community volunteers who are serving on it. He expressed the desire for the CAB to be sustainable so it wouldn’t need to be reformed every year. Through tabling events, Board members have recruited interested individuals. Campbell has had several meeting with six interested people representing both the coastal and inland areas. He expects a commitment from those people within two weeks. He plans to have individuals appointed by the Executive Committee and approved by the Board at the next meeting. He stated that an essential component for the successful functioning of the new CAB is that all Board members are seriously committed to listening and taking the advice of the CAB to heart.

 

Public Comment

Programmer Jimmy Humble spoke of his experience of having served on the Board for five years. He advised Stuart Campbell to get some more people to work with him on the Election Committee to prevent problems that could rise from being the sole person making decisions. He stated that he enjoyed the stability of the station under the present management and Board. He noted that in the five years he had served on the Board, the station had three General Managers which he felt created difficulties and set the station back.

Former host of Open Lines and former Board Member, Doug McKenty, said he hoped to make his way back to having his program on the radio again. He emphasized the importance of the Board becoming more familiar with the Corporate Documents and Board Policies which set out a structure for the Board to work openly through committees as the means through which the work of the Board is intended to be done He felt working through committees would help facilitate more Board interaction with management, staff and membership and would give Board members more specific jobs. He thought following Board protocols was important because it connected the Board with the history, work and decisions of past Boards. He hoped that as the Board developed, they would become more cohesive and initiate the process that has been allowed to stagnate in the past several years.

He then addressed the way programming is determined and stated he would like to see more transparency in programming decisions. He noted that his copy of the Corporate Documents included the protocol for the Program Advisory Committee (PAC) — a group that was set up to make decisions by consensus and designed to create written documentation so that when a person applied for a program, they would be given a reason for why their program was chosen or not. He said the PAC is the means by which the station conforms to the Mission Statement, “ to make access available to all points of view.”

He added that he has gotten together with an organization called KZYX Members for Change. He stated that one of the group’s goals is to facilitate contested elections by promoting a format for more debates and creating an atmosphere where public debate on KZYX airwaves about current policies is acceptable and facilitated by the station.

The next speaker was Programmer Michael Kisslinger who reminded the Board that at the Annual meeting, he volunteered his time to train members of the Board. He realized the Board was still considering his offer but wanted to inform them that since that time he has” received a couple of dozen phone calls demanding why that hasn’t happened.” He found the calls to be annoying because he is not in a position to do more than volunteer his time. He also explained that foe several years he was the Executive Director of Mendocino Dispute Resolution Services and in the capacity of running a mediation program, oversaw several difficult elections. He has also moderated previous elections at KZYX and would volunteer to work with Stuart Campbell on the Election Committee or act as an advisor in the best practices for an efficient election.

King Collins, a former Board member, provided the Board with the history of past Boards. He called the Board led by Michael Grady, the “Honest Abe Structural Board” and credited Grady with the leadership that devised the structural form of committees which was intended to be the basis for running the station and were chosen with care.

He closed by saying he was all for contested elections and hoped that a lot of people would run.

Programmer Janine Pfeiffer addressed the issue of transparency in programming. She related that a lot of trouble and expense in a past situation was caused by a lack of information and guidelines. She said as a programmer, she would like to know how programming decisions are made, what the criteria are and what committee is supposed to facilitate the decision making process. She stated that a lot of programmers are fearful that if they do something wrong, they will be cut. She asked the Board for help in creating clear guidelines.

Sheila Dawn Tracy — In my comments to the Board, I made two proposals that I felt would create greater transparency and a more congenial atmosphere between the Board and its members. The first was to have the Board publish its agenda on the station’s website as well as announce the agenda on air at the same time the Board was required to give notice of its upcoming meeting. I also suggested the public be allowed to choose whether to comment before or after Board discussion of the agenda as this was a more democratic solution. I commented an even more satisfactory solution would be an open atmosphere where comments could be taken on each agenda item under discussion and cited that in Sept. 2011, the current Board President had had that opportunity as a member of the public. I stated that equality and consistency are elements of a democratic process.

I then outlined several deficiencies of the Board and management that would form the basis of my letter to the Federal Communications Commission who will be reviewing the station’s application for license renewal in December. The deadline for public comment is November 1st and the context of the letter should address how the station is or isn’t meeting the needs of the community. My letter will include the following points:

• Underfunding of the local community news program despite numerous requests to restore it to its original prominence.

• Non-action by the Board to create a Strategic Plan as defined in Sect. 6.01 (3) under the powers and the duties of the Board.

• Misrepresentation to the public of the cost of membership which is stated in the Board Policies and Procedures Manual, Sect. 12.3 Annual membership dues are $40; simple living membership dues start at $25.

• Noncompliance of CPB regulations on open meetings as it applies to Board committee meetings.

• Failure of the Board to cause members and the community at large to be aware of the programming and activities of MCPB through press releases and the regular issue of a program guide. Sect.13.1Public Relations

• Prevention of management to allow selected individuals from becoming members through volunteer service as provided in the Non-cash Membership Alternatives. Sect. 12.4 of the Board Policies and Procedures Manual.

• Non-compliance of same Manual, Sect. 7 which states that the work of the Board is to be done by committee.

• Failure of the General Manager to comply with the court decision that reversed the California Privacy Protection Act in January 2011 which stated that employees’ salaries are protected from disclosure. The reversal mandates full disclosure.

The address of the FCC is: FCC Media Bureau; 445 12th St., SW; Wash, D.C. 20554

John McCowen was next to speak as a member and supporter of the station. He said he appreciated the constructive tone of all those who had spoken and felt they were motivated by the desire to see the station prosper. He recalled that he had previously stated at the Ukiah meeting that the Board should not shy away from controversy but address it directly on the air in an Open Lines format. He also felt the Board should not create conditions where people feel ostracized. Instead, the station needed to open up to let more people in. He also felt the Board policies should be followed and be published on the station’s website for greater transparency.

He then addressed “the elephant in the room” — the suspension of Open Lines programmer, Doug McKenty for not properly handling a caller who dropped the “F” bomb on air. He said it is of serious concern and needs to be revisited.

Board member, Bob Page, commented that the Board may be restricted in revealing details of the situation.

Morgan Baynham stated he lives across the highway from the station and volunteers often. He also said he turns the station off when he hears people criticizing the station as he has heard the criticisms for 20 years. He thought John and Mary were doing an excellent job, going so far as to describe Mary Aigner as a saint. He advocated having someone new try to host a call in show.

Fred Wooley said he had been a programmer at the station for 23 years and seen a lot of managers come and go. He thought John Coate was the best of all of them for his commitment to the station.

Last to speak was David Steffen who has been a member of the station’s staff for 5 years and had the opportunity to interview Coate when he applied for the GM position. He thought Coate’s strength was in his diverse business background and in his patient attitude. He stated that no one on the staff was there for the money and when staff is cut (as in the full time News Director position) every one on the staff does more to fill in the gap.

Despite efforts to find out the date of the next Board meeting, no one at the station could give me information. The Station’s website only had the location listed as on the coast. Calls to Board members were not returned.

 

Behind the Scenes

The real issue behind the recent upwelling of controversy is the question of how the system of checks and balances on the distribution of authority in a membership based non-profit has been allowed to lapse and devolve into the unchecked power in the hands of the few.

When members of the Board and staff repeatedly bemoan the lack of interest in the public to actively participate in their local radio station, no one seems to want to connect the dots that community and programmer’s voices have been repeatedly shut down by the non active status of required community input boards such as the Community Advisory Board and the Programmers Advisory Committee. When these volunteer groups did exist in the past, their input was always considered “advisory” and easily overridden or ignored by the staff and Board they were meant to inform.

The complicity of station management in not actively recruiting members of these crucial consensus based groups for the past 2 to 5 years, through the use of the avenue of communication that it actively manages — the broadcasting airwaves of KZYX&Z — cannot be ignored.

That 429 radio listeners in Mendocino County are now members of KMUD, Humboldt County’s public radio station, appears not to be a significant red flag to the KZYX Board, management and staff. This number represents a fifth of current KZYZ memberships. While some of these members are undoubtedly dual subscribers, a significant portion of them, most definitely, are refugees from KZYX and are actively boycotting the past program changes which centered specifically on the elimination of independently produced news outlets like Free Speech Radio News, New Dimensions and KZYX’s own local Community News programming.

This is the stage that brought together the combined energies of the founding members of KZYX Members for Change.

On September 19th, three people met in a local restaurant in Boonville to share information and strategize how to get KZYX members more actively involved in the decision making process of KZYX. At that meeting, I presciently warned Doug McKenty that he should be concerned about retaliation for his activism by the Station as he was the only one of the group that had something to lose — his show, Open Lines.

If you believe in coincidences, which this reporter does not, it was that same day that McKenty’s show was “F bombed” and the same date written on the letter of suspension — for not handling the situation adequately — by Operations Manager, Rich Culbertson.

That it is easy to manipulate someone to sabotage the show with one of the seven forbidden words is obvious to many; to prove such an allegation is near impossible.

Added to the mix was the fact that after his show, Doug returned to our meeting and mentioned the “F bomb” incident. Shortly after, the third person in our group noticed the station’s Program Director sitting at the bar within earshot of our table. Upon leaving she approached us and remarked on the fact that we were involved in a meeting about KZYX.

Two weeks before, on McKenty’s previous show, a listener outted the Board President for refusing to allow her to pledge at the Simple Living membership rate. When she insisted, she was allowed to pay the reduced rate of $25 but was told that the station was “keeping the rate secret in order to get people to donate at the higher levels.” This fact was also revealed on the same show. This is what I believe was the actual reason for the suspension of Open Lines. A little too open for some people's taste.

Coincidence or the material for a story of intrigue and retaliation in our own home grown radio station? The perfect timing of occurrences is the most damaging evidence of the latter.

KZYX Members for Change encourages people to pledge at the Simple Living rate of $25 or call in a challenge to meet the $25 Simple Living pledge in support of KZYX Members for Change as those with less cash flow deserve a voice in their local public radio.

As many of the evening’s comments attempted to portray, the relationship between members and their elected representatives on the Board has broken down. Letters to the Board go unanswered, pleas for intervention to stop clear discrimination practices get no response and the personnel committee, established with the intent to protect the rights of employees and programmers, is currently inactive. It is now being hastily reignited to hear the grievance McKenty will file.

In the past, is it coincidence that the four known instances where employees, programmers or volunteers filed grievances, not a single person has returned to their former position?

In my function as being the only visible transmitter of information on KZYX Board meetings, I see the information highway being routinely minimalized. Yes, the Board is distracted with serious problems but when decisions about reducing the number of Board meetings a year is not voted on by the Board at a public meeting (another Bylaw violation) and no one at the station knows the date of the next Board meeting, one has to wonder at the extent of dysfunction at KZYX and whether Board members have the time, will or knowledge to address the issues. ¥¥

 

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