The Latest From Radio Snarl
by Sheila Dawn-Tracy, August 12, 2015
Having arrived early to the June 29th meeting of the KZYX Board of Directors, I was delighted by the four stacks of informational handouts available to the public. Upon closer examination, I noticed the absence of minutes from the Board's May membership meeting. I approached the dais to ask Board President, Stuart Campbell, for an explanation for the lack of minutes and received the limp reply that he did not know how many people would be attending the meeting. A more honest inquiry came from Director Ed Keller, who asked why the public needed a copy of the minutes which were there for the benefit of Board members. I reminded Keller of a member's right to review KZYX public documents and stated that, with the inclusion of public comments in the minutes, the public had an obligation to review their statements for accuracy.
Still waiting for the meeting to begin, I had time to conduct an informal poll of the audience to ascertain what portion had received a copy of the minutes. As I approached programmer Cal Winslow to ask my question, I was startled by his snarling response to "lay off'." As I attempted a reply, he repeated his admonition with sufficient venom to cause programmer and soon to be reappointed Board member, Jane Futcher to turn in her seat in the front row to give him "the look."
In an ordinary year the minutes of a meeting are uneventful and routinely approved. However, these being extraordinary times at our public radio station, the minutes have been rife with misspellings of the name of a two year sitting director amid other inaccuracies as well as being punctuated with question marks and capitalization. Problems with accuracy have been serious enough for Director John Sakowicz to request of Secretary Meg Courtney that he have a chance to review the draft minutes before being brought to the Board for approval. His corrections of the minutes are separated from the rest of the content with italics and annotated with Sakowicz as the source of the corrections.
In light of these unusual circumstances, Winslow's response to Advocate News reporter Frank Hartzell's article on Coate's resignation amid conflict and criticism which predated his arrival, seems disingenuous, relegating the station turmoil to the machinations of a few vocal, disgruntled ousted former programmers.
This prelude attempts to illuminate the proceedings of a five-hour meeting where the tedium of abundant information is broken up by the drama, eloquence and, at one point, the chaos of public commentary. It concludes a series of articles published in two previous editions of the AVA. (July 15th & 22nd)
With a long agenda that included over 20 subcategories for discussion, public comment and/or action, it appeared that the new KZYX Board of Directors had made a decision to be proactive in meeting increasing demands for community engagement on the decision making level.
Halfway into the meeting, (see July 15th issue) the Board addressed the appointment of new Board members to fill the vacancies left by the resignations of At Large member, Paul Lambert and Third District representative, Jane Futcher (who resigned since becoming a programmer).
Director Sakowicz nominated three people for the open seat--former Board candidates, Dennis O'Brien and Doug McKenty and programmer Richard Miller, host of “Mind, Body, Health and Politics,” a program for which he expressed admiration. Sakowicz stated that in the spirit of reconciliation, he thought it provident to have a member on the Board who represented the membership's minority voice. Two of the nominees had secured one-third of the member's vote in the most recent election.
No second to the nominations was forthcoming from any of the other five Directors, leaving no avenue for further discussion.
Jane Futcher was then nominated and seconded for the At Large seat, which is open to programmers, unlike the seat she recently vacated.
Public Comment: Very little of the comments received pertained to Futcher or her qualifications. One speaker thought it was time to get new people on the Board. Futcher had previously served on the Board in 2005.
I expressed disappointment in the Board's failure to second Sakowicz's nominees, stating that such action would have allowed a discussion of the qualifications of the candidates and not have required a Director's vote of approval.
Sakowicz withstood a verbal pummeling by station programmers and members. He was asked to withdraw his complaint to the FCC by programmer Bill Taylor to help further the reconciliation process. Other speakers cited misinformation, saying Sakowicz's letter asking the FCC to revoke the station's license was cause to ask for his resignation. In actuality, Sakowicz's request to the FCC was to delay the license of the station until the current General Manager, John Coate had been terminated.
I had pointed out during my comment time that public input on how the station met the needs of the community was a part of the FCC's license renewal process. On air announcements of that information had been made by the station, generally at obscure times. The real problem was that the information had not reached the majority of listeners, so that only those who had unresolved issues with management or the Board took the initiative to respond to the FCC invitation to provide input. Not a single letter of commendation of KZYX had been received by the FCC.
Sakowicz responded that in purging good programmers from the airwaves, station management had managed to censor and silence differing points of view. He calmly stated that he stood with the signers of the demand letter for transparency.
Futcher's nomination was approved by the Board and she commenced to take her place on the dais. The filling of the second Board vacancy was tabled until the September meeting.
2016 Budget: Board President Campbell reported that along with GM Coate, he and Finance Chair Clay Eubank had worked hard to cut expenses by $40k to balance the budget with projected revenue for fiscal year (FY) 2015-16. The total expected revenue for the current year is $541,500.
The previous fiscal year ended with an estimated loss of $67k due to a $36k loss in membership donations, a drop off of $13k in fundraising revenue and a corresponding drop in underwriting trades of $13k. Legal fees were $1.5k over budget estimates of $6k. Expenses were increased in the news consultant category to more than double the amount estimated. The exact amount paid to the news staff remained unclear due to GM Coate's talent in cross categorization. Valerie Kim is on salary as part-time news staff as well as part-time membership coordinator, a job she shares with Nora aka Notorious, host of program Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Gross employee wages showed an increase of $5k over projected costs.
FY 15-16 projects a total income of $320k from membership donations which is now broken down into five separate revenue streams.
Estimates of savings in telephone and internet connectivity costs were $1.5k from the previous year.
Eubank stated that they hoped to increase membership donations by $7k and underwriting revenue from $38k to $60k. For the third year in a row it was stated that Business Development Coordinator, David Steffan would have more freedom to "work out in the field" which means more interpersonal interaction with the business community.
Sakowicz asked for the total cost of the news staff's salary and was not given an answer by Eubank who said he did not want to provide a "back door" to figuring out employee salaries. A question on the status of current station debt yielded a $23k draw on the credit line in May and a current old NPR debt of $12k.
Public Comment: My comment on the budget was that the figure I had for legal fees for FY 14-15 was $6k. That figure was given as the cost of renewing the station's license before any complaint was made to the FCC. On this year’s budget sheet for the same year, that figure was noted at $5k. The actuals for that year was $7.5k — only $1.5k over what was originally budgeted. Much has been made by Board members about the high cost of legal services to answer the five complaints made to the FCC. Figures from $9k to $16k had been tossed around during the year by GM, John Coate. Those inflated amounts are not supported by the statistical data.
I also noted the lack of transparency of the true cost of the news staff by Coate's decision to separate the news team into two categories: part time paid staff and freelance consultants.
I noted that the hiring committee already had a former Board member, staff person, CAB member and programmer appointed to it and asked the Chair, Director Eubank, how he proposed to get community members involved. I suggested an on air invitation along with an ad in local newspaper to get new voices interested.
Jeff Wright noted the promotion of NPR programming in an ad that appeared several months ago in Real Estate magazine with no mention of local programming. He felt local shows that cost the station nothing were deserving of recognition. He praised the efforts of the news team to cover local issues and events but felt the ten-minute time frame did not allow for in-depth coverage or a sufficient span of countywide coverage and wanted the program expanded to 25 minutes. He drew attention to the decision of the Skunk Train to move its operations from Fort Bragg to Willits as one example of uncovered important stories.;
Wright continued on despite timekeeper Benj Thomas' escalating efforts to indicate that Wright's time had expired. Campbell had broken the gavel at the February meeting in an attempt to restrain Wright's interrupting questions from his seat in the audience and it had not been replaced. Reading from a written statement, Wright asked that staff person David Steffan be fired for his abuse of Director Sakowicz in an earlier public comment when Steffan seemed to be taunting Sakowicz by using the "F" word repeatedly and challenging Sakowicz to repeat unflattering comments made to Steffan in a private email before the public and his peers. There was a cacophony of calls from the audience for Wright to take a seat. Newly hired staff person, Valerie Kim jumped ahead in line to grab the microphone away from Wright, hovering over it protectively. Still nonplussed by the ensuing commotion, Wright continued speaking until the next man in line, eyes popping, began bellowing S-T-O-P!!!
Being close to the action and armed with umpiring experience, I confronted the enraged man and quietly asked him to stop. By this time Director Eubanks had disengaged himself from his place on the dais to restore calm.
The man, Bill Bradless went quietly on to say that he has been a member from the beginning who enjoys NPR programming. He continued that Sakowicz had not done his fiduciary duty as Director by adding to the cost of the station's legal fees and asked him to resign. He added that he thought Sakowicz should serve on the Board of the station where he currently produces his show (KMEC ).
Valerie Kim spoke next to explain her combined staff position of part-time news/membership coordinator, thus addressing the salary separation into different categories from the other two reporters who were working as freelance news consultants. She stated that the present news format took a great deal of effort and time to produce. If more news was desired, it would have to be supported by an upswing in membership donations.
News Director Lorraine Dechter further elaborated on the different roles she and reporter Sherri Quinn had in using their own equipment to bring in news from the diverse community issues around the County. Kim, she explained, worked at the station using station equipment to weave together cohesive segments. She added she works out of her own office in Ukiah maintaining a station presence there unbeknown to people who are advocates for a Ukiah studio.
Larry Pendleton, Dechter's husband, gave details on how a half hour TV news program was put together. Having been involved in filming news crews, he said, generally, a team of ten reporters would produce 2 to 3 minute spots that would be intertwined with 30 second spots by an anchor person coordinating from the main studio. It would then be featured twice a day and at times, be distributed to a third station.
Randy Dalton of Willits suggested that the station should create a mediation committee or appoint someone to act as an ombudsman to resolve internal disputes She advocated for the return of popular news programs such as W.I.N.G.S. and CounterSpin saying she thought the public was not getting a full spectrum of information. She wanted a reporter to cover the Board of Supervisors meetings as had been done in the past as a regular feature of Community News and supported the idea of a gas stipend for programmers.
Dorotheya Dorman does not like to hear Democracy Now in the afternoon. She would like a concentration of news in the morning so as to be able to critique one source against another. She noted one way to reduce the cost of the news was to provide training to community members who could be paid a stipend per story. She also felt that money should be provided for nonviolent mediation training.
General Manager's Report
Outgoing GM, John Coate began his remarks in the pugnacious style that has marked several years of discord at KZYX. Addressing his decision to move closer to his family and Sakowicz he stated, "If you or anyone else thinks I can be run out of town by the likes of some of these people," (station members) "think again."
Reading from his report, he noted new programs in the 9am Thursday morning spot, The Cannabis Hour, hosted by Jane Futcher alternating with Coastal Currents — a volunteer effort hosted by Lorraine Dechter that serves to expand local news by more in depth independent investigation and interviews of local people on local issues.
The Treehouse (Thursday evening at 8pm) was recently vacated by host W. Dan Houck to give greater attention to his wife, Loretta, who is recuperating from a serious head injury.
A positive development in solidifying a signal between the Philo studio and the Cold Springs Mountain transmitter came when the station's internet provider (IP), North Coast Internet, was able to install more broadband capacity at the Philo studio. The station can now disconnect the slow and expensive T-1 line which supplies the office internet and web stream, using IP broadband as a backup transmission signal. The strength of the new signal was tested during the live broadcast of the Sierra Nevada Music Festival with excellent results. Together with a second set of rebuilt Moseley station transmission links (STL), Coate believes the station will have greater on air reliability.
Lower funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) grant and higher costs for news staff salaries added up to a net loss for FY 2014-15. Coate maintains that $200k was received in pledges but the budget figures for estimated actuals puts donations at $316k — $36k less than expected. Discrepancies in legal costs were also noticed between two separate budget sheets for the same year, the difference being $1k.
Pledge totals fell short of goals. Coate stated there was not enough available staff and volunteers to extend the drives to make up the difference.
The 2016 budget is based on the recommendation to find ways to raise needed funds without making large cuts.
According to Coate, cutting personnel means losing a professionally managed station which also may risk losing CPB funding while cutting national programming means losing a large portion of regular listeners. Slashing local news programming reverses momentum in the direction the station needs to go.
KZYX's Future — Coate points out an emerging problem regarding the station's relationship to national programming. Until recently, one had to go to a NPR or PRI affiliate to hear content. Now one can go to the npr.org website to hear programs the same day or one day later. He feels in the coming years, NPR will not need its affiliate stations and instead become competitors.
He believes radio will continue to exist because of its capacity to reach the public in emergencies when other systems go down— a main reason for continued federal funding. Coate maintains KZYX has made great advances to match the changing ways the under-40 generations are accessing information. Live streaming, a website with programmer blogs, a program archive, the on demand convenience of Jukebox, a Facebook page and a soon to be made public iOS app are examples of recent innovations that have kept the station current with new technical advances.
He is encouraged by increased participation of younger people as KZYX programmers, volunteers and staff that bring energy and new ideas to public radio. His hope for the station's future, besides an increase in membership support, is to have the main studio located in a better facility and to see more people involved in the infrastructure and technical aspects of radio to keep maintenance at a high level to continue the station's ongoing forward motion.
He expressed his appreciation to all the people who made it possible to persevere through his seven years as general manager adding that it was the longest job he had held, the hardest and the most productive.
In the final public comment of the long evening, Sarah Reith, host of Women's Voices brought attention to the fact that the taking of pictures by members of the public was a free speech issue.
Randy Dalton wanted to see more money put into the development of local programs. She would like to see Native American culture, knowledge and stories featured. Remarking on national programming's overemphasis on war, she would also like a greater balance of perspectives by local coverage of community peace activities.
Former Board member Doug McKenty responded to Coate's predictions regarding national programming by saying he sees it as an opportunity to move away from the NPR model toward a community based model. He would like to see greater support for independently produced shows and asked for the revival of a Program Council that was given more authority to make programming decisions rather than merely act in an advisory capacity to the Program Director.
Dorotheya Dorman spoke about the influence corporate power had on local politics. She felt the dismissal of extensive public input against MRC's poisoning of tan oak trees with the herbicide, Imazapyr was a tremendous betrayal of public interest. She thought the entire hearing at the Board of Supervisor's meeting should have been broadcast because it had far reaching consequences on public health and safety. Public radio, she maintained, is there to help publicize the serious issues that threaten the community and give coverage to the activist community who care enough to stand up to corporate entities that only act out of self interest.
Lorraine Dechter explained that she had attended that meeting and did air a piece on that issue. She talked about a story she is currently working on called "The Anatomy of a THP" in which community questions of how to effectively input the process of forestry regulation are addressed up the chain of command to participating agency heads.
Roger Krax is a long time listener who doesn't believe that Sakowicz is interested in killing the station. He sees the station as nearing the point of a "full blown Inquisition" in its lack of tolerance of different perspectives, stating, "We need our Thomas Paynes and our Ted Cruzes." He believes Sakowicz has a good point in looking at how the station is structured; that it has inherent problems, one of which is that the Philo studio is inconvenient to almost everyone. He commended Coate on doing what needed to be done to make the station financially sound but stated that he will not contribute until the station's credibility is healed, advising the Board to not burn the messenger but listen to the message.
Angela DeWitt, who is related to Director Bob Page, stated that she grew up with radio but had difficulty in getting her peers involved because of their perception that radio is old fashioned. She loves the cultural and community connection that radio brings to her life. She observed that it was her first Board meeting and realized that along with her partner Cobb and Valerie Kim, their attendance had dropped the average age of those at the meeting by 20 years. She thought that the station needed to focus on appealing to all age groups.
Cobb, who co-hosts The Discussion program with Angela, said he was entertained by the passion for public radio that people brought to the meeting and impressed by the ability of the Board to endure it. He admired the skill set that Coate brought to the job and thought he deserved credit for his ability to inspire the participation of capable people.
Programmer Derek Hoyle read as much of his three page letter to the Board as time would allow. He strongly objected to a new directive being imposed by Program Director Mary Aigner which eliminates a federally sanctioned "Safe Harbor" time that allows adult content in song lyrics and the spoken word from 10pm to 6am. Late night programmers were forced to sign an "agreement" to review all material for "sensitive content" under threat of suspension for a first offense and loss of one's show for a second infraction. Hoyle asked the Board to immediately rescind the faulty policy which legitimizes censorship and inhibits the creative freedom of dedicated late night programmers. (See July 22nd edition for more details)
I remarked that Aigner had pulled a coup of stated procedures for policy change in the shadow of the imminent departure of John Coate. Such change is within the scope of duties of the Board of Directors and only them as elected representatives of the members.
Programmer Jeff Blankfort gave his opinion that Sakowicz was no Thomas Payne since Payne engaged directly with the public while Sakowicz chose to involve the government in making his complaint.
I offered a rebuttal that a Director of a Board does not lose his/her right to participate in a public process by virtue of their executive position.
The next Board meeting will be held in Anderson Valley on September 7th at 6pm, location TBA.
* * *
In Memory of the contributions of two members of the KZYX community who passed away in the month of July. Gary ‘Zac’ Zachary served on the KZYX Board of Directors and cared immensely for the mission of public community radio. Michael Kisslinger facilitated a community meeting for KZYX; hosted the public affairs program, Give and Take, and worked in the capacity of a news consultant until November of 2014.