Potemkin Public Radio
by Sheila Dawn-Tracy, March 29, 2017
The seating provided for the large room of the Redwood Coast Senior Center was fully filled by more than thirty coastal residents for the March 6th KZYX Board of Directors meeting — an event as rare as the dry weather that broke through the steely skies of a rain sodden winter.
The Board was asked to approve the minutes of the both the January and November meetings since the November minutes were not available for public review in January.
I asked that the January minutes be amended to correct an inaccurate statement attributed to me that I had not made. It was stated that I objected to the title of Executive Director "since she believes the title should come from a vote of the membership." My actual objection was that I felt the title was unnecessary as it had been inserted into the General Manager's contract without being defined and as such, there was no attempt made to distinguish it from the responsibilities of the General Manager.
Board President, Meg Courtney, opted out of presiding over the meeting, explaining that she still felt incapacitated by the medications prescribed in the aftermath of knee surgery. After announcing that Director Benj Thomas would be resigning his seat due to health reasons, she turned the meeting over to Secretary and facilitator, Jenness Hartley despite the Bylaws specific designation of the Vice Chair, Director Futcher, to be the appropriate person to take over the duties of the President when necessary.
The agenda for the meeting was light with no Action Items for discussion. Director Hartley, with a large audience before her, reversed a former strict policy of restricting public comment to its designated three minutes of allotted time to permitting public comment after each agenda item.
Matters from Board Members
Director Middlebrook spoke of his high regard for Benj Thomas and encouraged people to apply for the appointment to finish out his term.
Courtney added that the applicant did not need to be from the District 2 (Ukiah) seat to be eligible.
Futcher starkly admitted "that she couldn't wait to be off the Board" stating that it wasn't an easy job as whatever is done never seems to be enough.
Courtney expressed her desire for a strong Board that was willing to work hard.
The question of whether it was a requirement that Board members needed to be members of MCPB was answered affirmatively. I suggested that the list of Board responsibilities (22) should be posted on the station's website to inform prospective applicants of the position's requirements.
Current station membership is 2136. Middlebrook hoped for an increased interest in member participation which has been at less than 25%. The results of the election will be broadcast on air and be available on the website after April 4th.
General Manager’s Report
Jeffrey Parker outlined the recent challenges to the station in his first two months as General Manager as keeping the station on the air during extreme winter weather and responding to the community's concern over the election results. He noted that the news staff is depleted, absorbing the duties of increased weather and road condition reporting while attempting to fill a vacuum left by a departing programmer and news staff on a temporary leave of absence.
Another problem has been the dropping of filed reports caused by interruptions in Internet service. He noted that no recruiting had been done to replace the reduced reporting capacity in favor of reducing operational costs in an effort to keep a balanced budget.
The development of a fresh Strategic Plan will be recommended to the newly seated Board to address long term funding, technological challenges and opportunities that affect the station's operations and broadcasting capabilities and ways to expand membership.
The February pledge drive brought in nearly $60k in pledged donations, falling short of its budgeted goal by $6.1k. The threat of cuts to CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) federal funding looms. As it comprises 20% of the current budget, more reliance on community support will be needed to make up the difference. Parker, a former news reporter, called NPR "the gold standard for radio news" and stated that a significant part of CPB funding goes to support the programming and services provided by NPR.
In January, a new KZYX.org website was built from a Core Publishing platform provided through the station's affiliation agreement with NPR. Staff spent hours in training with NPR specialists, planning and executing the roll out and refining the site. KZYX News is shifting news production to the new platform which changes what was once audio stories to multimedia stories with text, pictures, hyperlinks as well as video to provide a more in depth experience.
A promising collaboration with the Recording Arts and Technology program at the Mendocino Community College's Ukiah campus has been initiated. Broadcasting technology and programmer experience will be added to the skill sets taught in class. Two students engineered the recording of the Town Hall meeting of Congressman Huffman and Assembly member Wood on January 27th providing not only technical training but insight into the role of public broadcasting in civic engagement with government officials.
MCC students also hosted and managed the live broadcast of KZYX's Candidates Forum in Ukiah. A third collaboration is planned for March 29th when a public forum at the college is to be recorded and edited by students for a KZYX bi-weekly public affairs program planned to debut on April 19th. Students will also be involved in programming content. The program is scheduled to air every other Wednesday thereafter at 7p.m. from the college.
Dr. Richard Miller heaped praise on Parker stating he felt Parker was the best GM the station had employed in ten years. He expressed gratitude to station staff and was especially effusive in his remarks to Meg Courtney who he called "his champion." Miller later explained his remarks on firstname.lastname@example.org stating that Courtney had intervened with former GM, Coate, inviting them both to a dinner at her home resulting in an attitude thaw that allowed Miller to regain access to air his health program.
Unfortunately, such special attention, while commendable, is outside the established grievance procedures and has not been available to the other 14 past programmers who had their access to the airwaves terminated without a fair hearing.
Mitch Clogg said he had the dubious honor of being the first to be fired by Sean Donovan, the station's first GM, who Clogg described as a shifty character. Both Clogg and Marco McClean repeated their grievances made at last May's Board meeting of being banned from the station for thirty years without any attempt from any Board or management toward reconciliation.
McClean then detailed an impressive resume of 20 years of radio experience including teaching radio production and radio drama at several community schools and asked Parker what he could do, as GM, to help him regain a program at KZYX.
My comment inquired at the cost of the Ukiah studio which Parker had mentioned was not being fully utilized. I questioned why more effort wasn't put into the space to get full value from it as a studio with broadcasting capability? I also asked for a response to my prior suggestion to the Board that a Truth and Reconciliation Committee be created containing members with grievances on it who would be tasked to create a fair grievance procedure. I stated the station needed the support of the entire community — that inclusion and divisiveness were not synonymous.
Sakina Bush felt that the station was created for public access and that access was being denied to McClean with whom she had worked at the community school. She stated that he was a talented and good person deserving of a program and resolution of a multi-year injustice.
Rick Sacks desired more coverage of the County Supervisors meetings and other local meetings on the community evening news so that people could be informed on issues before important decisions were made.
Finance Committee Report
Treasurer Stuart Campbell apologized that he hadn't had time to make copies of the current income statement for the public. Requests could be made at BOD@kzyx.org.
He read from his notes that as of January 31st, expenses exceeded income by $11.4k. The February drive donations totaling $58.7k, $37k of which remains to be collected, were not included in the January figures.
The end of the year mailing and digital drive produced $37k in pledges. The line of credit has been paid down to $23.7k but aged payables (big debts) have shown an increase of $8k in a two month period to $90.5k due to higher program costs. There is $63k due from receivables (expected income from uncollected pledges and underwriting revenue) with $28k in the bank. The second installment of the CPB grant($29.1k) is expected in April.
The Finance Committee will have a work session to develop a 2 and 3 year projected budget.
Public Comment on Finance
Scott Peterson gave a presentation which showed an eight year comparison of assets between KMUD, Humboldt County's public radio station and KZYX demonstrating better financial figures at KMUD. Peterson showed a period of time when KZYX went without a GM and the corresponding rise of station assets. He was timed out and had to delay the remaining information to a later comment period.
McClean commented on the substantially lower budgets on which other radio stations operated. He stated that he could get the Ukiah studio fully functional on $200 worth of equipment and said he could save the station $300k of its operating costs which he wanted to use toward paying wages to programmers for their broadcast time as did the commercial radio station, KMFB.
Mark Perkins commented on the annoying quality of pre-recorded, repetitive commercial advertising for cars and pet food that was a departure from the non commercial underwriting policy. He also objected to an international corporation having a lock on underwriting the Community Calendar, denying local vendors an opportunity to support local events.
Community Advisory Board member, Ellen Saxe described the mandate of the six-member CAB as facilitating communication between the KZYX Board and the public. She said the community could give input through emails at email@example.com. She commented that the CAB would like information about them on the website's home page to make contact more accessible. She asked for on air announcements to encourage members to answer the two broad programming questions on the back of the ballot. Saxe explained a need for an expanded CAB and requested the Board consider possible candidates for appointment.
McClean asked if the CAB had considered putting its meeting on air and getting the public to call in their input? He suggested that they might also put a link to an open forum on the website to allow the Board and the public access to all comments. He noted that Courtney's response to this suggestion when made several years ago was that it would be a free-for-all, eliciting McClean's response of "That is the point."
I cited my frustration with the ineffectiveness of past and present CAB 's to have any of their recommendations result in any positive and meaningful development in any facet of the station's decision making process. I noted that after three years the current CAB had failed to agree on the number of public meetings they should hold during the year. Director Clay Eubank's advice, given six months earlier, that the CAB should pick a day, place and time and hold regular meetings within that consistent framework went unheeded. I also commented on the lethargy of the group in not being able to muster a quorum of its members in the two public meetings it held this year and informed those present that the only meeting that had a quorum was a private meeting held in the home of Director Campbell. I expressed concern that the Board liaison to the CAB, Benj Thomas, had resigned, leaving no process to insure CAB recommendations would receive a direct Board response and asked the Board for immediate action to find a replacement. I acknowledged Saxe as one of the few members who worked hard to create an effective process and asked that her request to reconfigure CAB members be given attention.
Final Public Comment
Clogg asked if the meeting would be on the local news, stating that he would be interested in hearing the Board's response to all the comments.
Peterson continued his remarks by pointing out that the IRS 990 tax forms signed by the GM (Coate) stated that there had been no audit review of the station's financial records. He noted a $17k disappearance of station assets and stated," When practice doesn't follow policy, you end up with loss."
Perkins asked that the station develop a disaster plan to create independence in signal transmission and among the three studios in the event of a calamity such as a predicted future earthquake.
Doug McKenty stated that when he was a Board member there was a policy that created the Program Advisory Committee with the goal of maintaining transparency in programming decisions. He asked if the Board had voted to change that policy.
McClean asked for clarification on who made the programming decisions at the station.
Sakina Bush stated that she had heard that members wanted more involvement in the decision making process while the Board desired more strong candidates willing to volunteer their time to the station. She thought if the Board put community members on the various Board committees both interests could be served in connecting the Board to potential future Board members.
I commented that the station had two licenses from the FCC and was broadcasting the same program to each signal when it had the capacity to create separate programs to serve the specific interests of the diverse coastal and inland communities which, I believed, was the premise for getting two licenses. I thought exploring this option had untapped potential for membership expansion and increased revenue.
GM & Board Response
Parker stated that the lease for the Ukiah studio ended in July and that assumptions had been made last year regarding line of sight transmission links that had changed due to new digital technology. The necessity of developing the space into a full production studio was still being discussed.
Courtney was unaware of any station report of its Board meetings, however, former news contractor, Michael Kisslinger (now deceased) did report on one meeting but neglected to include any of the public comments.
Campbell responded to Peterson's tax form findings by stating the forms were in error regarding audit reviews and he would pursue having them amended. Regarding McKenty's question of a policy change that eliminated the Programmer Advisory Council, he stated the Council had always been advisory, hadn't been active in years and the Board had never voted to change that policy. Program decisions were currently made by the Program Director and the GM.
He asserted that the CAB meeting at his home was an informal, getting to know each other gathering, stating that no KZYX business had been discussed. Campbell was unaware that notes of the meeting had been taken by a CAB member who, upon my request, had sent a copy to me. Campbell was visibly agitated when I declared his statement on the nature of the meeting to be false and that I possessed notes from the meeting that contradicted his statement.
The pitfall of a private meeting is the assumption of security so that one is never sure when the holes in one's narrative begin to take on water.
The meeting was videotaped and can be viewed at mendocinotv.com.
The next meeting will be the Annual Membership meeting where new Board members will be inducted. It will be held on May 1st at 6pm in Anderson Valley. Location TBA.