Part 2: The Inquisition
Now the dies were cast — I was out of the station and forever labeled a white supremacist/misogynist. There was of course the usual ritual finger-wagging session scheduled with the programming committee, which had been whittled-down to four members this time with the unexpected and unexplained forced departure of one of the members one week before their term was to end-just in time to miss my flogging. Making that fact even curiouser was that this individual was an avid listener of my program, and would have been at a minimum open-minded about the issue.
That left four people, station president Olga Martin-Steele (does that last name a ring a bell? See my first trouble.), citizen representative Eileen Hodges, programming director Chloe Karl, and board member Ron Green. The skull-splitting headache was still with me, but since I knew it was a lost cause anyway I was already over the firing and had moved-on mentally, so I was pretty relaxed. The meeting actually went somewhat better than I had envisioned, their annoyance level was substantial but I was more than holding my own, and after over an hour of them making little headway Ron asked “why are you so calm?”. The truth was that I knew they would likely use the tactic of trying to get me to lose my cool and I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of seeing it happen, but decided the truth might not play well so made-up some BS answer instead.
Soon after that Eileen had to leave, but before she left she was absolutely adamant that I not be punished at all, and added that she and her husband were big fans of the show. The three remaining board members were stuck with me and the gripe I had been making since the first time they flogged me-that other programmers had for years been doing things as bad or worse and they were never punished, it was just me. I reminded them of the last time we went through this: they promised the three specific cases of rampant programmer violations I pointed-out would be investigated and everyone would be held accountable EQUALLY. So I asked if they had done anything about keeping up their end of the deal and they confirmed that no, absolutely nothing had been done at all-which was clear since everyone was still breaking the rules. Being a racist as long as you were an Indian was OK and so was blurring the lines between your business and your radio program, just as long as you didn’t mess with the local power brokers who wanted the station to be their mouthpiece and no one else’s.
Olga admitted that there were still rule violations and went on to say the programmer Jim Brown was routinely making racist remarks on the air, and something needed to be done about it. My first thought at this news was “does she see that my mouth is hanging wide open?”. Jim Brown is one of the two Native American programmers at the station, both of whom oftentimes make clearly racist, anti-Christian and anti-semitic remarks, but Clayton Duncan was a far worse offender. My second thought was “Is Olga having a brain-fart and mixed them up or is this for real?”. Duncan has recently gone on-air to say he would never have a relationship with a woman who wasn’t a Native American and he does not believe in inter-racial marriage, if anyone white person ever said “I would never marry any non-white woman” and was against inter-racial marriage they’d be off the air for good in a heart beat for hate speech violations.
Duncan’s show is terrible on every level except for his taste in music, he plays the worst audio quality imaginable home-brew cassette recordings made from youtube videos of people like Louis Farrakhan or videos that included banned profanity, and the show is in large part devoted to reminding the non-native community how inferior they are. Jews, Christians and white people are almost always spoken of as monolithic communities who were all responsible for taking his land, killing his people and for every single problem faced by the Native American community today, because as we are constantly reminded native people literally did not lie, cheat or steal before contact with the white devils. The truth is the KPFZ board did not have the guts to either get Jim and Clayton to follow the rules or fire them, so they have for many years been allowed to offend whomever they cared to with no worries of repercussions due to the board’s intense fear of being labeled politically incorrect racists if they actually treated people equally.
Another case I had made a formal complaint about was a programmer/ board member that has a weird half-socialist-half-Indian-wannabe radio program that features podcasts snatched off the internet, along with a lot of random music and weekly replays of National Native News, a syndicated show. The replays of NNN included ads for the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railway, which is responsible for hauling most of the nation’s coal from the mines to the factories and power plants, and about 1/3 of that coal comes from tribal land-hence BNSF’s interest in NNN. The Irony here is this programmer sees herself as an uber-environmentalist, and was obviously unable to connect the dots between the railroad, the coal industry and the tribes, so she unknowingly became part of the effort to “Make Coal Great Again”-another proud moment for community radio! After nearly a year of griping about it and after I was fired the ads finally got clipped-so something good did come out of my departure after all!
What I expected the three programming committee members left would do is to quickly vote to fire me after I was told to wait in the hallway for their decision, but for some reason the process took over twenty minutes and I heard someone yelling inside the room-but couldn’t identify the voice. When they reappeared they told me it was a unanimous decision to fire me, because they decided not to count Eileen’s vote as they claimed she left too soon. I could reapply to get a show in a year, but everyone knew I was planning on moving in the near future so they knew that had no chance of happening. I could appeal it to the entire KPFZ board if I wanted to, and though I knew that was a lost cause too I decided not go down without a decent fight. Eileen later emailed me that Chloe told her she wished she had voted to keep me, so if the vote hadn’t been rigged by getting rid of the person who might side with me or to not count Eileen’s vote I would have probably made it back on the air.
Normally the programming committee fires people, but in this case they called a special emergency board meeting before the programming committee meeting so the full board could fire me first-which they were going to do before I even had a chance to talk to them! They weren’t even going to pretend there was some sort of legitimate process here, I was going to be tried, convicted and punished before I had a chance to say a single word. Apparently they realized the optics of this plan left much to be desired, so my last chance was to face the entire board after the programming committee fired me to beg them to consider my appeal.
When I walked into that room I looked around and realized almost every single person there hated me because of some issue or other in the past we had fought over, and the loathing being directed at me was so intense it seemed like a tangible object I could almost feel pressing against me. Once the grilling began it went even better for me than the first meeting, in large part because of the decidedly lower caliber mental abilities of of this much larger group, disarming their accusations was like swatting flies. After an hour had passed I realized how annoyed they were getting at the lack of progress, and my new goal became to prolong this unpleasant process for as long as possible just to be a prick (spoiler alert- in the end it took over two hours!).
When I finally got a chance to really speak for myself I gave them a laundry list of evidence that I was not in fact a secret KKK member, going back over fifty years to when my Quaker librarian mother would drag my siblings and I to civil rights marches back when MLK was still alive. They heard how I had given a homeless Black woman a free place to live in my home for several months until she could save enough to get an apartment and regain custody of her son, and how the very first thing I had published in the AVA 20 years ago was a story about a black man in the county jail who was facing a bogus third-strike charge that would have put him away for life. It wasn’t the last time I wrote about non-whites being jailed unfairly, and for years got hassled by the local cops for bringing attention to their stories.
I reminded them that I was the first person to ask the Kelseyville school board to stop using the Indian mascots, and how on my radio program I had frequently talked about how unappreciated Mexican farm labor was and how dependent our weed-and-wine economy was on that resource. I had marched for amnesty for illegals and talked about that issue on my show a fair amount too, more than any other programmer had. Having done every shitty job there is in farming here I knew exactly what Mexican labor does for America, it wasn’t an abstract concept to me that they literally fed us. Years ago I had to slip past an ICE checkpoint on highway 29 in a carload of female Mexican pickers on our way to a grape harvesting job, and the nerve-rattling experience gave me a little taste of the fear they have to deal with on a daily basis living in the shadows.
Then there was the fact that my granddaughter’s father is half-black, and the fact that for the fourth time in a row I was supporting a woman for president, and for the second time a woman of color. I told them In my family I had been taught that racism was a disgusting sin only promoted by persons of low mental ability and moral fiber, and it was an unacceptable failure. I had also pointed-out on my program that my demographic of white males should be ashamed of the fact that they comprise an inordinate number of arsonists, and that we had to take it upon ourselves to fix the problem, so its not like I didn’t spread my disdain for the shortcomings of various groups around-I thought I was a fairly equal-opportunity annoyance on the very rare occasions when I talked about racial/demographic issues. I also reminded them that my first show on KPFZ for three and a half years was with a black female cohost, who had been very active in the civil rights movement and had marched with MLK as a young woman.
None of it mattered, as there were two main reasons I had to go: first, an election year was coming-up and many on the the board didn’t want to hear me ripping the democrat party for their many shortcomings-even if it was done in the hopes they would stop being corporatist warmongers and I was attacking them from the left, and second and probably more important, they desperately wanted to keep me from talking in detail every week about the various shortcomings of our local governmental entities. “We have to work with them” board members kept telling me about the local government officials, apparently they were unclear on how journalism works as its hard to report on people in a meaningful way if you have joined forces with them, or become co-dependents depending on the situation.
Board president Olga Martin-Steele comes from the high-level corporate world, and brought along with her the mindset that everything must be done in a consistently top-down manner, with any dissent or differing viewpoints to be eliminated. That meant I was a problem, as I wanted to report on the county government and that seemed to be at odds with the “We have to work with them” mantra they kept repeating. But Olga had plenty more reasons to want me gone, as in recent years she had worked hard to promote four different county sales tax measures which had a total of nearly a half million dollars raised and spent on their behalf-and all of which lost. I had been the leading public critic of all four, and had written most of the “against” ballot statements along with many LTEs urging a “no” vote, I had also used my program to rail against them as well. This year there is a good chance there will be another sales tax measure on the ballot, and now KPFZ has officially shut-down the most likely and most vocal critic of any such effort.
The KPFZ board is incredibly laden with people who either are currently working for the government or have worked for them in the past, like our current DA Susan Krones, and they like to keep the fiefdom free of boat-rockers or people who point-out the shortcomings of the institutions that have employed them. It took a while but the melding seems now to be nearly complete, community radio and local government have become one. Can the station get back to being something more than a tool for the local government institutions, and be a genuinely objective and independent provider of information regarding our local governments? The short answer is “no”, it can’t in its present form. The station’s board is a sorry collection of dullards, egomaniacs and sycophants, and an even sadder fact is that there is no untapped talent pool in sight to replace them from.
If the balance point on fundraising is passed, if it becomes the primary concern the urge to be bland is irresistible, it really comes down to fully employing the KISS principle (keep it simple-stupid!). The more complex these type of organizations get the less well they generally work, so station operating costs must be kept to an absolute minimum-even if it meant going back to broadcasting from the equivalent of the station manager’s laundry room like back in the low-power 104.5 FM KPFZ days. KPFZ really does have a niche in this community, the help provided during the fires and floods and the recovery wasn’t going to come from commercial radio, and there are some very unique and informative programs or ones that provide a great public service like the “Radio Jail” show or the “Ham Radio College” science program. Bare-bones infrastructure and minimalist board of directors is probably the best way to keep from falling into the money trap that always threatens free speech every chance it gets as the focus of community radio governing boards becomes raising cash instead of raising listenership or serving the public interest.
A true “community” radio station has to be as diverse as the community it serves-which means you have to allow more than the monotone of LCDCC/DNC/MSM-approved viewpoints expressed by programmers on their shows if you are really trying to serve the whole community, and if you’re not serving the whole community then you have to call yourself something other than “community” radio. There can’t be too much overlap between the government or political parties and the station board either, or the watchdog will become a lapdog as KPFZ has proven as it has carved-out a safe space for local bureaucrats and democratic party candidates to spew their propaganda and agendas oftentimes in formats where they can’t be questioned or challenged in a meaningful way. The whole reason for starting KPFZ was to give an alternative viewpoint from what the MSM had to offer, now it has morphed into the MSM, the thing it was built to counter. I always thought the threat to free speech would come from the underwriters, it never occurred to me until it was too late that the station would be quietly co-opted by government drones and shills and party hacks wielding checkbooks and their interpret-it-any-way-you-like programmer guidelines.
Since this story was begun Maria Valadez has been hired back from the Mendocino County ROV office and is now Lake County’s permanent Registrar of voters — a story unto itself!