As the holidays quickly approached, six members of KZYX’s newly formed Community Advisory Board (CAB) met on Dec. 19th at Anderson Valley High School. Despite the dark, cold and inconvenient timing, seven members of communities both near and far came to meet the new Board and speak during Public Comment.
Stuart Campbell, the only Board member present, had assembled the CAB through outreach at various tabling efforts. He had emailed the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) Rules and Guidelines to the CAB group and suggested a tentative agenda as none of the CAB members had met before. Most had no previous experience as a community board member.
After initial confusion about how to structure the meeting, member Bob Bushansky of Fort Bragg, having considerable past Board experience, steered the group through the task of assembling a logical agenda. The Board elected Janess Hartley as Secretary and agreed to allow five minutes for each member of the public to speak. As no one volunteered to act as Board Chair, the decision was deferred to a later time.
At a suggestion from the public, the meeting began with Board introductions.
Anderson Valley resident Steve Fish described himself as a liberal. Alexander Kramer, along with his wife, Janess Hartley, live in Redwood Valley and both work for local school districts. Ellen Saxe lives on Greenwood Ridge and served on the station's Program Advisory Committee. Mary McClanahan lives in Ukiah and was a KZYX Board member 20 years ago. Bob Bushansky currently serves on both the Senior Center and the Mendocino Coast Park and Recreation Boards.
The first question was how frequently the Advisory Board would meet. Despite the minimum compliance requirements statement, “the advisory board meets at regular intervals,” suggestions of one meeting (comparison made to KQED) emerged. Outcome: Several meetings would be required to conduct the Board's business and meetings would be open to the public when any course of action was to be decided.
Sections of the CPB law were highlighted by both Bushansky and Saxe. Bushansky chose to draw attention to the passage: The CAB Board shall be permitted to review the programming goals, service and significant policy decisions of the station…as well as advise the governing body of the station with respect to whether the programming and policy decisions of the station are meeting the specialized educational and cultural needs of the communities served. He also stressed the solely advisory capacity of the Board.
Saxe emphasized the passage on the purpose of the Board “as a vehicle for effective community input to the station's governing board” in the areas above. She asked how to interpret the directive to “address the specific needs of the communities they endeavor to serve.” Was that limited to members or to a potential audience not represented in current programming choices?
The Board moved on to the review of past surveys. Fish, who undertook that job, reported that the station received a grant in 2001 for a professional survey. While out of date, he felt it served as a model for appropriate questions and how to phrase them. Fish commented that designing a few questions to be asked during the pledge drive or to be asked on air might be other ways to get community response. He felt the survey that KZYX did in 2011 was too long, unfocused and didn't generate the desired response. He was concerned that the station didn't reach many parts of the “real” community.
Bushansky asked about adding the survey to the election ballot and how that might affect additional costs. Campbell replied that the answer depended on the number of candidates who applied for the three open positions. He advised that the survey be limited to one page.
The CAB voted unanimously that a short survey be included in the ballot mailing if space permitted.
The CAB then brainstormed topics for future discussion and ways to stimulate community involvement in the input process.
Bushansky introduced the subject of standards regarding the review of new programmer qualifications as well as recommendations for a policy for a consistent process for reviewing facts when a show is terminated to facilitate smooth transitions.
McClanahan appreciated efforts by Board members to engage in tabling at community events.
Bushansky volunteered information that he had read some of the surveys gathered by Board member Meg Courtney at the coastal Farmers' Markets and found them to be reasonable and illuminating. When asked by Kramer if the CAB was able to have access to those surveys, he answered affirmatively. Kramer further questioned whether their location was known and was informed by Campbell that it was not.
Saxe outlined several ways to get community response—through the KZYX website; surveys; tabling events and meetings at local community centers;• McClanahan suggested having a fun event to bring in an educational element. She thought the topic of journalistic standards would generate a lot of community interest.
I said I was struck by the fact that no one had mentioned the most obvious available communication tool — our public radio station! I stressed the need to have a CAB Open Lines and a KZYX Board talk show.
I stated one of the station's problems is the lack of communication between the Board and the members that elected them and related my problem of having neither of my two letters responded to by a Board member. The second letter languished in the Board's station mailbox for six months and was never even read by most of the Board. I specifically mentioned that incoming member Courtney was not even informed by staff that she had a station mailbox! In singling out Courtney, I apologized to Bushansky, disclosing that they were partners, a fact I felt should have been self disclosed when Bushansky spoke of his privileged access to station surveys.
I mentioned the lack of consistency and follow through at Board of Directors meetings. At one meeting there is consensus to have an Open Lines Board talk show several times a year while at the next meeting the idea of 30 second and 60 second informational spots is seized upon as the road to transparency.
I spoke of the need of people involved in radio to work through their fears of live broadcasting as a conscious learning process.
I addressed the programming policy that former Board member Doug McKenty discovered had been “left out” of the incoming Board members' information manuals. I also pointed out the lack of transparency of Board decisions recalling how decisions are announced at meetings rather than the norm of discussed and voted upon. I feel that the Board is using its list serve to reach its decisions — out of the public eye. The only vote that is taken is the required approval of the annual budget.
Lastly, I noted that the quality of local news has declined precipitously in the last five years. Moreover, the recently announced changes of switching to a two person, twelve minute format was made without either a Board discussion or community input. I feel the lofty goal of community vision has been supplanted by the will of a controlling few. I submitted three articles of mine written for the AVA to the CAB relevant to the topics of the balance of power within the station's Bylaws, community input and transparency
The next speaker was Jeff Wright. He thanked the CAB for their presence. He was concerned with the possibility of the CAB's discussions being confined to the Internet. He spoke of the survey material and Campbell's agenda guidelines as examples of not allowing the public to have full disclosure of information resulting in the public's decreased ability to fully participate in helping the CAB make good decisions.
He compared the tight regulation of KZYX's airwaves to the relaxed open format of KMUD stating that there are no longer any true community shows like Open Lines or a community bulletin board for community events that is spontaneous rather than restricted by a two week submission requirement. Wright defended McKenty's professionalism and was outraged at the pulling of his program off the air saying that it is an insult to members and one of the reasons many have stopped supporting the station. He wanted the CPB rules and CAB goals and decisions to be available to the community through a variety of venues. He stated his belief that a higher goal than paying off the NPR debt would be to open it back up to the community. He also thought it would be better to have local people familiar with the area to do local news rather than someone from out of state. He advocated for greater emphasis on the radio's capacity for communication and less dependence on computers. Wright cited KMUD'S programming that facilitated member access to their Board through a regularly scheduled talk show.
Next to speak was Ronnie, a man who arrived with CAB member, Ellen Saxe. He commented that an email came to Saxe from Membership Coordinator Diane Hering stating it was very important not to consider just the station's members as community. She felt that some way needed to be found to contact people who may or may not be listening and find out why they are or aren't listening. He added some outreach might be done that requires an investment of funds in advertising through other radio stations and other media to reach a broader community base.
Diane Paget of Boonville informed the CAB that she did two surveys for KZYX during its first five years. The surveys were long and the response was enthusiastic. She remarked that it would make sense if the full sheet of paper was used to ask questions.
She wanted to congratulate KZYX for Pippa Thomas' show on Nelson Mandela as a piece of awesome programming that was indicative of the effort and care that characterized the programming during the station's first ten years. Adding that the last decade has seen a decline in programming quality with too much canned radio filling in the gaps of programmer absences. Paget believes the talent is still out there but the change is in the lack of effort to recruit it. She noted that the first survey was done before the station had a news dept. and what was most wanted by the community at that time was local news. She suggested that the station put on two fundraisers a year to cover general expenses and have a third fundraiser specifically targeted to raise money to pay for local news.
Sue Boekker of Fort Bragg echoed Paget's assessment of the decline of local news, saying that it was better when she first arrived over a year ago. She admitted to donating to KMUD in support of their coverage of Mendocino County. She said she liked the late night DJ shows, especially the reggae genre as well as the morning classical music. She felt a greater effort to find more local talent should be made and asking volunteers to help with outreach could be worthwhile.
Another newcomer, Tom Malkich, commented that he respected the brave/foolhardy efforts of the CAB to organize their meeting in front of the public. Tom wondered if the CAB's efforts to interface with the community would replace the public's input at the Directors' meetings. He was assured that it would not. He had attended the last Board meeting, found the political dynamic interesting to observe and wondered how the CAB would get it message across to the Board when the public had not achieved any success.
The final comment was made by Steve Fish's wife who did not give her name. She remarked that they had previously lived in a university town in another state where public programming consisted of NPR and canned music. Her opinion was that in spite of the issues people had with the station, she believed it was an excellent station that did meet the needs of the community.
Campbell explained his commitment went beyond just establishing a new CAB but extended to support the CAB in getting its work done. He was also committed to making sure the Board of Directors heard their advice and responded to their recommendations.
The CAB gave its feedback to the public's suggestions. A discussion of what it would take to produce a quality news program followed. Details of demand, training, content, cost, timeframe and creating a network of news stringers were weighed.
Bushansky liked the idea of a CAB Open Lines show as a means of easily reaching the listeners. He thought the opportunity to fill in for other programmers might be possible if advance notice was given.
The problem of the show getting “F-bombed” (McKenty's phrase) was alleviated by information that the station was installing a delay device that evening. It was agreed that a request to have a CAB Open Lines show added into the Open Lines rotation would be brought to the General Manager by Campbell.
It was suggested by McClanahan to advise the governing board to be more available to members through a similar Open Lines Board talk show.
Additionally, the CAB resolved to make their process more accessible to the public.
The final item involved choosing the type and number of questions in the election mailing, space permitting. The CAB agreed to finalize survey questions through emails and set its next meeting tentatively in mid April, two weeks after the deadline for ballots.
The group resolved the problem of appointing a Chairperson by general agreement to have the position rotate to another member at each subsequent meeting.
Minutes of the meeting will be available on the kzyx.org website and at the Philo studio after any necessary corrections are made.