By Carol Spooner

Two years ago there were major staff cuts all across the Pacifica Network — all except KPFA.

For the rest of the network salaries and related expenses were cut 18.5% from 2008 to 2010 — from $6.3 million to $5.1 million. But at KPFA the reduction was just 6.1% — from $2.4 million to $2.3 million.

Meanwhile, KPFA’s total income dropped by 21.1% over the same time period — from $4.5 million to $3.6 million. And KPFA’s “working capital” reserves dropped from a little over $1 million as of 9/30/07 to negative -$190,435 as of 9/30/10.

For some perspective, KPFA’s salaries and related expenses were 63.8% of total income in FY 2010, while all the other Pacifica stations had reduced theirs to under 50%.

The budgets called for major staff cuts, but only minor cuts were made — mainly by not filling vacancies and a few staff hours were cut here and there.

What happened at KPFA?

Over the past 10 years no manager has lasted more than a few months at KPFA who actually attempted to manage the station. It’s a long sad story, with some ugly twists and turns, but any manager who attempted anything that did not meet the approval of a small core group of staff members — the foxes in the henhouse — met with so much hostility and non-cooperation that the job became nearly impossible to do. The last manager lasted about a month before he threw up his hands and resigned.

Some say the managers who stayed around were “in bed with the union” or that “the union was in bed with the manager.” Whatever that case may be, KPFA has essentially been run by a few powerful staff members for a decade or more, with compliant managers.

So long as KPFA still had reserves to go through — even though income was dropping precipitously — there could be no staff cuts at KPFA that offended that core staff group.

KPFA’s compliant management proposed two years in a row to cancel Flashpoints and cut Hard Knock Radio — whose staff are definitely not members of the KPFA core staff elite — to makeup the budget gap. But successive Pacifica Executive Directors Grace Aaron (in 2009) and Arlene Engelhardt (in 2010) would not agree, as those cuts would have affected very senior staff members.

So, there was a stalemate at KPFA until the cash was all gone last fall and Engelhardt had to take action.
People can argue ’til the cows come home about whose favorite programs should be cut. But, under the union contract, if more senior staff are laid off they then have the right to “bump” less senior staff out of their positions if they are qualified to do them. So, laying off the Flashpointsand HKR staff would have cascaded downward causing far more disruption to programming than Engelhardt’s decision to layoff the less senior Morning Show staff.

In fact, that’s what Brian Edwards-Tiekert eventually did — he bumped John Hamilton from the news department, and then several staff members volunteered to cut their hours so Hamilton could stay on part time. Hamilton is the only staff member with less seniority than Aimee Allison, so there is no one left for her to bump.

None of this has prevented the “KPFAWorker/SaveKPFA” group from running a relentless agit-prop campaign to get Brian and Aimee and The Morning Show restored. They apparently are willing to take down the station and the whole Pacifica Network if they don’t get their way — childish, destructive behavior.

This has begun to take its toll on listener patience — many are tuning out, and this fund drive isn’t going well, which could result in more layoffs and a vicious downward spiral.

New interim manager Andrew Phillips and program director Carrie Core are making the best they can of a bad situation, with non-cooperative “core staff” members. They need our support to pull the station through.

So, again, now is the time to donate generously to this fund drive.

Don’t be fooled by slogans. KPFA’s financial problems and layoffs had nothing to do with “local control” and everything to do with local foxes raiding the henhouse — until they ran through all the cash.

-Carol Spooner