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Night of the Living Dead 

KPFK is where North Korea meets North Hollywood

Wednesday, Sep 5 2007
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Buckle up your hazmat suits and adjust your air mask, as we’re going to take a late summer plunge into the bubbling cesspool of our local “people-powered” radio station, KPFK. Last week, its long-reviled manager, Eva Georgia, announced she’s finally stepping down. It’s a little bit like Nero calling 911 to report some smoke.

During her more than five-year tenure, Georgia has plunged the listener-run station into a dark hole, alienated its staff, pared down its already marginal audience, allowed its signal to decay, and filled the airtime with loonies, ranters and fringies. Tune in to precious drive-time slots and you’re as likely to hear — for the umpteenth time — how the downing of the Twin Towers was an inside job as you are basically open proselytizing by Red-book-thumping adherents of the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party. Georgia had recently been publicly exposed for riding around in limousines and for checking herself in for days to the posh Universal City Sheraton to oversee fund drives when listeners are guilt-tripped into subscribing to “fiercely independent radio.” (You know, nothing is too good for the leaders of the working class!) The station’s public management meetings are shouting matches for quivering cranks who all but speak in tongues. Race baiting is the most common tactic for argument. Those who believe that al Qaeda and not the CIA struck on 9/11 are branded as government flunkies. Incompetence is rewarded, even celebrated, in the name of diversity and political correctness. Professionalism is derided as elitism. And, oh yes, four feet good, two feet bad!

Not that any of the above made much difference, as Georgia’s bosses — those who run the local station’s board as well as the Pacifica network’s national board — are even loopier and less competent than she is. They’re a crew of slogan-chanting zombies, nary a one with any professional understanding of radio, a clique who bullied themselves into power six years ago after a prolonged campaign of harassing, slandering and defaming the preceding management out of office. Their heavy-handed, brutish tactics cost them more than $400,000 a few years ago after their summary and politically discriminatory firing of former KPFK manager Mark Schubb nearly came to trial.

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Which is sort of why his successor, Ms. Georgia, has finally been pushed out the door. The target of two current serious sexual-harassment and workplace-discrimination lawsuits, Georgia could likely cost Pacifica several hundred thousand more in liability. Put this in the context of the network’s chief financial officer stating publicly a few weeks ago that Pacifica’s New York outlet is likely to financially “crash” by the end of this year, and you get the bigger picture.

I’m vaguely sympathetic to the mutiny, a few weeks ago during which a couple of dozen programmers surfaced calling for Georgia’s dismissal, though I think it’s long overdue. Forgive me a pinch of self-righteousness here, but I quit the station (as a paid daily afternoon host) exactly one day after the current crew of zealots took over and fired Schubb in early 2002. It was immediately apparent to me what the new commissars were all about, and I had no intention of continuing my association with them, or raising money for them. Every day since then has been a good day for me, thank you. The problem with a network like Pacifica is that no one likes to give up his airtime, so the default position of most programmers is to go along with the flow, co-exist, and just grin and bear it — no matter how painful and embarrassing. Just grip your ankles tight and try to keep on smilin’ as you keep your lips glued to the mikes. Former manager Schubb laments what he calls an internal culture of “time-slot sluts who will get in bed with anybody just to hear themselves talk on the air.”

Now it looks like some people finally feel just a tad too violated. The current crop of dissenters includes those who still try to produce the few and only respectable shows left on the air — most notably Ian Masters’ Background Briefing. Masters has taken the lead in trying to challenge the controlling powers behind the departing Eva Georgia — most notably local board commissars Lydia Brazon and Don White and the head of the network board, Dave Adelson, a guy whose leadership of Pacifica makes FEMA look like FedEx by comparison. Says Masters:

“In effect they are a Politburo presiding over a dysfunctional system where power devolves to the crazies who outlast everyone at meetings. The Politburo controls the crazies by rationing out airtime to cults, cranks and crackpots in the hope that conspiracy and colonic cures sell enough to keep the operation limping along with ever-increasing fund drives. While they claim to be on the left, they are mimicking the religious right, selling the equivalent of the ‘end times’ prophesies. Instead of activating the left, they are paralyzing it, sewing tangled webs of distraction and despair. The occupation of Pacifica by the ‘night of the living dead’ is where the American left has been terminally discredited as North Korea meets North Hollywood.”

Let it also be noted that the five Pacifica stations have a market value of perhaps $500 million, making this perhaps the most egregious squandering of resources in history by the left. Masters and his allies are now gearing up to defeat the incumbents in upcoming elections for KPFK’s local board. Last time around, barely 10 percent of the station’s 18,000 subscribers among its 150,000 listeners bothered to vote. Translation: ?Those “elected” to oversee KPFK represent ?about 1 percent of those who listen.

But now Brazon, White and the other ossified lefties who run the board and whose life identities have melded with this dying institution have come up with an election gambit that would make Hugo Chavez blush. Concerned that Masters and his allies might drum up enough votes to oust them, the station board has invented a so-called “hardship” waiver. No longer do you need to have donated at least a paltry $25 to the station or, alternately, to have logged a leisurely total of three hours of volunteer work over the past year to have the right to vote. Just sign the new Internet form these revolutionaries have made available saying the above was far too much of a burden and they will provide you a ballot anyway — especially if you’re a friend of theirs.

Anyway, who cares? As former manager Schubb argues, the current mini-revolt comes mighty late in the game. “Where were the dissidents in 2002 while these fundamentalist thugs drove out 85 percent of the professional staff? They let themselves be used to give listeners the illusion of stability during a blood bath. I wish ’em luck in their fight, but from my view it’s way too little, way too late.” Every time a fiery factional struggle breaks out at Pacifica — about every five years like clockwork — that old cliché is dusted off: “It’s one more fight for the deck chairs on the Titanic.” This time I beg to differ. This newest episode is but a scramble for the swim fins and masks. Glug. Glug.

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