When KPFA’s new 8 am program debuted this morning, listeners responded by tuning out KPFA in droves (see accompanying graph showing the number of online listeners is only 36% of what it used to be). Pacifica’s Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt has selected a rotating series of volunteer hosts for the 8 am hour.
Claiming financial necessity, Engelhardt last month laid off the paid union hosts of the KPFA Morning Show, which aired from 7-9 am. The program generated three-and-a-half times what it cost. Engelhardt since has moved Democracy Now to 7 am.
The suspension of the Morning Show and the layoffs of its hosts Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Aimee Allison caused an uproar among KPFA listeners, who have complained by the thousands. But Engelhardt told KPFA News this morning that she believes that, “once KPFA listeners begin to see that they’re getting the same kinds of topics and information and enthusiasm for our community programming…that they’ll be real happy with our new line up.”
The immediate reaction did not bear out Engelhardt’s optimism. Online listening statistics showed a precipitous drop. One KPFA staff member commented, “It looks like Engelhardt pushed our listeners off a cliff.”
After this morning’s program, one long-time KPFA listener emailed that she was furious and the 8 am program was an insult, “Please!!! It is hard not to be just insulting, although I think the young women who ‘hosted’ the show mean well and are doing their best. Whoever thought putting on this amateur, cutesy, arty-farty, insipid show and calling it the morning show has no sensitivity to the morning audience of KPFA. ”
The lineup of volunteer hosts consists almost exclusively of people affiliated with the pro-Pacifica group on KPFA’s Local Station Board politics–the Independents for Community Radio. KPFA’s union, the Communications Workers of America Local 9415, has filed grievances and gone to the National Labor Relations Board over the terminations of Aimee Allison and Brian Edwards-Tiekert, who were improperly laid off. Pacifica has responded by hiring corporate management law firm Folger Levin, and forcing all grievances from KPFA’s union into binding arbitration–an expensive, time-consuming process that could wind up costing KPFA more in attorneys’ fees than the purported savings from staff cuts. Christina Huggins, the Executive Vice President CWA Local 9415, told KPFA News that the union has ample indication that the layoffs were politically and not financially motivated, and that she believes the dispute will go to court if it is not remedied any other way.
Pacifica’s Engelhardt told the Berkeley City Council last week that she had no plans to enter into negotiations with the union. Some staff members are urging would-be guests on the 8 am hour to carefully consider whether they want to support Engelhardt’s anti-union actions by appearing on the program.