Mark Schubb
General Manager -- KPFK
North Hollywood Ca. 91604

Dear Mr Schubb:

This past Saturday morning it was my pleasure to be one of the phone room volunteers during the programs that air from 6am through 10am. I have been a regular listener to these shows for many years, and now that I am retired, I have time to aid the station in this way rather than through larger contributions.

In this connection (and though this not the main subject of my letter) I would very much like to see KPFK bring back the "students & retired" subscription rate. It is my belief that having this as an official option encourages those who don't feel that the regular rate is appropriate to their circumstances.

Back to Saturday morning: At the conclusion of my shift, I was made aware that the Sunday evening show Folkscene would not air the next day and might not be returning at all. As it happened, I had not renewed my own subscription that morning; I supported the Saturday shows with my presence and had planned to phone in during the Larman's show when I knew I would not be available to answer phones.

At first I thought there might be some kind of temporary difficulty here; the notion of Folkscene going away was just too unthinkable. But after making a number of phone calls and being copied in on other people's email, I know that the problems here are more serious. I have taken the time to discern the facts about what is going on here and also to write this letter. This brouhaha is about a lot more than just the Folkscene program or any one program. And if the station management isn't real careful here, the consequences of losing this program may be more serious than anyone at Pacifica wants to accept.

Public broadcasting, especially the Pacifica variety of it, lives or dies according to the willingness of its audience to provide financial support. KPFK is even more vulnerable to public whim because it has chosen not to accept even the thinly disguised commercial involvement we hear on, for example, KUSC. This gives KPFK at lot of freedom insofar as programming choices are concerned. One could bring to mind all of the alternative view politics brought in by the various programmers, but my main focus here is on the alternative music programming. Much of what is heard musically on KPFK wouldn't stand a chance of being aired on even the most off the wall commercial stations in this market. But where there is great freedom to engage in alternative programming, there is a commensurate obligation to satisfactorily serve the constituency that supports the station so that their personal musical itch will get scratched. Over time there has developed in this radio market a sense of community among the people who listen to the music programming on KPFK. One has only to spend an hour being a phone volunteer during these programs to get a sense of the deep seated loyalty to these programs (and the programmers too I might add) shared by the audience.

As an example (albeit an extreme one) of this loyalty I offer the following. Between 7 and 8am on Saturday I had the pleasure of taking a call from a Ben Elder fan who was in a position to donate $150 to the station. He declined the film club. An hour or so later my line rang again and it was the same man. Telling me how much he enjoyed the John Davis program he pledged $300 and declined the film club. When I had thanked him at length for all this he told me that if I were still there at some time later that afternoon, I'd be hearing from him again and then again on Sunday too. There were also the countless people who called in and pledged $50 or sometimes less to keep their favorite shows on the air. My point here Mr. Schubb, is that no enterprise dependent for its survival on the generosity of people who could just as well hear the show for free can afford to alienate a loyal audience.

And alienate them you have. By the inconsiderate and perhaps duplicitous way in which you have dealt with the Folkscene programmers you have done great potential damage. Not only will there be harm to KPFK, but as the public becomes privy to the real facts of what happened, your credibility and that of all the station management will suffer. I am truly at a loss to understand how management could so utterly fail to comprehend this. Do you people really believe for example, that all the support that gets pledged during these music shows is from people who just love KPFK and Pacifica and all it stands for and they just want to do their part for "fiercely independent radio"? If that were the case, then why isn't the level of support the same during all the hours of fundraising? Of course we both know the answer: it's the size of the audience and the loyalty of the audience during these time periods.

Now I want to address specifically the Folkscene matter. Let's forget all the blather about the show being on the Internet, etc. What all this is really about is just one Giant Control Issue. The station management seems to have decided once and for all that they are going to own that which the programmers provide for free. Now this doesn't matter all that much for those programmers that just spin records. Their creative energy is in the selections they choose and in the manner of presentation. But this has no perceived commercial value. What the Larmans do however, is an entirely different matter. Oh sure, they spin a lot of records too, but their connections and knowledge about the musical niche in which they specialize transcends that of even people "in the business". Consider their reputation among artists in this genre. Go back and listen to the promo for this show that aired over and over where one of their guests lamented that nothing like this was available in other markets. The musicians that appear on this show, that travel everywhere pursuing their art, they keep coming back and sending their friends. The interviews and the music just keep rolling on. Do you think for one millisecond that these guests show up having gone out of their way to get here to play a gig for an hour that pays them not a dime so that they can help build an audience for your station? Not a chance. It's time the station management got a reality check. These artists show up because it's Folkscene; they come to do the show because it's Howard and Roz. Don't believe me? Okay then, how about scheduling 7pm on Sunday as the Mark Schubb Show. And you go on the air and pitch for support dollars. Just for added fun, tell the listeners that you are the Larman's replacement. And let's find out if what I have said about listener loyalty and love is true or whether just anybody can go out there and do a music show.

Another point: Although public broadcasting employees are frequently grossly underpaid for the amount of time they put in, the programmers (who make it all happen) are even more underpaid. Have you thought at all about the fact that the people you just thoughtlessly dumped off the schedule have been doing this work for over 30 years. And not just doing it for free. Oh no, it's less than free; it costs the Larmans and the people on their staff money just to do the program that you get for free. All those who have helped in making this show happen over the years, from those who run the boards to the ones who schlepp equipment up and down the stairs are doing all this because they believe that the music is important. Those who come in and answer phones are there because they believe the program is important. Even if you had the budget for it, you couldn't pay me enough money to get out of bed at 4:30 on a Saturday morning and drive across town to answer phones. But I did it for free because the show is important.

And now we're expected to believe that after all this faithful service the Larmans are all of a sudden trying to screw KPFK out of something that belongs to the station. Not hardly. Those of us who have known Howard and Roz for most of that 30 years are more suspicious of station managers who wouldn't know good music programming if it ran over them in the road. Sorry to have to say it, but that's you Mr. Schubb. Your actions in this matter prove it. All that stuff about station liability if the Larman's do something with their material is just so much bull. (expletive deleted.) The Larmans have been doing this for long enough to understand about things like getting signed releases from artists and agents. Or making sure that the artist has a final say in what gets aired or released. Besides that, their legal counsel is just not going to let them do anything or sign anything that exposes them or KPFK's deep pockets to scurrilous lawsuits.

What's really going on here, and what I sincerely hope gets exposed to the public is this. KPFK management has decided that what Folkscene has produced at its own expense does have value. And it might even have commercial value. And so the name of the game is now "find a way to control that value". Well you will not succeed in this attempt. But you have succeeded in throwing away the crown jewel of all KPFK's music programming. It's a really dumb move.

I have been shown a copy of an email sent to a friend wherein you urged your reader to try to get the Larmans to reconsider their decision to not sign the agreement they find unacceptable. Well I'm going to do better than that. I plan to contact those other KPFK programmers known to me and urge them to rescind their own signing of the agreement. An even better outcome would be if you and whoever else is in charge at KPFK would recognize that a very bad thing has happened here. Admit you guys made a mistake, do whatever you have to do to fix it. After that we can all hopefully move past this unfortunate low point in management / programmer relations with the result that the station will be stronger than ever. And then I will be able to resume my own financial support of the station as well.

The Music Continues -- if not on KPFK, then verily in our hearts.

Bernie Buller

 

bh.buller@pobox.com

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