Growing pains at KZFR
Why did the Program Council resign— and what does it mean?
Emotions were close to the surface during a recent gathering of the former members of KZFR’s Program Council. Voices competed. They finished each other’s sentences. Declarations of devotion to the community radio station were offset by frustrated grumbling about the direction KZFR might be headed.
It was the first time the group had met since announcing its mass resignation in an April 26 e-mail sent out to KZFR programmers. The message in the e-mail was simple, albeit a bit ambiguous: “Because paid staff has been added to KZFR, the purpose of the PC has been changed. The current members feel we should step back and allow the BOD, staff and strategic planning group to decide how the PC can be more effective.”
Some former PC members—there are seven total—seemed to think that the ‘community” is being sapped out of community radio, since decisions on programming are now being made by one person. Others say it’s only natural that the council’s duties have changed since the station brought in a paid, full-time general manager three years ago.
Now it seems to be a matter of defining who does what. During the get-together at her south Chico home, Bobbi Tryon, a KZFR volunteer programmer who had been on the council for six years, dropped her head, her eyes peering over the top of her glasses.
‘Give us a job description of the Program Council. Give us a job description of the general manager,” she said. ‘Right now it’s as clear as mud.”
The Program Council, which was put in place when Erik Mathisen started KZFR in 1990, was originally responsible for scheduling and evaluating all of the station’s programming, as well as training, certifying and evaluating programmers. However, since the station hired General Manager Jill Paydon in January 2004, its role has become blurred. Under new bylaws, revised in April 2007, the PC is no longer responsible for training, and the selection and evaluation of KZFR programs are now “subject to finalization and implementation by the general manager.”
This has some worried that the station could be losing the very element that makes it community radio—its volunteers. What finally set things off was when the Program Council made a recommendation on the Friday-evening slot, only to have it filled with a local news show.
“If Jill is making all of the decisions, where’s the community in that?” former council member Laura Sederberg said. “It makes more sense that we work together.”
She says KZFR is experiencing some growing pains, but like others she is optimistic that the latest shakeup is only temporary.
Sederberg isn’t the only one who thinks KZFR could do a better job of using volunteers as a resource. “It’s hard to disagree with that,” said Dan Carter, vice-chairman of KZFR’s Board of Directors.
Carter recognizes that there has always been a bit of a power struggle between the PC and the BOD but added that the members of the PC could have been more patient before jumping ship.
“One of the biggest problems at the station is we’re like four horses with a cart pulling in different directions.”
The station is holding a strategic planning retreat in early June that staff and volunteers hope will be the catalyst for defining the roles of all bodies.
Jill Paydon is no stranger to community radio. She came to Chico three years ago from Arcata, where she worked for the Mainstream Media Project, a nonprofit that brings top speakers on political and environmental issues to mainstream radio shows. Prior to that, she worked at Humboldt State University’s non-commercial public radio station KHSU for a decade in a number of positions, including general manager.
She said it became necessary to have a person on board at KZFR who was at the station on a daily basis, “basically to stabilize the internal operation.”
Paydon insists she has no plans to change how the station functions, explaining that it would be impossible because of the nature of the community’s involvement.
“The only reason I came here for the money I’m paid was to be part of a volunteer radio station,” she said.
The other paid staff position belongs to Alina Neacy, who serves as the station’s operations manager. Neacy said the role of the PC had to change when a GM came in. She says Paydon is ultimately in control, but that the bylaws didn’t reflect that until recently.
“It was just a necessary process in the evolution of the station,” Neacy said.
In the studio during one of her recent radio programs, Tryon, who plans to go on the strategic planning retreat, said the current situation is classic of community radio. She hopes a clear organizational diagram will emerge that involves community members who can feel that they’re making a difference. Although Tryon is optimistic, she stands firm that decision making can’t just fall on paid staff.
“I think things will work out for the best,” she said. “It’s just a lot of tug and pull.”