How I Got Fired From KPFZ

Part 1: The Descent

“Oh boy, you’ve really done it this time”, I thought to myself as I walked down the darkened hallway to the back door of the KPFZ’s Lakeport studio. I had just finished my regular hour-long Monday evening shift, and was also certain I had just ended my job as a programmer. It had been a good run with over eight years of live weekly news broadcasts and years more of filling-in, I was one of the handful of programmers left who could claim to have broadcast from all three of the studios the station had used over the years, and twenty years ago had attended the very first programmers meeting.

For months the axe had been hanging over my head, four times I had run afoul of the station rules and this was the third time this year, there would be no more month-long suspensions this time-this was it and my gut knew it. The first trouble I had was when I called the sheriff, county supervisors Tina Scott and Jim Steele “liars”, when they signed their names to a ballot statement for a county-sponsored tax measure that made the claim that county employees had only gotten a 3% raise when supervisor Steele had gotten a 10% raise and so had (more or less) everyone in law enforcement. 

It was absolutely correct to say that these three individuals had in fact not just lied but had also committed a crime by signing a ballot statement they knew to be false, but that didn’t matter because I broke the station’s “no name-calling” rule, though the station management has never identified what constitutes a “name”, so it was a completely subjective call made by the board of directors. Many programmers had on many occasions referred to Trump as a “liar”, but that was different the board members explained to me, because he was further away. Local politicians had to be treated with more respect than the president I was told, and surely their lack of concern for the orange man had nothing to do with the board being comprised in large part by members of the Lake County Democratic Central Committee and their acolytes, and the Lake County Democrats also being an underwriter at the station.

The second time the hammer came down was when I called the county administrative officer Carol Huchingson some name I forgot, it wasn’t obscene, it was just something crude and possibly vulgar-but not a FCC violation, which I never managed to commit. This time I was livid over the treatment of the replacement for our retiring Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley’s second-in-command, Maria Valadez, who now works for Mendocino county as their deputy registrar of voters. Maria had earned the job with her 17+ years of service and was highly thought of by all the regular visitors to that office, and it was clear that Hutchingson had deliberately tried to keep her from getting the job by trying to add an insane requirement that the registrar have a degree in political science that Huchingson knew Maria didn’t have.

The upshot of all this is that after going through several temporary registrars, they just lost the newly hired one because Huchingson had according to her Linkedin posts, made her six-month tenure as the Registrar miserable with her bullying from day one. Of course none of this mattered, because even though a loyal county employee had been shamefully treated by her boss and the county had wasted a lot of time and money trying to find a replacement(s) while the critical elections department was set adrift and left to deal with new and troublesome voting machines on top of everything else-all that mattered was that some subjective and ever-changing line had been crossed and I must be punished.

The next on-air mess occurred when I said the station’s board of directors should “get off their asses” and ask the county supervisors for a rate reduction on the fee charged to use the transmitting tower on Buckingham peak, a county owned property. I had been the strongest proponent of doing this at the station for years, ever since I found out the station was paying around $9,000 per-year to use the facility, which was roughly a fifth of the station’s budget.

Every imaginable reason for not asking the BOS sooner had been used by board members in the past: the station president at the time was county supervisor Jim Steele’s wife so for some undefined reason it had to wait, the District Attorney was a board member and programmer so that would be “awkward”, we had to “wait for the next election” to maybe improve the chances of success, after the election the timing was still not optimal so years went by with it not making it onto the BOS agenda.

I made one last series of emails to the station management and board members while continuing to talk about it on-air, but even with recent direct contact with the board regrading this issue and having devoted more air time by far than any other programmer to the subject, no one had bothered to tell me that they had submitted a request for it to be agendized and it would be before the BOS in a couple of weeks. Thats when I said they needed to “get off their asses”, which was a violation of station policy since I had criticized the board on the air. This was my third strike, and I knew I was hanging by a very thin thread that they would find a way to break in the near future.

The final round came about in a particularly annoying way, as I handed it to them on a silver platter. For eight weeks I had been suffering with a splitting headache from one of my epic sinus infections, and I was really in no shape to be on the air, in fact I had cognitive issues so bad and so often that I had to research dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms to make sure this wasn’t a more serious problem than a head full of snot. A sensible person would have asked another programmer to fill-in, but there was always one issue I wanted to talk about or bit of news I wanted to share, so the sensible me lost-out to the ego and I kept bumbling my way through the shows.

It was a slow news week and the call-in phones had been unwilling to ring, so I scanned my cheat-sheet of notes for something local to keep from shifting to national politics, which I would only do when local news stories petered-out. The recent story about teen pregnancies in both Lake County and statewide caught my eye, and I proceeded to rattle-off a ton of statistics including the one that showed teen pregnancies here had significantly decreased in the past year-though we were still in sixth from the bottom in state rankings. What I also thought was noteworthy was the fact that Black and Latina teens were 3-4 times more likely statewide to get pregnant than the rest of the population, so I mentioned it. 

 I then had one of those rare moments when I had a flash of terror over dead-air worries when I couldn’t get enough brain cells to fire-up and help me figure out where I was going with all this. Seconds seem like days at times like that, and I found myself a lot more concerned about keep talking than what I was saying, and wound-up blurting out that the Black and Hispanic communities should be “ashamed” of the huge disparity in the statistics and that they needed to fix their societal problems that were causing so many of these teen pregnancies.

It was an incredibly dumb and crude way to make a point without giving any context, and then hoping to make it clear my goal was to improve outcomes and not simply to gripe or shame people, I simply said having this huge disparity undercut everything that was being done to help these communities, and knowing I was in dangerous waters left it at that and failed to talk about what I thought was an even bigger and more disturbing waste. The really tragic loss is that when a teen girl has a child in a lot of cases it limits what they can achieve in life, and they, their community and humanity all suffer from the loss. My daughters have achieved great things in their professional lives and I think about what could have been lost if they had a child as a teenager, I wouldn’t want any girl or her parents to be deprived of that same feeling of success and the pride and happiness it brings. Of course raising a child is a great achievement too, but not many 15 year olds are up to it and having kids is a decision children should not be making in the first place.

The subject also brought back a weird memory from my years in Sacramento, when I met a young black girl at a 7-Eleven next to the Black projects near my home, who proudly announced to the clerk and I that she had just found out she was pregnant. The girl was quite young, and when the incredulous clerk asked her how old she was, she replied “fourteen”. She went on to say she had her dreams come true, she didn’t have to go to school and she could sit on the couch and watch TV all day-she claimed she had a perfect life now. 

She then explained what she would say to the authorities to keep her older boyfriend out of trouble and from having to pay child support, and rattled-off in amazing detail a list of benefits she was now eligible for. It was an astounding performance from start to finish, and when it ended the first thought that popped into my head was that if the GOP ever found this girl they would have one damn effective TV commercial on their hands, as here was your textbook case of teenage “welfare queen”. The second thought I had was that someone older had told her all this stuff, she didn’t learn this by doing the research herself. The clerk and I had pretty much the same impression, this girl had peaked at age fourteen, it was almost like she had died. That sense of lost potential stayed with me, tax money having to be spent caring for unplanned children is a bad thing, but that squandered human potential was far more important, and that was the main point that I failed to make when I went on my on-air rant about the teen pregnancies.

3 Responses to "How I Got Fired From KPFZ"

  1. Marco McClean   January 10, 2020 at 2:25 am

    So apologize to Maurice for saying Walt Whitman was queer, and come in tomorrow morning and do your show like nothing happened. (ref: /Northern Exposure/)

    Seriously, though, the business about their threatening your airtime for criticizing local politicians or the board and management of the station– that’s criminal on their part; it chills freedom of speech. If somebody in power doesn’t like being called a liar he should stop lying, or he should come on your show and try to make a case for himself about not being a liar.

    Freedom to say only what a good ‘ol boy’s supposed to say is not freedom. And here in America if the Constitution guarantees your right to call the president of the United States, the most powerful person in the country, a /lying piece of shit, a money launderer, a tax cheat, a welcher, a serial cheater, a coward, a bully, a spoiled demented giant whining baby, a racist who tried to incite New York into lynching five innocent kids/, which it does (guarantee that right), and which he is (all those things and more), how is it that the board of a pissant corporation granted control of a radio frequency by the Federal Communications Commission can forbid you to similarly disrespect them and their friends in positions of Podunk County power? On the air.

    Marco McClean

  2. Eric Sunswheat   January 10, 2020 at 5:26 am

    A public figure is a person, such as a politician, celebrity, social media personality, or business leader, who has a certain social position within a certain scope and a significant influence and so is often widely concerned by the public, can benefit enormously from society, and is closely related to public interests in society.[1]

    In the context of defamation actions (libel and slander) as well as invasion of privacy, a public figure cannot succeed in a lawsuit on incorrect harmful statements in the United States unless there is proof that the writer or publisher acted with actual malice by knowing the falsity or by reckless disregard for the truth.[2] The legal burden of proof in defamation actions is thus higher in the case of a public figure than in the case of an ordinary person.

  3. Betsy Cawn   January 10, 2020 at 7:54 am

    Readers are well advised to refer to the Federal Communications Commission online publication, “The Public and Broadcasting,” and understand the constraints imposed on content providers and operations management, which endow the public (i.e., listeners) with responsibility for making the distinctions between probity, propriety, and “political correctness.”

    While the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the “right” of “free speech,” operators of public broadcast media are obliged to stay within the FCC “guidelines” that leave open the option of criticizing public officials and public policy. The problem at KPFZ revolves around private policy created by the authority of the California public benefit corporation’s board of directors, which prohibits criticism of issues sensitive to individual members, when those issues involve elected officials with whom board members are closely tied.

    The corporation’s board members with such affiliations lean toward constraining such speech in a manner reflective of commercial radio design, in which content favors sponsors — an age old battle that began with definitions of allowable content censorship by commercial funders (advertisers) a century ago.

    This constraint undermines the promise inherent in the station’s “mission statement” — “to provide a voice for freedom of expression and cultural diversity in the community.” “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is a dicta that inhibits necessary challenges to unethical or incompetent public officials, introducing the shadow of censorship in a process that is fraught with peril when overly-anxious and insecure decision-makers fail to recognize the difference between malicious intent and impaired judgement.

    “Name calling” is a tactic that is commonly deployed by less than critical thinkers, a common activity found in the comments on the AVA, for example. Poorly constructed opinion undermines the speaker’s intent to engage listeners in the effort to challenge public policy, and Phil’s “crime” was that of sloppy construction and lousy delivery — due to the mental/physical impairments of his mind, as he explained.

    The principle error underlying the current dispute is the fairness of KPFZ’s board members’ exercise of authority over a particular programmer’s flaws, while failing to address similar flaws in other program producers — a long-standing problem that numerous programmers have struggled with for years, under the threat of exclusion by a perceptibly biased core of decision makers.

    This fundamental error is unchallengeable when corporate self-interest is used to protect public officials whose political positions are shielded by the “special immunities” of their sinecures in local government. Put plainly, we can’t — on the air — talk discuss incompetence and malfeasance of these politicians whose friends and wives on the station’s board of directors, because programmers are prohibited from discussing the board’s internal actions.

    This prohibition is sadly reflective of the less than ethical and intellectual capacities of local officials with the willingness to abuse the good faith invested by tax payers and contributors on both sides of the equation, for which the radio station has a greater responsibility to exercise its editorial powers for the benefit of the paying public.

    Exercising editorial control is tricky business on any day of the week, and KPFZ’s board of directors wields its authority with care but less than well-informed cognitive processes. Fortunately, most supporters of the Lake County “community radio station” are irrepressible proponents of basic principles established by the founders of the nation, even when some of its programmers exhibit cognitive, emotional, or social ineptitude.

    And the tradeoff is well worth the struggle and strife. Without this artistically crafted service in Lake County, all we would have is Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — so-called “social media” — and the “monetized” radio and press products whose survival depend on the approval of highly biased revenue sources.

    As always, we are looking forward to the next chapter in Phil’s report and the ever potent responses of AVA readers. Solidaridaj!


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