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What’s Wrong with KZYZ? (Everything)

Sean Donovan, Then & Now

(I asked Marco McClean why KZYX was always asking for money. MM being the county's premier radio guy with a thorough understanding of how radio works or doesn't work, who better to explain the KZYX dilemma than him? Of course being smart and lively, MM was immediately banned by KZYX in its first year by its Trumpian founder, Sean Donovan, who not only milked the enterprise for his "work" founding it, but structured its administration so it would always be dominated by its staff and programmers.)

Take it away, Marco:

I was told, as a condition of getting the circa $150,000 a year (!) Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) grant, KZYX must have three full time employees on the books, whether they're doing anything or not. They're doing something, mostly maintaining the posture to continue to be an NPR-colonized money pump, which they and the nearly opaque NPR organization benefit greatly from. The management/employees to MCPB, like KZYX to NPR, and in a sense the other way around, have a similar symbiotic kind of relationship, like those fish that thrive by living inside the mouth or asshole of another bigger fish. And the operations manager has to occasionally replace a microphone cord or light bulb. A radio transmitter is more reliable than your refrigerator. It runs and runs all by itself and you never need to mess with it except to throw out old food every once in awhile and arrange the power cord so you won't trip over it and pull it out of the wall; that's pretty much the only thing that ever goes wrong: somebody unqualified tries to defrost it with a screwdriver and punches a hole in a coil. One time in fourteen years of operation of KNYO's transmitter a cooling fan failed. The transmitter got hot and shut off. Bob, qualified, got another fan for $5 and screwed it in. Voila.

KNYO has all the responsibilities of paperwork and other compliance (music publishers' fees, keeping the internet on, etc.) that KZYX has, with no need for a program director, and at KNYO the management pays itself zero for managing, which with how cheap radio really is, and no advertisers to worry about pleasing or pissing off, comes to about an afternoon per month of actual busy-work for a single person per station. Bob Young does the necessary tasks so there's a radio station for him to do his show, and for all of us at KNYO. Airpeople present themselves, whether in the studio or by remote, do their show, normalize the board and switch back to automation, the same as any radio station. KZYX has a bigger transmitter and so a bigger electrical bill than KNYO's, but there's no excuse for KZYX costing $600,000 a year. There's no real excuse for it to cost even a third of that, like $200,000, which is close to what it cost to run commercial KMFB, whose only government grant was the license to broadcast, and everyone at KMFB was paid. Airpeople were paid by the hour and got a cut of the underwriting we brought in. Bookkeepers have been using computer programs to keep books and write checks for a long time now. It's not massively harder for the computer to print forty checks than to print four. The manager just has to tell the bookkeeper to tell the computer to do it. 

The first job of a manager of any business is to pay the workers before she pays herself. Everybody knows that. But the manager of KZYX pays the airpeople nothing. KZYX has never paid the people who do the work the radio station is there for in the first place.

Just the money that the management suite sucked out of KZYX for themselves during this single year --approaching $300,000-- would fully fund KNYO for at least twenty years and maybe twenty-five, including rent on the storefront studio in town, and electricity, and water to flush the toilet, and all the legal bells and whistles. If KNYO were to abandon the Franklin Street studio, which is an option, $300,000 would pay for KNYO till nearly 2200 A.D. including moving the transmitter trailer to higher ground because of sea level rise.

If every one of the people actually being paid at KZYX were to go on half-pay for a single year, which is still decent money for this area, they could afford to build a modern-battery solar power plant at the transmitter site on the mountain and another at the main studio, and they'd never have to worry about power outages or electricity bills. And that same money over the next year, and each year after, would easily build another entire radio station like KZYX, with everything in it, everything it needs. And still, every day and every night they beg for ever more and more money, to change nothing and add nothing and improve nothing as though they're constantly on the ropes. Every penny you donate to KZYX goes into the personal bank accounts of the handful of people in the office. It isn't just the program director that's unnecessary, it's the manager too. If the manager of KZYX, who's also the CEO of MCPB Corp., and who pays herself $60,000 dollars a year, were to just on a whim decide not to show up this week, or this month, or longer, everything would continue as normal. The computer in the garage would continue to play the usual recorded crap from a thousand miles away, the local airpeople would continue to show up and do their shows. The manager has a bookkeeper to do the books for her, a program director to, ahem, direct the programs, an operations manager to manage the operations (see light bulbs and mic cords, above), and a business underwriting coordinator to coordinate the business underwriting. What's left for the manager to manage? You asked a good question. What are the program director and the manager doing for the station that's really worth more than $100,000 a year between them, when all the local airpeople of KZYX doing all their shows all year long all put together are apparently worth nothing to management? 

Lew Chichester Comments:

Thoroughly enjoyed Marco’s expose of KZYX and why do they always need money. In Round Valley we have had an all volunteer FM station for almost ten years now, broadcasting to our limited area community announcements, high school basketball games, an eclectic mix of various music types, many of the Mendocino County produced programming options, an intentionally limited amount of national syndicated public affairs presentations, and live on air interviews and disaster reporting. We have received awards for outstanding public service during the August Complex fires here. We can do this for about $800/month. Power, phone, royalties, repairs and equipment upgrades. No program director, no station manager, no business manager. If a station has a news department with reporters daily digging up information and putting a program together I can understand a budget to pay them, but the overhead to run a station is really very minimal. When we were originally figuring out how to do this we received some good advice. “Don’t talk to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or get involved with NPR. It’s a trap!” Thankfully we took the hint, and we can serve our community without excessive expense and the never-ending need for more money.

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