KZYX: Truth, Transparency & Term Limits

On a sunny late summer evening in Anderson Valley, seven KZYX Board members met with General Manager, John Coate and four members of the public to discuss station business. The meeting was held on September 10 in a high school classroom. Board member Laviva Dakirs was absent.

In an effort to set an informal and egalitarian tone, new Board member Eliane Herring (representing Boonville) suggested arranging four tables in a diamond pattern with no separation of space between Board Members and the public.

The meeting began with the Board updating their activities relating to KZYX since the previous meeting.

Fran Koliner reported tabling in Willits with the successful results of increasing station visibility and garnering several new members. Doug McKenty tabled in the town of Mendocino and also succeeded in increasing the membership. Board President, Bob Page noted that due to advanced publicity and a pre-drive mailer to members, the August 25th pledge drive was a resounding success — bringing in $18k before the drive began.

Public Comment was moved up in the agenda to allow those who wished to give feedback to the Board to do so without having to remain through the entire meeting.

Bob Cooper of Mendocino quoted the GM report in regard to the new news format. “When we can afford it we hope to make the news function more robust.” He commented , “It can never be when we can afford it. We have to afford it.” He went on to cite the position of former Chairman of the Board for CBS, Bill Paley on the subject of news programming losing money. Paley's response was that losing money didn't matter because news is a service that must be provided to the people. Cooper continued, “Five minutes of press releases, tides and weather just doesn't do it.” He added that listeners should have the opportunity to weigh in before program changes are made, not after the fact and those viewpoints should be taken into consideration when making final programming decisions. He also stated the station should use air time to make announcements for people, like himself, who don't use computers. Updated program listings should be mailed to listeners upon request so the wide range of programming could be fully appreciated and utilized.

Beverly Karkruff, whose classroom we were using, agreed, stating that more use of the radio to make announcements would be an inexpensive way to generate greater public response in efforts where the station is seeking public input (such as in the recent membership surveys.)

Former Board member, David Jackness was present as a member of the public. He commented that former Community Advisory Board (CAB) Chair, Frank Green, thought the CAB needed not only more direction from the Board but also a small budget to be effective in doing what the Corporation for Public Broadcasting charges it to do. That definition was included in the CAB report of February 2011: “To assist public broadcasting in being more responsive to community needs by providing for effective public participation in planning and decision making.”

Page responded that the CAB is currently regrouping to try to decide the best way to get public input as the two meetings held in 2010 were poorly attended.

This reporter (as a KZYX member) commented that the station's dependence on computers to communicate with their members relied on the initiative of those members to inform themselves of the station's activities. In the past, through the mailing of the now defunct newsletter, Radio Waves, and through its own air time, the obligation of information sharing was the responsibility of the station. In addition, I pointed out that the station has no real sense of how its members choose to get information about the station — a missed opportunity since that question could have been included in the March survey. One point the survey did clarify was that 74% of its members were over 55, an indication that at least a portion of that number may not be as computer proficient as younger members. To assume “that most members have computers” as was stated by Board member Herring is rather elitist as many people are feeling the economic pinch of their finances and, like the station, are living on a shoestring budget. Is the station being faithful to its mission statement “to respond to the needs of the community” when it has no accurate information on what those needs might be?

Coate's response was that surveys in the past were done with grant funding. Good surveys were scientific, expensive and difficult to design for accuracy. In that he has a point as even the CAB survey of 2011 admitted that non-on-line members were under represented. It also heavily favored responses from inland residents.

Coate, however, did produce the final numbers of surveys received —120 online submissions and 22 mailed surveys.

General Manager's Report — The mood of the Board was uplifted by the success of the August 25th pledge drive which exceeded its goal of $30k by 8k. A total of 430 pledges were received, 42 of which were new members. An additional 1400+ will be collected in monthly payments which will help defray operating costs. Only a small amount remains uncollected ($1,160) due to the increased use of credit card payments.

On the suggesstion of a member of the public at the July meeting, Coate compiled a Geographic Distribution list of KZYX members based on zipcode donations from August 2011 to August 2012.

Mendocino County — Inland 992; Coast 890; Anderson Valley 229; Other Counties — Lake 52; Sonoma 45; Humboldt 44. Other California areas — 149; Out of State — 25.

Operations — The new KZYX website is up and running. Coate credits the stellar efforts of savvy teenager Max Weyrich of Philo, who, he said, was responsible for many of the details. He also had help from a former SF Gate colleague, Jim Hoadley who now works with DealerFusion. According to Coate, the new website is more secure, easier to navigate and contains more available choices. It also allows every program to have its own blog with programmers able to post playlists, archives and news items. Several new features are the GM's blog and a Station Business tag where members can review bylaws, the minutes of past meetings and past audit reports.

The station is in the early design phase of developing a mobile app to allow easier access to KZYX programming for smart phone users.

Staff has completed the switch from ISDN (dedicated phone line) technology to internet protocols to connect the satellite stations to the Philo station. Aside from lower costs, the main advantage is greater flexibility in setting up broadcast points in other locations.

Equipment was upgraded that connects to the Content Depot satellite system — owned and managed by NPR. The equipment was supplied by NPR as part of the annual fee. Benefits include faster download speeds, more storage capacity and automatic backup.

Coate related that some areas on the North Coast can no longer receive the 88.1 signal due to the recent upgrade by KMUD to its alternate signal KMUE. That signal now coincides with KZYX's signal and although unfortunate for listeners, is legal according to FCC regulations. Coate feels the number of listeners does not justify the expense of relocating its 88.1 signal.

At last January's meeting, this reporter brought to the attention of the Board that an 800 telephone line had been disconnected by the station without much notice. At that time the GM alleged the decision had been made due to expense. When pressed for figures to verify the costs, Coate refused, saying the bills contained personal information. In his current report, the GM retracts his earlier position stating, “I made the decision not based on number crunching but rather, that with KZYX a deeply in debt non-profit, the responsibility of the calls rests with the caller. He further explained that the station still retains an 800 line for Willits residents as required by FCC regulation. Due to the fact that KZXZ's “community of license” is in Willits, the station must allow those residents to call the business office toll free because the office in Philo is not a local call for these residents.

The FCC regulation, though with good intent, actually allows some listeners greater access to the station at lesser expense. Why coastal residents are not given the same consideration was not explained. The GM's decision seems to conflict with the station's Mission Statement: “The station seeks to foster increased communication among all groups in the county and make access available to all points of view.”

Programming — In a year with a record number of program changes, the station was forced by PRI (Public Radio International) to juggle two more programs into new time slots. PRI has changed ‘The Takeaway’ program to a one hour format and restricted the time when the program can be aired. ‘The Takeaway’ will now air at 6am and move Al Jazeera to 5am.

Other programs not previously mentioned that are now filling the void left by the discontinuance of BBC programming are Midnight Special, Snap Judgement, Music City Roots, Commonweath Club and Inside Europe.

In regard to news programming, Coate intends to make the news function more robust sometime in the indefinite future. He added that the news may have a new format than either of its last configurations.

Finances — As of September 5th, the station has a $10k-plus net gain over expenses. However, despite the success of the August one day drive, the station is still treading water. Coate states that three profitable years in a row will be needed to dispatch the debt from previous years which stands at $43k.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has changed the way it administers the Community Service Grant. It will now allocate 70% in the fall and 30% in the spring to allow greater flexibility in the station's budget.

Coate reported that the process for invoicing underwriting clients has improved, resulting in more prompt payments.

The final numbers are not yet in for the station's two most recent fund raisers — The Bastille Day Event and the trip to Giant-Dodger game, although both were profitable. Total fund raising for the FY 2012 was $18k.

The Fall pledge drive is scheduled for October 20th.

Transparency — A great deal of discussion was generated by what Board member Doug McKenty termed “the perception by members of the lack of transparency of the station.” He remarked that his show, Open Lines, feels like a steam vent for members’ frustations and favored a once a month show for a roundtable discussion with Board members. The option for a similar show for the Community Advisory Board (CAB) to connect with the public easily, without incurring out of pocket traveling expenses was another idea that would open a superhighway for the public to participate in Strategic Planning decisions — a task that is currently delegated to the CAB.

Discussion of programming choices could also find a home in a CAB Open Lines show which would help foster a more interactive and harmonious relationship between the station and its members. The possibility of an evening show was brought up to enable the viewpoints of those people with day jobs.

McKenty also suggested a 5th Friday Open Lines show that could be information sharing about station business.

All of these possibilities would bring the station more in line with its Mission Statement — “that its programming and operational philosophy is controlled by its members.”

McKenty said he would love to direct listener comments about the station’s functions to an appropriate show where an open discussion would be welcomed. Coate felt he had put a lot of work into the Internet website as a communication network for members. The Board acknowledged his accomplishment as significant. Board President Page responded that new programs would be a audio way for people who don't use computers to get information and can be viewed as the ability of the station to provide options.

Several items relating to the topic of transparency were found on the new KZYX website.

I was drawn to the fact that all of the names of the Board of Directors were listed without contact information. This was surprising as former Secretary of the Board, Katharine Cole specifically addressed this omission on the old website as an oversight and added the contact information of that Board. As elected representatives of the members, privacy is not a privilege Board members can require. Email addresses are the least intrusive and should be the minimum information posted.

As I had asked the Board for direction regarding Article XI Section 6 of the bylaws — Membership Inspection Rights — in regard to the NPR contract, I was surprised to see a response, not from Board members but on the GM's blog. Coate's explanation for witholding that information is: “Confidentiality of that contract is protected under Calif. Civil Code Section 3426-3426.11 — The Uniform Trade Secrets Act. So we aren't going to give out the details of that contract. That doesn't mean we aren't transparent. It means we maintain responsible mutual business relationships with our contractual partners.”

If members are denied inspection rights, then surely Board members as the actual owners of the station, have the right to review contracts.

Another item that might slip under the radar is a notice in the GM blog that the Public File which is now required to be held at the physical location of the station, will soon (no specific date) be required by the FCC to be available only online.

Term Limits — Board member Eliane Herring placed Article VI Section 6.02(2)of the bylaws on the agenda for discussion. That passage limits the term of the Board of Directors to no more than two full consecutive terms. She made the argument that some people would like to serve longer. She said she was lobbied very hard to be on the Board and when they have good people, the Board should try to keep them. She favored amending the bylaws to language that would place no limit on terms of Directors.

Board member Fran Koliner commented, “There have been times when people have become so entrenched, they stay on the Board forever. When new people don't come in it becomes like a little club.” She felt Board members need to have time off and the Board also needs to have change. Koliner said she could see the light but she could also see the dark side. Board member David Hopmann pointed out that neither he nor David Jackness would be affected by this bylaw change. David J. has already left the Board and David H .will be leaving the Board before the bylaws change would become effective.

It was decided that Herring would come to the next Board meeting with the specifics and wording for her proposal. The Board would then vote on whether to put the bylaw amendment on the spring election ballot for a vote by the KZXY membership.

Member Ed Keller initiated a discussion about opt-in online membership voting in Board elections. Questions of cost, security, staff time and the bylaws were considered. Coate thought it could be accomplished through a PIN number. One thing that wasn't discussed was how the current process ensures the independence of staff and management from the voting count — a process that is currently contracted out to a private entity.

Another question which needs to be explored is, in light of many botched state computer elections, whether computers, being fallible, can give 100% accuracy and reliability. In addition, how would a recount work in the case of a close election? Records? Paper accountability?

In other business, Keller proposed tabling at the Ukiah Farmers Market in the upcoming weeks to increase outreach from the station to the public.

Board member Holly Madrigal asked the Board to consider having a fundraising workshop to discuss the advantages of various suggestions in terms of cost, energy and success.

The Ball Game — An amiable group of 33 set off to what they hoped would be a Giants win over the Dodgers last month. We had a lone Dodger fan along which kept the banter lively. The food and drink were plentiful and the faithful were not disappointed. The seats were at Club Level farther along the 3rd baseline — not the best prospect for catching foul balls but no one cared as they saw Buster Posey sky one into the centerfield seats. The Giants shut out the Dodgers 4-0. The group returned well after midnight tired but contented — a great fundraiser!

The next meeting of the Board will be on November 12th at the Coast. Location to be announced on air and on the website kzyx.org.

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