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Fear & Loathing at KZYX’s Philo Fortress

Having sat on the sidelines, watching the intensity of dialogue increase as the upcoming KZYX election nears, I took the time to research the KZYX “myth” of an incident that occurred over 20 years ago at the Philo studio. Unlike oral history which can be embellished and distorted through repetition, the demonstration on October 12th, 1993 was videotaped by coastal resident, John D’arcy.

The now historic confrontation between Beth Bosk and over 50 supporters with KZYX management concerning the cancellation of her radio program, The Fourth Gate Gazette, without explanation, as documented by video footage, was, in fact, orderly, peaceful and above all, democratic.

According to Bosk, a few posters put up along the coast and in Boonville was enough to galvanize community support for reinstatement of Bosk and her show. The tape revealed the large gathering outside the station discussing options on how to proceed with negotiations.

This was the era of the timber wars when courageous people first began using the tactic of tree sitting to prevent the logging of old growth redwood trees. Bosk had done several shows with direct reports from the vantage point of sitters up in the trees giving accounts of the often hazardous confrontations with loggers and their chainsaws — the equivalent of assault weapons of yesteryear.

The faces of many prominent residents flashed by as Earth First! activist, Judi Bari, megaphone in hand, spoke to the group of the necessity of defending the right to have community access to those people who were in the heat of battle. She advocated that the station's Board of Directors, as community representatives, convene to reconsider management's decision.

A consensus was reached by the group to ask the station for an hour of air-time for the assembled protestors to present their views in a legitimate way. An attempt to dissuade the group from walking into the station en masse was unsuccessful. The door, previously locked, was opened to peek outside allowing someone with a quick foot to jam it in the open space and the outsiders filed in.

KZYX Philo (photo by Jennifer Waits)
KZYX Philo (photo by Jennifer Waits)

The Program Director, Nicole Sawaya, then appeared to set the ground rules for air access — a three minute time limit for speakers. Sawaya explained the pre-emption of the scheduled program to the listening audience saying that “community radio was about supporting news as it happens. The gathering in support of Bosk and her program was community news and, as such, deserved to have their views heard.”

Only about a third of the group came to the microphone, among them such local household names as Sharon Doubiago, Naomi Wagner, Louis Korn, Linda Perkins, Norm de Vall, Polly Girvin and Judi Bari. Bruce Anderson's youthful face appeared as well. Many more were familiar faces of neighbors from Albion — many at the forefront of the timber struggle. The unique quality of Bosk's show, covering local issues that mattered to the community was a frequent comment as well as the importance of the diversity of local ideas and issues that could not be found in corporate news coverage.

Gordon Black, in defense of management's decision took the microphone to say that the issue wasn't censorship but Bosk's “incessant concerns.”

Bosk had had several disagreements with Phil Tymon, the General Manager, who had recently been imported from New York's public radio station, WBAI. She opposed Tymon's plan to buy property in his mother's name on which he planned to relocate the station as a conflict of interest. She was also against his attempt to fill a Board seat that was, at that time, specifically designated for Native Americans, with an out of county Native American acquaintance.

Tymon had the last say, stating the reason for taking Bosk off the air was due to her disruptive behavior, not censorship. He promised a structured mediation to attempt to deal with the issues raised in good faith. He also promised Bosk she could have her show back on the following Tuesday.

Bosk described her hearing before a personnel committee as “phony baloney.” When she arrived on Tuesday with her guest, former District Attorney Susan Massini, despite Tymon's on air promise, they found themselves both locked out.

Why is what happened 20 years ago relevant to the KZYX of today?

The answer lies in a private memo to the Board of Directors from General Manager John Coate, published in the Oct 9th issue of this newspaper. What begins as a summary of an audited report of finances for the year 2013 outlining the station's financial health which Coate maintains is evidence of his responsible management, quickly devolves into a rant against the editor of the AVA, the ultra political left, McKenty and “his group” stating, “They are the same people who tried to take over the station in the 90s, they are the same people who screamed at us in Fort Bragg in 2009.” He then dismisses the serious issue of not following regulations and policies as “the argument during jour” and asserts that the motivation behind the criticism is political.

Coate was not around in the 90s so all of what he pretends to know is hearsay and like the child's game of “telephone,” where something is whispered in someone's ear, by the time it gets through the line of ten people, it is all inaccurate to the point of fantasy. In fact, the only person who was there in 1993 and is still a programmer, was not the current Program Director Mary Aigner, as some would suppose, but Gordon Black, still the avid defender and stalwart supporter of management.

Coate's accusations are not true. We are not the same people.

I was too busy raising three sons to be interested in the dynamics of radio management in the 90s. I was back East when David Hopmann, as Board President, gave those who came to support Christina Aanestad's return to the news department two minutes each to express themselves and reportedly wielded the gavel like the hammer of Thor.

The faces have changed but the issue of having membership involvement in programming decisions and strategic planning has not.

Coate's assertion that members via the Board control programming and operational philosophy is laughable. It is obvious to many that the current Board sees its role as team players whose main interest is to back the General Manager and his staff — the people who now make 100% of all decisions including which Board policies can be disregarded. Like corporations co-opting the government of the people, there has been no real representation of the interests and views of listeners and members for years and no viable volunteer program of merit for a decade. The real bottom line of the discord, current and past, is inclusion vs. exclusion.

So how does someone fall so precipitously from the station's grace?

How does one go from being voted “Volunteer of the Month” by KZYX staff in the summer of 2004 to being defamed in private and in public, not only by the General Manager but by his support team of programmer loyalists?

One way is guilt by association. Surprisingly, it is not mentioned in the Bill of Rights protections given to the people.

Another look back into the past… 

The timeline gets a little fuzzy but it was during the time I was still under contract to do maintenance for the station. A group of four people, including myself, were carpooling to Ukiah to give input to the Health & Human Services subcommittee meeting on the ill fated medical marijuana regulations whose main intent, it seemed, was to get some cash flow into the County coffers. I was driving and along for the ride was Beth Bosk, Jeff Wright and another proponent of the “less is more” philosophy.

As we neared the Philo studio, Wright suggested we detour to the station so he could pay for some books he had bid on at a recent KZYX fundraiser. Bosk was against the idea as she was at odds with the station management over giving a program to one John Sakowicz who, ironically, is the one Board member who stands alone among the current Board in siding with discrimination complaints against the general manager. As the driver and one who also had an unpaid pledge to honor, we proceeded up the KZYX driveway. All four of us went into the station to find Coate at the helm with only one staff person and one volunteer present. Wright and I pleasantly presented a combined amount of several hundred dollars to Coate, one person used the bathroom and Bosk tried to set up an appointment with Coate to work out their differences. I overheard Coate tell Bosk “I don't talk to anyone who writes letters to the AVA about us.”

We went blithely on our way, not quite realizing that in Coate's paranoid state of mind, he had narrowly escaped another “STATION TAKEOVER.” I was later questioned by Coate about that encounter and unknowingly, sealed my fate as a suspected “co-conspirator” when I admitted to being the driver of the car. High drama.

That was about the time the station staff (Rich Culbertson and Mary Aigner) started getting weird about my having the key to their office. Excuses were made and their offices didn't get cleaned for awhile. The air was thick with suspicion.

Somewhere in that timespan, the incidents (two) W.Dan Houck referred to in his letter of 2/19, of having the station go off the air while I was vacuuming occurred. Rather than destroy any computers or knock out any equipment as Houck claims from what can only be hearsay from the mouth of Operations Manager, Rich Culbertson, (as I was alone at the station at the time), I handled the situation as professionally as I could. I called Culbertson for help, got the station back on the air, followed his instructions to apologize for the technical difficulties and played some CDs to fill in the time missed on a prerecorded show. It seemed my music choices and handling of the situation was apt enough to warrant praise from Aigner and an offer to have my own program. I politely declined.

photo by Jennifer Waits
Philo Studio (photo by Jennifer Waits)

So was it my bad? Maybe, but never in my vacuuming history have I ever had that experience before or after. At the time it was attributed to faulty wiring at the station but that might make it Culbertson's bad and he is still there while I am not. And as we all know, it is the conquerors who write history.

Coate terminated my maintenance contract several months later “for financial reasons” soon after Aanestad used my name in her complaint (with my permission) against several of the station's staff for inappropriate behavior. Not a word was said to me about broken equipment because there wasn't any permanent damage done to the station. That is part of the fantasy storytelling on the part of those who persist in creating enemies where there are none. Far from being embittered or disgruntled, I accepted management's authority to cancel its agreement with me.

When Aanestad was “laid off,” (She later applied to the station for the job that David Brooksher got, only to be refused by Coate because he didn't like her hard hitting investigative reports that didn't exactly line up with Coate's news agenda) I wrote a short piece for the AVA giving my perspective that community efforts to pay for Aanestad's return to the air waves were futile because the financial explanation Coate fervently espoused was “smoke and mirrors.”

Officially, up to that point, I had only lost my paid services and I was still part of the volunteer news staff. However, in attempting to file my next school board report, I was told by the News Director, Paul Hanson, what had become the unwritten official policy of the station: “You can't write for the AVA and expect to work for us.”

It was the culmination of the writing on the wall (done in invisible ink) where months before the ax fell. I warned fellow stringers that their job security was at risk. Hanson's attitude toward volunteers was that he was the big cheese from the city with commercial radio experience and we were just local country mice who should be content to feed off his largesse.

That was, of course, before his nefarious exploit of the dark world of lottery fraud (which made the front page of Portland's Oregonian newspaper) became known in the tiny hamlet of Philo. The exposé dropped into the hands of the station's Public Enemy #1 — the diligent editor of this publication.

I watched in dismay as I saw the carefully constructed cooperative news department built through more than ten years of hard work by the previous News Director, Annie Esposito, be dismantled piece by piece.

So that is how the “enemies list” at the station gets formed — not by true acts of espionage, lies or destruction but by affiliation with a growing base of critics who want more community involvement in public radio's decisions and true representation by members of the Board.

The formation of KZYX Members for Change is meant to be a positive step toward building a union for the protection of, not only volunteer, programmer and membership rights but also as support for Board members who have the courage to defy the “one think” philosophy of current management. It is a consensus based, equality driven, loosely organized group with no head or leadership figure.

In trying to get signatures for a petition to the Board to implement common sense democratic practices like the publishing of the Board's agenda online and a monthly on air Board Open Lines program, we found it necessary to amend our petition to include space for ex members and listeners as we discovered that so many people no longer choose to support the station with donations.

The term “team player” in vogue with the governance structure of KZYZ&Z is just a euphemism for “our way or the highway” or, dare one say, the other red button “F” word one rarely uses today — fascism.

When the Board of Directors rises to the task of setting in place the infrastructure for communication not only between themselves and KZYX listeners and members but among the members themselves as is their right so stated in the station's Bylaws, my work as a community witness, reporter, and union builder in regard to station business will become unnecessary and thus, will fade away.

It is sad to watch the station circle its wagons and play the blame game when all that is needed is an open mind and the will to democratize the decision making process for a true sense of public radio as community driven.

The next meeting of the KZYX Board of Directors will be on March 3rd at the Fort Bragg Senior Center at 6pm.

The author wishes to acknowledge the contribution of the late Hunter S. Thompson to the title and for inspiration for this article.

9 Comments

  1. John Sakowicz February 26, 2014

    Great article, Shelia. Thank you for reporting truth to power. And thanks to the Anderson Valley Advertiser (AVA) for publishing your article.
    Your reporting of how the station’s dissidents have been shabbily treated in the past — management’s way or the highway — puts in context the very serious issues that now confront Mendocino County Public Broadcasting (MCPB) as we find ourselves two months into 2014.
    Past is prologue. History tells us all we need to know. The tragedy of five separate objections to the renewal of the KZYX and KZYZ licenses that have been currently filed at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to date is yet another chapter in the ongoing story of organizational dysfunction. The intensifying civil war that has plunged MCPB into crisis could put the station’s survival at risk — but it’s a risk worth taking.
    We at “KZYX Members for Change” — the de facto resistance movement — look forward to the day when the station’s 2,300 members, and 100 volunteers hosting shows, have some say in governance. Currently, we have virtually no say in governance. The station’s current management model of total, autocratic control has proven to be utterly unworkable, with a small minority of staff — and a Board of Directors handpicked by the station’s general manager — now controlling decision-making, while the voices of the members and many of the volunteers hosting shows are ignored.
    As a footnote to the Board’s elections, note how the political left justifiably denounces the credibility of elections in countries where only a small percentage of the potential electorate votes, yet here at MCPB we have the same phenomenon. Management has created an electoral process that continually produces few voters and small turnouts.
    Barring any true democratic process of governance at MCPB, we’ll see how the FCC weighs in.
    The Corporation for Public Broadcasting ((CPB), which funds public broadcasting, may also weigh in.
    As they say in the Occupy Movement, “”Resistance is fertile.” And so, my friends, I guess we’ll see what grows in the fertile soil of resistance at MCPB. Thank you.
    John Sakowicz, Ukiah

  2. Vicki Oldham February 27, 2014

    I am in a hurry so can’t write the point by point message pointing out the BS of these two articles. I have been a supporting member since the beginning of the station. I have experienced it’s history.
    If you believe your cause is just then don’t use half truths to support your whine. You are causing more harm than good.

  3. Vicki Oldham February 27, 2014

    Please Explain.

    “The station’s current management model of total, autocratic control has proven to be utterly unworkable, with a small minority of staff — and a Board of Directors handpicked by the station’s general manager”

  4. Vicki Oldham February 28, 2014

    Still waiting an explanation of the “Hand-Picked Board??? Were you also Hand-Picked John? Knowing the community as I do you were the less of two evils vote. That’s why I voted for you.

    • chewsome March 8, 2014

      Not really wanting to speak for John Sako, but he has fairly recently conveyed an allegation that he was discouraged to run for the Mendocino County Public Broadcasting Board, by the KZYX General Manager who is subject of this discussion.

      Of course this allegation probably cannot be substantiated, but may speak to character and modality of the GM.

      In spite of the alleged tenor of opposition to running by station management, John persisted to seek the position, prevailed in the past election, and is influencing the story line for current Board election cycle.

      Perhaps you would ask if John were hand picked for the rogue’s gallery, but I digress.

  5. Paul Andersen March 5, 2014

    KZYX is a joke today. Actually it’s been a joke for some time. When I lived in Mendocino County 200-2004, it at least had a semblance of local news coverage. It at least mostly listened to its listeners. But with the retirement of several key figures, it has turned into an insular group of people with access to public funds to do whatever they think is best with no real public input. KZYX could be a very useful and dynamic public radio station, like KMUD in Humboldt County. Instead it has devolved into this.

  6. Liz Haapanen March 7, 2014

    I remember the incident when Beth Boak and others took over the air at KZYX. It was almost as radical as when they reported via walky talkies from the ground during the Albion uprising– most exciting local live radio I EVER heard. It seemed to me they were getting too radical and each time someone else left, I recalled that incident. How does Kmud manage these things? I heard the candidates for the next board speak about this and wonder. As a listener and a member, I am disappointed to have witnessed the station go from dynamic to dull. I hope that closure by the FCC is not the next direction the station takes, but something needs to change. Most people point to Mary Aigner as the problem as she wields her will there with her aspartame voice… But she is also the one who is always there. No answers here. Just another listener who has followed these things for 20 years and has seen good people banished. The election board discussion earlier was the most honest thing I’ve heard on the kzyx in years. Too bad there was no one to tell us about the Navy visiting the Redwood Coast Senior Center TODAY at 5:00 to tell us how they plan to kill whales with sonar, bombs and such, right here off our coastline! I love what KZYX is trying to be, despite human frailties.

  7. Mary Jane Sheppard March 10, 2014

    I can’t find the article, “Sako Faces His Critics” online. Can someone direct me to it?

    • AVA News Service March 10, 2014

      You couldn’t find it because it wasn’t posted. Thanks for alerting us to the omission! Now it can be found: theava.com/archives/29466

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