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Not a Dime

Marco here. Hear me out. This will take five minutes.

Not-for-profit Mendocino County Public Broadcasting has a bookkeeper, so General Manager and self-styled Chief Executive Officer John Coate doesn't have to do the books. It has a program director, so John doesn't have to direct programs. It has an operations manager to manage operations, and an engineer who can be called to come and engineer, and a "business support coordinator" to, I guess, coordinate business. And still John Coate is being paid a salary of, I piece together from various stories, $60,000 a year, the equivalent of 1,200 (twelve hundred!) yearly $50 memberships, to do what, exactly? Really, what? And just last year he dealt himself a ten percent raise. And when I suggested that he take a cut in pay instead, and pay off the station's debt and replace all the unreliable equipment using thus-freed-up money, he declined to comment upon that, and at the board meeting of two weeks ago the very idea of even diminishing his salary was declared ridiculous and laughed at. Meanwhile none of the people doing the actual work of radio at KZYX are getting paid anything at all, nor is anyone in management likely to offer to pay them. Which I hope doesn't seem right to you, because it's not right.

So when you're chirped at on the air by pledge-drive chuckleheads that KZYX needs your money to keep the bills paid and keep the shows you love on the air, the shows your friends do, you're being lied to. In fact if the pledge drive leads to $60,000, all those pledges, if actually honored, funnel into the bank account of someone who could literally vanish for weeks or months at a time and nobody but his fellow bureaucrats would notice. In similar news, if an entire year's commercial underwriting of the station brings in $40,000, that just about covers the salary of the man soliciting commercial underwriting for the station; it does nothing to pay the station's bills or help your friends in any way to stay on the air. $40,000 is 800 (eight hundred) yearly $50 memberships.

KZYX gets an annual grant of taxpayers' money which by itself is enough to maintain and operate the station in fair weather and foul. All the frenetic hustle and bustle of a pledge drive and its week or two of egregiously unlistenable begging, that preempts and steps on the shows that you have already paid to hear, benefits no-one but the few people at the top. Your friends who do the real work of radio, who prepare all week every week to do their shows and then do them, who are trying to do what KZYX is supposed to be there for in the first place, get nothing. They don't even get gas money to drive to the studio. Sure, they're happy to volunteer — I'm happy to volunteer at KNYO and KMEC — but why isn't KZYX's manager class happy to volunteer in return? The few tasks required of a radio station manager can be accomplished in two to four hours per month. If you must employ and pay a manager, why not pay him by the hour for that monthly short afternoon and pay the airpeople at the same rate for at least their on-air time? It can be done on a stipend system, like at any other small nonprofit organization, like at any theater company. And the decision to move forward in this way and climb out of a medieval feudal system and into an egalitarian progressive era can be made by the board members at their next meeting. I'm told they will never, that there's no chance, but if you give up then of course they will never.

This pledge week send a message to those board members by waiting. Just don't pledge. If you're feeling particularly brave, call the pledge line and briefly and politely but firmly tell why you're not pledging just yet, and ask the phone volunteer to pass the message along, and say goodbye and hang up.

Here, look at MCPB's financial report:

(Page 3 of 13 is for fiscal year 2014).

Skip past Memberships And Contributions ($314,730), Grant Income ($192,022)* and underwriting ($58,100) (which includes both commercial and private underwriting) and see the section just showing money actually paid out to keep on the air the shows you love and also the shows you love not so much:

For Programming and Production: $63,737 (most of this went to NPR and other shows produced elsewhere).

For Broadcasting: $133,313 (fees, studio overhead, electricity, equipment, transmission equipment and repairs, everything). (Notice: that leaves $60,000 of just the grant income untouched, and, also untouched, donations, memberships and underwriting.) Total: $191,927.

Now look at the section showing the amount MCPB paid out to just a few top people to be a collective hood ornament and look busy when there's anyone around to see, like for example during pledge week. This is where the rest of the grant income went, and all of the donations, memberships and underwriting:

For Management: $181,924

For Program Promotion: $76,708

For Fundraising and Membership Development: $50,256

For Underwriting Solicitation and Grant Solicitation: $44,046

Total: $352,934

Even if you figure it by management's own numbers, the station's budget is three times what it needs to be, all to pay entrenched bureaucrats, little people with a little power, resulting in interesting and quirky locally produced shows like mine never being given a chance, because management feels entitled to its power and money stream, like a big mean dog crouched down with its arms around all the food bowls pushed together, snarling as it eats and darting its eyes about the place.

Another result is accomplished, genuine, soft-spoken, well-educated, articulate airpeople like former Mendocino County Supervisor Norman de Vall and even former and future MCPB boardmember Doug McKenty being kicked out of their air gigs merely for not sufficiently stifling others' criticism of a few top people at the station. And Late Night Liz waiting seven years and still not being allowed to do the children's show that she can do so well. And so on.

It's up to the MCPB boardmembers to make progress with any combination of any of a dozen single strokes any time they're motivated to do so.

You can provide that motivation to improve KZYX by simply putting off pledging until you have some positive indication that change is likely to occur. For me, that would be their cutting off all management salaries and then negotiating from that point. You decide what is change and what isn't, and then donate or don't; it's your money.

— Marco McClean

PS. If you want to put a little money where it'll do tangible good right now, you can give any amount to tiny 107.7fm KNYO-LP in Fort Bragg ( or 105.1fm KMEC in Ukiah (, both of which, unlike KZYX, are entirely supported by and entirely responsive to the communities they serve, and are continually progressing and improving by being dedicated mainly to giving airtime to locals to do radio. I know for a fact that there are time slots open at KNYO. If you have ever wanted to do any kind of a radio show — written-word or interview or documentary or drama or variety or news or even just playing music — email (that's Bob Young) and say so, and there you are on the radio in Fort Bragg. And then if KZYX ever gets properly liberated and you want a countywide platform you can move your polished project over there, or use both, from wherever you are. Every second or third week I do my KNYO show from my wife's house a hundred miles away, using the web and equipment assembled for less than $200. There's never been a better time to do live creative radio. The very small amount of money that's really needed just needs to go to the right places and not the wrong people, that's all.

One Comment

  1. Diane Campbell February 18, 2015

    well that’s considerably more than 5 minutes to the end. But 5 minutes worth (1st 4 paras) makes the point. The rest is interesting too.

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