The "Healthy Station project" comes to KPFA

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Lyn Gerry

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Jul 10, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/10/97
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Lynne Chadwick, co-founder of NFCB's "Healthy Station
Project" named as new manager for KPFA
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On July 3, 1997 KPFA management announced that Lynne Chadwick,
Director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, would
take over for outgoing KPFA GM Marci Lockwood. Chadwick is one of the
founders of the "Healthy Station Project" which pushed community
stations toward commercialization and "professionalization," and
advocated the use of more paid staff and a reduced role for community
programmers and members in decision-making.

The Grassroots Radio Coalition, whose second annual conference will
take place at the end of this month in Boulder, Colorado, is composed
of a growing number of stations who have rejected the "Healthy
Station" premise. In many cases, these community stations have had to
fight long hard battles to take their stations back. Because of this,
the GRC conference attendees understood and were supportive of Free
Pacifica delegates who attended last years conference to publicize our
struggle.

This a further ominous step in the program of the current Pacifica
regime of Executive Director Pat Scott, whose "5-year Plan"
articulates a goal of re-creating Pacifica Stations as a "professional
broadcast organization."

Jesse Walker, a community broadcaster and journalist, has provided the
following excerpt from a work- in -progress which explains the
"Healthy Station" project and the struggle against it. (WERU is one
of the co-founders and sponsors of the Grassroots Radio Coalition.)

For more info on the GRC, visit the GRC website:
http://www.kgnu.org/grassroots

In an excerpt from an early draft of a forthcoming paper, Jesse
Walker wrote:

"It is now common for NFCB administrators to denounce the "old hippie
paradigm" of diverse programming and volunteer-based management. Paid
staff, they suggest, should call the shots.

This came to a head in the late '80s, when the NFCB and Public Radio
International (then called American Public Radio) launched the
Blueprint Project, a CPB-financed "consulting initiative." When APR
dropped out, the NFCB rechristened its efforts the Healthy Station
Project. According to the program's coordinator, David LePage, the HSP
was simply "a curriculum designed to support and create successful
local stations," a "method of facilitation and training." It "brings
no hidden plan or agenda, no magic wands, no predetermined programming
answers. . . . The HSP evaluates a station's health based on its
behavior and performance in relation to achieving its mission, not in
relation to any particular program format or organizational
structure."

This was a half-truth. The NFCB's advice did vary from place to place,
depending on what content it felt would build audiences in each
particular locale. But the form that content would take was
distressingly -- well, blueprintish. The HSP consistently called for
reducing the power volunteers have over both station management and
the content of their shows. HSP stations were also to embrace
predictable strip programming. Their music would be more homogeneous,
more "consistent." Oddball shows that didn't immediately fit the new
format -- the new "mission" -- would be dropped, no matter how popular
they may be.

The idea, derived from the research of programing consultants George
Bailey and David Giovannoni, was that listeners like predictability --
that if they tune to a station Monday and hear Public Enemy, then try
again Tuesday and get a Gregorian chant, they won't come back.
Obviously, there's some truth to this, and many community stations
have successfully gained listeners while maintaining their eclectic
identity by arranging a more logical flow from program to program. But
it's also true that variety can be a station's selling point, its
niche, especially if those varied shows are hosted by talented,
knowledgable DJs. Wipe out that variety and fire those volunteer
hosts, and your station will be headed for trouble.

One of the first testing grounds for the HSP was WERU in Blue Hill
Falls, Maine. Just eight years old, WERU has only six full-time and
one part-time paid employees, plus about 150 volunteers. Important
decisions are made by all -- one person, one vote. Its funding comes
mostly from local sources, although it also accepts CPB subsidies.

Enter the HSP, represented by LePage, Bailey, and a handful of WERU
staffers. It didn't take long for the project to wear out its welcome.
Cathy Melio, WERU's present station manager, recalls what happened:
"It seems that their advice was that in homogenizing your programming,
you'll have a lot more listeners and thus you'll be more 'healthy.'
And we challenged that. We said diversity is the strength of community
radio. Your community is not homogeneous, and thus your programming
shouldn't be." And: "Their advice was to let the staff make the
decisions and volunteers follow them. But we stood up for the
volunteers." The interlopers were eventually ousted, and the station
has continued to prosper, recently moving to new quarters.

Less fortunate was KOPN in Columbia, Missouri. KOPN had hit financial
hard times, thanks largely to problems that had beset its onetime cash
cow, a fundraising bingo game. It was widely agreed that some sort of
change was needed. But what kind of change? The station had operated
without any paid staff for its first two years; it then hired one
manager. Then, from 1976 to 1980, the number of paid workers jumped to
25 -- 23.5 of them paid out of grants. When the Bingo crisis hit,
station volunteer Jay Teutenberg pointed out that the previous "year
the staff's salaries amounted to $145,000, approximately half our
budget. This year the station will carry forward a debt note of
$20,000, in addition to the other accounts payable. . . . [I]t has
been their salaries and their decisions that have created this dire
situation."

That was not the HSP's diagnosis. "They now use [the budget crisis] as
an excuse to take control away from the volunteers and community,"
reported Teutenberg. "David LePage has laid it out in black and white
terms, either we can lift the budget to $400,000, or we can run at
$100,000 with no paid staff or CPB . . . funding. No one has talked
much about what it would be like to run without paid staff, just left
it as sort of an 'unspeakable horror.'" And so KOPN took the Healthy
Station road, displacing volunteers with paid hosts and homogenizing
programming along "Adult Album Alternative" lines.

Different stations reacted to the HSP in different ways. Back in the
Blueprint Project days, WRFG, a KRAB Nebula station in Atlanta, found
itself in the unlikely position of being told to throw blues programs
off the air -- in the name of "multiculturalism." The NFCB also
advised it to replace volunteers with paid DJs and streamline its
programming. These changes were unpopular with the station's
listener-subscribers, prompting the station to reverse some of the
changes. The NFCB then withdrew, claiming that WRFG "wasn't serious"
about becoming healthy. At KVMR in Nevada City, California, the HSP
may have been ultimately beneficial for the station -- but not in the
way the NFCB intended. As one staffer reflected, "One of the positive
effects of the HSP was the fundamental problems at KVMR were brought
out into the open. This was not necessarily the intention of HSP but
the anxiety of the volunteer broadcasters about HSP resulted in
several meetings of broadcasters, staff, KVMR Board and, at one
meeting, David LePage. The result was loud and clear. Not only were
the broadcasters worried about HSP changing the community basis of the
station, but the broadcasters did not like the content of Board
decisions, the manner in which the Board made decisions and its
arrogant attitude toward the broadcasters and the public." In other
words, by threatening to make KVMR less democratic, the HSP prompted a
more thoroughgoing democratic revolution.

Several people have praised specific aspects of the HSP, particularly
its requirement that individual stations determine their exact
missions. But as a whole, the program met resistance in almost all the
stations it invaded. Today, it is in remission, though HSP-like
efforts continue to occur around the country -- most notably, at the
Pacifica network". (Jesse Walker can be reached at
jwa...@w-link.net)

David Giovanonni, an HSP proponent and professional consultant, has
been employed by the Scott regime to as part of the strategic planning
process. He has advised that Pacifica "moderate its message" to reach
a larger audience as well as institute "strip programming." The
implementation of this advice is one of the most controversial aspects
of the struggle within Pacifica; it has resulted in the removal of
programs with a community activist orientation, long-form lectures and
experimental cultural material.

Lyn Gerry
http://www.radio4all.org
http://www.radio4all.org/freepacifica


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