A Clash of Cultures

KPFT bids goodbye to its embattled boss

Ray Hill, who managed the station from 1980 to 1981 and hosts its popular Sunday prison program, echoes Coover's broad-brush metaphor. "When they look at radio, they say, 'Oh, we'll paint with this broad, homogenized, multi-colored brush,' " Hill says. "But in radio, there's no such thing as a broad, homogenized, multi-colored brush. Brushes come one color at a time."

But longtime KPFT volunteer Carl Gudrian is one who thinks Forbes' changes were overdue. "To me, KPFT was sort of turning into the daily parade of victims -- 'Okay, here's two hours of this oppressed group, here's this other oppressed group.' All you can really do is talk about how oppressed they are," he says. "But now there's some entertainment. If you listen to a community station, when they don't provide entertainment they try to shame you into listening to it, like it's your duty to listen to this now. Well, fuck duty."

As Forbes tells it, many of his critics were people who resented losing their shows and felt that certain subjects or types of music belonged to them. (Hill and Coover, however, weren't among those who lost their shows.) "It's like some people fencing off a public park and saying, 'This is my property,' " Forbes says. "No, it's property for everybody. And park rangers have to make sure it's accessible to everybody."

But the ranks of the unhappy extend beyond hosts with bruised egos. There were loud protests from listeners as well, among them gays and lesbians who protested after the popular "Wilde'n'Stein" program was moved and reformatted. (Ironically, Forbes is openly gay.) And, say Hill and Coover, after Forbes proposed scaling back Meena Datt's Indian show from three hours to one, Datt's fans threatened to withhold their sizable contributions to the station, forcing Forbes to capitulate. (Forbes' version is that program director Garland Ganter offered Datt four hours on Saturday afternoons -- a less popular time slot than her Saturday-morning show -- but she turned it down, and as a compromise Ganter gave her two hours. The show now runs 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday.)

Coover maintains that, in the end, Forbes was run out of town. "It just wasn't a real good match," he says. "Barry has a real corporate, bureaucratic attitude. That just didn't fit the station."

But if that's the case, Forbes' boss certainly isn't saying so. Pacifica's David Salniker says he asked Forbes to take the satellite job because he's suited for it, not because he sparked controversy or lost listeners and money.

"Obviously there is strife at the station," says Salniker. "But we cannot broadcast in the '90s precisely the same program we broadcast in the '70s. And any manager that comes in and leads an effort to have program evaluation and program change will have controversy."

How Forbes' leaving will affect KPFT's schedule is uncertain. Garland Ganter, Forbes' second-in-command, has taken over as interim manager and may be offered the GM's job on a permanent basis. Forbes, for now, is working on the satellite project out of his Houston home. Asked what programming changes, if any, KPFT listeners might expect, Salniker first emphasizes that the national office tries not to interfere with local programming. He then offers this nugget: "My own understanding is that some of the changes [from a year ago] had already been under some analysis as to whether they had perhaps gone a little too far."

Ganter himself is keeping mum. It's just too soon, he insists, to comment. But he admits that certain programming decisions may be up for review. And, he adds, "nothing [Forbes did] was ever cast or carved in stone.

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