The Saga Continues
The odyssey began on November 30 with a panicked phone call from KPFT Lonestar Jukebox host Rick Heysquierdo.
"It's over, man," he breathlessly informed me. "They won."
Wait a minute, Rick, back up. Who won?
"They did. The national board caved in. They're gonna fire me, they're gonna fire all the DJs. They hate me. They said I was the worst thing on KPFT. They hate music. They're like the Taliban."
And so began another foray into the Pacifica clusterfuck, where the left is pitted against the not-quite-so-left in an ugly battle for programming control of a few community radio stations.
Heysquierdo explained that the national board had met in Washington, D.C., in November and agreed to the dissidents' offer/demand that they disband and the board be reconstituted. New York-based rebel leader and former on-air Pacifica commentator Juan Gonzalez called it "an important turning point in the history of our struggle." Locally, it looked like the upshot was that KPFT station manager Garland Ganter would be fired. So, says Heysquierdo, would Heysquierdo.
Indeed, the results of an October "listener survey" printed in the semimonthly Houston Radio Report, the house organ of the KPFT dissident left published and edited by local doctor Dan "Chug" Jones, characterized Heysquierdo as "the most bloviating, egomaniacal and insincere [DJ] in the entire Houston radio wasteland" and a "consummate management lackey" who had bought off the media, namely former Houston Chronicle music scribe Rick Mitchell and yours truly, by offering them airtime. In sum, the report read, "No where [sic] is the stagnant cronyism of KPFT better demonstrated than the talentless Heysquierdo. And nobody, besides Garland Ganter himself, has done as much to destroy the community spirit at KPFT."
Heysquierdo took his plight to the airwaves on December 1, telling his listeners to go to his Web site (www.lonestarjukebox.com), where he had posted the lowdown about the caved-in board. Heysquierdo and assistant Rhonda Garner reported a deluge of supportive phone calls and e-mails in response, some of which also compared the dissidents to the Taliban and dubbed their de facto local leader Teresa Allen as "Teresa bin Laden." A Photoshopped picture of Allen with bin Laden's head attached some-how appeared on the Net. Heysquierdo says it was e-mailed to him by one of his listeners.
But the new national board was not to be, at least not yet. Since the December 1 airing of Lonestar Jukebox, two national board members (including Houston delegate Valrie Chambers) who didn't attend the November meeting have argued that the dissolution decision is invalid since they didn't vote in the election. The dissidents are outraged as never before. Gonzalez, writing on the activists' Pacifica Campaign Web site, threatened in true PC fashion to picket the wavering board members "on Christmas Eve, Kwanza, Hanukah [sic], or any other holiday."
Meanwhile, the local dissident cell had been operating as if victory were already in hand. At a recent meeting at Leisure Learning Unlimited headquarters on Richmond, the group appointed a shadow local advisory board and appointed freshly minted martyr Teresa Allen (who was recently arrested for trespassing at KPFT) as their emissary to a national board that technically didn't exist. They've been busy planning programming changes and operating strategies for the "new Pacifica" ever since. Allen and company say they won't fire Heysquierdo or Pickin' and Swingin' host Rick Gardner, even though the two are closely allied with Ganter. Ganter himself is another matter.
On December 5, KPFT volunteers met at the station for a briefing from the station manager. The room was jam-packed, so much so that Racket could only listen in from the station's anteroom. Pizzas were stacked high on the boardroom table, and the chummy mood at the meeting's outset, during which the DJs and staff members introduced themselves to hearty applause, was not unlike that of an AA meeting.
Ganter apprised them of the situation nationally and locally: The station as it is run today is still in grave danger, Pacifica faces a battle on many fronts, the situation is "fluid." Four unresolved dissident lawsuits have drained much of Pacifica's general fund, though none, Ganter was quick to point out, of the listeners' pledge money. Ganter hinted that as-yet-untraced and possibly right-wing money was funding the activists, which is a charge that the activists love to use against current Pacifica management. (Evidently Hillary Clinton had no clue how vast, not to mention vacuous, the right-wing conspiracy is )
The Pacifica Campaign's dirty tricks were discussed at length: the server-crashing e-mail campaigns, the picketing of board members' offices (and even, in one case, of a board member's child's day-care center), and the nuisance phone calls that stopped just this side of threatening. Now, all of the Pacifica Campaign's bile is focused on only two board members, who could cave at any time.
Ganter told the crowd that much of the vitriol coming from the dissidents was mere playa-hating. "They don't like it that we have new carpets and light fixtures. They think we've sold out."
But dissident Dan Jones sees Ganter as confusing KPFT's future with his own. According to Jones, KPFT will go on but Ganter will have to find a new job. "Garland will be replaced within six months," he says confidently. "The so-called majority members of the board are black guys who have allegiances with Mary Frances Berry, the head of the Civil Rights Commission. Those are not people who like Garland Ganter. Those are people who recognize Garland Ganter as -- for lack of a better word -- a redneck. The board majority doesn't like him, the board minority doesn't like him, and he walked around that national meeting in Washington talking to nobody."
Yet Ganter has his allies. Prison Show host Ray Hill's presence at the meeting no doubt irks the dissidents. After all, he is a founding KPFT member, an ex-convict and a gay activist who hosts an unassailable program for and about convicts. Hill has more battle scars from combats with The Man than any of them will ever likely sport.
"They plug my show on the music programs, and I get listeners," Hill told the hushed volunteers. "I like the music shows myself, and the folks in prison like the blues shows, because hell, blues is what prisoners feel."
KPFT Music Without Borders host and 30-year community radio veteran Rick Mitchell says that Hill's approval of the current regime was telling. "I think the fact that Ray Hill was there lends credibility to the notion that those of us who've chosen to remain on the air are not the sellouts that we are portrayed as by a very minuscule segment of the total KPFT community," he says.
"I don't see that as especially supporting Garland Ganter," says dissident Edwin Johnston in a phone interview. "Ray wants to be supportive of the station, sure. And Ray will be supportive of our changes as well, I'm pretty sure of that. We're gonna need Ray in the new Pacifica."
Ganter has at last addressed the chief complaint of many of his less rabid critics by hiring a local news director. Former Houston Press staffer and KPFT and NPR vet Steve McVicker's Between the Lines program will debut next month.
But could it be too little, too late? If the board should cave in, and Ganter should be fired, what then? Could KPFT become like Pacifica's Berkeley affiliate, where, as even the Nader-voting Mitchell puts it: "You've got the Marxist-feminists arguing with the feminist-Marxists about which should come first in the revolution that never happened. Boring!"
Mitchell is the first to tell you that the old Pacifica, specifically KPFT, is not perfect. "However, I think there is a much larger segment of the audience that likes the music, that listens probably more often than they used to when the programming was very fragmented, but at the same time realizes that being a commercial AAA format is really not what community radio is supposed to be like. They would like to see KPFT do more and better public affairs programming as well as keep playing great music. They're not about to be out there picketing the station -- they like the station -- but they realize that the balance has swung a little too far in one direction."
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