Rattle and Humbug

Cronyism! Nepotism! Backstabbing! Secrecy! So that's why they call it "community radio"!

"That's what we'd hoped to accomplish by reinvigorating the community advisory panel," adds Bob Gist, citing a plan to establish an auxiliary board of local notables to focus on procuring major gifts. "But the community should have a fair amount of control," he cautions. "Our funding sources right now keep us that way."

Morgan, the board member/contract staffer/radio show host who also co-owns the Delmar Lounge, is another booster of the community advisory panel. But pressed to name someone who has served on the panel, Morgan cannot recall a single name. This might be because, as Hacker concedes, "the community advisory panel has not really ever gotten off the ground."

Tom Thomas is the founder of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters who is now CEO of the Station Resource Group, a Washington, D.C.-area outfit that provides strategic consulting services to community and public radio stations. Before he held such prestigious titles, he served as KDNA's station manager during the station's final year on the air (1973) and was influential in the formation of Double Helix, which, after fifteen years of providing audiovisual services to the likes of Ralston Purina to scrape by while struggling to secure a frequency, spawned KDHX and dhTV. Board members who don't feel as though fundraising is one of their obligations should "quit the board," says Thomas.

Kelly K. from Thee Raspberry Company, photographed
Ire and nice: To some, Double Helix executive director Beverly Hacker is a visionary genius; to others, she's a reckless megalomaniac
Jennifer Silverberg
Ire and nice: To some, Double Helix executive director Beverly Hacker is a visionary genius; to others, she's a reckless megalomaniac

"Anybody who's part of an organization that depends on the community to sustain itself who is not willing to take a strong role in asking others to support it is not taking the appropriate fiduciary role," he elaborates. "That's true if it's community radio, a hospital or a theater."

Ultimately, Gist admits, a hardy influx of outsiders like Love might be the only solution.

"We need fresh blood, always, but the poor attendance of the board and committee meetings have been the status quo since I came on board," says Gist. "Most people get involved for the programming, which is a fun thing, whereas the boards and committees are work. We are kind of a closed loop, this organization. A lot of employees come out of membership. It's tough to get outside that circle."

If one were attempting to boil down the current crisis with a political analogy, one might say that Hacker's Andy Card is attempting to hijack the Union from Barroom Bob's George W. Bush. By law, of course, the chief of staff isn't supposed to usurp the commander in chief.

Or, as Tony Renner puts it: "Baseball would be a whole lot more entertaining if you could get the runner out by throwing the ball at him. But those aren't the rules."

Still, KDHX, an entity rife with checks and balances designed to give power to the people, isn't quite as simple as a slow roller to second.

"Bev's turned it into a business because she had to. Transmitters don't grow on trees," radio historian Frank Absher says. "The way it's set up, it makes it virtually impossible to manage, because everything has to be approved by boards. A real radio manager would go crazy, because the manager's power is so limited by [Double Helix's] constitution. What this begets is political infighting. KDHX has so many people who are desperate for power that they're eroding what the station's doing. The backstabbing there is almost equivalent to what you'd see on a network level."

Maybe so, but such power struggles are hardly unique to KDHX, says one national authority.

"They have been in a strong period of growth over the last four or five years," notes Carol Pierson, president and CEO of the Oakland-based National Federation of Community Broadcasters. "At some stations, that's created a lot of conflict between people who have different ideas about the mission of the station. When a station can reach kind of a clear consensus about what the purpose of the station is, that helps to pull people together. There may be difference of opinion, but it's not usually quite as divisive as when there isn't kind of a clear, shared mission."

Even if Putnam and Hacker fail to reach détente, the former's term as board chair ends in February. By then, under the best-case scenario, the board will have adopted a new set of personnel policies, a process that's already in motion. One might imagine that such a turn of events would serve as legislative salve for a wide-open wound. But should said revision require Hacker to provide the board with unfettered access to employee personnel files, the executive director might find herself in a sticky predicament.

None of this, however, should threaten the life of a station that, pimples and all, enjoys a devoted following in the city -- or at least in its pale-faced half.

"The station will exist in spite of itself," predicts Absher.

For some, though, the current stagnancy is a glass half-empty.

"After sixteen years," says Renner, "KDHX should be in a lot better shape than they are."

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