Letters

Week of December 17, 2003

Bah, "Humbug"
Take cover!As someone who worked with many of the original KDHX people and who was undermined by Bev Hacker and her cronies and eventually tossed out unceremoniously by Ms. Hacker, I can't say that I approach this letter without prejudice [Mike Seely, "Rattle and Humbug," December 3]. The one thing I can say without question is that KDHX and Double Helix "eat their young" every few years.

I can place myself in Ms. Hacker's shoes as a previous member of management. I was program director in 1993 and again from 1996 through early 1998. I cannot and will not sympathize with Bev Hacker.

The structure of the whole organization is so unwieldy that it is almost impossible to enforce any standards. Once you try, you are accused of being a Nazi; "trying to take the place commercial"; "not having the right set of ears" for the place; not "understanding the purpose of community radio"; etc. For example, Bev, then a board member herself, was a leader in trying to stop me and the manager in charge when I tried to implement something as benign as drive-time traffic reports. Her rationale: "If I want to hear traffic reports on the radio, I'll tune somewhere else." Of course, my point was I wanted KDHX listeners to stay with KDHX and not tune away for anything.

Bev claims she has turned things around at KDHX during the past eighteen months. She's been manager since 1998. What was she doing before? Bev and her cronies on the board stood in the way many times of changes that other station managers tried to make to better KDHX. As the cliché goes, her birds have come home to roost. Now Bev is in hot water with volunteers and board members because she is trying to implement things the way she sees fit. Bev, welcome to the wonderful world of community radio, where friends can turn on you in a split second. Now you know how it feels!

Volunteers and the board complained about salaries back when I was P.D., making all of $20K per year and carrying a pager 24-7. I guarantee you the station manager was not pulling in anywhere close to Bev's $50K salary.

KDHX can provide interesting programming and interesting perspectives. dhTV probably should be spun off as a separate entity, because they will always be a poor stepchild in the Double Helix Corporation. Trying to find a "good guy" in the mess that has always been Management vs. the Board and Volunteers is like trying to choose between Saddam and al-Qaeda. As one who has participated in overthrows and who has been overthrown, all I can say to the innocent bystanders is: Take cover. Boy, am I glad I'm on the outside of this one!
Terry B. Moses, former program director & volunteer, KDHX
St. Louis

Who needs a story when you've got Eric?I don't know what is more frustrating: reading yet another article about bickering and infighting at KDHX or reading yet another shallow, gossipy, innuendo-filled Riverfront Times article. KDHX is an incredibly valuable community resource that deserves thoughtful discussion about its mission and direction, both from inside the organization and in the broader community. But your article provided little help. It mentioned that the executive director and the board president had different visions for the station -- but never told us what those visions were. Instead, Mike Seely devoted two pages to a pointless story about whether or not a certain programmer was drunk on the air and whether or not the executive director followed the personnel manual correctly in disciplining him. None of this has much relevance to the thousands of KDHX listeners. As a former Double Helix board president (present when KDHX first went on the air) who doesn't know the people currently leading the station, I offer the following thoughts:

KDHX needs to clarify its mission and purpose. Does it want to be more a of a "radio club" where the volunteers are the most important constituency, or a "radio service" where the listeners and the programming are most important?

A station that depends on listener contributions should provide financial transparency. There should be no need for secrecy. Board members should not derive any income from the station (whether as employees or contractors).

The executive director should be able to make hiring decisions, but common sense dictates involving others in the process to gain consensus -- especially when some candidates can cause concern about nepotism or favoritism.

Board members need to be leaders in fundraising and community outreach. I know of no other major nonprofit where the board can wash its hands of fundraising. Board membership should not be a popularity contest among volunteers.

The legal structure of Double Helix makes it easy for small numbers of disgruntled volunteers to block change. Consensus around mission and a strong dose of good will are required to transcend petty politics.

dhTV is a different animal from radio, but it can provide a needed service. Limited distribution and the cost of TV production mean that viewer donations will never sustain it. If it can be financially viable from the cable contract, both Double Helix and the community benefit.

Finally, St. Louis is darn lucky to have KDHX. The many talented, dedicated programmers have brought us countless hours of magical, gorgeous, outrageous radio. Yes, the station could be more diverse. Yes, it could do more to discuss important issues (why was Democracy Now canceled?). But what's needed is real dialogue about the station, not sensationalist sniping.
Eric von Schrader
St. Louis

This just in:Nowhere in Mike Seely's sensationalistic silliness (this just in: not-for-profit has internal conflicts and political squabbles just like a real business!) does he mention what an increasingly rare and wonderful thing community radio and KDHX is. The supposed tension at the station is no worse than it's ever been, far as I can tell, and what might exist is consistent with most not-for-profit groups I've encountered, or any gathering of human beings totaling three or more, really. Strong-willed, opinionated people will sometimes disagree on matters of policy and protocol. Some decisions will be questioned and occasionally even motives. This is cover-story news?

KDHX 88.1 FM existed before I got here, and with God's grace and a little good planning, will still be on the airwaves when I'm old and deaf from too many years of loud music. If Seely's article had been written with the intent of constructive criticism, I might have paid it mind. As it exists on the page, it likely titillates some but serves little public good.
Kip Loui, KDHX programming committee member and host,The Back Country
St. Louis

Tempest in a chamber pot:I've been a volunteer at KDHX -- both on the air and behind the scenes -- since before the station went on the air. I was part of the crew who helped build the transmitter shack and who, for the first two years of the station's existence, made the weekly trek out to L.A. (Lower Arnold) to broadcast from that shack, with equipment that could have come from a pirate radio station in Honduras.

Over the past sixteen years, I've seen station managers of varying quality come and go. The one thing they all had in common was that there was always a coterie of volunteers who thought the current manager was an unmitigated disaster who would lead the station to utter ruin. Periodically one or more of that coterie would find a sympathetic ear at the RFT, and the result would be an article like "Rattle and Humbug."

I'm not familiar with the specifics of the complaints voiced in the article by the current coterie, but I have had a fair amount of contact with Bev Hacker over the past few years and my perceptions don't completely line up with theirs. Far from feeling micromanaged, for example, I've been allowed a good deal of autonomy on my projects. I've also seen substantial improvement in station operations as a result of Ms. Hacker's attempts to run the place on a more professional basis. Much-needed repairs and upgrades were made to the production facilities, for example, and the usually chaotic pledge drives now operate in an orderly fashion.

As for hiring decisions, I've had little contact with Sara Finke, so I can't speak to her qualifications. As someone who has been employed for the past fourteen years as a technology manager in the IT department of a Fortune 100 company, however, I can say that Dan Adelman most certainly is qualified to manage FM 88's computer and Internet infrastructure and has made significant improvements in both. In addition, Hacker's decision to hire the highly competent and helpful Andy Coco as production manager has greatly improved the quality and consistency of our recorded programs.

That doesn't mean I'm happy with every decision that has been made in the last few years. But from my perspective, the current fracas looks like yet another tempest in a teapot (or maybe a chamber pot), rather than Hurricane Beverly.
Chuck Lavazzi
St. Louis

Booted, but proud: I was a board member of the Double Helix Corporation until I was kicked off "for cause" -- a little-known rule in our bylaws. It was a motion made by my friend and fellow open-mic poetry producer Bob Putnam. His reason: I was making the corporation look bad in public by writing a negative statement about the current state of affairs at KDHX which was mailed to our members in my run for the program committee. I asserted that the programmers and staff at the station were being bullied and intimidated by current management practices. That longtime listeners, volunteers and members who complained were simply ignored. And that the station had a history of dealing with critics in this way. I quit my radio show, after trying successfully for years to get it on the air, just so they couldn't threaten me with its cancellation (a common practice at KDHX).

Bev Hacker's supporters claim she had to be tough to make necessary corrections of past mistakes. I remember previous station managers saying the same thing about their predecessors, about a half a dozen in the past fifteen years. And now two of Bev's past hatchet men, Bob Putnam and Tony Renner, are on the outs with her. The real issue here is not airing Bev Hacker's private affairs in public. This is a story as old as democracy itself. It's about people getting involved. As one young woman complained to me at one the station's sparsely attended meetings, "How can we let these petty dictators keep taking over the station year after year?" My answer was, "Because we let them."

KDHX is supposed to be a "community" radio station, not a "clique" radio station. Unfortunately, in a community, you'll meet rude egomaniacs, outright scoundrels, music sellers, bar owners and music critics who think they rule the world. You just ignore them and try to be heard above all the confusion. This is what KDHX is about. This is what makes KDHX one of the most interesting radio stations in the world. Not because we agree on everything. It's because we spasmodically disagree, constantly, in public. (This tends to wear people out, however, as evidenced by all the personalities who aren't with the station anymore.)

Work schedule and changes in personal fortune have prevented me from participating on the radio side of Double Helix. I still help produce two shows on the TV side. As an actor and musician occupying the bottom rung of the St. Louis entertainment scene for over 30 years, I'm grateful for the opportunity to be part of this low-budget universe. I have been a Double Helix volunteer since KDNA. The biggest argument we had in those days was who was going to do the dishes and take out the trash. Now it's a Machiavellian clash of factions vying for control of the salaried positions and air shifts. No one from the early days ever anticipated being this successful. We were just trying to stay on the air.

The only solution I see is involvement. People have to get involved. Double Helix has been off the air for half of its 30-year existence. It's a precious miracle that we're broadcasting at all. Notice I'm saying "we." Because after all the grief, I'm still proud to be, in whatever humble way, a grateful fan of KDHX and a Double Helix volunteer.
Steve Hinson, terminated board member, Double Helix Corporation
St. Louis

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