Monday, March 30, 2015


I received several messages about my post last week about the fiscal, programming and governance problems at KFAI, Minneapolis.  One was from Patti Walsh, the new President of the station’s Board of Directors. I posted her complete comment below my original post.

Patti says things are looking up at KFAI and they will be even better when a new GM is hired.  Her approach sounded good until I reached this part of her comment:

Once the new GM is in place, he or she will hire a Program Director who will be in charge of KFAI’s programming with the guidance of a Content Advisory Committee.
I asked Patti for clarification because it sounds like KFAI is replacing the Program Committee with another committee with an ominous sounding name. This how I read Patti’s comment:

Once the new GM is in place, he or she will hire a Program Director who will be in charge of KFAI’s programming with the nitpicking, second-guessing and neutering by a Content Advisory Committee.
I hope this isn’t what they are planning but once a committee is established it takes on a life of it’s on.  I will let you know if/when Patti explains the necessity and purpose of this committee.

After all these committees are artifacts of the 1970s -- sort of like Mood Rings -- you feel better when you have one but they are ultimately useless.


• Have as few committees as possible. Make certain any committees are absolutely necessary and their scope is clearly defined.

• Hire qualified management, folks who have hands on experience operating and programming successful noncom stations that reach significant audiences.

• Give the new management measurable goals and the time necessary to make their plan work.

• Evaluate management’s work by using quantifiable data: pledging, membership, underwriting, ratings, online and mobile usage stats, etc.

• Remember that serving a mission is about doing, not talking about doing.  Management should embody the mission and lead by example.


Back in the 1970s, Community Radio began as an outgrowth of Pacifica, which itself began in the late 1940s. Lew Hill and early Pacifica associates established totally listener supported radio.  Back then there were very few listeners to FM.  Pacifica was built listener-by-listener.

Also in the 1970s media activist Lorenzo Milan released an influential pamphlet called Sex and Broadcasting.  I bought my copy for one dollar at a head shop – it was next to High Times on the rack. There was no sex in it – Milam choose the name because it had a sexy (pun intended) and got attention.


Sex and Broadcasting was an excellent “how to guide” for applying for an FM license.  Milam’s timing was good because there were many unused FM licenses available from the FCC including some in major markets. Milan’s advice spawned many stations such as KDHX in St. Louis, KBOO in Portland and KFAI in Minneapolis. (KFAI signed on in 1978.)

The problem was Milam’s utopian vision for governing and operating community stations.  He felt a radio station should be run like a commune with “the people” in control.  He recommended committees to decide every aspect of a station. This was based on Pacifica’s governance model. I call it the The Pacifica Model. Even today it is considered by many yo be the SOP and politically correct way to run a community station.

The stakes got higher when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (“CPB”) started funding community stations.  In the 1970s and early 1980s CPB began providing public funds to Pacifica and other community operations. That led to the creation of the National Federation for Community Broadcasters (“NFCB”). NFCB embraced The Pacifica Model and committees became a permanent part of the community radio landscape.


There is no FCC requirement that noncommercial stations operate with committees.  The Commission wants stations to ensure they are operating in the public interest by knowing and addressing needs of people in their coverage area as documented in their Public Inspection File.

CPB requires noncom stations to have periodic public advisory meetings with local citizens.  CPB wants stations to be transparent, have open meetings and have financial and compliance documents available online.

Stations choose to have committees or not. KFAI has the choice not to use The Pacifica Model. Stations using The Pacifica Model will likely meet the same fate as Pacifica: Irrelevance. 


  1. I have often heard staff and volunteers at stations like KFAI say something like, "But we're offering a true community service. We're doing programming nobody else is doing." There is no community service if nobody is listening. I am assuming the audience is small because of the financial difficulty the station finds itself operating under. There's an intersection between content and community support. The first step in getting somebody to contribute is to have that someone listen. Once they listen, they have to find value in the listening experience. Once the content is found to have value, they need to understand their support is important. Finally, they need to actually have the means to make a contribution.
    Does KFAI have listeners in sufficient numbers to support its efforts? If not, it all starts with the content.

  2. "But we're offering a true community service. We're doing programming nobody else is doing."

    Kim, I still - to this day - hear that a lot within the college radio world. In recent years I have found it particularly effective to challenge that assumption straight up in front of a large group of station members/DJ's. Ask them for a specific example of something they do that "nobody else is doing." So far, in every case I've been able to find another radio station that webcasts who is also doing it, and I've found it within seconds via Google searches on my iPhone, while I'm standing there in front of people. Really pounds home that there is only one thing that is unique to the station and that's the DJ's....DJ's who, at college radio, are often untrained and have little experience at attracting and retaining an audience (I don't begrudge them that, of course - they're just college students!) and who the station rarely promotes as the public face of their brand.