Thursday, March 26, 2015


Community noncom KFAI is trying to stay in business.  According to news reports, KFAI is more than $100,000 in the hole and they need money now. MPR News reported that Board president Mary Bensman said they've already taken steps to cut back on staff:

"Our finances have been in decline gradually over the last seven years -- we've made a few changes to address that, but it hasn't been enough change," Bensman said. "The board determined that this is the point at which we really had to draw our line in the sand and figure out how to get financially stable." 

Listening to KFAI has fallen to perhaps its lowest level ever. The most recent Nielsen Audio PPM numbers I could find were from Summer 2014.  KFAI had 100 AQH listeners and 15,600 Weekly Cumulative listeners.  That is hardly a pulse.


KFAI, like many Community noncoms is constrained by too many committees, particularly a committee to determine the station’s programming.  Way back when Community Radio started in the 1970s, stations were advised to make collective decisions regarding a station's most important resource: Its Programming.  Organizations like NFCB are still pushing this flawed idea.

Programming Committees ensure the status quo, make certain people in the “in group” keep control of their schedule turf and mean no one is held accountable. That is the current situation at KFAI. According to the KFAI website, they are searching for new management.  But the Programming Committee remains.

Pacifica is best example of the curse of Program Committees. You’ve no doubt seen the news reports of litigious battles inside Pacifica and the five stations they own.  Despite having awesome signals in New York, LA, Bay Area, DC and Houston, Pacifica has very, very few listeners. Last year they posted an RFP for someone to lease WBAI, New York.

Program Committees are a major part of the Pacifica governance scheme. BAD MOJO! Stations that use The Pacifica Model are doomed to the same fate as Pacifica: Irrelevance.


KFAI provides downloads of Programming Committee meetings. The most recent meeting notes are from October 2014.  Here are some examples of the discussions:

[NAME] spoke of KFAI’s aging demographic (both listeners and programmers) and our failure to devise a way to turn over timeslots and keep programming fresh. He cited his own show, [PROGRAM NAME] as an example. He told the committee his show was “tired,” “stale” and “no different now than it was 12 years ago.” He added, “Why would anyone want to listen to that?”

Citing recently acknowledged financial woes, [NAME] talked about the “existential” situation faced by the station, which was driving changes faster than a one would prefer. He suggested a two-stage schedule, one that quickly addressed money concerns (i.e., “survive”), and followed that with a broader assessment of the kind of station we aspire to be (i.e., “thrive”).

The proposed solution: Ask members of the Programming Committee to come up with hypothetical schedules:

The [PROGRAMMING COMMITTEE] decided to ask each member to work out a schedule grid structure for the next meeting. [NAME] emphasized that this was a “what if” exercise only, and not to be construed as formal committee-sanctioned proposals.

If KFAI is to survive, they need to fire the Programming Committee and stop playing "what if."


  1. Dear Mr. Mills:

    I’m writing in response to your March 26th blog post MEMO TO KFAI, MINNEAPOLIS: FIRE YOUR PROGRAMMING COMMITTEE, and to give you some new information with regard to some goings-on at the station. In January, 2015, I was elected as new board president, and we’ve instituted some changes to the role of the board as it relates to KFAI programming. Moving forward, the board will focus on big picture decisions and the staff will focus on the day-to-day execution of radio operations. The board will give advice on the direction the station should go to ensure the station is serving the community and its mission statement, but the staff will be making programming decisions rather than the board or a programming committee. I’m calling this new approach for the board “Hands off the Staff” (HOTS™).

    We are recruiting a new General Manager with a strong radio management background to run the station, and we also have the solid guidance of the Ampers’ task force (including Joel Glaser, CEO of Ampers, and the GMs of KAXE, KMOJ, KVSC & WTIP) to help us get KFAI back on track. 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. We are now on the right path and have every confidence that an experienced GM will be able to bring KFAI back to a state of vibrant health and will continue to be the true voice of the Twin Cities’ diverse and underserved communities. I thank you very much for your interest, and I hope you stay tuned!

    Patti Walsh
    President, KFAI Board of Directors

  2. Ken, are there any examples of stations with "program committee" models that are actually doing well? I don't mean "just surviving", I mean at least a modicum of success. Let's draw the line at "could have a bad fiscal year (FY) and not be put in immediate fiscal jeopardy as a result", and if it's a college radio station, add the caveat that they could also be financially stable within three FY's if the parent college withdrew all monetary & material support tomorrow.

    I can think of many stations, almost all are "college radio" or "community radio" that have a "programming committee" approach to their content...but I can't think of any that would meet the criteria above. *BUT* I feel there's at least one or two out there's an obvious one that I'm totally overlooking.

    I'm tempted to say "WFMU" but I don't think they have a true programming committee structure, do they?