BlueOregon Action: Hands Off KBOO!

Chris Lowe

BlueOregon Action has launched a petition to bring Thom Hartmann's radio show to KBOO Community Radio. How this decision was reached is unclear to me, and it raises process issues about BlueOregon Action. BlueOregon Action should withdraw the petition, at very least until it can be fully debated. I personally believe it should be abandoned.

The action is ill-thought out, has not been adequately discussed, and poses a serious threat to KBOO as a progressive community resource. I believe that this threat is probably made out of opportunistic ignorance of current struggles at KBOO over the future direction of the station. If it is an intentional intervention in those struggles, so much the worse. There certainly will be current KBOO activists and listeners who will interpret it as a BlueOregon/liberal effort to make KBOO less radical. Regardless of the intention, the move will have a destructive effect on KBOO and on efforts to resolve KBOO internal debates constructively.

The struggles at KBOO are complex. There is a long term problem of fiscal stability that needs to be addressed. New management brought in by the Board to address the stability issue has also sought to reorganize the station and expand managerial prerogatives in ways that many long time volunteers, programmers and listeners think threatens the democratic character of the station. Corporate-style high-handed managerial actions led the staff to unionize with the Communications Workers of America. On the other hand, many Board members and some important volunteers perceive much of the staff and many volunteer programmers as hidebound, unwilling to make necessary changes, proprietary about shows and slots, and unwilling to give up air time to allow new voices, especially younger voices on the station, in order to broaden the station's base. There are other more specific issues, around fundraising for example.

One of the key claims made by the "station navigator" and her Board backers has been that the unwillingness to change means that KBOO is not adequately meeting its mandate to provide an outlet for marginalized voices from underserved communities in Portland. The willingness to turn over 15 hours per week of KBOO air time to one show controlled by one white man, however wonderful he may be, raises questions about the honesty of the diversity related arguments. Even assuming best motives, if the argument of lack of diversity is correct, Thom Hartmann's show represents a step backward, not forward.

The petition stresses that Hartmann is offering his show to KBOO for free. What it does not say is that he insists that the full 15 hours per week be broadcast.

If the Hartmann show were simply to substitute for current shows at the times it airs, it would displace about 5 hours of topical public affairs and cultural spoken word shows, and about 10 hours of music shows catering to a diverse set of musical interests including significant Spanish language broadcasting. Some of that programming could be shifted to other times by cutting or cutting back on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman's show, which currently is the largest single block of time on KBOO I believe, and like Hartmann's is national in orientation. Unlike Hartmann's, its main producers are a white woman and a Latino man (Juan Gonzalez), and it broadcasts wide ranging interviews across a range of issues and topics from a left progressive and arguably democratic socialist perspective, including much more radical voices and much more critical perspectives than is usual in U.S. media, or than are likely to be heard on Hartmann's show.

I oppose that change. Portland needs the local shows, and Amy Goodman's voice, much more than it needs Thom Hartmann's talk format. Those shows also better fulfill KBOO's mission. The kinds of liberal to left liberal perspectives Hartmann conveys are reflected in other venues such as several shows MSNBC, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, or Bill Moyers on PBS. The more left progressive and diverse perspectives carried by Democracy Now! have no such counterparts.

My opinion, like any opinion, is debatable, of course. But it should be debated. And it should be debated within the KBOO context, not by a decontextualized opportunistic outside intervention from BlueOregon Action.

Thom Hartmann's show is great, and I understand the desire to have it on the air in Portland.

But unless his supporters are willing to commit to the whole of KBOO, to making the station work, to giving it money, to volunteering and participating, they should not try to make KBOO a vehicle for one narrow agenda about one man. The consequence will be to harm if not destroy a major community resource.

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