THE FUTURE OF LISTENER-SPONSORED KPFK
Change Links Exclusive: Interview with new KPFK General Manager Miquel Calçada
Listener sponsored free speech community radio station KPFK 90.7 FM, part of the Pacifica Foundation, is a unique democratically governed media institution. After an extensive search, a new General Manager was recently hired and started his tenure in mid-September. Change Links got a chance to conduct this interview with him to give our readers more of an idea about the man and his plans for rebuilding the base and impact of the station. KPFK is in a critical membership drive this month and is in the process of refreshing its programming grid.
Change Links: Can you tell us a little about your personal history and background, and what brought you to radio?
Miquel Calçada: I come from a long professional media career. Spanning over forty years, I’ve been, as some might say, an acolyte before being a priest. I think I have tackled every aspect of the radio industry, from DJ to Public Affairs host. I started professionally in the reconstructed Catalan Public Radio system back in 1983, up through selling my two commercial networks in Barcelona. My interest in American public radio, specifically community radio, began while studying for a Master’s Degree in Public Administration at Syracuse University. My background, though, is in journalism and later in law.
C-L: How does your prior radio experience in Catalonia and here in the U.S. relate to your current position as GM of KPFK? How do you see the differences between Pacifica and National Public Radio?
M.C.: The relation is apparent since I managed a network for over two decades. Nevertheless, that was a completely private station. Meaning, it only took one other person, a business partner, to get things done. In the case of KPFK, it takes more than just an individual to implement any idea. I am not disclosing anything new if I say that governance at Pacifica may not be one of the most substantial assets. Yet, if we’ve got lemons, we must make the best lemonade in town. Following up on that analogy, I would say NPR has found a tasty fruit that pleases a remarkable segment of listeners. Though you might not find there in-depth conversations or master classes as you might regularly find at KPFK, there is no doubt that NPR found a model that currently is the public radio mainstream.
As many readers recall, KPFK was “the” public model in the sixties long before NPR. I think we have to redefine our current model, not only formally. I strongly believe in our evergreen mission, yet we should find additional ways to translate it into radio programming. Let me conclude this answer by recalling that the history of our complementary public radio has not been a wine-and-roses kind of path. We have had to overcome difficulties and can do so again.
C-L: How do you see the potential for KPFK to rebuild its audience and its engagement with the diverse Southern California communities it serves?
M.C.: The potential in radio’s second largest market is enormous. When I started in radio, one of the first lessons I was taught was about the special bond that exists between the listener and the station; between the host and the audience. It’s like a personal, intimate relationship.
My impression is that, unfortunately, KPFK has sometimes deceived its most precious asset, the audience. That is to say, our core “business” is radio. We should abide by the un-written rules of radio, no matter what. I don’t see any other path to regain KPFK’s audience than to regain the confidence and trust of its listeners again.
The only way to do so is by delivering our message through the evergreen radio truth: to educate, inform, and entertain. All three actions must go along jointly and evenly.
C-L: What are the prospects for restoring a local newscast at KPFK, or for developing the station’s website as a news provider?
M.C.: That will come as a natural step once we restore a new fraction of listeners. I see radio as a platform. The real deal nowadays is content. We should create content and distribute it through radio and all kinds of platforms and websites. Restoring KPFK’s newsroom should be the very next phase of our plan. KPFK has been on the air for sixty-two years, thanks to our listeners’ generous contributions and support.
When founded, Pacifica was the American public radio model. Yet, now, we must compete not only with the rest of public radio stations but with a myriad of media outlets. The mot de pas, the ‘open-sesame’, is subscriptions and membership. These are the primary sources of funding. I know that other kinds of funding, like underwriting or grants, don’t fit well in the mind of many of our supporters and fans. Yet, we should have an honest approach to exploring other funding sources, not exclusively listeners’ contributions or donations. Although I understand the need and desire to be fiercely independent, I don’t see why we cannot collaborate more broadly with other entities who share our same values. We are tying our hands ourselves.
C-L: What opportunities will volunteers have for participating with KPFK? What mechanisms exist for content providers pitching programming ideas to KPFK? What approaches will the station be taking to provide content through other channels or platforms besides the broadcast signal, for example via social media like YouTube or podcasting?
M.C.: I think I have answered part of your last question already. I would add, in an intertwined world like the one we’re living in, every platform is complementary. I remember the old days when the FM band was trying to make its way. The AM band was then king, so all other “unimportant” or unusual content was displaced into the FM band. Actually, I think Pacifica radio started in the FM band. History teaches us that not a single platform has entirely disappeared because of the arrival of a new one. AM radio is still with us; TV did not eliminate radio. We should take advantage of the diverse platforms to explore and create unique content. They can augment our broadcasting.
Regarding volunteers, a new welcome program must be implemented. It sometimes seems that there are only two types of tasks: ancillary activities or radio host. Yet in fact, a myriad of functions can be performed by volunteers under the condition that first we establish a thorough volunteers program so that there is supervision and training.