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Why I'm Pulling My Support from KHSU After 25 Years



I first heard of Katie Whiteside's firing from my dear old Mom and thought to myself, "You must have heard it wrong. No, that just can't be." After a few phone calls, I felt that I had to repeat that sentence in a more imperative way: No. That just can't be.

After (in order of importance) the Humboldt community, HSU and NPR, Katie is the single greatest resource the station has ever had. Katie has been our voice in every way imaginable for the past two decades and more.

KHSU General Manager Peter Fretwell has been amongst us (not with us) for a little over a year. He is just the latest in a parade of NPR "professionals" who seem to be sent here to bide their last few years before retirement. At best, we aren't sure exactly what they do — and then they vanish as soon as their contracts are up. At worst, they do what Fretwell has just done. And their salaries continue to suck up the better part of one of the fall or spring pledge drives.

KHSC was founded very much as a college radio station. Around the time it became KHSU, it began to attract the financial support of the community. There is no doubt that the introduction of NPR drastically increased the community support. However, that community support — now the station's lifeblood — has always been tied to KHSU's commitment to local access, homegrown volunteer programming and a feeling of inclusion.

While I don't for a minute doubt the value of NPR, its self-preservation seems to be tied to an idea of perpetual growth. As NPR produces more and more programs, the push is on to fill affiliates' air time with NPR content even to the detriment of locally produced content. There is a very imperialist nature to NPR's hold on radio stations nationally. Unlike other content producers like PRI and Democracy Now, you can't just purchase NPR's programming. You must become an affiliate and abide by NPR oversight — and be saddled with the salary and dictatorial rule of its NPR-qualified station general managers.

HSU is KHSU's station licensee. In essence, it is the owner of the station. At its founding, this made perfect sense, since HSU was the station's sole support. However, over time, and with the blessing of HSU, the Humboldt community (contributing almost two-thirds of the station's annual dollar income) has become far and away the greatest financial supporter of KHSU.

Since the question of who contributes what and how much to KHSU seems to be a matter of debate, I based my "almost two-thirds" on the latest published KHSU budget I could find online. HSU claims that it contributes 44 percent of the operating budget. I consider that a bit of a bookkeeping slight-of-hand. Much of that figure is "in kind" — space, rent, license, transmitters, physical facilities and hardware. Whether that is inflated or not, I'm surely not one who could make that call. However, much of that actual physical equipment, and the improvements to it, has been bought and paid for over the past couple decades with money from listeners and underwriters. HSU might own it and take financial credit for it, but we the community bought maybe the lion's share of it.

As to NPR, on paper it appears that it contributes almost as much as the university. However, everything that NPR contributes is paid back to NPR in the form of programming costs and general manager salary.

So it seems that the party that ends up paying very little into KHSU's coffers has the most say in how the station is run. The final say and rubber stamps of approval come from the license holder HSU, which pays a bit over a sixth of the money coming in. And you — the community, the real financial supporter of the station — you have nothing to say. Or, rather, you may have a lot to say but your voice doesn't matter. If your voice mattered, Katie Whiteside's voice would still be giving us comfort at KHSU.

While your voice may not matter, your money does. Sadly, money is the only voice we have. Even before the word of Katie's firing had spread, KHSU had lost $16,000 worth of underwriting. Although I'm small peanuts, being merely a day sponsor for a couple decades, I won't be sending any money to KHSU until Peter Fretwell has left the area. I would urge anyone who has similar inclinations to, first, email both KHSU and HSU President Lisa Rossbacher to let them know why you cannot support the station at this time.

Katie has been adamant that this battle should not be about her. I have a couple disagreements with her on that count. First, no matter what arcane excuses someone came up with to fire her, Katie is one of the most valuable pieces of this community — she is one of those rare people who perfectly fits her job, and in her very public role she has made this particular part of the world a better place.

Second, she is the very soul and nature of what KHSU has become — the kind, welcoming, all-encompassing center of our community. She has been there for us all like no one else. That is what community is and what community radio should be. KHSU may be a small side issue for both NPR and HSU — but it is the heart of the true "owners" of the station — "the You in KHSU." Katie has done everything in her power to let our voices be heard for the past 23 years. So, whether through money or emails, this is the time to let our community voice be heard.

Alan Sanborn is an Arcata watercolor artist who has been listening to KHSU since 1968 — and has been pitching and pledging for the past 25 years.

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