The left wing nightmare of resource allocation

The very first "public" radio station in the United States was KPFA—FM in Berkeley. From it sprang the national network of noncommercial stations carrying almost exclusively liberal and left wing programming. Such broadcast outlets supposedly eschew market mechanisms, but most stations end up running what amount to commercials for underwriters" (sponsors). Because they must pay for programs from National Public Radio and Public Radio International, not to mention meet payroll, they do let listener and advertiser response influence programming decisions. Money talks.

Not so at KPFA. Being located in Berkeley, it is far more purist in approach. Any influence from market forces is streng verboten. Accordingly, it is a test case for the concepts of "community control" and "collective organization" absent any feedback mechanism from the marketplace.

And so it follows that the history of the station in recent decades is one of nearly constant turmoil. I happen to live nearly straight uphill from the KPFA headquarters in Berkeley, and it is not an uncommon sight to find a picket line of people outraged at something or other marching outside.

The latest chronicle of turmoil at KPFA is running in the local leftist free bi—weekly, the Berkeley Daily Planet, a paper which recently ran an overtly anti—Semitic column.

The most recent clash is between the station's Program Council and the KPFA Labor Collective. The collective has created ad hoc programming on labor issues for the last several years.

The Program Council is a body of 14 people, including representatives of the paid staff, the unpaid staff, department heads and listeners. It meets weekly to review programming and to evaluate proposals for new programming.

Citing 'deteriorating relationships with the station staff,' in March the council banned the Labor Collective from offering program proposals for a year. The collective will hold a picket outside the station at 1 p.m. on Labor Day to protest the ban.

'They say we can't submit proposals. I've never heard of this before,' said Steve Zeltzer, Labor Collective chair.

The collective has produced numerous shows, including those airing on Labor Day, May Day and International Women's Day. While continuing to submit proposals for special programming, Zeltzer said his collective were also lobbying the council for a regular labor show.

Much of the tension at the station over the years has been due to finite limitations in time and resources. Zeltzer pointed out that some people have had their programs for years.

'They feel the space is their own personal time slot,' he said.

While the Program Council voted 12—2 to support the ban, the two dissenters, Joe Wanzala and Sepideh Khosrowjah, both of whom represent the Local Station Board on the Program Council, pointed to resource allocation as the underlying factor in the dispute.

In March they wrote: 'It is our opinion that the expressed concerns about the behavior of the Labor Collective mask a real problem at the station—a failure to re—assess KPFA's entire programming grid to create more space for new programming and reduce the tensions and frustrations associated with access to airtime which is an artificial scarce resource at KPFA.'

The specifics are unbelievably tedious to outsiders, but the stuff of ultimate conflict for insiders. It all serves to demonstrate the efficiency of markets, and the neverending conflict (or its alternative, tyranny) which results when collective organization is chosen as the means for resource—allocation.

Thomas Lifson   9 06 06

The very first "public" radio station in the United States was KPFA—FM in Berkeley. From it sprang the national network of noncommercial stations carrying almost exclusively liberal and left wing programming. Such broadcast outlets supposedly eschew market mechanisms, but most stations end up running what amount to commercials for underwriters" (sponsors). Because they must pay for programs from National Public Radio and Public Radio International, not to mention meet payroll, they do let listener and advertiser response influence programming decisions. Money talks.

Not so at KPFA. Being located in Berkeley, it is far more purist in approach. Any influence from market forces is streng verboten. Accordingly, it is a test case for the concepts of "community control" and "collective organization" absent any feedback mechanism from the marketplace.

And so it follows that the history of the station in recent decades is one of nearly constant turmoil. I happen to live nearly straight uphill from the KPFA headquarters in Berkeley, and it is not an uncommon sight to find a picket line of people outraged at something or other marching outside.

The latest chronicle of turmoil at KPFA is running in the local leftist free bi—weekly, the Berkeley Daily Planet, a paper which recently ran an overtly anti—Semitic column.

The most recent clash is between the station's Program Council and the KPFA Labor Collective. The collective has created ad hoc programming on labor issues for the last several years.

The Program Council is a body of 14 people, including representatives of the paid staff, the unpaid staff, department heads and listeners. It meets weekly to review programming and to evaluate proposals for new programming.

Citing 'deteriorating relationships with the station staff,' in March the council banned the Labor Collective from offering program proposals for a year. The collective will hold a picket outside the station at 1 p.m. on Labor Day to protest the ban.

'They say we can't submit proposals. I've never heard of this before,' said Steve Zeltzer, Labor Collective chair.

The collective has produced numerous shows, including those airing on Labor Day, May Day and International Women's Day. While continuing to submit proposals for special programming, Zeltzer said his collective were also lobbying the council for a regular labor show.

Much of the tension at the station over the years has been due to finite limitations in time and resources. Zeltzer pointed out that some people have had their programs for years.

'They feel the space is their own personal time slot,' he said.

While the Program Council voted 12—2 to support the ban, the two dissenters, Joe Wanzala and Sepideh Khosrowjah, both of whom represent the Local Station Board on the Program Council, pointed to resource allocation as the underlying factor in the dispute.

In March they wrote: 'It is our opinion that the expressed concerns about the behavior of the Labor Collective mask a real problem at the station—a failure to re—assess KPFA's entire programming grid to create more space for new programming and reduce the tensions and frustrations associated with access to airtime which is an artificial scarce resource at KPFA.'

The specifics are unbelievably tedious to outsiders, but the stuff of ultimate conflict for insiders. It all serves to demonstrate the efficiency of markets, and the neverending conflict (or its alternative, tyranny) which results when collective organization is chosen as the means for resource—allocation.

Thomas Lifson   9 06 06