Story last updated at 1:54 p.m. Thursday, November 28, 2002

KBBI election puts station's future in spotlight

Board change needed to preserve local flavor

Don Pitcher
point of view

Four seats are open for KBBI's board of directors, and the people chosen will determine whether the station retains its distinctive focus or heads down a more homogenized path with dwindling local support.

Several issues dominate this election: the role of the board in overseeing station management; how to achieve a balance between local and national programming; and how to increase KBBI's listenership. After this last tumultuous year, another pressing issue has come to the fore: how to re-establish trust and support for KBBI, its management, and board.

My connection with KBBI began a decade ago when I worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in field camps on Kodiak Island. For four summers, the station served as my lifeline to the world, with great music, news, marine weather forecasts and Bushlines. When my wife and I moved to Homer three years ago, I joined the station, and for the past year I've volunteered as a DJ.

KBBI was one of the factors that first attracted me to Homer. I love the station's rich history and how it has brought music, entertainment, arts and news to the Homer community for more than two decades.

I love the fact that almost anyone can go through the training and go on air as a volunteer DJ. And I love the way the station brings out such strong emotions in people, whether they support the current management or not.

Earlier this year some 600 individuals signed a petition to preserve local programming. Where else would more than 10 percent of the population be so involved in a little radio station?

KBBI has an impressive and dedicated paid staff. Station Manager Susan Kernes is exceptionally knowledgeable on the issues confronting a public radio station, has been successful at obtaining large grants (the primary funding source for KBBI), and knows where she wants the station to go. These are all plusses, but I -- and many others -- disagree with her emphasis on an ever-increasing role for nationally produced programming at the expense of local shows.

I am also concerned over her strident public statements that suggest a lack of respect for the members and volunteers. We the listeners and members of KBBI are not the station's enemies, we're the public for whom the station exists.

In addition, I feel that a majority of the current board of directors has failed the community by refusing to manage the manager that they hired. Together, the actions of the board and the station manager have created a divisive situation that has alienated many who once supported KBBI.

These actions are not just demoralizing to volunteers -- the heart and soul of any public station -- but they are starting to have impacts on membership and fund raising. Membership has declined by nearly 25 percent this year, and membership income is down by a similar figure.

At last month's fund drive, only a handful of volunteers were willing to go on air in support of the station. Some of these negative changes reflect the effects of 9/11 (which temporarily increased membership last year). But even compared with numbers from 2000, both membership and the amount of money raised are down significantly.

Susan Kernes' comments in last week's Homer News are revealing: "We are not driven by how many memberships we get. Memberships are not a good indicator of listener satisfaction. Audience surveys are."

I disagree. The income from memberships may only play a small role in the total budget, but it shows that locals are willing to spend their own cash to keep the station on the air.

Susan Kernes has attempted to portray this election as a battle between the professionals at the station and a small cadre of malcontents. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I became involved in the efforts to preserve local programming when I saw how she and a majority on the board were working to keep the public out of our public station. I decided to run for the board only after considerable prodding from a number of people both outside and within the station. I will continue to volunteer at the station -- regardless of what happens in this election -- because I care about KBBI.

KBBI is a unique local resource, and one that must be nurtured back into health. Four of us are running on a reform slate. We certainly don't agree on everything, but we all agree on the core issue: that KBBI must remain true to its mission statement to "serve as a mirror and voice for the ideas, beliefs and sentiments of the people of Homer and Kachemak Bay."

All of us are capable of making reasoned and responsible decisions and of leaving day-to-day management to the professionals. We work hard and certainly don't need the added stress of being so directly involved in the operation of KBBI in an unpaid status. But we all care deeply about our community radio station.

If you're a member of KBBI, your vote really counts in this election. If you're a listener, but not a member, please join so that your voice will count in the future.

Don Pitcher is a professional photographer and travel writer who is part of a four-person KBBI Board of Directors candidate block along with Cris Somers, Stephen Howell and Anne Wieland.