Story last updated at 1:55 p.m. Thursday, November 28, 2002

Present board responsive to community input
Hal Smith
point of view

Over the past two weeks, there have been many references to KBBI in the media: letters, articles, even advertisements. Since the board of directors has been the focus of many of these references, I, as a board member, feel obliged to respond to some of the issues that have been raised.

During my 14-year tenure on the board, there have been many high points and also a few low points. The lowest being the layoff of several valued staff members, necessitated by a drastic cutback in funding in the mid-'90s.

Several years ago, a power surge wiped out all the station's computers on the first day of a fund drive and staff had to scramble just to keep us on the air as well as proceed with the drive. Once, when NPR dues were raised, we even lost Car Talk for a while.

During all of these and other trials, staff and volunteers have found creative solutions to keep KBBI on the air with nary a bump.

There have been several fund drives that have met or exceeded goals, and there have been some that have fallen short of goals. Staff has come and gone, as have volunteers and board members (who are also volunteers). Through it all, the voice of KBBI has changed little.

That is, its signal has remained strong, the news and information provided to the community (national, state and local) have never lapsed, and community service (coffee table, community calendar, announcements, public service announcements, etc.) has been a constant. So, too, has programming, which has remained largely the same for 15 years.

Last spring, after much research, the staff felt that they could better serve the community by a change in some programs. When these changes were announced, many folks raised their voices in opposition.

From my perspective (and contrary to that printed many times in the past weeks), this voice was heard. Staff and board took these concerns very seriously. They listened attentively, and a compromise was reached between staff and the volunteer committee.

This resulting compromise retained 12 hours of volunteer shows in the afternoon block that had been slated for replacement. Four hours of morning programming were replaced with shows that the staff thought the community would appreciate and that many listeners had asked for.

Unfortunately, the folks who professed to represent the volunteers immediately repudiated the compromise and declared war, vowing to carry the issue to the trenches in the fall elections. Was this fair?

The accusation that the station has not listened to the community is wrong. It listened and, as a result, plans were changed. What more can one ask? Should a crusade result because a radio station changed a few hours of programming?

There are limited hours of programming in a week, and Homer is a diverse community. The station tries to program for these diverse tastes.

Should it be so constrained by one element that it cannot experiment with new shows? Should it be prevented from trying new things? How will the audience ever be exposed to something new?

Will new things work? Who knows? Should the station try? Why not let the professionally trained staff who live and breathe radio attempt to answer these questions.

The station has been accused of not appreciating volunteers, but where is the proof? In a survey of other public radio stations in Alaska, KBBI ranks third in the number of hours devoted to volunteer programming. The board has always taken an active interest in volunteers. A volunteer report is part of every board meeting.

This past year, the board strongly supported the funding of a part-time volunteer coordinator and saw this accomplished. The board also strongly encouraged the development of a volunteer committee. This year has seen the completion of several new volunteer projects in the news and information department.

It is interesting, however, that last spring, while folks were strenuously protesting the potential loss of volunteer shows, there were many hours of unfilled volunteer slots. Each day now, there are usually six or seven hours of time slotted for volunteer shows. Many of these hours are still unfilled.

Where are the folks who are upset over the loss of an hour a day? I suggest that those who left the volunteer pool look to themselves for an answer. They were not forced out. Being upset over the loss of a favorite show is one thing. But demonizing staff and board over this is misdirected and destructive.

The mission statement of KBBI has been frequently quoted these past weeks with the implication that it is trod-on daily. I am proud to say that KBBI has always adhered to its mission.

Please show me how KBBI is not "the mirror and voice of the community." The community is thousands. It can't be the voice of every individual, but it can and does strive to be responsive to the needs of the community.

Thanks to current management and staff, this station is on sound financial footing and is completing a long-planned and painstakingly thought-out replacement of worn and outdated equipment. It is also upgrading the station's technology to continue to provide the best in news, information and entertainment to its audience.

With the continued support of the community, KBBI will continue to be what we all believe: the best public and community radio station in the country.

Hal Smith is the outgoing chairman of the KBBI Board of Directors.