Story last updated at 2:37 p.m. Thursday, December 5, 2002

Four elected to KBBI board
by Carey James
Staff Writer

After a contentious debate over the direction of Homer's longest-running public radio station, three new members who campaigned on a platform of change were elected Monday night to the board of directors.

Elected to three-year seats were Anne Wieland, Steve Howell and incumbent Ginger VanWagoner. Cris Somers, one of the more vocal opponents of recent changes to KBBI's programming and the station's community responsiveness, was elected to a two-year seat after receiving the fourth-largest number of votes.

Somers beat David Raskin by two votes. Nineteen ballots were not counted because they were either not signed, not witnessed, or had signatures that were unreadable and no printed name.

The new members replaced longtime board members Hal Smith and Ken Landfield, as well as Dave Lyon, who recently resigned from his seat. Also on the board are Lauren Scharf, Diane McBride and Jean Murphy, who was appointed president after the election.

The election rekindled last winter's controversy over cuts to several volunteer shows by KBBI staff, who said national programming would help draw in more listeners during the midmorning time slots, for one.

Though KBBI staff compromised on their first programming proposal, bringing back several afternoon volunteer shows, they were criticized for not being more responsive to the community. At this fall's fund drive, the station saw a decline in donations, and several businesses pulled their underwriting dollars from the station.

When election time came, a block of three candidates -- Wieland, Somers and Don Pitcher, who was not elected -- campaigned for a more locally influenced direction for the station. Howell later added his name to an advertisement for Wieland, Somers and Pitcher. He said he shares some views about community radio with the "block," but he also shares views with the previous board members.

"The main thing we agree on is that the atmosphere needs to become positive, and the station needs to work hard to bring the community back into the station," Howell said Tuesday. "Ultimately, the station is supposed to reflect the community back to itself, supposed to remind us of who we are, for better or worse."

Now that he's elected, Howell said, he sees the next year not as a reform year, but a "transition year."

"There are too many things that are good about the station to refer to it as a reform year," he said. "But I am very distressed about watching the membership plummeting and watching local financial support plummet. Regardless of the perception of some that it's not an important issue, I think it's a central issue."

Howell said he hopes former members and underwriters will recommit themselves to KBBI and monitor the station's direction over the next year. If they don't like it then, he said, he hopes they will vote their minds next fall.

To that end, Howell said, one of his goals is to move the election back to September next year, before the membership drive.

Somers, however, said the question of how much the "block" can accomplish on the board still remains to be seen.

"We still don't have a majority on the board," she said Tuesday. "That was very evident last night when we were trying to get some of the officer appointments and we got shut down. It's going to be a matter of consensus-building. I strongly feel we have valid ideas about what the community wants, and our goal is to somehow portray that to the rest of the board and to the station management."

Somers said she hopes an upcoming retreat in Ninilchik will provide more opportunity to communicate some of her ideas with the existing board members. She said she hopes to see a survey of the public, the membership and a specific survey of people who are no longer members to find out why they left and what it would take to get them back.

Howell said it is too early to tell what the next year will bring for KBBI's new board of directors, but he hopes to work on some board procedural issues, as well as encouraging more staff reports at board meetings.

He said he hopes the prior conflicts will diminish as the board gets to work.

"There's no one on the board who is doing this for any other reason than that they care about KBBI and its relationship with the community," he said. "That's at the heart of why each of us is serving on the board, and if we remember that, there won't be any more conflict."

Station Manager Susan Kernes said she welcomes the new board members and looks forward to working with them.

"I'm hoping the new board members might be able to suspend any agendas they may be coming in with and do a lot of listening and learning about how the station works," Kernes said.

KBBI board president Jean Murphy could not be reached for comment.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homernews.com.

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