Twelve years ago, I came to KBOO and tomorrow I leave. Back then, I loved radio and wanted to change the world. That pretty much describes the station, so it seemed like a good fit. As Membership Coordinator, I got to build the department almost from the ground up. It was exciting as we improved the pledge drives and increased membership, and there were always new projects in fundraising and promotions to invent and implement. The great parts were the creative freedom, finding new ways to tell the stories and the amazing volunteers in the membership department.
Seven years later, I still loved radio and wanted to change the world but decided that changing the world starts with changing ourselves. I took the opportunity to spend a year living and practicing at a monastery, and it was probably the best decision I’ve made in my life. That points to another great aspect of KBOO though. When I worked in the corporate world, I was the votes-for-Nader, eats-vegetarian, rides-a-bicycle crazy left wing dreamer. Arriving at KBOO, I was well inside the margins of the bell curve, and an adventure like a year at a monastery seemed perfectly normal.
One thing about KBOO for sure is that it’s not normal. Our good friend Terry Currier of Music Millenium invented “Keep Portland Weird,” but KBOO lived the dream, and those are some of my best memories. It’s the kind of place where I can meet a punk-rock Buddhist named Noah Levine in the lobby. He insists on having his publicist send a free copy of his book, and I feel guilty because I figure that I’m the only person on the planet interested in both punk rock and Buddhism. Years later, he’s famous. It’s the kind of place where I get to accept a giant check for $16,000 from Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini; he’s wearing a tux and sporting a bleached blonde shock of hair like a cumulus cloud rising from atop his head. Meeting Amy Goodman and being even more impressed than I was beforehand, particularly at her attentiveness with every single person she encountered. Dancing at the KBOO Square Dance (first time since high school) but also watching the break dancing at the station’s Hella Fresh Fest hip-hop event. Getting to know Curt The Milkman who drops off half-and-half a couple of times a week to support the cause and meet the people. Working closely with great artists like Matt Wuerker, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Kathy Wertz and Kathleen Stephenson. A Muslim program host recommending the memoir of an African-American Buddhist jazz musician (a good read). A colleague from the office officiating a wedding between three women on a bright and sunny day at the base of Forest Park.
As Manager, this was the milieu that I lived and worked in, and I was able to work towards some wonderful dreams during that time. One was improving our scheduling and program quality, not just to reach more listeners and pay for this operation, but to impact the community--to reach more deeply into and across the communities we serve--and we made the first proactive on-air changes in over a decade along with new training programs on how to produce compelling radio. Maybe more importantly, we reached broad consensus on what is compelling radio. Another dream was a culture within the station that is respectful, fun and safe. We made great progress on that one over almost four years, so it’s dispiriting now to see how quickly the positive changes can unravel.
I’ve said that both the joy and the sorrow of KBOO is that it’s a place where people can fully express themselves as unique individuals. The joy and enthusiasm that comes with the culture is inspiring, but the conflict and ugliness that people sometimes offer unedited towards others is hurtful to individuals and to the station as a whole. Managing conflict can become a 24-hour per day job that runs roughshod over both professional and personal lives. The energy that drives the fight for justice can devolve into, simply, the energy to fight, and it’s the people close at hand who are handy targets.
There’s always an ambient level of conflict, craziness and endless process that can bog down so many community radio stations, but in the last few months at KBOO, it’s gotten both personal and public. That’s why I’m leaving. That’s why the board isn’t even hiring a Station Manager but eliminating the position. The manager’s position is simply unsustainable, and that’s sad. It’s sad because the culture and conditions that lead to all of this cripple the station and hurt real people.
My best hope is that my leaving will prompt staff and volunteers to stop and look deeply, to ask why KBOO goes through the same cycles of attack and conflict over and over again, why it’s been happening for decades and what can be different.
How can the station be fun, functional, friendly, respectful and professional (in the best sense of the word). How can KBOO be a role model--something the world needs. The world is changing quickly, and the station can’t just run on autopilot, can’t just survive by virtue of the FM license we’ve been so fortunate to possess.
When the station gets serious about its own success, when it makes a reality of strategic planning, organizational analysis, market research, having effective processes even if entrenched interests fight against them, bringing a positive and professional approach to our work life, and when the station is ready to fearlessly take the next steps into the future, then KBOO will be ready for the support of a manager.
Even with all of the difficulties, I have to say thank you to the many people who have been both sweet and supportive. I’ve been fortunate in that regard, and I appreciate the board, volunteers and staff who have brought so much beauty and blessings to this experience, and I hope that you will build a wonderful future for our community.
February 15, 2010