‘Why did they do that?’: Community members, volunteers respond to KHSU purge

As station's last staffer quits, demonstrators gather at the Arcata Plaza to blast HSU administrators

Demonstrators gathered at the Arcata Plaza on Saturday in support of KHSU employees and volunteers who were let go after recent university-administered downsizing. (Rob Peach — The Times-Standard)

Members of the community gathered Saturday morning at the Arcata Plaza alongside former KHSU employees and volunteers to decry Humboldt State University’s recent cuts to the station’s local programming and staff.

On Saturday, “Morning Edition” host Natalya Estrada resigned, a day after the station’s development director, David Reed, quit in protest. The two had been the only station staffers spared by HSU Thursday, when the campus administration terminated five others and suspended volunteer programming indefinitely.

Tom Cairns, a 47-year volunteer who wore multiple hats while working for the station, including as producer of the news show “Alternative Review,” came to the plaza Saturday to show support for “all my fellow former volunteers and community members and listeners and friends of KHSU that are here to protest the shameful and wicked actions that the university engaged in on Thursday … to change the format and basically diss a lot of talent and volunteer time that had been given free of charge to this university for decades without even a thank you.”

Sharon Fennell, aka Sista Soul, host of radio show, “Sista’s Place,” and cohost of “Alternative Review” was visibly outraged.

“Why did they do that?” she asked over a loudspeaker from a live music tent at the plaza’s center. “They did it because they wanted to finally silence our progressive voices. That’s why this was a takeover in slow motion by some right-wing people who worked their way into the university and killed the station. But we will come back and we will survive. … Use your voice. … Don’t support Humboldt State University and get your money back from KHSU until the people get the radio station back.”

Sharon Fennell, a.k.a. Sista Soul, a former KHSU programmer rallies the crowd of community members gathered at Arcata Plaza on Saturday to demonstrate outrage at the recent university-administered cuts to local radio programming and firings of KHSU staff. (Rob Peach — The Times-Standard)

According to Geraldine Goldberg, former KHSU volunteer-turned-employee and member of the station’s advisory board, outgoing HSU President Rossbacher led members to believe “some changes were coming” shortly after reading a station audit, conducted in the summer, and convening a meeting with the board Wednesday evening to address the review.

“(A)s an advisory board member I feel duped and lied to,” Goldberg said.

Fellow advisory board member Barbara Boerger, who has been listening to KHSU since the mid-1970s when she first moved into the university dorms, said she felt Rossbacher stonewalled the board at the Wednesday meeting. Boerger also said the audit misrepresented the board as only two of the 11 board members were interviewed for the review, which came through the California State University Board of Trustees. She added Rossbacher had asked the board to go on a six- to eight-month hiatus as the audit was in review.

“It took them from summer supposedly until now to turn (the audit) over. … The fact that it took so long for it to come on top of it being so poorly written is astounding,” Boerger said, noting the review is “full of inaccuracies” because the university had not tried to “find out about how the station truly operates,” even after the entire board had asked to be interviewed.

“That’s incredibly frustrating. I feel like it was a hatchet job, the review, and they say they only got it on Monday, which I also don’t believe. (The audit) was done (in the summer) but there were other things in that meeting that Lisa directly lied to us about. They said that they were looking for collaborators to help with the transition to an ‘unplanned scenario.’ The next day everybody was fired.”

Since then, according to Boerger, KHSU has been streaming broadcast transmission from Chico’s North State Public Radio (KCHO/KFPR 90.7 FM).

Contacted for comment Saturday, Rossbacher sent a statement.

“This was a difficult decision that was taken very seriously,” she wrote. “KHSU staff and volunteers are highly dedicated to KHSU and their listeners in the community; however, the recent changes were necessary due to budget challenges for the University, operational issues at KHSU, and the need to refocus the station’s mission to ensure it aligns with the fundamental mission of HSU to educate and graduate students.”

Kathleen Marshall, a volunteer since 2011 and executive producer of “Through the Eyes of Women,” thinks the closure of the station “came precipitously on the heels of the auditor’s report and the administration gave no time to staff volunteers, community members to collaborate with the university to address the issues (the report raised).”

Marshall feels the administration is to blame for the decline in KHSU finances which, she said, are a “direct result of firing (former longtime program director) Katie Whiteside.”

Marshall said she wrote a letter to the hiring committee for the next president, asking them to raise the issue of how they will deal with the “mess” they’ll be acquiring upon arrival — between the loss of a football team, the lack of response to students of color about their safety concerns, the lack of response to the NAACP’s concerns for students of color, among other community-wide issues, not least of which is the station purge.

“This person is going to inherit a lot of anger and hostility and they have to be prepared to deal with that and build bridges,” she said.

Phil Ricord, president and co-founder of Wildberries Marketplace and dedicated underwriter of KHSU, said he and many other station sponsors are pulling their financial support.

“We have been the largest local underwriter of KHSU since we opened 25 years ago and I understand business,” Ricord said. “And there’s good business and bad business. This was treated in a manner that was bad business.”

Like other demonstrators, Ricord was perplexed by the university’s decision to hold a station pledge drive in light of the impending terminations.

“It was fraudulent to have a pledge drive and squeeze $35,000 out of the community the day before they fire everybody,” he said. “The monies that we gave over the years (were) in large part a commitment to local programming that was so important to KHSU and when they gutted that and fired their staff they irreparably harmed KHSU.”

As for what’s next, time will tell.

“I just hope that all the supporters and the underwriters will pull their support and save it for when a new local community radio station will rise from the ashes of KHSU,” Goldberg said.

Rob Peach can be reached at 707-441-0503. 

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