Thursday, October 24, 2002
When KAZU volunteers arrived to answer phones for this year''s annual pledge drive, they perched on newly replaced carpeting in a mostly empty studio with no ceiling. A fire in an upstairs office two months ago and the resulting water damage trashed the Pacific Grove radio station and compromised its ability to produce in-house programs.
"I invite you to come here and see what a mess it is," station manager John McNally says. "To go into a pledge drive with no local programming is a bit of a joke, really."
For a station in transition, the second fire in the past five years has created some confusion. With all music temporarily off the air, the station''s dramatic June format shift--from mostly music to mostly news--has become more profound. Meanwhile, the future of several programs, like the popular morning show The Roadside Cafe, is tenuous.
McNally explains the current absence of music as due simply to impossible acoustics in the damaged studios, but he also emphasizes the new goal of the station: to deliver complete news and information instead of programming formerly defined by a broad range of music.
"Please understand something," he offers. "This is a news and information station, and we mix it with music. We did an extensive study, and the change was also borne out by the fact that the station couldn''t sustain itself financially."
So far, McNally says, this year''s pledges are up from last year--despite some "unpledges" phoned in by listeners who were fond of the old format.
"I feel that KAZU made the right move, and this pledge drive is bearing that out," he says. "We''ve had some pretty substantial pledges and a number of new listeners in a relatively short time."
But former programmer Mike Eckstrom --who, along with Dennis O''Brien, is spearheading a campaign for a return to more local programming on KAZU--feels that the community generosity can better be explained as a sympathetic reaction to the fire and flood.
"They should do better this year--they just had a disaster happen," he says. "The community also stepped forward in an incredible way after the 1997 fire."
For Eckstrom, the shock of being fired along with more than 40 other volunteers--and an "overnight" change in programming--has become an impetus for community action.
"My wife Mary and I found ourselves rolling around in bed at night, unable to let it go," he says.
Sixty days ago, the Eckstroms started circulating a petition modeled after California State University at Monterey Bay''s mission statement. They found it fitting to incorporate CSUMB''s vision of diversity and community collaboration in their desire to salvage the new KAZU.
Since KAZU was acquired two years ago by CSUMB''s University Foundation, O''Brien says, the goals of community collaboration and local programming have been unfulfilled.
Having collecting 2,500 signatures on the petition, the Eckstroms and O''Brien participated in a protest in front of KAZU studio on Sunday, Oct. 20, timed to coincide with the station''s fund drive.
"We had people honking and waving and giving us the thumbs up," Eckstrom says. "About 40 people showed up."
O''Brien and Eckstrom say they accept that new programming changes are in place. But they are asking to find a common ground that allows for the eclectic music they lost, while also making room for programs like All Things Considered and Car Talk--programs both men say they enjoy.
McNally counters that he hasn''t heard of a request for a middle ground.
"Dennis [O''Brien] wants an all-volunteer station. I feel for somebody who expects something in their lives to continue forever. I understand that--but from a professional point of view, if we aren''t getting support from the community, we can''t keep a record club going for people. They had 25 years to figure it out."
Eckstrom acknowledges that McNally''s desire to offer complete news is at least partly valid.
"It''s one of those things where probably both sides are right to a certain degree," he says. "The question is whether KAZU is trying to be all business or a community service. I''m wondering if John McNally''s agenda is the same as CSUMB and their mission statement."
To look at KAZU''s official Web site visit www.kazu.org. For information on community support for the old KAZU, visit www.kazucommunity.org