Abrupt firings at KHSU send shockwaves, not sound waves, throughout the community
In a blow to the local community, administrators at Humboldt State decided to fire all volunteers and terminate all but two paid positions at the local NPR affiliate, KHSU, on April 11. The firings, and other reorganizations, came after months of tense back and forths with the administration and the KHSU Community Advisory Board. Some in the community felt that the hostile tensions were behind and that future broadcasting was no longer in jeopardy.
Last week Joyce Houston volunteered during the KHSU fund drive and donated money to the future of the station. Houston said she has volunteered and donated money to the station for the last 30 years and felt that she was scammed given the administration’s decision for the firings.
“This is fraud,” Houston said. “KHSU is community radio. You just don’t knock the community out like that.”
According to a press release from HSU, changes to station include the elimination of five staff positions, the General Manager and Chief Engineer positions and an “indefinite suspension of volunteer-run programs.”
The press release mentions the administration will look into allowing students to take on a more active role at KHSU, however there is already a student-run radio program at HSU. Amy Berkowitz, KRFH radio news faculty advisor, said she has been contacted numerous times by the administration asking for students to be more involved at KHSU but said that was not necessary because of the student run station.
“KRFH is for students, by students,” Berkowitz said. “KHSU is for the community. Our area relies on the radio for emergencies. Having this gone is a loss to the safety of our community.”
Berkowitz said that the loss of the community programs is why it is such a blow. Some of the programs that were broadcast on KHSU had been on air for over 30 years, according to Berkowitz.
“Right now, they are just rebroadcasting out of Chico,” Berkowitz said. “We can all just ask our smartphones to play NPR, but that is not why we listen to KHSU.”
Some of the programs currently cut from the air are the KHSU magazine, The Race Beat hosted by Lorna Bryant, the Thursday Night Talk with Eric Kirk, and Immigrant Voices hosted by James Floss.
Lisa Rossbacher, president of Humboldt State University, said the reasoning for the abrupt firings was because of budget reasons, a realignment of the mission between KHSU and the university, and an advisory review from the CSU chancellor’s office that she received on “Monday or Tuesday of this week.”
“People think of volunteers of not costing anything, but in fact it takes two to three hours of paid staff time to support every hour of programming that is generated by volunteers,” Rossbacher said.
When questioned on how much oversight and time that paid staff have to give to volunteers who have been part of KHSU for over 30 years, Rossbacher acknowledged she didn’t know the exact details of the matter.
“I can’t speak to the details of how that programming gets produced, but it requires staff involvement to support them,” Rossbacher said.
On the future of KHSU, Rossbacher said the university is looking for partners to collaborate with and could not speak of the details of what that collaboration would look like or who it would involve.
“I understand budget concerns, but one of the main jobs of being president is trying to strike a balance. Cutting a vital part of the community is foolish.”
“We still want to have local programming,” Rossbacher said. “We still have to cover it within our budget and so I can’t tell you right now exactly what that looks like. If any of the volunteers ask to be able to take any of the programs that they have already produced with them, we are absolutely cool with that. Some of what has appeared in the past may show up again through other media, but I don’t know exactly what the future is going to hold.”
During Rossbacher’s five-year term at HSU she has oversaw the closing of the HSU Third Street Art Gallery, the cutting of the football program, and now the massive firing and change of direction at KHSU—all integral components of the Humboldt community. When asked about the reasoning on why she made these decisions Rossbacher said it had to deal with shortfalls in money.
“My goal is to get to a balanced budget,” Rossbacher said. “There have been some difficult choices in the process of getting there. Over the last two years the university overall has managed to reduce spending by about $9 million, with another million dollars we need to find in the next year.”
Cliff Berkowitz, husband of Amy Berkowitz and fellow KRFH faculty member, felt that the abrupt firings were a betrayal of the community and noted that KHSU has been an integral part of the Humboldt community for over 50 years.
“I understand budget concerns, but one of the main jobs of being president is trying to strike a balance,” Cliff Berkowitz said. “Cutting a vital part of the community is foolish.”
Cliff Berkowitz has been teaching at HSU for 11 years and said that the announcement of the KHSU firings was a “gut punch.”
“The most telling example of how sinister this is, is evident in the letting go of the volunteers,” Cliff Berkowitz said. “Their shows and their connection to the community are the reason why the underwriters have contributed. And it is gone.”