In an unusual turn for the 14-year-old “Larry Mantle’s AirTalk,” the usually impartial host carved out two hours during his daily talk show Wednesday evening to discuss the future of the station on which he appears, KPCC-FM (89.3) in Pasadena, and immediately let listeners know where he stood.
At issue is whether the public-radio outlet remains in the hands of the seven-member board of trustees of Pasadena City College or is transferred to a new operating entity--and what kind of programming will be offered.
Noting that it was the hardest program of his radio career, that staff members were literally and figuratively standing behind him in the studio at the college, Mantle, who is also the station’s program director, served notice. He said that unless something was done to make changes so that they could “freely program” the station and hire the full-time staff they needed and be able to “insulate” themselves from the college’s board on programming and hiring issues, he and other staff would be forced to leave KPCC.
It was “not a threat,” Mantle said, just reality. “This staff is tired, burned out and forced to carry a load that we’re not able to carry much longer,” he said.
Mantle said he favors an alliance with Minnesota Public Radio, which has proposed a partnership with KPCC in the creation of Southern California Public Radio. He described it as “a separate stand-alone entity that would provide funding for KPCC and also help to assure that the radio station could grow into the future.”
Mantle was serving up his comments with pleas for listeners to write and e-mail just as the board of trustees began to meet Wednesday. He indicated to listeners that the vote would not go his way. It didn’t.
On a 6-0 vote, with one board member out ill, the board voted to hire a consultant to draw up a proposal for how to operate KPCC by brokering or leasing air time to nonprofit organizations within a news and public information format.
Mantle argued on air that that could pave the way for a hodgepodge of programming, with no overriding philosophy. But James Kossler, president of Pasadena City College, said in an interview Thursday that “there are other entities” besides Minnesota Public Radio that can provide programming.
Kossler said that many of the elements proposed by Minnesota are “just perfect for us,” but the stumbling block is giving away the station license. Minnesota’s proposal calls for the station to be run by a locally selected board whose members would be selected by Pasadena City College and Minnesota--with Minnesota selecting one more person than the college.
“We’re still in conversations with them,” Kossler said. There was no immediate comment from Minnesota Public Radio.
Mantle suggested on his show that no other organization could do what Minnesota does. Calling it a “large and financially flush organization,” he said the alliance would create a local news staff of at least 10 people, substantially upgrade digital equipment and bring in millions of dollars.
With a $1.1-million annual budget and more than 300,000 listeners a week, Mantle argued that there was a “serious disconnect” between “a locally elected board, serving a small constituent base” and a station heard throughout the Southland. He said that Minnesota already has arrangements with 30 other stations.