By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
After losing their jobs in a cost-cutting move Monday, employees at Berkeley's KPFA returned to the radio station studios Tuesday, taking over the airwaves with a renegade show.
The unauthorized broadcast originated in a separate studio inside the station with the help of a remaining employee, said Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt.
The station had planned to broadcast a show from a sister station in Los Angeles to fill the time previously filled the morning show, but the staff member at the controls instead opened the microphones to the former employees who held their ground for two hours, Engelhardt said.
"If you have control of the microphones, you have control of the show for the moment," Engelhardt said.
"They do like drama, and I hope they won't come back. I'm trying to avoid any tactics of force if they do come back."
During the show, the hosts talked about the layoffs and took calls from listeners. Engelhardt also said she participated in the show to explain her position that without the layoffs the station wouldn't be able to make the next payroll.
Engelhardt said with the layoffs, the station's payroll budget will shrink from $2.3 million a year to $1.75 million and that includes the cost of severance packages.
Last week Engelhardt said the station has seen a drop in listener contributions of about $500,000 a year for the last three years.
Employees of the station have offered an alternative budget to avoid layoffs by cutting the budget of Pacifica Foundation's national staff. The foundation runs four other radio stations around the country.
Sasha Lilley, a radio host of another program who still has a job at KPFA, said it was silly to cut staff from the morning show since its listeners contribute the most to the station.
"It has the most listeners of any local program and is by far the station's biggest fundraiser," Lilley said. "We're worried that now we'll have more layoffs because no other program will be able to make up the difference." Lilley said the average salary at the station is about $24,000 a year.
On Friday, employees filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board, complaining that Pacifica failed to consider alternatives to layoffs.
Engelhardt said times are tough and there were no alternatives.
"Unfortunately we are living in unfortunate economic times," Engelhardt said. "KPFA is under the same economic duress as anyone else. All of our stations have been affected and have had cuts."