[News] "Hard Times for Hard Knock" Radio

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Mon Jul 18 08:42:41 EDT 2005


  From eastbayexpress.com
Originally published by East Bay Express 2005-07-13
©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hard Times for Hard Knock
KPFA's ongoing public meltdown might drag the station's most crucial
program down with it.
By Eric K. Arnold

A couple weeks ago, Weyland Southon moderated a standing-room-only panel at
Cody's Books in Berkeley, featuring such leading lights of the hip-hop
literary movement as Tricia Rose, Jeff Chang, and Adam Mansbach. Southon --
a swarthy, freckled Samoan dude -- made a near-perfect moderator, spurring
the conversation without dominating it. The provocative result was the sort
of event Hard Knock Radio -- the KPFA radio show Southon has
executive-produced since its inception -- has proactively promoted
throughout its five-year history, addressing issues we don't hear about
often enough: namely, race, class, white privilege, and social activism as
they relate to the Hip-Hop Generation.

But as KPFA -- along with its parent media company, Pacifica -- undergoes a
catastrophic, high-profile implosion, its most important program might be
suffering most of all.

As the Cody's panel wound down, Southon made a shocking announcement: Hard
Knock's future, as well as his own, was in jeopardy, threatened by a new
boss with a bad attitude coupled with an opposing faction within KPFA. He
got even more specific a few days later, firing off a widely forwarded
open-letter e-mail that officially put the station on blast.

The letter, signed by Southon and the entire HKR staff -- including host
Davey D and senior producer Anita Johnson -- wasted little time asserting
the show's importance: "As many of you know, funding for public radio is
constantly threatened by government forces who do not value free speech and
community-minded media. The people who stand to lose the most are the next
generation of listeners: people of color and youth, poor folks, and
immigrants." This demographic appreciated HKR because "We understand how to
speak to their concerns, engage in sincere outreach to their communities,
and provide them with programming that is neither patronizing nor
alienating. Without HKR as a lightning rod, these audiences may abandon
Pacifica and KPFA entirely."

KPFA's internal crises are myriad and well reported (by the Express' own
Bottom Feeder, among others), and the letter went on to address the
epicenter of the station's recent calamity, accusing controversial station
GM Roy Campanella of trying to "crush" HKR through intimidation and
malicious rumor-mongering. Nevertheless, Southon and company insisted, "We
refuse to abandon all that we have done in the last five years to build a
new audience for KPFA, Pacifica, and public radio. We will not allow such
progressives to continue to marginalize and ghettoize programming for young
people and communities of color. We regret that it has come to this."
In an interview two weeks prior to the vituperative e-mail, Southon
explained that he and Campanella had beef from jump street; at their first
meeting, he says, the GM patronizingly accused him of "causing trouble."
During a subsequent meeting to discuss budgetary concerns, Campanella
allegedly bragged he could get HKR made into a Hollywood movie, starring
Ice Cube as Davey D. "I know Cube," the GM reportedly said. "He'll do it."

Southon says the two also frequently clashed over fund-raising issues. The
HKR crew sought increased funding for a new Web site, new equipment, and
street promotion. But Campanella refused to budge on the budget unless the
show ceded exclusive ownership of the Hard Knock name to his corporate
masters, an unprecedented move within the entire Pacifica network. The feud
exploded during a widely publicized shouting match, wherein Campanella (a
KPFA newcomer) allegedly violently threatened Southon (a ten-year veteran

Reached by phone at his office, Campanella certainly didn't seem the
violent-tempered hothead he has been made out to be in the press. His tone
and manner were both polite and surprisingly calm, despite -- or maybe
because of -- rumors of his imminent firing. In hindsight, he says, "There
are some things I could have done better," and apologized for any
misunderstanding. Campanella says the media attention he has received has
been his "first experience with public humiliation," but notes that he
inherited both the factionalism and the budget when he joined KPFA.

Campanella admits he called Southon a troublemaker, but says he meant it
"in a totally positive sense," noting that in African-American dialect,
meanings are sometimes reversed (e.g. Run-DMC's "bad meaning good"). He
also denies ever demanding that Hard Knock give up intellectual property
rights, and said his idea of a movie starring Ice Cube was just one
"possible avenue that could be helpful to the show." Despite their history
of conflict, he expressed his admiration for the Hard Knock staff, as well
as a desire to resolve the situation through mediation. "I'm here and I'm
open and I'm ready to discuss it," he concluded.

Southon is under the gun as well, mainly due to an anonymous note
distributed to KPFA staffers claiming that "Weylan Southen [sic] and Hard
Knock Radio may be using KPFA money illegally to launder money collected
publicly." The anonymous letter also accused Southon of both anti-Semitism
and sexual harassment, which both seem uncharacteristic. (Full disclosure:
I've known Southon for more than a decade, and have appeared several times
as a guest on HKR.)

Southon, for his part, dismisses the allegations against him as baseless,
and maintains that any monies he raised went back into the show,
brandishing a pile of itemized receipts he says proves he's telling the
truth. And in a letter of complaint to the KPFA board refuting the charges
against him, he explained his predicament: "KPFA has refused to fund
construction of a HKR Web site. As a result, we have developed innovative
fund-raising strategies" to help the show "better engage our audience."
Southon also pointed to the existence of a double standard, whereby some
shows receive "unprecedented economic investment," "unlimited perks," and
"extra attention," while others don't.

In fact, the Hard Knock guru insists the real issue here is that people of
color have had a difficult time advancing at KPFA, due to the entrenchment
of a hip-hop-hatin', folk-music-lovin', eco-commie clique of liberal
elitists who have ironically railed against the hypocrisy of the System
without recognizing their own institutional racism. For all their PC
politics, Southon says, the station's "Old Guard" has clung to power
tenaciously, and hasn't "allowed a new generation to come up." He notes
that younger programmers -- in particular women of color who've graduated
from the station's apprenticeship program -- have left in droves.

Demographically, Southon is right. With alt.country darling KPIG's recent
invasion of the East Bay, KPFA should make greater inroads with the urban
audience if it wants to ensure not only its relevance, but its very
survival. The beleaguered station's future audience lies not with folk, but
with hip-hop. And no one personifies and stimulates that audience more
effectively than Hard Knock.

Consider the show's memorable moments in hip-hop broadcast journalism:
Southon's trip to Cuba, Johnson's journey to Haiti, and Davey D's voyages
to both the World AIDS conference in Spain and the G8 summit in Scotland
are all part of what Southon calls HKR's "global presence." Musically, the
show has featured everyone from locally bred stars like Goapele and Mystic
to hip-hop pioneers like Grandmaster Caz and Slick Rick to progressive jazz
cats like Christian McBride and Charlie Hunter. The show also has covered
the Hip Hop Feminism Conference, cosponsored the Hip Hop Theatre Festival
with Aya de León and Marc Bamuthi Jacobs, and aired a segment with guest
correspondent Michael Franti reporting from the WTO conference in Seattle
amid a fusilade of rubber bullets. Compared to that, KMEL and WYLD's
programming seems rather timid.

Yet through it all, Southon says, he's never gotten involved in KPFA's
endless internal political struggle. Until now. "I've been about one thing:
riding for Hard Knock," he concludes. Whether that will provide his
downfall or his saving grace remains to be seen.

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