Smokin' Klose

National Public Radio President/CEO Kevin Klose appeared on the UW-Madison campus today as part of a panel on the quality of the network’s coverage of Gulf War II. During Q-and-A, DIYmedia tried to get Klose to repent for his opposition to low power radio. The attempt was unsuccessful, but the excursion wasn’t a total loss….
Before the talk began, Klose was standing in the back of the auditorium speaking with various suits from the Wisconsin Public Radio system. There had to be at least 50 people in the auditorium, either suits or professors or students. I worked my way into the circle, and Klose stuck out his hand to shake mine: “Hi, I’m Kevin,” he said.
“I know,” was my response. “We met briefly in San Francisco in 2000, during an NPR board meeting there.”
Klose’s face briefly clouded over and he muttered, “Oh, you’re not one of those low power radio folks, are you?” I said I was; he mused out loud that he was happy the subject wasn’t on today’s agenda.
It was, but Klose didn’t know it yet.
After listening to the panel discussion, the group took questions from the audience. These drifted from the core subjects of the event and focused on community access to the media and the increasing trend of corporate consolidation. I got to ask the last question.
“I’d like to address something along the lines of this recent thread of questions. My question is specifically directed to Mr. Klose.”
He sat up, crossed his hands and rested his chin on them, prepared to nonchalantly listen to what I had to say.
I began with a brief overview of LPFM – how in 2000 the FCC had originally planned a much more expansive service; how the NAB and NPR teamed up (in what I called an “unholy alliance”) to convince Congress that the interference from LPFM stations was potentially disastrous and that it needed to legislatively veto the new service.
I mentioned the propaganda CD of “simulated” LPFM interference that made the rounds on Capitol Hill. I touched on how the NAB/NPR lobbying got a rider attached to a budget bill behind closed doors to cripple LPFM. And then I brought up the release this summer of Congressionally-mandated LPFM interference field tests, forced public by a Freedom of Information Act, which lays waste to that entire argument – including the scare-mongering about potential interference to radio reading services for the blind.
Throughout my entire spiel (which lasted only a couple of minutes), Klose began to squirm in his seat and flushed a pleasing shade of pink. He lined up a legal pad and began taking notes.
Now it was time to spring the question (actually two): “Based on what we now know, including the fact that the interference argument was a massive disinformation campaign that misled Congress into squelching a new expansion of community radio, I was wondering if perhaps you, Mr. Klose, or perhaps NPR’s Ombudsman, might want to offer a public apology for working to oppose LPFM and the new community radio stations it would bring.” I also wanted to know whether now, that the interference concerns were taken care of, NPR would work with LPFMs in the spirit of fostering that magical diversity of voices on the dial.
Klose got up from his seat and went back to the podium to answer. It took several minutes, making the forum run long, and it was quite disjointed. He said NPR has its “top engineers” looking into the MITRE LPFM report and will file comments on it with the FCC. He re-emphasized the worry that the blind would lose essential services due to interference (a fear the MITRE study debunks). He said his problem was that the FCC rushed an “unproven technology” onto the dial (what? FM radio is new technology?), and generally boiled down the entire proceeding to “stupid.” Then the event began to break up as most of the students trudged off to their next class.
I made my way to the front of the auditorium for some follow-up. Klose saw me and cut through a throng of people. We shook hands again, and I said, “Artful dodge.” He laughed. We then talked for another lively five minutes. I’m heavily paraphrasing here (this wasn’t an interview, after all), but the basic points Klose made about low power radio were these:
1. Regardless of what the facts are, Klose won’t let the interference conspiracy die. He thinks the FCC is sitting on another technical study which supposedly shows LPFM will do massive damage to subcarrier signals (like reading services for the blind). There is, however, no evidence that such a report exists.
2. Klose is still sore about the fact that LPFM advocates targeted NPR for pressure over its opposition the service. He mentioned some by name.
3. Klose tried to muddy the interference issue at one point, noting the disparity between the conclusions of the original technical studies filed by both sides of the LPFM fight. He brought up the February 19, 2000 House Telecommunications Subcommittee hearing on LPFM, where a row of engineers representing LPFM advocates and opponents all claimed different results. I told him how a friend of mine at that hearing sat behind the NAB’s engineers and snapped a picture over their shoulders, catching a screenshot of their laptop as they constructed their “interference examples” in a digital audio editing program. Klose thinks the NAB’s propaganda CD was a terrible idea.
4. Overall, not much has changed since Klose originally came out against LPFM. He’s still angry that NPR wasn’t even consulted by the FCC before it implemented on the plan. He’s still angry with former FCC Chairman William Kennard for refusing to hear him out personally. Basically, he still seems mad that someone had the audacity to create a new non-commercial radio service without checking with the dominant incumbent player in the realm. It almost seems like if Kennard would have shown him some personal deference, Klose might have swung the other way on the issue. When talking the politics of LPFM, the descriptor “bullshit” was even bandied about, more than once.
Throughout the entire encounter I felt like we were speaking right past one another. At one point I even suggested that we might have more in common than we realize – a shared love of radio, for one – if only some mutual listening could take place. Instead, Klose would make a detrimental claim about LPFM, I would rebut him, and he would simply rephrase the claim. The dialogue was still worth it, though, if only to just remind him of past sins.