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Critics Question KQED's Direction

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THE modern earth-brown building dwarfs the surrounding red-brick warehouses and factories. Hanging over the side like a movie-house marquee are large silver letters reading "KQED."

The three-story, one-square-block building is home to San Francisco's public television and radio station. Critics charge that the office and studio complex is far too expensive for a public station and say it is a sign that management has lost touch with the station's community base.

This year KQED ran a $1 million deficit, its largest in history and eliminated 9.5 percent of its work force. The financial problems have accelerated long-standing criticism from community groups. A dissident slate won two of nine seats in last week's elections for the board of directors.

"KQED has lost track of its original purpose," says Sasha Futran, a freelance journalist who won a seat on the board. She says corporate underwriting and a big-business orientation by management have undercut the station's credibility. "We need to put the public back in public broadcasting," she says.

Station President Tony Tiano defends his station's policies. He says revenues have remained flat while costs have skyrocketed, and corporate underwriting is the only way many programs stay on the air. "Ours remains one of the best public stations in the country," he says.

Critics agree that KQED faces tough financial problems but disagree with management's solutions. Ms. Futran points to the new building as a waste of funds. All costs for the building ran just under $25 million, according to KQED figures.

"We could have spent that money on local programming," says Futran, "not on a fancy addition like the atrium."

The controversial atrium, located in the middle of the building, features skylights and a two-story-high curving wall. It cost about $100,000, according to KQED management.

Greg Sherwood, KQED director of communications and a former board member, says the station has benefited greatly from the larger space for the radio station and the ability to have all operations under one roof.

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