In January of 2000 struggles over the management of the Pacifica Foundation were at a fever pitch. As the owner of five major community radio stations in New York, LA, Berkeley, Houston and Washington DC, as well as the national Pacifica Network, the Pacifica National Board and its executive director were accused of orchestrating a corporate-style consolidation of power and censoring on-air content (for more on that read RadioSurvivor Matthew Lasar’s Uneasy Listening: Pacifica Radio’s Civil War). It was this latter charge that prompted a strike by the group of freelance reporters who contributed to the daily half-hour syndicated Pacifica Network News (PNN). Shortly thereafter the reporters formed a collective to produce their own daily news program, Free Speech Radio News (FSRN).
The station where I volunteered then, WEFT, picked up the program almost immediately, replacing PNN in its schedule, as did a bevy of other community stations. These decisions were driven as much by conflicts between affiliates and the Pacifica Network as they were by solidarity with the striking reporters.
FSRN is my #1 radio program because I have deep respect for the integrity of the organization and the program itself. I’ve been listening since the very start, and even then it showed itself to be very different from any other radio news program in the US. Operating as a worker-run collective, FSRN features reporters from all over the world, many of them reporting on events in their home towns, states and countries. As a result on any given edition of FSRN you will hear a diversity of voices from people of a wide range of backgrounds that stands in contrast to virtually any other radio news program. You will also gain a perspective that differs from that of an American reporter who parachuted into a crisis zone, may not speak the local language, and is otherwise separated from the local people except for those hours when s/he’s actually on the ground.
Showing its roots in the Pacifica Network, FSRN carries forward with a social justice mission, focusing on stories about people and issues that are largely left out of the mainstream news–whether its CNN, FOX or NPR. When reporting on national or global events that are also covered in the mainstream news, FSRN makes an effort to seek out unheard perspectives. For instance, this past week the program featured reports about residents living outside Port Au Prince in Haiti who are receiving less aid than those in the capital, and about activists’ expectations for the president’s State of the Union address.
The strike that created FSRN ended in March 2002 when the program joined the Pacifica Network, gaining both funding and better distribution via Pacifica’s satellite network. That happened shortly after Pacifica pulled the plug on its own PNN. Since then FSRN has continued to bring well-reported truly alternative radio news to 104 noncommercial community and college radio stations.
In 2008 the financially strapped Pacifica drastically reduced its financial support of FSRN, forcing FSRN to rely more heavily on listener donations. That the program has been able to survive is a testament to the resolve of the reporters and the great value its listeners place on this one-of-a-kind enterprise.
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