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Rough notes: towards the end of Pacifica Radio (and the start of something new)

As the troubles facing Pacifica radio persist without apparent end, I sometimes wonder whether the five station listener supported radio network should voluntarily dismantle itself—that is, transfer its licenses to five local non-profit entities.

I am not the first person to suggest this. Community radio pioneer Lorenzo Milam more or less laid the idea out back in 1999. So did former KPFA Music Director Charles Shere. I differ with their scenarios in that I envision a break up facilitating the birth of a stronger national organization for progressive community radio.

There are several cases for sun setting the Pacifica Foundation, which owns the licenses to five listener supported radio stations in the United States. The first is that the organization finds itself in a potentially irreparable state of financial crisis. According to the network’s latest audit, over the last four years the non-profit has lost over five and a half million dollars. That’s roughly half of what Pacifica collects in listener subscriber donations in a typical September-to-September fiscal period. Its working capital has declined from positive $2,835,309 in 2007 to negative $1,034,153 as of September 30, 2011.

“These conditions and events have given rise to a substantial doubt about the Foundation’s ability to meet its obligations as they become due,” the audit warns, “without substantial disposition of assets outside the ordinary course of operations, or restructuring of debt, or externally forced revisions of its operations or similar actions.”

Last sentence of the audit: “Substantial doubt remains as to the ability of the Foundation to continue as a going concern as of the date of this report.”

The second reason is that the Pacifica network has no clear mission. Since Pacifica democratized in 2002/2003, turning its local governance boards over to subscriber elected delegates, it has become an electoral battleground, in which different agendas for the organization have fought each other to a standstill in draining contests for local station board seats (here’s a quick tutorial on Pacifica governance).

This is most obvious right now at Pacifica station KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, which now has two different morning drive-time shows (Up Front at 7 AM; Morning Mix at 8 AM), controlled by the supporters of two different electoral factions. But similar convulsions have taken place at the other stations, WBAI in New York City, KPFT in Houston, KPFK in Los Angeles, and WPFW in Washington, DC.

For all practical purposes, these elections have reduced Pacifica radio to a large body of air time surrounded by people who want some. As the network deteriorates, its fate will continue to be decided, helter skelter, by whoever is elected to its five local station boards, which, by my estimate, have now cost the organization $2,928,461 since the network democratized itself a decade ago ($2,802,685 plus $125,776 for 2011 as per the latest audit). That figure will probably rise well above the three million zone when Pacifica holds its next round of board elections this year. So desperate is Pacifica’s current executive director about this regular debacle that in a recent board meeting she suggested that it might be cheaper to drop the event and be sued than to let the fool thing go forward.

The third and more structural argument for a break up is that the Pacifica Foundation is expected to perform two tasks that often seem if not at odds, certainly a burden upon each other. The first is to oversee the administrative affairs of five locally based listener supported radio stations. The second is to collect a portion of the income that these stations and Pacifica affiliates generate to fund and distribute programming to almost 140 affiliate community or college based radio outlets.

It seems to me that the second task is a very worthy and necessary one—aggregating resources for shows like Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News, as well as the other programs that Pacifica distributes. According to a recent article in Current, the foundation is behind on its payments to DN and FSRN. Nonetheless, some non-profit entity should be able to focus on this task more, and supervise the five stations far less. In truth, they ought to take care of themselves. Many independent community radio stations across the country do so; some with great success.

An accident?

Some historical background might help the discussion (I wrote a book about this, if anyone is interested). Pacifica radio could be accurately described as an “accidental network.” Although the Foundation very purposefully launched KPFA in 1949, its acquisition of the next station, KPFK-FM in Los Angeles was controversial. The pacifist organizers of that project wanted a separate non-profit for the frequency; some quit when they discovered that it would be otherwise. A philanthropist gave WBAI in New York City to Pacifica in 1960. When Pacifica’s then board President was contacted about the gift, he initially thought it was a crank call. The founders of KPFT-FM in Houston weren’t that interested in joining Pacifica; by some accounts they affiliated only because they thought that it would smooth the path to a Federal Communications Commission license.

Thus the only two truly deliberate Pacifica stations are KPFA and the network’s historically black, jazz oriented station WPFW-FM, launched in 1977 after a long bureaucratic struggle. These two signals have been endlessly suspicious of each other over the decades. I’ve lost count of the number of KPFA activists who have derogatorily referred to WPFW as the station that hardly broadcasts any public affairs programming, and the number of WPFW programmers who deployed some variant of the phrase “that white station in Berkeley” to refer to KPFA. There has never been much basis for unity in this relationship.

Nonetheless, starting in the mid-1980s, a new generation of Pacifica board members and managers began asking the obvious questions: how do we make Pacifica greater than the sum of its parts? How do we turn this fragmented scenario into a competitive network? The results were successful, to a degree. By the late 1990s, after a decade of being overshadowed by NPR, Pacifica could point to gavel-to-gavel coverage of significant national events, and most importantly, the launching of the remarkably successful program Democracy Now!

But a whole generation of programmers were displaced by the process, and by 1999 the network exploded from the resultant tensions, leading to the managerial shutdown of KPFA in Berkeley, followed by a similar debacle at WBAI. The “democratization” of Pacifica in 2002/2003 was supposed to resolve these conflicts by somehow guaranteeing that governance would remain in the hands of Pacifica’s “grass roots” base. But that thinking seems magical in retrospect. Instead the “network” is now honeycombed with factions of air time seekers and air time defenders using the foundation’s costly subscriber elections as their battleground.

As the situation deteriorates, it becomes less and less clear whether Pacifica is worth the endless trouble that it creates for itself and others. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that many activists climb up to the Pacifica national board from their respective local boards with very little knowledge of the organization as a whole (I’ve also lost count of the number of board members I’ve met who couldn’t match call letters with location for three out of the five Pacifica stations). In this capacity these Solons make life and death decisions about the other Pacifica frequencies with barely any understanding of them, sometimes guided by self-interested or ideological agendas rather than facts. This also greatly polarizes Pacifica’s internal life.

The latest strategy for Pacifica, perhaps repudiated at the last National Board Meeting in Berkeley, could be roughly characterized as follows: remove paid, unionized professional staff from station air slots and replace them with what I would characterize as “entrepreneurial volunteers,” who derive their compensation from professional or ideological self-promotion.

Shortly before ripping the entire KPFA Morning Show down in the late months of 2010 and replacing it with a hodgepodge of volunteer hosts, Engelhardt offered this justification for the move.

“I think we’ve lost sight of our way, particularly at KPFA more so than at the other stations in the Pacifica network. We use less volunteers and pay more staff for functions that in some cases could be done by volunteers, than is happening at other stations in the network.

That’s one of the foundations of community radio, and I think that when times were, shall we say, fat, there was plenty of money, it was great to pay everyone for almost every function within the station. Now that we’re hitting some lean times, it’s time to remember what our foundation was, that was in volunteerism.”

Speaking at the Berkeley gathering, at which even more draconian staff cuts were proposed by national management, KPFA Local Station Board Vice Chair Sasha Futran offered an assessment of this strategy:

What I understand the majority here wants to do is cut the programming that brings in the money. . . . There are some phenomenal people who can come in and be good on the air right away. But they’re fairly rare. And your paid staff is going to produce the programming that people will listen to, and therefore with more listeners you will bring in more money. It’s a downward spiral to cut staff from the stations that are bringing in marginal surplus or just making it.

It was encouraging to learn that Pacifica appears to have stepped back from this top-down retrenchment oriented approach. According to the SaveKPFA faction, which opposed the closing down of the Morning Show, the national governing board eventually passed a resolution proposed by one of the slate’s board members. It commanded each station to autonomously produce a “thorough and realistic analysis of the station’s projected revenue and expenses,” and submit that to the Pacifica National Office and Pacifica National Board. The most challenging pillar of this task will fall upon WBAI in New York City, which pays exorbitant rent for its studios in the Wall Street area and for its transmitter access, and must move soon to relieve itself and the network of these burdens.

The budget resolution was “an important step forward for local control,” SaveKPFA proclaimed—that is, local control for the five Pacifica stations.

But if “local control” is the ultimate goal here, and if Pacifica isn’t even steadily keeping up with its contributions to Free Speech Radio News and Democracy Now!, what is the point of the Pacifica Foundation? Isn’t it time that we again asked the obvious questions relevant to the present? Is Pacifica radio as it is currently construed more trouble than it is worth? Doesn’t the rapidly expanding multiverse of community, college, unlicensed, and Internet radio venues, soon to be bolstered by a new generation of Low Power FM stations, deserve a better system for program distribution than this Byzantine quagmire?

One way out

In the past, interested parties have suggested Local Management Agreements between Pacifica and the stations as a solution to the problem. But while they’ll give the stations some autonomy, they’ll never resolve conflicts over money. So here is a napkin-notes hypothetical orderly transition towards a new system (or as orderly as possible given the subject matter):

Step one: Some new entity that oversees national programming and distribution for community radio should be established. It would perhaps be overseen by Democracy Now! (attention Pacifica conspiracy-theory lovers: DN isn’t behind this idea; nobody at the firehouse studios was consulted about this essay). Free Speech Radio News and the Pacifica Archives would merge into the foundation, along with relevant staffs and resources.

This is only one possible scenario, of course. There are many other ways that the new entity could be configured. One would hope that Pacifica’s many affiliate stations would enjoy more of a presence in any future scheme.

Step two: Shortly thereafter, the Pacifica Foundation would transfer the Federal Communications Commission licenses of the five Pacifica stations to their respective Local Station Boards, as they concurrently themselves up as non-profits. They would be granted these licenses on one proviso—they must pay the new national programming foundation around eight to twelve percent of their annual income for the next ten years, which is much less than they contribute to Pacifica now.

Some mechanism for making certain that this obligation is fulfilled would have to be set up. This would form the basis for funding national programming. Must carry agreements for national shows would also be attached to the deal.

Step three: Once the stations have become independent, what is left of the Pacifica Foundation’s resources and assets relevant to them would transfer to them (such as the KPFA building)—the rest would transfer to the new foundation. Pacifica radio would cease to exist. Its replacement would have a clearer, simpler purpose, with an agreed upon stream of income for a decade.

This is obviously a rough sketch. I’m sure that factors that I have not foreseen impede this scenario. It might take an organizational miracle to pull off. Some coordination with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be necessary to make it work, along with the FCC, of course. Like any such transition, there are risks involved.

But the current situation cannot continue. It threatens to close the Pacifica network down, and probably sooner rather than later.

I look forward to constructive responses to this post. I’d be surprised if Radio Survivor readers write in to claim that there is still some basis for unity at Pacifica. This is an organization whose factions now spend much of their time trying to squelch each other via censure motions, parliamentary board maneuvers, lawsuits, or recall campaigns. Feel free to insist that Pacifica would be a great network if those awful people that you dislike or oppose would just shut up, stand down, change, or go away. The problem, of course, is that they won’t.  After all, have you?

PS: In case anyone is wondering, I took no position on the recall vote at KPFA on KPFA Local Station Board delegate and Pacifica National Board member Tracy Rosenberg. Predictably, the matter is now bottled up in court, which is the fate of most Pacifica electoral events. I see the whole controversy as a symptom of Pacifica radio’s elections, which, as I argue in this essay, reliably produce highly polarized boards whose principals are far more interested in getting or defending air time for their followers than they are in finding common ground or solving urgent problems. Send me a reasonably thought out petition calling for the end of these races. That’s something I’d like to sign.

As usual, civil responses to this essay are welcome. Gratuitously nasty, insulting, and accusatory comments will find themselves lost in our spam queue, along with posts that contain expletives and lots of hyperlinks.

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19 Responses to Rough notes: towards the end of Pacifica Radio (and the start of something new)

  1. Name? Are you kidding me ? August 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    A very insightful article about Pacifica. It’s a very good plan, and I have wondered out loud whether it would just be better if the five stations just went forward on their own. My big concern is that the current national management may not have the skills or experience to carry out such a transition.

  2. Dee D. August 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Thank you Matthew Lasar! Many of us engaged in Pacifica’s work have been thinking along these lines for some time, and it is good to hear it put forward in a systematic and rational way. Many of us desperately want to get back to the work of producing progressive radio and out of the governance game.

    The problem is how to get enough agreement to embark on such a future without being torn apart by the network’s sectarians (and I use “sectarian” in its classic sense of narrow-minded, inflexible and self-righteous). Those folks — whom I see as the Rosenberg/Engelhardt/Williams group — are currently clinging to their power and show no sign of letting go. They can, and have, thrown a lot of obstacles in the path of any reform.

  3. Jack Radey August 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    I think this approach makes sense. We almost lost the whole thing when the Pacifica Board back when decided to dissolve the network AFTER selling off the station’s liscences (hot property, smack in the middle of the FM dial). The danger, certainly at KPFA, is that the station does not control its own liscence, and thus cannot disaffiliate from the disfunctional national organization. The station is in trouble, but with the pacifica millstone around its neck, its doomed.

  4. jest an 'umble listener August 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    How’s that spam queue doing, Matthew?

    I felt compelled to attend to the ruckus at the station in 2010, because it was no longer possible to just turn on the radio in the morning and leave it on all day, knowing that most things were at least a little interesting and fairly well-presented; and that the pledge periods were not unbearably long and frequent. Part of my research on what the hell was happening was to read your book.

    I, and everyone else involved or interested whom I respect, have come to pretty much come to similar conclusions as yours. The National Board and Foundation has become an attractive nuisance for the ambitious, and a concrete overcoat for struggling stations that could otherwise pull themselves out of their difficulties. Even KPFA, contentious as it has been, finds the contention amplified by local board members who claim a ‘higher duty’ to National than to the local folks who elected them.

  5. Barrie Ann Mason August 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    All this sounds very sensible to me. I think that Pacifica as it is now serves very little useful purpose and is a financial drain.

  6. Tracy Rosenberg August 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    Unfortunately, the hypothesis doesn’t really ring true when you actually spend time inside the stations and the boards. Every station is at war with itself, financially unstable and constantly hamstrung by internal programming wars, paid/unstaff tensions and management issues. The National board is an exercise in understanding 5 different soap operas instead of just the one from which you derive. There is no ability within the stations to navigate these problems and in almost every case, increased local control has lead to operating deficits, program stagnation and a parade of managers in and out like a game of roulette.

    How do you fix it?

    If you look at the history of community radio, because these problems exist at some level or another throughout the long experiment, despite the Pacifica station’s ability to take it to the max, the fixes usually come through establishing some – rules of the road as it were, specifically about how programming decisions get made, how jobs get filled and how resources are allocated.

    The long 40-year history of cronyism and nepotism at the Pacifica stations has long negated any such attempts and force the organization into repetitive cycles of revenge and retribution that never end. It’s eternally discouraging when attempts at normal nonprofit practices inevitably end up being characterized as part of the same sick cycle. Sadly, there’s blood on them walls and it often feels like being in the Oresteia when one doesn’t want to be.

    None of that will change under this scenario. It will simply play out within 5 different – and weaker – organizations. Given that independent media is so severely threatened and attacked on all sides, it seems fairly foolish to me to further weaken the stations and prevent them from banding together against the assaults that will always come at them. Not to mention the maintenance of the Pacifica Archives, which is a historical obligation of the highest magnitude that cannot be ignored.

    Nobody has all the answers, but that doesn’t mean suicide is indicated. Anyone that cares about independent media should never wish for its demise, no matter how frustrating the soap operas get.

    The idea that these stations can survive on their own is a bit of a pipe dream given their histories. The infrastructure requirements would be huge, layers of local management would have to increase, and the wars of the roses would only intensify.

    If you think it’s bad now …..

  7. Carol Spooner August 5, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    Time for an Amicable Divorce at Pacifica?

    An Open Letter to the Pacifica Foundation Board of Directors

    [Warning: This proposal would take a year or two to complete. Even if approved in principle right away, it would still be necessary to cut expenses across the network now so that payrolls can be met and creditors can be paid for the next 12-24 months. Without that, the whole thing could end up in the hands of a bankruptcy trustee and this opportunity to solve our own problems responsibly would be lost].

    These have been my private thoughts for a couple of years. I’ve held back publishing them, hoping against hope that there was some path to saving the Pacifica network as a network helping to bring progressive programming not just to the 5 Pacifica stations, but to over 100 affiliate stations across the country. I have given my wholehearted support to Arlene Engelhardt and to others who have tried. But I no longer believe it is possible.

    If the past two decades have demonstrated anything about Pacifica it is that — No, we cannot all get along.

    The strife and conflict at Pacifica have been going on longer than twenty years — probably since the beginning — but the stark reality came sharply into focus with the Pat Scott years, the Mary Frances Berry years, and the past 11 years since the democratization experiment began.

    Each of the five Pacifica radio stations has a different history, a different audience, and a different philosophy and interpretation of the Pacifica mission. Attempting to hold it all together without basic agreements on core principles is doomed to failure, and has brought Pacifica and the five stations to the brink of bankruptcy. These five radio stations do not want to be a network.

    There is a solution: Break it up.

    My proposal is that each of the five Pacifica radio stations — with the approval of the members from each station — should form a local non-profit corporation and that the Pacifica Foundation should transfer the broadcast licenses to those five separate local non-profits. Each station would be free to structure its governance and bylaws as it saw fit — so long as the local members approved, and so long as they were in conformity with applicable state laws and FCC requirements for holders of non-commercial broadcast licenses. Each of the five stations would be completely independent from the other four stations and from the Pacifica Foundation.

    The five stations each has its own internal divisions and problems to resolve. Breaking the network up would not solve those problems but would limit the impact of those problems to the local station, their listeners, members, staff and management. It would allow each station to work its problems out locally (or not) without injecting them into a toxic brew that impacts the ability of the other stations and the network to function and survive.

    The Pacifica Foundation would go forward as a granting institution — providing grants to aid in the production of programming that fulfills its core mission:

    • In radio broadcasting, to engage in any activity that shall contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors; to gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between any and all of such groups; and through any and all means compatible with the purposes of this Foundation to promote the study of political and economic problems and of the causes of religious, philosophical and racial antagonisms.

    • In radio broadcasting, to promote the full distribution of public information; to obtain access to sources of news not commonly brought together in the same medium; and to employ such varied sources in the public presentation of accurate, objective, comprehensive news on all matters vitally affecting the community.

    Pacifica would continue as a distribution hub for such programming on the web, through podcasting, and to radio stations across the country — as well as maintaining and preserving the priceless Pacifica Radio Archives.

    Pacifica would revise its bylaws so that it is completely independent from the five stations. Its board of directors would no longer be made up of representatives from the five stations. The divorce should be amicable, but complete. There should be no employees of the five stations or any members of their boards of directors serving on the Pacifica Foundation board of directors going forward. Pacifica should have a small board of 5-9 directors made up of progressive media leaders, philanthropists and fundraising experts, and other professionals to insure that it is properly run for long term financial stability and fulfillment of its mission.

    How? Find a signal swap for WBAI.

    Sometime around 2006-2007 there was an offer for a signal swap for WBAI that included $150 million in cash, and a radio frequency down the dial in the non-commercial band. The board voted it down back then — in part because they feared a “feeding frenzy” over the money. The value of radio frequencies has probably dropped somewhat since then. But WBAI is in the middle of the commercial band in the middle of Manhattan with a valuable antenna lease on the Empire State Building.

    WBAI was given to the Pacifica Foundation by philanthropist Louis Schweitzer in 1960 to further the mission of Pacifica. Thus, sufficient proceeds from a signal swap should be used to permit the Pacifica Foundation to continue to carry out its core mission, but to do so without holding the broadcast licenses to any radio stations.

    In addition, the distribution of proceeds from a signal swap should recognize the 52 years that WBAI’s listeners and staff have donated and worked and volunteered to support that station and its mission in the New York area. WBAI has recently fallen on hard times for many reasons not pertinent to this proposal. But its listener base cannot support the expensive tower lease at the Empire State Building any longer — and the lease has an escalator clause in it so the price will continue to go up. The solution is a signal swap to some more affordable broadcast tower.

    I don’t know what a WBAI signal swap would bring these days, but for the sake of round numbers I’m using $100 million to illustrate an equitable distribution of the proceeds.

    My proposal is to distribute half the proceeds to the Pacifica Foundation and 10% to WBAI off the top, with the remaining 40% distributed to the five stations based on the size of their relative average gross annual income as reported by the auditors over the past 4 years, with adjustments for the interdivision accounts receivable and payable per the 2011 auditor’s report. (This process would probably take a year to complete, so the numbers would change slightly as the 2012-2013 figures come in. But see the attached spreadsheet for the calculations.)

    This would result in the following distributions:

    $52,583,080 – Pacifica Foundation

    $12,332,557 – KPFA

    $10,690,694 – KPFK

    $ 3,302,266 – KPFT

    $16,886,090 – WBAI

    $ 4,205,314 – WPFW

    This would give KPFA, KPFK, KPFT & WPFW each roughly 2-1/2 to 3 years’ gross income which they could use as endowment funds, while WBAI would have an extra boost to help them deal with the disruption, difficulties and logistics of moving their signal. If the stations fail to handle the money wisely, the damage they can do would be limited, as it would not impact the other stations or Pacifica Foundation.

    Pacifica Foundation would have a sufficient endowment fund so that, with careful stewardship, it could preserve the historic Pacifica Archives as well as help to provide much needed funding for the production of alternative progressive media in this country.

    Many of us have devoted many years to Pacifica and its radio stations, and we care deeply about them even though we may disagree about how they should be programmed, operated, managed and governed. It is time to for all of us to stop this destructive conflict and to find a way to move on in the best interests of fulfilling the mission of Pacifica and our respective stations.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Carol Spooner

    Former Pacifica Foundation Board Member (January 2002- January 2005)

  8. John Iversen August 6, 2012 at 3:49 am #

    Much good food for thought Mathew. I just told Ann Garrison on Saturday that the latest unfair legal move by Tracy might very well end up with KPFA going it’s own way. Tracy will most likely end the Pacifica Network as we know it. Yet she’s an ardent defender of Pacifica and to my knowledge has said very little in criticism of management while chastising the union at every opportunity.

    Tracy’s contradiction lies with WBAI and it’s reflection on the Pacifica National Board. Tracy would have KPFA go the way of WBAI, which is in great danger. WBAI doesn;t even mail out premiums they say they will these days to save money. This is a great strategy, especially for first time pledgers. The hatchet job in the fall of 2010 led by folks at WBAI management lead to about 50 programs being arbitrarily moved without even consulting programmers to see if they were available at the new time. Any health or gay show was moved far from the noon to one, Mon-Fri time slot so that Gary Null, aids denialist, would not be challenged by critics right before or after his program which is paid for by millionaire Steve Brown(

    So Tracy wants to keep the Pacifica Management which is bleeding the network dry. Part of the bleed is keeping “her model”, WBAI, from going under. The mainly volunteer effort after 2010 has not worked out so well. Tracy is so myopic she has not uttered much about WBAI where the folks bringing recall signatures were simply ignored by PNB and WBAI management because the people there had no money to challenge it legally. By laws apply in Berkeley, but not New York. The KPFA community is much stronger and more united than WBAI has been since 1999. Tracy is in cahoots with PNB, WBAI management (the problem) and WBAI LSB which has her endorser, aids denialist Mitch Cohen as its president. Save KPFA, ACT UPs East Bay, Phillie and NY, Action Action Project, East Bay AIDS Center, and 1500 international signatures gathered by Julie Davids, Paul Davis and myself kept Null from being syndicated. Get this–Null thought he was going to be the next Amy Goodman.

    Thus we deal with Tracy, Arlene, WBAI mgmt, [section deleted for going over our insult-o-meter -editor]. It’s blowin in the wind.

  9. Michael Huntsberger August 6, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    Perhaps it’s time to finally admit that communitarianism has failed as foundation for governing and managing broadcasting organizations. If the goal is to distribute progressive programming and promote social change, hire some good people to create and distribute the content, and then let them do their jobs.

  10. Virginia August 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    Tracy Rosenberg, in her comment here, as usual combines the stamina to attend to (read in this case, listen in others) what is offered, and to thoughtfully respond. We who have benefited from a a media source such as KPFA, so unwieldy in so many ways, still there, still working to engage listeners with an alternative to the 99% of media that’s simply bought, owe Tracy so much.

    I know most of you don’t realize this, as you’ve been carefully cultivated by disinformers out for what? their own jobs? something behind that in some cases? I’ve been to most LSB meetings in the past few years at KPFA; I’ve seen the actual memos by the KPFA “union” calling on their members to NOT assist the station; I’ve spent time with longtime labor leaders called “scabs” for being on one program versus another; I’ve been there more than once, or twice, or three times when Tracy patiently instructed these current demoralizers about the financial details they were asked to understand – and of course no one disagreed because she was simply reporting what was there or missing. You have no idea how lucky you have been that Tracy deigned to sacrifice so much time to this network and station. And are you even willing to seek out, as KPFA should have taught you, another point of view? Have any comments here listed these websites? – , , and many at

  11. klewis August 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks for this insightful story. As a KPFA listener who cannot pretend to understand the complexities of this situation, here’s what I wondered about in reading it:

    -Why not find a group of experts to look at the challenges antagonistically and work back from the point from which these stations have the best chance to survive given the current competitive landscape and external threats like: media consolidation; lack of diverse, independent programming; dwindling # of college/community stations, etc. Maybe MBA students at Cal or a group willing to do some scenario and strategic planning work to build an innovative new model?

    -What happens, if hypothetically, stations make the move towards independence, fundraising revenue continues to decline as is the trend, and both programming and salary cuts must be made?

    -Are the licenses at greater risk if the network disbands?

    -Given these decisions impact not only the staff and volunteers, but also the local independent media ecosystems and people in these communities — how can these conversations become more inclusive and pragmatic? It seems like the public are who most often get left out of the dialog about public airwaves. Shouldn’t any new model start with understanding the information needs of your local communities and engendering their support in the important work to serve them? Could that dialog be a natural and fair antidote to factions and entrenched notions?

    -Why fight, or worry about personal grudges/concerns when there’s a limited opportunity to restore and protect something so critically important?

  12. Virginia August 6, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    I tried to make a comment earlier here, supporting the comment of Tracy Rosenberg above, which is, as usual, thoughtful and made from a place of enormous experience. I suppose you could say my comment wasn’t directly enough related to the article, but I think it was, as board members are attacked globally above here, and I think many deserve thanks and respect, Rosenberg most of all. Do you have to remove the few who come here to disagree with you?

  13. Civil D August 6, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    Sad that the left is so burdened by infighting that it can’t maintain a network of 5 measly stations.

    Good luck with coordinating national coverage on any progressive matter.

    Just leave that to the commercial networks, who continue to do battle on the grounds of the culture war, while the real people are left to create their own media by other means and distribute them ourselves.

    If Pacifica supporters can’t suck it up and get over their egos in order to see the benefits of a nationally coordinated effort / network in doing battle with the right wing, then I guess radio really is dead or dying.

  14. Matthew Lasar August 6, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    Virginia – at the end of the post I made the criterion for responses pretty clear:

    “As usual, civil responses to this essay are welcome. Gratuitously nasty, insulting, and accusatory comments will find themselves lost in our spam queue, along with posts that contain expletives and lots of hyperlinks.”

    Your post had three hyperlinks, which means that it was classified as spam by our Word Press spam queue. We get huge amounts of spam comments with that many hyperlinks, so we block them. That’s why the comment did not appear.

    I’ve gone into the queue and approved your earlier comment, so it is now posted.

  15. Virginia August 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    Thanks for posting. Lot going on, sorry I didn’t notice the criteria.


  16. Steve Yaffe August 7, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    These reforms can’t be accomplished without amended bylaws. LSB elections should be framed around approval of new bylaws. For that reason, LSB elections should be postponed to gain member approval for changing the bylaws. I’ve always been surprised by the absence of information that accompanied the LSB ballots – no concise statement of the challenges faced by either the individual station or Pacifica as a whole. We don’t know what the candidate statements are responding to.

    The most recent audit has a stark paragraph of reality (Section 19). That paragraph, along with a table splitting the accumulated losses over 5 years at the Station level, should be on page 1 for review by the members. Page 2 should summarize these proposals to reorganize Pacifica into a program distribution hub while spinning off the stations, with a link to draft completely rewritten Pacifica bylaws and draft new local station bylaws. Page 3 should be written by the local station, offering a vision of an independent future if the new bylaws are adopted. LSB candidates must be required to respond (yes or no) whether they would approve the amended bylaws.

    Station survival must be attended to.

    The core reforms (to sum up) are: 1) reorganize the foundation’s staff to focus on becoming a distribution hub for station (and archive) programming while sharing the wealth; 2) gain capital immediately as recommended by Ms. Spooner’s proposal for WBAI, above; 3) use that capital to move WBAI and WPFW’s offices and WBAI’s frequency and tower and pay off some debt; 4) set standard local station bylaws in preparation for spin-off; and 5) set clear standards for success (5 max) to clearly and succinctly set direction for staff, volunteers, and especially contributors and potential grantors. The bylaws need to be structured to encourage contributions and grants.

    By the way, while I agree that stations should be spun off, that objective is not of highest urgency. The FCC approval process may be a danger, depending upon election results.

    One last thought on Pacifica’s ideology: it actively discourages partnerships. Partnerships may be the key towards a balanced budget. If Pacifica were to become a distribution hub – partners with listening subscribers will be required.

  17. Glen August 8, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    Really gives new meaning to the term NON PROFIT organization.

  18. Aaron Read August 8, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    Carol, I think the time for a signal swap has come and gone. Station values have plummeted anywhere from 40 to 80% since 2007. I am not an expert on station values in NYC proper, but in general a full-marlet Class B FM in a top ten market is probably worth $30-40mil outright these days; a swap probably wouldn’t net Pacifica more than $5-15mil in cash. Those are ballpark figures of course, and probably a little generous.

    But either way, that’s not enough to distribute any meaningful dollar amounts amongst the system.

  19. fkrock August 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    KPFA also is on a good commercial channel and could be sold to a commercial operator. KPFB is a very low power station designed to fill in shadow areas primarily in Berkeley. However a commercial license in San Francisco market would not be worth as much money as WBAI in New York.

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