The Pacifica Foundation has found a new executive director, more than a year after the organization’s national board fired former ED Summer Reese, who then occupied the foundation’s national offices for nearly two months until a judge issued a restraining order forcing her to leave. The new ED is John Proffitt, who served twenty-five years as general manager of Houston Public Radio station KUHF until the end of 2011. Since then Proffitt has been volunteering as a co-host of the programs “Thresholds” and “Open Journal,” as well as serving as a fundraiser, all at Pacifica’s KPFT, also in Houston.
In a press release national board chair Margy Wilkinson expressed hope that Proffitt can “put our network back on a path of growth,” after “a turbulent time.” One cause of that turbulence is hundreds of thousands of dollars in community service grants that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been withholding from Pacifica’s five stations since 2013 due to problems found with the foundation’s accounting practices and failures to comply with CPB rules on open meetings and financial transparency. Another cause is an audit of the network being conducted by the California attorney general’s office.
Indeed, Proffitt has a track record much longer and more stable than most Pacifica EDs in recent memory–and there has been a lot of them. With so many years at the helm of the major NPR affiliate in the sixth largest radio market he probably has a warmer relationship with the CPB, too.
Fans of college radio may have less warm regard for Proffitt. It was under his watch at KUHF that Houston Public Radio acquired Rice University’s student-run KTRU in a deal costing $9.5 million, finalized in 2010. The investigative journalism site Texas Watchdog documented Proffitt’s role in the controversial sale, characterizing him as “a chief advocate.” Somewhat ironically, the surviving Rice University online student station, still using the KTRU name, now broadcasts on KPFT’s HD2 channel.
Though I’m sure Proffitt suffered his share of slings and arrows over the KTRU affair, one still has to imagine that was but a flesh wound compared to what’s in store for anyone brave enough to be Pacifica’s executive director. That said, I don’t think Proffitt or anyone at the network is in denial of that.
Also in the press release, board vice chair Lydia Brazon admitted, “To ask anyone as qualified as John to take a leap of faith into pacifica’s choppy waters is a tall order, but I fully trust John Proffitt can and will rise to the challenge.” Certainly, many Pacifica programmers, volunteers and listeners are hoping she’s right.