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Did Donald Trump save Pacifica radio?

KPFA Trump coverage posterIt is a blasphemous question, I know. But since I’ve already put it in the headline, I’ll also spell it out in this post’s opening paragraph. President Donald Trump: good news for Pacifica radio?

My decisive answer is  . . . maybe.

At this point, the Pacifica Foundation and its five radio stations can only go in one of two directions: up or out. The Fresno Bee‘s level of confidence in the network is summarized in a November 9 blog post titled “What will happen to KFCF if Pacifica radio falls apart?” KFCF of Fresno, California depends heavily on programming from Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley. The latter signal has been struggling to raise money from its listeners while dealing with the financial needs/demands of its owner, the Pacifica Foundation, a non-profit perennially hamstrung by an unwieldy and expensive system of governance.

“I just don’t see how they can keep going another year,” KFCF station manager Rychard Withers told The Bee. “I have had a lot of sleepless nights trying to decide what to do if Pacifica is dissolved.”

I dealt with Pacifica’s troubles in a lengthy piece in The Nation published over a year ago. In the article I suggested that the foundation consider proactively dismantling itself, transferring its licenses to local non-profits. But as far as I can tell, at this point Pacifica’s five 24 member Local Station Boards and 23 (or so) member Governing Board couldn’t proactively pour whizz out of a shoe if the instructions were inscribed on the heel (thank you President Lyndon Johnson for that wonderful metaphor).

Now enter Donald Trump, probably the only thing Pacifica’s community of circular-firing-squad combatants can agree on. The Obama years were difficult for Pacifica in two ways. First, they arrived with a punishing recession that cost the organization much donation and subscription revenue. Second, Obamaism revived already painful debates within Pacifica about whether to seek social justice with the Democratic Party or beyond via independent political formations. Those schisms only accelerated during the Bernie/Hillary and Hillary/Jill Stein wars and probably further weakened the organization.

Anti-Trumpism, however, is just perfect for Pacifica’s self-consciously Left subscription audience. Trump is truly monstrous in so many ways. While I expect National Public Radio to normalize Trump within a conventional party politics narrative, I expect the Pacifica stations to cover his administration within an explicitly oppositional framework.

This gives Pacifica a chance to recapture the kind of audiences that it won during the Reagan and McCarthy era years. The question is whether the organization is too far gone to seize this opportunity. I hope not.

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