KPFK Continues to Lose Millions

by Rob Macon, KPFK Local Station Board member

KPFK is not reaching enough listeners to barely pay its payroll and other basic expenses. That is why, in case you were wondering, almost any given month you will hear a fund drive rather than regular programs. With 112,000 watts, the largest signal west of the Mississippi, and the ability to reach listeners from Santa Barbara all the way to San Diego, not only in Los Angeles, KPFK has such low ratings that it hardly registers in the Nielsen ratings. Not attracting enough listeners or financial support has cost KPFK an annual sum of  about $1 million dollars from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The station owes money to the  union contractual pension plan. The station’s building has been mortgaged to borrow money to pay off other debts of the Pacifica Foundation. Rumors of “bankruptcy” and “closing the station’s door” seem to be causing fear of making changes, fear of losing the little amount that the station is already receiving.  So change seems to be out of the question for station insiders.

Five or six general managers have come and gone, prior to its current manager on his second stint. They have not been able to make needed changes at KPFK or attract needed listeners and donors, and they are no longer there. So, KPFK has remained in the same dreadful condition it is in today.

In 2008, a senior producer replaced a program director who was leaving KPFK. Still-interim Program Director Alan Minsky took over programming the station. But that didn’t stop KPFK from continuing to lose millions of dollars over the last decade. A huge drop in listenership has made it necessary to conduct between 5 and 10 fund drives a year for longer spans of time. Anyel Fields, who has returned as the station’s current general manager, is next to take up the challenge. But for sure like all of the previous GMs, making a decision to ignore needed changes, or conversely threatening the station’s sacred cows, could result in his being added to that list of former GMs.

All companies that fall into a slump must regroup and make changes. Anyone with experience would know that. KPFK has the potential to raise millions of dollars without help and could broadcast exciting programs, like it once did. But you would need experienced individuals with their fingers on the pulse of radio listeners to do that. Radio audiences are growing, just not at KPFK or Pacifica.

Obviously, all of the blame can’t be placed on the inside of KPFK. The KPFK LSB, local station board, is the democratically elected overseer of its finances, programming and management with a voice on the national Pacifica board. What is unclear in all of this is who’s responsible for the stagnation, declining listenership and KPFK’s growing debts, because little is being done. With another election on the horizon, once the new delegates are seated, where do we go from here? What do we do next? Throwing new members into this abyss may seem a little unethical.

Rob Macon, KPFK LSB member

Together, we can, and we must, build a better KPFK/Pacifica. No one has ever been given a lifetime contract at KPFK. KPFK’s purpose is to make the world better. There must be a willingness to make changes for all and not just for a handful to hover over. In the words of Sam Cooke’s anthem, A Change Is Gonna Come. Expect it!

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