by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART), KPFK LSB Chair 2021, 2022
Some people are advocating cutting off donations to KPFK and Pacifica., in particular to support the claims and efforts of New Day Pacifica. This is a counter-productive and destructive proposal. KPFK and Pacifica need and merit our support to maintain and build the independence and impact as democratic media of free speech, non-commercial listener-sponsored community radio, a platform for information, debate, advocacy and cultural expression unobtainable elsewhere on the broadcast spectrum.
On the other hand, there is a great deal of documentation over the years for the charge that the New Day Pacifica proposal was put forward by partisans of breaking up Pacifica. Its advocates at KPFA in Berkeley and KPFT in Texas had both set up independent foundations with the intent of inheriting or capturing the assets of Pacifica in their areas if it dissolved. The Berkeley folks have repeatedly talked about “triage” of what they think of as the weaker stations. Bill Crosier in Texas was directly involved in the illegal shutdown and takeover of WBAI in NY, piping in “Pacifica Across America” (mainly programs from KPFA and KPFK) in place of the locally produced programming there right in the middle of the station’s on-air fall fund drive.
There have been two well-financed and professionally-slick efforts (unsuccessfully) to change the Bylaws of Pacifica to eliminate elected local oversight not only at great expense to Pacifica, but illegally using KPFK’s own membership list to solicit funds for a lawsuit against Pacifica if they lost. Proponents used on-air paid staff hosts to vilify elected governance in general and to promote New Day as the answer. Crosier, for example, repeatedly argued in favor of declaring bankruptcy as the way to deal with Pacifica’s debts. This would have cost tens or hundreds of thousands in attorney’s fees and still not saved any money, since Pacifica’s debts and liabilities are far exceeded by its assets — if they were broken up and monetized. Instead, the National Board got a loan (sub-prime, but still at a lower interest rate than that being charged on its existing debt at the time), negotiated a settlement with the real estate trust in NY that was owed most of the money that reduced the amount owed substantially, and has since paid off about a half-million of the resulting $3.2 million loan, and has paid the interest, allowing an extension. Similarly the Board refused to go along with the shutdown of WBAI backed by Crosier and Jan Goodman and their allies in Berkeley, and a court ordered the shutdown and takeover reversed. Now the forces that targeted WBAI are trying to do the same to KPFK by trying to sabotage fundraising efforts here, and turn it into a repeater station of KPFA content.
Pacifica has been in poor financial shape for years, partly due to the loss of Corporation for Public Broadcasting community service grants. KPFK lost its grant back when Alan Minsky was the long-time “interim” program director, when after three years of probation by the CPB, the station still failed to increase its membership or financial support to the necessary minimum levels, and was disqualified by the CPB. Minsky had guaranteed that providing a five-day-a-week strip program to Ian Masters and Sonali Kolhatkar among others, would do the trick, but it failed to do so. As fund drives got longer and longer and more frequent to pay the increasingly large payroll, local and live programming was dropped in favor of pre-recorded syndicated material, and more critical and radical voices were silenced, listeners started tuning out and not coming back when the drive was over.
When Eva Georgia had been GM earlier, bringing back an eclectic mix of community based programming, including some of the programmers of color who had been “banned and fired” by previous management attempts to whitewash the airwaves, KPFK was able to raise $1 million from listeners in ten days to two weeks of on-air fundraising, three times a year (a balanced budget of about $3.5 million including other funding like occasional grants, bequests and car donations). [Compare that to KPCC, which has a budget of $24 million plus, about 8 times as much, from listener donations, lots of corporate underwriting and a CPB grant.]
KPFK’s problems are of long duration, primarily because management persisted in trying to pitch for big-ticket premiums to cover a payroll that got larger and larger as the audience got smaller and smaller. The fiscal year before this one (with Ian and Sonali and others still on the air and badmouthing elected governance as a fund-raising pitch), the station was fundraising on-air for 200 days out of 365. Of course our listeners steadily abandoned us.
KPFK now has a new General Manager with a long history of both public and commercial radio management, presiding over a reduced paid staff (bringing KPFK more in line with WBAI in NY, WPFW in DC, and KPFT in Houston Texas, all of whom have operated for many years on a much “leaner” basis than KPFK or KPFA, with fewer than a dozen paid staff positions). Audits are up to date. Property tax problems created at KPFA are in the process of being resolved. The building sold in Houston was uninhabitable and unusable for production for over two years because of mold and other issues allowed to worsen by Crosier’s people, and the Foundation is in the process of finding the station a new space under its new General Manager. The new KPFK GM has committed to pitching based on the programming and the value of the station, avoiding pre-emptions and big-ticket fund drive specials for which we had to pay consultant fees to Christine Blosdale on top of the cost of the premiums. He is in the process of rebuilding the afternoon-evening drive time programming grid after the departure of Ian Masters (Ian’s idea), and Sonali’s self-reduction to one day a week (Sonali’s fundraising support cratered after her move to the afternoon, and never recovered). By February, he expects to have a base of solid programming to promote and seek to rebuild the listener support base with.
Pacifica Foundation as a whole also has a new Executive Director, after two years plus of mostly pro-bono service by interim ED Lydia Brazon (of the Peace Center), who has been able to keep the foundation as a whole solvent through the pandemic with the aid of PPP loans (since forgiven) and EIDL loans (will not be forgiven but are long term and low interest compared to the rest of Pacifica’s debt). She also cleaned up the tax mess in Berkeley before it could result in the seizure of the building housing KPFA by the Alameda County Assessor’s office in a tax default auction.
KPFK, it is true, does need to complete a turn-around, which should be based on an increased commitment to the long-time Pacifica Mission of peace, conflict resolution, free speech, uncensored news and information, and community cultural expressions including drama and music. Previous GMs have repeatedly and wrongly tried to economize by firing the news staff and ending the local newscast in favor of carrying the (surprisingly-mainstream) “Pacifica Evening News” from KPFA in Berkeley. The new GM has committed to reopening the news department and rebuilding a local newscast as soon as possible after stabilizing the programming grid. This would a great positive second step forward.
The attack on KPFK and Pacifica printed in LA Progressive is disturbing, since Sharon Kyle would have become the new head of Pacifica without an actual election had New Day prevailed on their Bylaws replacement. Jan Goodman –who has termed out after many years on the LSB and PNB — would have gotten the vice-chair position despite that for three more years. The New Day Bylaws also would have split the staff in two, creating a new third class of membership for the unpaid producers and programmers who provide most of the content at all five stations, and giving the paid staff at one station (KPFA) veto power over any further changes to the Bylaws.
The problem with this, besides the general intention of the new proposed Bylaws to allow a single faction, in some cases from a single station (KPFA) to dominate every elected position, is that Kyle and Goodman are closely wedded to the established Democratic Party in So Cal, and that much of the programming they have supported, and claim is what KPFK needs more of, consists of cold-war liberals. This is in line with the so-called Peace & Security Funding Group, a group of foundations and well-heeled individuals who are trying to use the power of the purse to get peace groups to line up behind Biden’s foreign policy and his State Department team and priorities. This would be the kiss of death for KPFK and Pacifica’s ability to air dissenting and critical views from the left .
The station and the Foundation do need to bring their operations into the 21st century, both in the effective use of social media and podcasting to share and promote content, and in bringing a new generation of content-producing grassroots activists and artivists onto their airwaves, not just as guests for gatekeepers, but as producers and programmers in their own right. Hopefully this will begin to take shape and have an impact this year under the new GM and ED. But that requires a commitment to greater diversity, more outreach and community engagement, especially with a new generation to whom Pacifica’s past glories may mean little. It will require identifying and cultivating grassroots voices and the solutions that they are organizing and implementing to the climate crisis, the threat of war and fascism, the reality of a reckoning with racism, the new situation of labor and working people prepared to strike or quit for dignity and safety, etc. etc.
I hope this clarifies what is at stake. Jan Goodman and others have sought to rule-or-ruin. I have often been in the minority on the Local Station Board, and generally excluded from the airwaves even as a guest, but I continued to support the station and the concept of non-commercial, listener-sponsored, free-speech radio regardless of being on the losing side of some votes. The article published by LA Progressive calling for people to stop supporting the station or Foundation financially is another example of the attempt to sabotage the station’s fundraising if they can’t run the show. I was on the LSB some years ago, and was elected chair on a 12-12 tie vote and a coin toss, and was able to chair effectively and get the board to carry out its responsibilities despite the division. I came back on three years ago, and was elected chair last year and re-elected last month with significantly more support, even though divisions on the board persist — there are people on our LSB suing Pacifica. Win or lose, I have always donated to, supported, promoted and volunteered for the station, because I understand its critical importance.
Despite the divisions on the LSB, we now have functioning fundraising, outreach, finance, governance, and programming oversight committees, all of which are open to public members, and are in the process of reconstituting a Community Advisory Board to conduct a community needs assessment to help shape further programming choices, and a new iteration of the PNB Committee of Inclusion for KPFK which is designed to work with management to ensure greater inclusivity and involvement especially of underserved and under-represented communities in the listening area. We do an on-air LSB Report to the listeners, taking listeners calls, questions and suggestions, every other month. I produce a weekly email newsletter of LSB activities which you can subscribe to by sending a blank email to SYMPA@lists.riseup.net, with subscribe kpfklsbnews in the subject line, and respond to the confirmation email from riseup. KPFK needs MORE support, financial and in terms of outreach, promotion and engagement to really live up to its Mission and regain the impact it should have in these perilous times. Donate now or become a sustainer by going to https://kpfk.org and clicking on “donate”, where you can set up a monthly bank transfer or make a one time donation.–Michael Novick
Michael Novick is a member of the production crew of Change Links community calendar, editor and publisher of Turning The Tide-Journal of Inter-communal Solidarity, and currently the elected Chair of the KPFK Local Station Board. He is active in Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace, DSA-LA and other groups. He can be reached at email@example.com