Questions from a KPFA member
United for Community Radio (UCR)
"I think now is an important time to say why NOT to dissolve Pacifica. I think even neutral folks are wondering about doing it." -- Virginia Browning, United for Community Radio (UCR)
In this essay Virginia responds to an email from a KPFA 94.1 FM listener-member who wonders about the course the station should take: Should KPFA accept underwriting? Should it break off from the Pacifica network?
Issues at KPFA & Pacifica
by Virginia Browning, United for Community Radio
Thank you for your email to UCR. I appreciate your thoughtful questions.
I'm "one of the UCR 9," Virginia Browning, running for the board. I happen to be answering the UCR's email, but the views below are only mine. I'll forward your email to the other candidates.
I started at a community radio station in Salt Lake City when I was young, when it was just beginning. It was very exciting. Opportunities were wide open to have quite radical viewpoints on the air in that somewhat conservative region. I interviewed Norman Solomon for example -- he had written about atomic testing, which was very relevant to Utahns.
In recent years, that station has started accepting underwriting. Like so many community stations across the country, KRCL, while it has a few progressive shows or parts of shows, is mostly music and not as progressive as it once was. Is this related to its now accepting underwriting? I don't know for sure.
If a small station starts to accept a nice steady significant amount of money from one entity, there is such a temptation to do the bidding of that entity in shaping the programming. Sometimes that can be informal, maybe only a comment or two. But there can be a huge temptation to simply cut out something that the donor doesn't like, especially if it seems kind of "marginal" (few people may care).
I know that there are differing points of view within the "United for Community Radio" group about underwriting. A number of us voted on this for a platform point. I didn't vote for this as a platform point, but more of us did than not. I have mixed feelings.
There are good people who think they can control how underwriting is handled. Maybe they can. The fact is, like so many wide-ranging conversations we could be having at KPFA, this one isn't encouraged to be had in a thoughtful, public way. Wouldn't that be great?
There are Pacifica affiliates, community stations across the country, who have presented a plan for Pacifica to be a kind of broker to find good "clean" underwriters and match them with the over 150 stations. I think very good people are behind this plan. However, the most recent version of this plan was but a sketch. It had almost no guidelines to ensure that the underwriting would not influence the viewpoints on the air. The Pacifica National Board voted not to accept this plan until details were developed. I agree with that decision.
I actually am interested to know how other stations handle this, especially ones who think they are doing it successfully. I believe one of the managers at KRCL where I started, is famous now across the country as a strong advocate for truly good, open, accessible, community radio. Last I looked, she just started managing a station in Moab Utah, which I noted DOES accept underwriting. I was going to write to her. I'd love to know more about the guidelines used by the stations to which you refer in your email.
As for breaking KPFA away from Pacifica: I'm not ready to go there. Indeed, Pacifica is in big trouble in many ways. Part of the reason however, is a hypocrisy of some of our local KPFA major players (some who have been on the national board for years) in advocating for draconian cuts at other stations and almost none at KPFA. Some of our opponents in this election at the same time were the ones who voted to saddle the New York station, WBAI, with a crippling contract for transmitting. New York to be sure has its own problems, but only when some allied with UCR were in power did New York finally get rid of some who were fairly actively destroying the station. There are still problems with the New York station, but I think there are other, even drastic, measures that could be taken before the ultimate drastic one of selling the New York license forever. Media is certainly changing -- radio is changing! But the potential for a radical network such as Pacifica could be is fairly unique. Internet? Sure! But who owns that, ultimately? I'm not ready to let go of the potential that Pacifica holds.
Some who want KPFA broken away have proven to me anyway that even if they had access to the millions of dollars they may think they would have with the sale of the New York license, that they would not use it to provide more equitable access to the air at KPFA to movements for change, but would probably hire more of their friends whom they think know radio better than anyone else.
Brian Edwards-Tiekert, for example, is an incredibly talented host and interviewer. Few can match his perhaps "innate" ability. However, I believe he has more radical perspectives on his show than he might otherwise because of movement from a community that he feels compelled to attend to. When the Occupy movement blossomed, he used his little power-spot for a sound-byte at Occupy Oakland of some facilitators saying "ok, now everyone stand up," and re-thinking something "ok everyone sit down." It was a soundbyte that signified nothing. But Brian, like 90-some percent of the national media at that juncture then opined "they sound like they don't know what they want." I attended some Occupy events. Friends who could attended even more. The stand-up/sit-down segment symbolized nothing except an opportunity for media to squelch a blossoming of hope. Many wonderful conversations occurred at Occupy events. Apex Express, a usually excellently-produced show run by volunteers at KPFA (who don't even get invited to regular KPFA staff meetings with Brian and his crew), produced another Occupy show that was a careful, artistic collage of many exciting times in the Occupy days.
Brian, for all his talent, would do well to use most of it to train other people. Otherwise, he and his group will use any excess money to hire paid staff and close out more community, unless pressured to do otherwise.
And the pressure is killing some of us -- it has NOT been easy to stand against these cronies, yet some members of our UCR group are still standing for more radical views than will likely be filtered in at a set pace designed by the other side if they get even more money to do their thing. I don't find this a winning formula for a better world.
Right now if you want to hear an alternative viewpoint about many of the countries in Africa which are being exploited at a terrifying rate, you will not hear them on the regular KPFA weekday news. You may hear them from Ann Garrison on the weekend news (unpaid staff), or by one of the hosts relegated to the 3pm or 3:30 weekday slot, or by Hardknock Radio or Flashpoints or Project Censored. KPFA pays for 2 corporate newswires and uses FSN news, an entity that brags about creating "Video News Releases" (VNRs) -- segments made to look like news but that are actually made by PR firms for corporate propaganda.
The above policy (the breakup of Pacifica) is the policy created by those who will benefit if Pacifica is broken up.
I agree about the fund drives. I know they could be much better. Again, a wide-ranging discussion by those who may have some great ideas could help with this. I'm sorry to bring Brian up so much, but he's a major player in the way it's done now, as you can probably hear because he's on a great deal of the time within each fund drive (and paid to do it).
Thank you for writing!
Again, remember, these are my views only. I'll forward your email to other candidates.
November 2, 2015
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for updates, reports & essays on KPFA/Pacifica, please visit these websites:
UNITED FOR COMMUNITY RADIO
PACIFICA IN EXILE
ANN GARRISON, A KPFA REPORTER
LORDS & LADIES vs. the PEASANTS at KPFA
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KPFA 94.1 FM is one of five stations of the Pacifica radio network which are located in major cities across the country. The other stations are WBAI 99.5 in New York, WPFW 89.3 in Washington DC, KPFT 90.1 in Houston, and KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles. The Pacifica network also has about 160 affiliate stations.
Labels: clandestine KPFA Foundation, Concerned Listeners; (CL), KPFA 94.1 FM, KPFA Worker, KPFAworker.org, Pacifica Foundation Radio, Pacifica Radio Network, Save KPFA, SaveKPFA.org, UCR, united for community radio