Peter Franck Problems & Prospects of Pacifica Radio

KPFA/Pacifica History


Problems & Prospects
of Pacifica Radio

Peter Franck, former President of Pacifica Radio,
interviewed by Peggy Noton and Curtis Gray

This 1994 interview contains a wealth of information on KPFA/Pacifica, reflecting the situation as it looked at the time when the "Hijacker Regime" of the 1990s was taking over the network. Many of the persons mentioned in this article are no longer around, likewise some of the organizations, while some, such as "
SAVE KPFA," are names later taken over and used by groups with very different agendas. The discussion moves back and forth from events of the 1960s to the early 1990s, and can be difficult to follow at times, nevertheless, it's well worth a close reading because it gives insight into what's been going on KPFA/Pacifica during the decades that have followed and up to the present day.

It is reposted here with the permission of Peter Franck. He continues to be involved in ongoing discussions. His website is

Peter Franck's connection to KPFA, Pacifica's Berkeley station, goes back to the 1950's, when as a student leader in the new left movement at UC Berkeley and president of the campus student chapter of ACLU, he was interviewed by KPFA program director Elsa Knight Thompson. He did a monthly commentary on the station for a couple of years during the 1960's, and in 1973 joined the local advisory board. Two years later he became a member of the national board of the Pacifica Foundation (the national board is composed of selected members of the local boards and in 1980 became president of Pacifica, remaining in this office for four years.

Since its beginnings in 1949, Pacifica has participated in all the major political battle of the times. In addition, it has weathered not a few of its own. This past year saw a beleaguered KPFA, Pacifica's local affiliate and the foundation's flagship station, coming under heavy criticism from a new listener group,
SAVE KPFA. The group has criticized KPFA for the dearth of progressive analysis in public affairs programming, undemocratic structure at both local and national levels, lack of accountability to listeners and much of the staff, and the threat of large scale corporate funding.

Today Peter Franck is a San Francisco attorney practicing copyright and entertainment law. He is treasurer of the National Lawyer's Guild and a member of the Guild's Committee on Democratic Communications. When I interviewed him, I discovered that prompted the creation of SAVE KPFA have been brewing at Pacifica since the early 1980's. Franck talked about how the selection of the board of directors of Pacifica Foundation used to be more democratic, about the leadership deficit that has left Pacifica open to recent attacks from rightwingers like David Horowitz and Bob Dole, about the differences between PBS and community radio, and about the original vision of Pacifica.

PEGGY NOTON: You have talked about the "fading vision of Pacifica," and in one of your Folio columns during the '80s you mentioned [Pacifica founder] Lou Hill's vision of community radio as a tool to help in the struggle for a just society and world peace. Do you feel that vision is being kept alive at Pacifica?

PETER FRANCK: Here and there, but not nearly enough.

PN: Just what was Lew Hill's vision?

PF: Lou Hill went to jail as a conscientious objector during WW II. After the war he was a radio journalist in Washington DC, and he saw the gathering Cold War storm clouds. He wasn't allowed by his station to talk about it on the air because of management's fear of the advertisers. So Hill quit his job, came out to Berkeley, and started KPFA. The name "Pacifica" means peace. Hill said the only way we are going to be able to talk about peace and justice is if the listeners are the sponsors and not the advertisers. So, Listener Sponsorship, I've always thought, and he thought, is the key to the vision of Pacifica, because the only freedom is when you get your financial base from your listeners. You're not beholden to anybody. Today you see Pacifica stations drifting away from this as the language switches from "listener-sponsored" to "listener-supported."

PN: When did that happen?

PF: It started happening under Joel Kugelmas, the first executive director. He was always talking about "listener-supported" radio. "Supported" means "give us your money and shut up." "Listener-sponsored" means, "you're our sponsor, we are responsible to you." You see the language drifting, except around marathon time, from "listener-sponsored" to "listener-supported." If you listen to public stations, they use the language of listener-supported a lot.

CURTIS GRAY: Did Lou Hill build any democratic structures into KPFA originally, what were they, what happened to them?

PF It's an important question. Lou Hill set it up. I don't know all the details--this is what I was told by Elsa Knight Thompson: There was a large group of staff and community people which selected the Pacifica board. That's the way it was structured. The Pacifica board, about 1961, simply changed the bylaws to make itself self-perpetuating. It changed itself from a board elected by this staff and community to a board that elected its own members. The FCC ruled that was an illegal change of ownership, but they never did anything about that, they didn't fine the station, and nobody took advantage of the FCC ruling to challenge it. It was a real change in the structure. The democratic vision of a direct link between listeners and the structure of the station was lost.

CG: What was the motivation behind the change.

PF: I think it was a quiet coup. I know Elsa Knight Thompson was very upset about it. At that time, you had station staff that was pretty radical and militant and a board that was mostly well-heeled liberals, that viewed the staff as the unwashed masses--that was some of the dynamic between the board and the staff.

I don't know, from my own experience, how well this old structure worked. There is always a problem getting community people involved in a station when everyone is busy, and while important, the station is only one of many things in their lives. At the same time, there is considerable resistance to community involvement on the staffs. Most of the staff are volunteers or are paid much less than they would make elsewhere. This leads to a strong feeling among them that they are the station, that they own the station, and that they are the ones that should make the decisions.

KPFA used to be a revolving door. Again, going back to Elsa Knight Thompson, her vision was the station would have a few seasoned, experienced people, like herself, who would train a revolving door of bright young people, who would then move on to other things. That made it very young, but it also made it very fresh and in touch with current currents. It's a matter of how things have changed in society. As avenues of mobility out have closed down, people stay there for much, much longer, and so it has lost its freshness. You get an attention to career that you didn't used to get, a loss of energy and freshness.

PN: What was the main problem you ran into when you were president of Pacifica Foundation?

PF: I was president from 1980 to 1984, and fundamentally I had a conflict with David Salniker's predecessor as executive director, Sharon Maeda, over the direction of Pacifica. She came out of public broadcasting, and there was a conflict over what Pacifica would be. Was the culture of Pacifica going to be sort of the left wing of Public Broadcasting, which was Sharon's vision? On the other hand, I came out of being politically active on the left since my first year in college. My view of Pacifica was that it was the voice of the progressive movement, reaching the United States with a large message.

I took seriously Ron Dellums' challenge. He once told us, "you have to decide whether you are the newsletter of the left, or the newspaper of the left." In other words, are you a house organ for the convinced, or are you an instrument for reaching out to a broader constituency? I felt very strongly that with five of the largest FM transmitters in the country, who's signal reaches collectively 20 to 25% of the population (when you throw in the affiliates it's even more), that we needed to reach a much larger constituency. And we needed to reach them with a message--what Lou Hill was about--peace, social justice, social change. That meant that the constituencies that we should be bringing into Pacifica and drawing strength from were activist constituencies, trade union constituencies, peace movement constituencies.

One of the fights at the very end of my term was to get Gus Newport, (then Mayor of Berkeley), Osama Doumani, (who was very active in the Arab-American Anti-Defamation League), and Carl Bloice (formerly of the People's World), onto the Pacifica Board. I thought we should have had William Whimpfisinger (the progressive President of the Machinists' Union) on the Board. In other words we should have had people of stature from progressive parts of the labor movement, the civil rights community, and so on. All those should have been a big part of the base of Pacifica, helping direct Pacifica to do its programming. That ran up against views of Pacifica getting more money from CPB, getting more awards from them, being more popular at the Public Radio Conference, getting money from corporations and corporate foundations, etc.

PN: Why was the position of executive director created?

PF: Until the mid-seventies, Pacifica was a very loose corporate umbrella over five essentially separate stations. Around that time, the stations started to get in trouble, especially around issues of accounting and fiscal accountability, and it was decided that there had to be an executive director of the overall foundation to make sure that the stations were fiscally sound and to do the things that were necessary to protect the license and prevent the stations from getting into trouble. Typically the station's bookkeepers were people who wanted to do programming but there wasn't a programming job for them to do, so they would give them a job bookkeeping, and the bookkeeping was in a shoebox. We almost lost WBAI when the NY board of charities required a CPA's audit of all of Pacifica, because it was all one corporation--and if we hadn't gotten it in time, WBAI wouldn't have been able to ask for money over the air.

It was becoming a tighter regulatory environment. Reagan supporters attacked Pacifica by name very shortly after Reagan was inaugurated. The stations tended to be mom and pop organizations, very informal. So there was a risk of losing them for accounting and legal reasons if the Foundation didn't do more to take care of business. There was also a vision of Pacifica being more than five separate stations, of doing more powerful outreach to the country as a whole, so the decision was made to hire an executive director.

Up to that point, the head of Pacifica had been the president, who had had the title of CEO, Chief Executive Officer. He (and all but one were men) was the managers' boss. The managers formally reported to him. I was only the third president who wasn't a millionaire. There was a tradition at Pacifica of old money folks, wealthy liberals, being involved with Pacifica. About four presidents before me was Ed Goodman, of the Bergdorf Goodman family, for instance, and before him was Rudy Hurwich, who made his fortune on the patent for the Dymo label-maker. So the presidents were millionaires who could afford, when necessary, to jet themselves around the country. They were volunteers, who spent a significant amount of time on Pacifica matters, though it was nothing like a full-time job. They had the money to do it. As the politics of Pacifica changed in the 70s, we ran out of millionaires. We didn't want them anymore because they tended to bring with them a conservative, liberal white male upper-class world view.

There was ambivalence about hiring a national executive director. When the first one was hired, it was made clear that he was running the national office, but not the stations. At the time there was a Pacifica National News Bureau in Washington, a controller (the person who was supposed to keep all the money stuff together, get the tax returns filed, that kind of thing), and the Pacifica Program Service, which was the archive. So there were already three national, non-station units, and the executive director was put in charge of those three units. He reported to the president, as did the station managers. So if you drew an organizational chart, the five stations and the national operation were all on the same level. That was the formal structure which was initially set up. The executive director did not, initially, have supervisory power over the managers at all. The managers had a lot of power over him because the managers have a great deal of the power in Pacifica, in fact, not formally, but in fact.

PN: Really. But it seems now as if David Salniker as executive director has more power than the managers. How did that change come about, and how is the executive director selected?

PF: I believe he is selected by the executive committee of the national board, which is four or five people. As to why he now has so much power, you have to follow the money.

The change came about when the FCC changed the rules about subcarriers. A FM signal is capable of carrying two other signals on "sidebands," which don't interfere with the primary signal at all, and those are called subcarriers. For a long time, noncommercial FM stations weren't allowed to do anything with their subcarrier frequencies, but in the Reagan era, they deregulated this, and Pacifica was able to license each station's two subcarrier frequencies for a lot of money. I don't know how it's licensed now, but KPFA was initially licensed to an outfit that sends stock market quotes to hand-held gadgets. The subcarrier frequencies are used for a variety of communication purposes and are very valuable. This was found money, it was new money, and the decision was made that this money would be handled by the Foundation. Up to that time, the money for the foundation came from the stations. Ten to fifteen percent of station revenue went to fund the national operation, so the managers, who physically had control of the money, had a lot of leverage. So the change in power took place when the national got control of this major new stream of money, for the first time, which came directly to it. Because it was found money, it was no loss of income to the stations, so they went along with it. It was an independent pot of money to work with on the national level. I think that changed the dynamic.

CG: Did you leave the presidency because of a power struggle, and who were the players?

PF: There were personal players, and there were and are larger forces. There was Sharon Maeda, the executive director, who was backed by David Salniker, who was general manager of KPFA at the time. Another key player was Jack Odell, who was (and still is) chair of the board.

PN: So even then, while he was KPFA manager, Salniker was jockeying for power. He had bigger visions of power?

PF: Yes. He wanted to be Executive Director and knew I would oppose that.

CG: And what were the larger forces?

PF: The larger forces were three. One was activists, community people who wanted to see Pacifica reflect the activist movement and be its voice and reach out to a much wider audience.

There were two other forces, which overlapped. First were the people whose reference point, (the world they wanted approval from), was the world of public broadcasting. They wanted more money. They weren't worried about corporate underwriting and corporate grants. They wanted more money for the stations, wanted to be able to funnel more money into the stations and to pay permanent programmers, wanted the stations to get bigger and better, the way that PBS or KQED has. They were broadcasters, primarily, and had not come out of political movements, and didn't want the stations to be doing things that rocked the boat too much, things which would upset the people that they respected at the CPB headquarters in Washington and at NPR, and so on. That was the second group.

The third group was also station staff who felt they spoke for a community, but were not comfortable with the larger vision some of us had for Pacifica. I felt Pacifica needed to reach a larger audience. I heard Martin Luther King speak just once, but it was amazing. In that speech he talked to the sharecroppers in the audience, and to the Ph.D.s, and to everyone in that huge hall in-between. That was a model for Pacifica--that this was too precious a resource to be just talking to the single mothers of Berkeley (which is what some portion of it tends to do sometimes). We felt that Pacifica was a tool with which we could really lay the groundwork for changing the country.

The notion of being able to talk to a larger audience without diluting or losing your message, that takes considerable skill to pull off. If we were going to seriously try and reach out that way, a lot of people on the staff who were there then (and some are still there!), might not still be around, because that takes a level of skill that not everybody has. So there was resistance on the staff level to the notion of better, broader, more effective programming.

PN: It seems as if the staff would have felt even more threatened by Sharon's agenda of wanting slicker radio.

PF: It didn't come down that way. They saw more money coming into the stations. I don't think her vision of it was as visible to them as it was to me. The reason SAVE KPFA is happening now, and I wasn't able to really rally something then, is that these trends, when they start, are pretty invisible and hard to see, unless you're right in the middle of it. Now the directions which were starting then have come so far that it's pretty clear to most people where things are headed. Sharon's thrust for more program underwriting and more non-listener funding for programming was simply seen by much of the staff as more money coming into the stations. What she was doing to the nature and direction of Pacifica didn't impact them that much.

David knew I was not excited about him succeeding Sharon as executive director. I had the sense that he would pull Pacifica further away from its roots, its pacifist roots, its political roots, and would go in the direction Sharon had been going. That he would blunt the edges of Pacifica's vision. I was also concerned that he would not stand up on important questions. And he didn't, like on the censorship issue.

PN: He didn't?

PF: No, I don't think he did.

PN: He's making a big point right now of how much he is standing up. He puts himself out there as a white knight, fighting the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

PF: What I'm talking about goes back to the George Carlin case, the 7 dirty words, and the FCC's interpretation of the Supreme Court decision. Shortly after the FCC came down with a more restrictive interpretation, there was a question of how much Pacifica would fight it. Salniker had Ginsberg censor his famous poem "Howl" on the air, he told him not read certain parts. I thought at the time that it would have been a strong test case, and there was no reason to cave in. This was about 1986.

In any case, Pacifica adopted rules that went along with the FCC's restrictions. The general attitude has been defensive and cautious: we have these licenses, which are precious (which is true) and we have to protect them and we can't take risks. The questions is, do you pull your horns in and avoid getting slapped down by the FCC, or do you make a test case and rally the public behind you and strengthen the organization. Every time Pacifica has done that it's come out stronger. But that's not David's style. You can claim to be the white knight if you're attacked. That does not make it so. If a bully is beating up on you and you try to defend yourself, it's not necessarily being a white knight.

As we all know Senator Robert Dole attacked KPFK by name at the Public Radio Conference this summer. What nobody has been talking about is why, at the beginning of the Clinton era, was Dole the keynote speaker at the public radio conference? That tells you a lot about the world of public broadcasting.

CG: When did Pacifica start getting CPB money, what restrictions are placed on you when you get that money, and do you know what percentage of the budget is CPB money?

PF: We started getting CPB money, I think, in the mid 1970s to early 70s. The percentage grew. When I was president, the percentage was about 18 to 20% of the budget. CPB adopted rules that all noncommercial stations are eligible for the money if they meet certain criteria, and the criteria had to do with the number of employees (a minimum of 5) and the power of the transmitter. So here the government is saying, this money is available, and you qualify, so they went for it. It was a subject of considerable internal debate at the time.

There are two kinds of CPB grants. One is a matching grant, matching money you raise elsewhere. That is not really restrictive, and it's the big chunk of what they used to get. Then there are grants for particular projects, for particular programs, which must be spent on those programs. For those you have to please the grantor.

PN: How do you feel the station has changed since you left?

PF: Not much--the same people are there! It's blander. One of the things I really got in trouble for before I left was for criticizing the KPFA news. It's bland, it uses a lot of filler. The amount of time they spend on actuality--for example, fifteen minutes of Wendell Harper having sound bites with various supervisors, when Bosnia's going up in flames. I see on PeaceNet how much is going on in the world, and only a tiny fraction of that is on KPFA news. They waste a lot of air time. Actually, the new Pacifica newscast is much better.

PN: How do you feel about the quality of KPFA public affairs programming?

PF: One answer is that I don't listen to it very much. I don't hear very much that's new and fresh.

PN: From what you say the news was bad pretty far back.

PF: It's the same people! David Salniker hired Mark Miracle in about 1977. He has a pattern of hiring people from outside the area. He passed over Lincoln Bergman, who had been around the movement a lot and was a political person. Mark is an apolitical person. What really upsets me in the news is the failure to rewrite the jargon in the AP or whatever wire service they are using.

PN: Being stenographers to power.

PF: Yes. For example, recently, they were talking about Lonnie Guinier. They had some good actuality, then they said Clinton had picked her as his top civil rights "enforcer," a negative, loaded word. They pick up the wire service jargon and code words, and they don't take them out.

There are alternate news services available to them, which they don't use because technologically they are a little bit harder to access. They could be using the InterPress Service, (IPS), which is based in Italy, and is Third World oriented. IPS moves about 10% the number of words that AP or UPI move. I read it a lot on PeaceNet, and in fact one of the reasons PeaceNet made a big effort to get IPS on-line was so that Pacifica could use it. But it's not as technologically easy as it comes across the computer terminal, and they don't use it.

I don't hear very much on KPFA news that I don't hear on the mainstream news. From time to time, yes. Some of the experts they call up and consult for opinions you would never get on the mainstream news, but that's relatively limited.

PN: Do you see the problem arising mainly from the local level, from the staff, or from the national direction towards NPRization, or both?

PF: There are reasons why the staff that's there is there, and I don't think it's a matter of personalities. It's a matter of careers. It's because there is no real job or programming review, no accountability. There have been sporadic attempts at instituting such review, but there has never been any serious job review or quality control. Once someone is in they can stay forever. It's very hard for a manager to change anything.

PN: That's what [KPFA manager] Pat Scott said.

PF: I think she's right. When I was president I made some decisions that I might have done differently, with hindsight. I sometimes backed the managers even when I wasn't sure they were right, because without strong managers you can't change anything. There's a tacit, very strong agreement among the staff. "You don't challenge me, I don't challenge you." "You don't challenge my lock on this half-hour, I won't challenge your competence." A mutual, unspoken agreement to protect each other's turfs that keeps everything locked in place. There's not much money in a Pacifica station salary, so the reward is the air time. The staff has always been resistant to bringing in outside forces.

PN: Where do you think the problem in Pacifica is?

PF: I think it's all levels. I think Pacifica has to be redesigned from top to bottom--no small task. I'd put together a blue-ribbon commission of highly respected people, community people, from all over the country, like Hillary Rodham is doing with Health Care, and figure out how you can restructure it to get it back to its purposes, figure out what those purposes mean in the mid-late nineties.

One thing the KPFA local board did some years ago (before I was President) was to organize station support groups among the listeners. We very consciously organized listener groups around the Bay Area. These groups would distribute folios, do fundraising, get the word out to outlying communities, and they would each elect a representative to the station board. We needed staff cooperation to make the support groups work, but staff was never interested. Staff, in my opinion, never wanted to empower the listeners. The Board saw setting up these groups as potentially a more powerful way of involving the listeners in the life of the station than just elections at large, because if you get groups of people who really make a commitment to the station, they're going to be more involved than people just voting because there's a ballot in the folio. The problem with listener elections is that most people's involvement with the station is limited. I think that model--of active listener groups--could have worked.

PN: How did the listener groups get their desires actualized in the programming decisions?

PF: Each functioning listener group was entitled to send someone to be a KPFA board member. That was a way of having people elected who were actively involved, had made a commitment to the station, and were really working on behalf of the station.

PN: But the board supposedly has no input into programming.

PF: That "supposedly" is the key word. A strong attitude has developed that the board doesn't talk about programming. That's like saying the board of General Motors can't talk about cars. This attitude is simply staff building a circle around itself, saying you can go raise money for us and go hand out folios, but you can't talk about what the station is going to do. You can't talk about programming. Of course a Board does not decide whether the news is going to start at 6 or 6:15. You don't micro- manage. But you do talk about the direction of programming, the quality of programming, the priorities of programming. That's what the station does, and you neuter the board if you say they can't talk about it.

PN: What can be done about it?

PF: The staff wants to be able to do their own thing. The managers really need the community, through the board, to back them up, but managers have rarely sought that support. Managers want peace above all else. I used to say that the managers float on a sea of volunteerism. You ripple anything, you change something, and everybody's mad at you. Only with the articulate backing of a true community board can the managers change anything.

PN: That's what happened to Pat Scott. She tried to change things, very rudely and autocratically, and got everybody mad at her. But I'm beginning to think she really wasn't the problem.

PF: She started out supporting me--but that's another story. She came to a key meeting with Gus Newport, whom we were trying to get on the Pacifica board.

PN: So she was on the opposite side from Salniker then.

PF: Yes. David Salniker is a great co-opter. I think a big part of the problem is the vision thing. Without a well articulated vision of what progressive media could do for the country its hard to focus on how badly the Pacifica Vision is fading. You've got the awful mainstream media over here, you've got KPFA, certainly better, over here. Less well known to the general listenership are the people who know and think about media. There is a whole broad international movement, advocating the Right to Communicate, including the people doing micro-radio. Those people know that with the resources of KPFA it could be so much better.

The whole issue of communications, of media, hasn't been on the agenda much in this country, it's been blocked out of our awareness, how much more KPFA could be, how much more impact it could have, how much more fresh it could be.

There is so much more that could be done with radio than is. There are 120 countries and important things happening in all of them and hardly any of it gets covered by KPFA.

What SAVE KPFA represents is a percolating to the surface of a discontent that's taken ten years to reach critical mass. I think concentrating on changing the news could be an effective strategy. It's a funny thing about Pacifica stations. They're like the emperor has no clothes. They have enormous inertia, and they just will say no, but if you start to really pressure them, they'll bend. I think by going and sitting down and talking to the news directors, you'll get nothing changed. Steady public critique and pressure can be effective.

It would be good if FAIR applied the same critical methodology they have to NPR, to Pacifica. You might talk to the Union for Democratic Communications. It's an organization of mostly radical communication scholars. They have the skills, they have the tools of content analysis. I think SAVE KPFA is right to concentrate on the news.

What community radio is doing around the world--what AMARC is doing-- (AMARC is the acronym for the French name of the World Confederation of Community Broadcasters). It is very progressive, and it's using radio for organizing in South Africa. I just saw a story about helping people in El Salvador. There is a whole world of stuff going on in radio that Pacifica with its resources could be part of. I've gotten involved with micro-radio because they're starting fresh, without a lot of regulatory paraphernalia. It's green politics, very grass-roots oriented.

PN: As you know, SAVE KPFA is working towards creating a local governing board of directors to run KPFA, and we ultimately hope all the Pacifica stations would have this. But sometimes when we talk about this, people point to KQED's governing board, which is controlled by wealthy business types. Do you think this could be avoided at KPFA? Why is it that conservative business interests control the KQED board?

PF: It is built into the original design of Public Broadcasting. The key document to read in terms of understanding public broadcasting is the Carnegie Commission Report, which laid out the blueprint for Public Broadcasting many years ago. What the Carnegie Commission said is that the upper middle class, the intelligentsia, aren't watching commercial television, the country is starting to fall apart. They argued that "we" have to have a channel for getting to the intelligentsia. So public broadcasting was conceived as a channel to the educated classes to keep them tied into a system and to remind them that the system is good and viable. That's the mission of public broadcasting, that's what Carnegie, the smart establishment money, was designing public broadcasting for. That's why I have never had much faith in the struggles at KQED. The danger of Pacifica moving in that direction is that it becomes part of that Establishment agenda, rather than part of an activist agenda of changing things.

PN: So public broadcasting was created by the establishment elite. That's certainly very different from the origins of Pacifica. What do you think Salniker's current agenda is? What do you think his politics are?

PF: I don't think he's very political at all. I think he wants a bigger Pacifica, a stronger, more powerful Pacifica in the sense of more money, more listeners, more outlets. Otherwise, he's just got a boring job. It's the desire to make a difference. He's got these five stations and within the parameters he's working in, they're pretty intractable. Nothing much has changed at the station level in the past ten years. The problems at WBAI are not much different now than they were then, KPFA is still on the edge. And if you're an active vigorous person and you want to feel you're doing something with your life, you want to build something. And he, within the limits of how he's prepared to operate, couldn't do much about the station problems. He put out a lot of fires. But what he could do is build a superstructure--the news, the national office, and so on. And then he's got this hotshot fundraiser, Dick Bunce, who did a great job of raising money for the new KPFA building, and either Salniker has him raise money for something else, or he has to let him go.

It's this natural tendency we all have of wanting to build. But if you haven't got a vision, if you haven't got some politics guiding what you want to build, then you just build bigger. In my period as president, I was always somewhat ambivalent about the centralization of Pacifica. Basically I supported it, because I saw what Pacifica could do, but growth and centralization bring with them very conservative tendencies, and if you don't balance that with bringing in a constituency that will demand that you do what's necessary--you bring in labor, civil rights, peace, and so on, then making it bigger is also going to make it more conservative, more cautious.

PF: And in order to support bigness it has to get big bucks, and where are those going to come from?

PF: They're going to come from the people who have big bucks in this society, and what is their agenda? It's not Lou Hill's agenda.

PN: Do you think we should be exclusively listener-sponsored?

PF: Yes. There is enough money in the community. KPFA has increased its listener sponsorship enormously in recent years. There is a lot of money coming in. We need to keep tabs on how it's spent. I don't know that it takes a huge amount of money to do really good radio. It takes smart people. It's not a matter of money, it's energy. I think the community could support it, and if it did the station would be much more accountable to the community. The crafts fair used to be 10 or 20% of KPFA's income. That's another form of community support.

PN: How do you get the little fiefdoms out and better programming in?

PF: The only way is to create some countervailing pressure. The monitoring of the news, doing critiques, is, I think, one important way.

That's what I mean by the vision thing. When you project a vision of what community, listener sponsored radio could do, people see that it could be so much better, and they say, we're getting shortchanged here. Then something will have to be done about it


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Five years later,


at a Community Meeting in Berkeley, California
Transcript from a Panel Discussion on KPFA
May 9, 1999

(1999 was the year of the massive demonstrations at KPFA which took down the hijacker regime)

Moderator, SANDY CLOSE (Pacific News Service):
I wanted to learn more about what that situation was from the panel today. All I know is that Nicole Sawaya, who came to be the station manager roughly a year and a half ago, brought a new exuberance and a new unanimity, a sense of consensus, to the station that for thirty-odd years I hadn't felt as clearly as I had since Nicole came. It was like she really wanted to bring in a multiplicity of voices and make the station synonymous with searching. And that really appealed to me, and I felt very bereft when I was informed that she had been fired, terminated. So I was asked to come and just moderate, but really I came secretly to learn. And if I can be helpful in facilitating I will, but I felt -- since there's so few of us -- the best thing would be to make opening sort of statements by each panelist, and then ask them to ask questions of each other, ask you to ask questions of them, and I'll try to keep it moving. But it's really a conversation among us all about a station we all is vital to keeping the public forum inclusionary. So I think that Peter Franck, you're going to lead off.

PETER FRANCK: OK. Thanks, Sandy. First I want to make a little allegory, make a pitch in terms of the last panel, because I'm also with Allen Korn active on the Lawyers Guild Committee on Democratic Communications in the micro radio fight. Lawyers Guild is an organization of people who want to help legally keep the movement in the streets, or keep the movement on the air -- and not just lawyers -- so, if any of you want to get involved, we could certainly use some help. And if you'd like to join our committee or come to one of our meetings, check our website or talk to me afterwards.

Just by way of brief introduction, I come out of the early New Left at Berkeley, you know -- late '50s, early '60s -- very early on saw that if we're going to change society we have to do something about the media environment, 'cause every demonstration we ever went or organized, when you read about in the newspaper it's a totally different thing. That's just the simplest side of the problem -- and the culture of violence, individualism, and so on, militates against any progressive social change. In 1973 Bill Sokol, late of the morning show on Sundays, recruited me to the KPFA board, and in 1980-84 I was president of the Pacifica Foundation. I've put most of my efforts in terms of media stuff in recent in the micro radio thing, 'cause I do believe that the spirit of Lew Hill, who was the founder of Pacifica, lives on in the micro radio movement. I hope it lives on at Pacifica, but that's more controversial.

At the demonstration -- Let me talk a little more, Sandy, than just the statement, 'cause I was told to make a short little speech, and I will.


PF: But not too long. At the demonstration in front of KPFA a few weeks ago quite a number of people who recognized me and knew I'd been involved in Pacifica in the past came up to me, and virtually every person made the same opening statement: "What's going on?" People are really puzzled. And I think that's a problem. I think there hasn't been the clear articulation of what's going on.

I want to talk about the history of current crisis just very briefly and then tell you what I think is going on. Pacifica executive leadership a few months ago asked the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for a ruling on whether or not local board members could also serve on the Pacifica National Board -- that's what we used to call it -- now it's called the Governing Board. They were given an interpretation of the law that said they could not. It's an entirely bogus interpretation. There is nothing in the Public Broadcasting Act that says that. In fact, the Public Broadcasting Act was modeled on the structure of Pacifica -- which was the largest public broadcasting entity -- had of local boards and a national board, to which you could only be elected if the local board sent you there. The managers -- there was controversy within Pacifica -- the managers and CPB threatened to withhold payment of $1.4 million. The managers were asked to draw up a plan of what they would do if that money was not forthcoming.

Now in Pacifica there's a multiplier effect on loss of revenue, because about half of their costs are fixed. They have to pay the electric bill. They have to pay the rent -- I guess KPFA now has a mortgage. All those costs are fixed, and that's about half their budget. So a twenty-five percent loss of revenue means a fifty percent loss.. cut in payroll, because the payroll is the only fungible thing they've got, the only place to cut. So the other managers came up with a plan of how they would cut the staff. Nicole Sawaya came up with a plan of how...that she would take the money out of the 17% that now goes to Pacifica. That, according to Roberta Brooks, is the reason that she was fired.

So, back up a minute to what's happening. My view of what's happening is there's sort of a flying wedge from Washington coming in and taking advantage of a structural weakness that's always existed in Pacifica. This really bogus opinion comes from Robert Conrad (sic), the head the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who came there from a position of being Deputy Director of the Voice of America. There's always been a strong nexus in CPB and NPR -- the new head president of NPR also comes out of this sort of national security propaganda state. I think the thing that has to be remembered is that Pacifica is a profoundly subversive, very dangerous organization, especially, you know...It's called Pacifica because it was founded around the principles of peace, not because its ocean is the Pacific. It's no accident that one of the first targets of bombing in Belgrade was the television station. Media and information are very important, are very powerful and very subversive, especially when you're trying to create a consensus, and you have a major national network that can reach twenty-five percent of the U.S. population, roughly, saying the emperor Clinton's got no clothes. So, it's a dangerous institution, and there is a strong impetus from Washington to mute it. There's been the Healthy Station Project. That's too long to go into, but there's been a strong push to quote "professionalize" public broadcasting and sort of bring it under the tent of the establishment. Now we have a Washington insider, Mary Frances Berry, as Chair of the Board. We have this thing with CPB going on.

The structural know, we could talk for hours about this. The other thing that's going on is this: There are a number of stakeholders in Pacifica, a number of people who've got a legitimate -- and groups -- who have a legitimate stake in the question of what Pacifica does, the direction it takes. There's a staff -- paid staff and unpaid staff. There's management. There's listeners. There are subscribers. There's those social movements that Pacifica should be serving to inform the constituency of. Throughout Pacifica's history only the first two of those stakeholders have had any structural say: staff, by virtue of being there, and management, by virtue of being there. There's never been an institutional connection for the listeners, for the subscribers to have a voice, for the movements that Pacifica should serve to have a voice. And that's a structural weakness. That's why this flying wedge, in my view, has been effective.

What's happened in recent years is a shift in power from the staff to the management, the other groups still being disenfranchised. In earlier years almost all the real power was in the hands of the staff. That's more or less the way Lew Hill designed it, with some input from community, that was removed in about 1961. Exclusive input from the staff -- and some of my friends here won't like me saying this -- exclusive input from the staff is not totally a good thing. There is... During the time I was involved I could see a tacit agreement among staff members: "I don't question your program; you don't question mine." So an ossification set in, and programming that started out relevant....I did a commentary in the mid-'60s, and I stopped it, 'cause I thought I ran out of things to say. Programmers tend to hang onto their programs, and there was no quality control, there was no injection of new and fresh ideas.

There's a story -- some people say is apocryphal, some people say it actually happened -- that a programmer at KPFK actually left his time to somebody else in his will. [laughter] Now, whether it really happened or not, there absolutely was that attitude. And there needed to be a check on only the staff having decisions on what was said on the air, because it did tend to ossify things.

In the Reagan era there was a dereg.. there was a change in the FCC laws which allowed noncommercial stations to rent out two frequencies, nonbroadcast frequencies, carrier frequencies, on what's called their side bands, to commercial outfits that transmitted data and so on. There's a lot of money involved in this. Pacifica...Because this is an administrative thing, and it was new money, Pacifica became the organization which administered that for all five stations, and which handled the money. That's when the change in power from the stations to Pacifica central management took place. Because suddenly there was a lot of money in their coffers not dependent on the station managers writing a check, which always gave the station managers more power over the central Pacifica. So you have this financial change, and you have the lack of input from public constituencies that have a stake, combined with a strong pressure from Washington and CPB to move to the center, to be more conventional, causing the whole long drift that's been going on at Pacifica over the years, and being the immediate proximate cause of Nicole Sawaya's firing, because she was trying to stand up to this. Obviously there is a short-term answer in terms of the KPFA situation, but we're gonna have the situation again, and we're gonna have a continuation of the drift of the Pacifica stations to the center, if the structural problem of not empowering the other stakeholders in Pacifica isn't addressed. Thanks.

SC: [garbled]...three questions for each speaker right after, just to bring the audience in all the way through. Yes.

Female Voice: Yes. I just heard...I'd just like to know why is it.. what the differences are, because it is the term media, between let's say KQED, where I can vote. That's the first thing that came up when all this happened. I mean, I've been a listener-supporter for twenty years. And it's "Wait a minute. I have no voice" know, twenty years later it dawned on me I have no voice. But at KQED eventually we got told we couldn't vote. And I still don't know exactly... I know Lew Hill maybe didn't [sound faded]. But under the rules of the FCC, what could we do about that?

PF: OK. First of all, the FCC is not involved in this. The regulations that are involved are the Nonprofit Code of the State of California, which regulates nonprofits. There are two forms of nonprofit organizations. One is the kind that has a self-perpetuating board -- the board elects its own successor membership, which is the way Pacifica was essentially organized. There was at the very...And the other form is a membership organization where the members elect the board, which is the way KQED is organized. And Henry Kroll [sp?] and others who have tried to influence the direction of programming at KQED, that that's no panacea either, especially when central management can sort of manipulate the elections. Now, in the very early days of Pacifica there was something called the Executive Membership, which elected the board. And the Executive Membership was essentially the larger staff and some people from the community. The board in 1961 changed that rule so that it elected itself. The FCC was involved in this way: It did actually rule that that was an illegal change in ownership -- there was such a ruling from the FCC -- but nobody ever did anything to take advantage of that or to enforce it.

Female Voice: What year was that?

PF: 1961. So the bottom line is that accountability has never been built into the structure of Pacifica. Hill was afraid of takeovers -- you know, this...It wasn't Maoism then, but this Maoist faction or that faction might take over. But what I think we've had now is takeover from Washington and takeover from the inside, and I think that structural flaw needs to be addressed.

SC: Two more questions. Or...How can it be addressed?

PF: Well, I think the structure has to be reformed. I think that -- unlike KQED, if we had elections of subscribers.. from subscribers to the local boards, and election by the local boards to the national board. And I believe there ought to be some seats on the national board. I think there should be a peace seat. I think there should be a labor seat. I think there should be a civil rights seat. I don't know if Don and Chris are still here. There probably should be an anarchist seat, just to keep everybody honest. I think we need both those constituencies to be empowered within the structure of Pacifica and the listener-subscribers to be empowered.

SC: OK. Yes.

Male Voice: What about the corporate money? I don't understand why KPFA accepts corporate money. I recently understand that Hill also accepted corporate money. [faded]

PF: Well, there's two issues about corporate money. Pacifica is justly proud of never taking corporate underwriting...will not take money from the Ford Motor.. or from ADM to do the news, like PBS does. It does now.. I think they fudged that a little bit -- they now take money from some foundations for particular programs. I and others always felt that we should never let the money dictate the programming. Lew Hill got...KPFA went on the air as a vision -- I think it was 1947 -- ran out of money, had to go off the air for a while, got a grant from the Ford Foundation, and went back on the air. So, foundation money to build the infrastructure has been important at certain times. There is a huge difference between getting...The bottom line is programming. I didn't go into Lew Hill's vision -- there isn't time. But basically he realized from his experience as a journalist in Washington at the beginning of the Cold War, you can't talk about peace if you're beholden to advertisers, sponsors, so you must have listener-sponsors. They should be the only sponsors. To get money from a corporation to build a transmitter or something, once you've built it you're not beholden. If you get money from a corporation to do the news, then you worry about losing it if you say something critical about them.

SC: One more question. Yes.

Female Voice: I'm not sure, I'm did....[too soft] just got a little bit of information, and it has to do.. something with.. and I can't remember his name, who is a formal Pacifica board member, who is an official at The Tides Foundation, who has had some connections with the Pew Foundation...

SC: Archibald...

[talking over]

PF: No, Salniker. She's asking about Salniker.

Female Voice: [garbled -- faint] there a tie-in to what's going on..

PF: Yeah, well, David Salniker was manager of KPFA in the '80s, became the Executive Director of -- and he and I were at one point friends and office mates -- he actually ran KPFA from a desk I sold him. Then he became Executive Director of Pacifica. Then he moved on to become director of The Tides Center, which is Tides' umbrella over a lot of other nonprofits. During his tenure there was a strong attempt to get money from the Pew Foundation and some other, at best very centrist, foundations. That's the connection. There was a very good article in The Bay Guardian about two years ago -- you can probably find it in their archives online or someplace -- making all these connections between Pew and a whole bunch of foundations and how they've influenced the nonprofit world, and I do believe they have influenced Pacifica as part of that.

SC: OK, yes, OK.

Male Voice: Since David Salniker went to The Tides, in 1995, according to the Pew Charitable Trust's website, The Tides has received $34,900,000 from Pew and has a long response to a number of Pew projects.

Male Voice: Other point of information. IGC, which is the progressive computer service that a lot of people have -- Labor Net and Eco Net....

PF: Peacenet...

Male Voice: a project of The Tides Center. I believe that David is on the IGC board, and Marci Lockwood, who was the last general manager of KPFA, is, as far as I know, the executive director of the manager of IGC. So there's a lot of musical chairs that go on..[garbled]...

SC: OK. Thank you very much. Let's have our [applause]... That was so illuminating for me. I'm just amazed at how little I knew of that history -- knowing Elsa Knight Thompson, and may her spirit live on. Our next speaker is Maria...

PF: [garbled - talking over]

PETER FRANCK did a regular commentary on legal issues on KPFA during the 1960s. He was a member of the KPFA Board, starting in 1973, a member of the Pacifica Board from 1975 to 1984, and President of Pacifica Foundation from 1980 to 1984. He continues to be involved in ongoing discussions. His website is

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. There are also about 300 affiliate stations.

DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Pacifica Foundation website nor an official website of any of the five Pacifica Radio Stations (KPFA Radio, KPFK Radio, KPFT Radio, WBAI Radio, WPFW Radio). Opinions and facts alleged on this site belong to the author(s) of the website only and should NOT be assumed to be true or to reflect the editorial stance or policy of the Pacifica Foundation, or any of the five Pacifica Radio Stations (KPFA Radio, KPFK Radio, KPFT Radio, WBAI Radio, WPFW Radio), or the opinions of its management, Pacifica National Board, station staff or other listener members.

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