Money shortfalls at New York’s WBAI, one of two Pacifica Foundation stations that must relocate their studios later this month, continue to worsen.
At the end of April, WBAI lacked funds to pay staff or rent on its antenna, according to an email by the treasurer of the station’s board. WBAI owed about $119,000 and had $4,000 in the bank as of April 29, Local Station Board Treasurer R. Paul Martin wrote in an email that was sent to an LSB Yahoo! group. The station is mandated by law to pay its staff, and missing the rent on WBAI’s antenna on the Empire State Building could result in “very bad consequences” if not paid by Monday, May 6. As of that date, the station still lacked the money, according to a later email by Martin.
The Pacifica radio network rarely enjoys a drama-free moment, but with two of its five stations on a tight schedule to find new studios, tensions among network leaders and local volunteers are even higher than usual. Last week Summer Reese, interim executive director of Pacifica, took a redeye from the West Coast, where Pacifica is headquartered, to appear in court in Washington, D.C. The landlord of WPFW, Pacifica’s Washington station, is selling the building that houses the station’s studios to a developer who has plans for a new hotel on the site and needs WPFW to move out of the way. Reese and WPFW leaders have been searching for a new location for months, but the site on which the station had already paid rent has prompted a backlash among station volunteers: The studios are located outside the District of Columbia and shared with a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications. Some WPFW volunteers have gone to court to block that move, and Reese is sympathetic to their cause. Meanwhile, Pacifica’s debt-burdened New York station, WBAI, is also on the hunt for a new home and faces an equally pressing deadline to find one.
WPFW-FM, the Pacifica station in Washington, D.C., faces a deadline to vacate its studios at the end of month and still has no clear plan for relocating, reports the Washington City Paper. Programmers and listeners have opposed a plan to move to studios in Silver Spring, Md., that would be leased from a subsidiary of Clear Channel. Even Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese opposes the move — she’s asked WPFW’s Local Station Board to determine whether the station can back out of the sublease agreement. The building’s landlord also is questioning the lease, reportedly because Pacifica briefly lost its corporate charter earlier this year. Pacifica’s poor finances, as well as WPFW’s, have thwarted the station’s efforts to negotiate for other locations.
The elections supervisor for the boards of Pacifica’s five radio stations has recommended that the network revamp its process for selecting board members because the current system is “too costly, time consuming, factionalized and factionalizing.”
In a report on the latest round of elections, which concluded in January several months behind schedule, Pacifica National Elections Supervisor Terry Bouricius described numerous flaws in a process that’s been in effect for nearly a decade. Pacifica’s elections favor “ego-driven individuals,” he wrote, and bring in votes from roughly 10 percent of the total membership of the five stations. The small percentage of those who do vote are likely not representative of the whole. In addition, station staffers complain that on-air programming required for the elections is unpopular with listeners; stations must broadcast statements by local candidates and call-in shows featuring the candidates. The stations’ donor records are not adequately maintained to support the election process, Bouricius wrote.
The Pacifica National Board passed a resolution barring individuals who have clashed with the network’s leadership from election to the boards of its five stations, a move that critics decried as a political witch hunt. The resolution, which passed Jan. 24 by a vote of 11–10, denies seats on Local Station Boards to three classes of people:
“Individuals whose actions have been declared by a court of law to be breaches of fiduciary duty, or breaches of the duty of loyalty or the duty of care;”
“Individuals who have been separated involuntarily from foundation employment for cause;” and
“Individuals who have been banned from station premises due to threatening behavior or creating an unsafe environment for others.”
Anyone denied candidacy for board service can appeal to the PNB. Such measures are common among other nonprofit boards, says Bill Crosier, vice chair of the PNB. “I can’t imagine any other nonprofit letting people in one of those categories be on their boards,” he says.
All five radio broadcasters in the nationwide Pacifica network will suspend their regular programming on Nov. 15 from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. EST to hold a day-long fundraiser for New York City’s WBAI-FM, which sustained massive damage to its studio and operations during Superstorm Sandy.
Leaders of the Pacifica Foundation will seek a new executive director and are asking stations for financial information before ordering across-the-board cuts pushed by current Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt.
The national board of the Pacifica Foundation voted Sunday (July 22) to begin a search for two new top executives. The board will not renew contracts for Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt and Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams, which both expire Nov. 30. The two were invited to apply for new terms in their positions. The action was reported in an email to the SaveKPFA listserv and confirmed by Margy Wilkinson, chair of the local station board at KPFA, Pacifica's Berkeley station, who attended the meeting.