A journalist and former employee of a Pacifica station diagnoses the network’s failure to attract listeners in an article in the Leftist Review. The election of President Barack Obama is in part to blame, writes Kellia Ramares-Watson, because it helped to mollify the network’s left-leaning audience. But she attributes much of the problem to programming. Stations, she writes, “need to stop their attempts to represent as many of the disparate groups in their audience as they can cram into 168 hours a week.” New York’s WBAI, she notes, aims to serve many audiences by programming hosts in monthly slots and narrowly targeting ethnic niches. The station faces severe layoffs due to chronic shortages of funds.
The Pacifica Foundation will lay off 75 percent of the staff at WBAI, its station in New York, in an effort to put the foundering station on steady financial footing. Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese is travelling to New York this week to begin negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists chapter representing WBAI employees. The talks will determine which employees in particular will be let go. If carried out as planned, the job cuts will reduce WBAI’s full-time workforce from 28 staff to seven. In recent months the station has struggled with cash flow, falling behind on payments to its employees and for rent on its antenna.
CPB has withheld financial support for the Pacifica Foundation’s five radio stations after the organization missed deadlines for fixing errors and shortcomings in its accounting and operations. The errors were discovered during a CPB audit last year that cited Pacifica for insufficient accounting practices, misreported revenues and failure to comply with CPB rules on open meetings and financial transparency. The withholding of CPB funding hits Pacifica at a precarious time as its stations struggle to raise enough money to pay rent and staff. WBAI, Pacifica’s New York station, fell short of its on-air fundraising goal in May by 45 percent, or $343,000. The station can’t cover its June payroll or rent for its antenna, according to a June 9 email by Berthold Reimers, g.m., to members of WBAI’s board.
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.