As Pacifica Radio marked its 65th anniversary of broadcasting, foundation and station leaders are talking publicly about governance reforms that involve “decentralizing” control of its five stations. Pacifica National Board Chair Margy Wilkinson, who is battling for control of the Foundation with former executive director Summer Reese, discussed the proposal April 9 on KPFK-FM, the Pacifica station in Los Angeles. “There are real governance issues,” Wilkinson said during an appearance on the KPFK show Truthdig. “I think the way the foundation is put together does not make for a very highly functioning organization.”
Though she didn’t wade into specifics, Wilkinson called for “some decentralization and some greater autonomy at the local stations.”
“I see a role for Pacifica, but I think right now, the way national is functioning is not particularly helpful to the stations,” Wilkinson said. The proposal to reduce Pacifica’s control over local stations has support in Houston, where leaders of Pacifica’s KPFT have called for greater independence.
The ongoing standoff over Pacifica’s leadership reached the California courts last week, opening what could become a protracted legal battle over the Pacifica Foundation board of directors’ decision to fire executive director Summer Reese. Reese, who has defied the board’s March 14 vote to fire her and taken up residence in Pacifica headquarters in Berkeley, filed a civil lawsuit in Alameda County, seeking a restraining order to reverse the board’s decision. During an April 9 hearing, Superior Court Judge Ioana Petrou denied the request by Reese and her supporters for a temporary restraining order on procedural grounds. Petrou will rule May 6 on Reese’s request for a temporary injunction to stay the board’s decision. “I wasn’t surprised by the decision, a temporary restraining order is a high bar and this is a complex case,” said Amy Sommer Anderson, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, Pacifica Directors for Good Governance.
• Nothing spells love quite like This American Life. For a Valentine’s Day Doodle, Google has enlisted the Public Radio International program to present five love-themed stories from the series, complete with animations. Host Ira Glass provides an introduction. Time has a behind-the-scenes video of how the Doodle came together. • Veteran pubcasting exec Chet Tomczyk, currently managing Illinois stations WTVP-TV in Peoria and dual licensee WILL in Urbana in a unique agreement, announced yesterday that he is retiring, although he hasn’t set a date. Tomczyk has worked in the system for nearly 50 years, beginning in 1965 as associate producer of The Week in Michigan, a weekly travel and outdoor show produced at WKAR-FM in East Lansing, Mich.
Andrew Phillips resigned last month as interim p.d. of Pacifica’s WBAI in New York, a post he accepted less than three months ago in an effort to rebuild the audience of the financially troubled station. Phillips cited a disagreement over fundraising programs airing on the station, including shows featuring products pitched by alternative-medicine promoter Gary Null, as the reason for his decision. “It’s a model destined to failure, and I don’t want to be a part of it,” Phillips said. Pacifica assigned Phillips to WBAI in August after imposing a workforce reduction intended to sharply reduce the station’s operating costs. To attract more listeners, Phillips introduced news and public affairs shows from Pacifica’s KPFA in Berkeley, where he had previously overseen programming, and Los Angeles station KPFK.
The Pacifica Foundation is seeking another nonprofit organization to help operate WBAI, its financially struggling station in New York. In a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued this week, the foundation specifies that it intends to retain ultimate control over WBAI programming under a Public Service Operating Agreement. It plans to employ two members of the station’s staff, one of whom would have managerial responsibilities and report solely to Pacifica. The RFP outlines costs that prospective co-operators would be expected to cover, including the two employees’ salaries, studio expenses and rent payments for its lease on the Empire State Building, where WBAI’s transmitter is located. Prospective co-operators must be willing to reimburse Pacifica for these expenses.
Pacifica has laid off the entire news department of WBAI-FM and almost all paid staff effective Monday in an effort to keep the cash-strapped New York outlet solvent. Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese made the announcement on WBAI’s air Friday afternoon. Reese told listeners that she had arrived at the station by cab directly from negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents WBAI staff. “We have not been able to fully recover . .
Pacifica station WPFW in Washington, D.C., is in “a pretty critical financial situation,” according to Summer Reese, interim executive director of the network. Reese discussed the state of WPFW during a July 25 Pacifica board conference call. Responding to a board member’s question about a WPFW on-air fund drive planned for in September, she said: “The concern there is, frankly, that you don’t have enough money to get through until September.”
WPFW has fallen into a “perpetual” state of on-air fund drives, Reese said. “It’s not giving listeners much of a break.”
Reese told the board she was following up with WPFW staff about which of the station’s bills must be paid most urgently. Neither the D.C. station nor WBAI in New York have paid for board election costs from last year, she said.
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.