Radical radio network with stations in Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York City, Houston and Washington, D.C.
Receives millions of taxpayer dollars from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Pacifica Radio is a non-commercial network of five "progressive" FM radio stations. Two of these stations are in California: KPFA 94.1 in Berkeley and KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles. The other three are KPFT 90.1 in Houston, WBAI 99.5 in New York City, and WPFW 89.3 in Washington, DC. This network is owned and operated by the Pacifica Radio Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) entity. At least some Pacifica programs also air on approximately 48 "Affiliate" and "Associate" stations in the United States.
The Pacifica Radio Foundation filed for incorporation in California in August 1946, created by its principal founder, pacifist Lew Hill to be a "radical war resistance program." On April 15, 1949 KPFA began broadcasting the views of San Francisco-area radicals for a few hours each day. This station was on the FM band, the audience for which was small because few people owned FM radios. A year later the station was bankrupt and went off the air, but a prolonged community fundraising drive revived it.
In its earliest days Pacifica was listener-sponsored radio, and the radical community participated in determining and providing station content as well as donating its funding. But soon Pacifica began shifting to what are today called listener-supported stations, where the audience is encouraged to give money but not to determine what programs the stations air. While a rapidly growing audience tuned in to hear Zen author Alan Watts discuss Eastern mysticism, or to hear beatniks Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti read their poetry, other voices on Pacifica in the 1950s were preaching Soviet apologetics and advocating Marxism.
In 1955 Lew Hill aired an interview with a former FBI agent criticizing the Bureau's tactics. KPFA provided antagonistic coverage of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings into Communism. HUAC responded by investigating Pacifica and identifying several of its employees as Communists. In 1957 Hill fired these employees and KPFA's Board of Directors reversed the firings. In August of that same year, the 38-year-old Hill committed suicide.
Awash from its birth with the socialist-Marxist rhetoric of class warfare, hatred for capitalism and corporations, Pacifica Radio used threats, intimidation, gag orders, lawyers and lockouts to try to prevent its own workers from organizing. In May 1999, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against Pacifica for firing union employees at WBAI and converting their positions to management, effectively moving these jobs out of the union contract.
In decades past, Pacifica was five stations, each of which created its own distinctive programs. Today Pacifica issues "must carry" directives that require all five of its stations to air many of the same programs. At the new Pacifica, even when hosts work for free, the network's "Y2K Rule" implemented in 2000 requires that part of the rights to their programs be signed over to Pacifica. One significant source of revenue for Pacifica is sales of copies of its unique archived recordings of music, interviews and other material.
In June 1997 the Pacifica Radio Foundation named Mary Frances Berry as the new Chairman to head its National Board. "White male hippies over 50," is how Berry described the programmers and audience of KPFA in Berkeley. In 1999 she and Pacifica's Executive Director Lynn Chadwick fired the station's manager and issued a gag order, threatening to fire anyone else who worked at the station who spoke of their actions. When one host tried to tell listeners what was happening, Berry had him arrested while he was live on the air. When people gathered peacefully outside the station to protest these firings, Berry used her connections in the Clinton Justice Department to lean on Berkeley police to arrest the protesters, which they promptly did.
Berry thereafter ordered a lockout of all KPFA personnel, in violation of station union agreements. To keep the station on air, a digital ISDN telephone connection was quickly installed so that KPFA could simulcast KPFT, the network's Houston affiliate launched in 1970. This was done without permission and approval of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and thus violated Federal law. Berry proceeded to demand the imposition of racial preferences across the board at KPFA, though she refused to meet with minority staff people at the station, who mostly disagreed with her actions.
The once-independent Pacifica has looked increasingly to government for money and help. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) provided a sizeable grant of taxpayer dollars, for example, to upgrade transmitter equipment for KPFK, the station Pacifica started in 1959 in Los Angeles. (Much of that NTIA grant money mysteriously got lost in accounting).
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has also been a huge source of taxpayer dollars for Pacifica Radio. Those CPB taxpayer dollars are Pacifica's second-largest source of funds, after listener donations. In its 2004 budget, Pacifica lists grants from CPB totaling $1,079,988. Pacifica's 2005 budget lists direct and Community Service Grants (CSGs) from CPB adding up to $1,377,211. The individual Pacifica stations also receive taxpayer money from arts, cultural and other local government commissions.
In 2001 United for Peace and Justice Director Leslie Cagan, a longtime committed socialist who aligns her politics with those of Fidel Castro's Communist Cuba, was elected Chairman of the Pacifica Foundation's Interim Board of Directors. Other members of the Pacifica Board have included radical comic Dick Gregory and former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.
The General Manager of Pacifica's Washington, DC station WPFW is Tony Regusters, the former Press Secretary to Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-California).
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