WBAI tower gets eviction notice, FSRN on the brink

Unfortunately, the situation elsewhere in the 5-station Pacifica network isn’t so bright. Days before the Pacifica National Board convened in New York City on February 22, news broke that sister station WBAI’s transmitting tower was about to be evicted from its roost on the Empire State Building, which allows the station to reach up to 75 miles in all directions, into four states.

Rent for the tower was $200,000 in arrears, and the landlord had begun eviction proceedings. In an emergency appeal, WBAI extended its winter fund drive by four weeks, while Pacifica set up a special transmitter fund. Those moves allowed WBAI to pay three months’ back rent, but $110,000 more will be due April 1. WBAI had been knocked off the air when Superstorm Sandy hit last October, but it got a reprieve after KPFA and the other stations raised over $180,000 for WBAI on a single day in November. WBAI has been racking up serious deficits for years, a casualty of high fixed costs and mismanagement at both the national and local levels.

More bad news hit the network on March 4, as Free Speech Radio News (FSRN) issued layoff notices to its entire staff, saying it would go off the air by March 15 if emergency fundraising efforts failed. FSRN is a worker-run newscast broadcast daily on Pacifica stations. Although it’s an independent nonprofit, the majority of its funding comes from Pacifica. To pay FSRN, Pacifica witholds a portion of its stations’ Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants — but lately, Pacifica has been missing payments, forcing FSRN to the brink.

At the March 9 meeting of KPFA’s Local Station Board (audio here: part 1 | part 2 | part 3) interim general manager Andrew Phillips announced that KPFA had advanced FSRN $35,000, which KPFA will deduct from its future payments to Pacifica. Thanks to that, plus grassroots support from hundreds of small donors, FSRN has raised enough to stay on the air while it looks for a permanent solution. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! has issued an urgent call to support FSRN. You can help by donating to this valuable news service.

Financial results: KPFA beating budget, Pacifica lagging

KPFA’s most recent fund drive turnaround seems to have had a big impact on the station’s bottom line. On February 23, Pacifica distributed first-quarter income statements for the network. Brian Edwards-Tiekert (now serving as KPFA’s staff rep on the Pacifica National Board) reported the statements “show KPFA outperforming its budget to the tune of $115,000 in just three months. The main driver is KPFA’s fund drives — the statements show that KPFA brought in $154,348 more listener support than budgeted” before the most recent drive even started.

“The bad news,” said Edwards-Tiekert, “is that KPFA appears to be the only part of Pacifica doing well. First, a caveat: there appear to be some accuracy problems with the numbers that the Pacifica National Office distributed. As things stand, however, every other station in the network appears to be racking up deficits right now. The worst losses are coming from the Pacifica National Office, which appears to be over-spending its budget by roughly $80,000 per month. Pacifica’s current management has not made clear what is driving the over-spending.”

Late last year, Pacifica’s board allowed the contracts of then-executive director Arlene Engelhardt and then-CFO LaVarn Williams to expire. The chair of that board, Summer Reese, is currently also acting as the network’s interim executive director.

New board members seated at Pacifica (finally)

After much delay, the Pacifica National Board (PNB) seated newly-elected reps from its stations at a February 22-25 meeting in New York. SaveKPFA-affiliated rep Margy Wilkinson was one of them.

In her report-back, Wilkinson said highlights included a short video about the Pacifica Radio Archives and a full-length documentary about WBAI’s Bob Fass. She added that most of the meeting was spent behind closed doors in “executive” sessions, at least one of which was “probably held in violation of the law governing public vs. executive sessions.”

“We received no written reports from Summer [Reese] in her role as either as PNB chair or iED of Pacifica,” wrote Wilkinson. “The finance report, which was a statement of Pacifica National Office expenses for the first quarter of FY 2013, had no budgetary info or comparisons to previous years, making it pretty hard to evaluate. It was never presented (except for being handed out) or discussed.”

In addition, there was no action on the McCarthyite, anti-dissent, “loyalty measure” that hundreds of SaveKPFA supporters have written about to the board. You can read Wilkinson’s complete report here, or listen to audio of the Feb. 22-25 PNB meeting at these links: Feb 22 | Feb 23 | Feb 24 | Feb 25 | agenda