Changes on the horizon at Pacifica, as a financial crisis threatens KPFA and the rest of the network

KPFA listeners and staff are deeply concerned about the worsening financial and governance crisis at the 5-station Pacifica network, including the mortgaging of KPFA’s building in Berkeley to pay off the debts of New York station WBAI.

The Los Angeles Times has just published an investigative article by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Hiltzik, which looks into Pacifica’s financial and governance problems.

A recent audit shows Pacifica with an operating deficit of $4.6 million, writes Hiltzik, who adds that “the chief drain on Pacifica’s resources has been WBAI,” including a $1.8 million debt for its unpaid antenna rent.

The national board has refused to deal with WBAI’s financial problems, instead voting in 2018 to mortgage KPFA’s building and other property for an ill-advised $3.25 million loan.

KPFA’s studios were built by donations from Bay Area members, who did not intend them to bail out a failing New York station. Payments on that $3.25 million loan are now coming due, and threaten to tank station budgets. A balloon payment for the balance is due in April 2021.

When WBAI could not meet its payroll multiple times last fall, Pacifica’s then-interim executive director John Vernile sounded the alarm. But after making changes at the station to reach more listeners and save money, a dysfunctional Pacifica National Board ousted him and put WBAI back into the hands of those who have mismanaged it for years.

Structural change? Court orders Pacifica bylaws vote

An Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered Pacifica to put bylaws changes proposed by a group of KPFA & KPFT members to a network-wide vote.

Details are at RethinkingPacifica.org, including a news blog about developments. The proposal is endorsed by Larry Bensky, former national Pacifica correspondent | Heidi Boghosian, executive director, The Muste Foundation; co-host of Law & Disorder Radio | William Fletcher, Jr., writer/activist, host of WBAI’s “Arise!” | Peter Franck, past president, Pacifica Foundation (1980-1984) | Matthew Lasar, Pacifica historian, author of Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network | Carol Spooner, former PNB member (2002-2004) | and hundreds of others

If approved, the bylaws would create an 11-member board, 5 directors elected by station listeners and staff, and 6 directors who are well-known radio professionals and community leaders, among other changes. You can read their biographies here.

KPFA has posted a timeline of the vote. Ballots are due to be sent on February 18 to all members. Stay tuned for more information.

Support KPFA’s work

The staff at KPFA came together for live coverage of the historic impeachment hearings last week. Please take a moment to thank them by renewing your membership or making a donation.

Or attend an upcoming KPFA benefit talk, such as journalist E.J. Dionne (February 27), economist Richard Wolff (February 28), and SUNY professor Gretchen Sorin (March 11). See all upcoming events at KPFA’s website.

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