As 2014 comes to a close, we want to strongly encourage you to go above and beyond with a year-end donation to KPFA at www.kpfa.org.
The bad news first: KPFA is in a precarious financial position. Our radio station currently does not have enough money in hand to pay its bills through the start of its next fund drive.
But there is also plenty of good news: those who got our radio station into this situation are gone, and there is more cause for hope about KPFA than there has been in many, many years. Here is a quick trip through the whirlwind that was 2014.
Transition and tumult
In February, a new majority took their seats on the national board of Pacifica, the nonprofit that owns KPFA. In short order, that new majority elected SaveKPFA‘s Margy Wilkinson, a member of KPFA’s Local Station Board and a former rank-and-file union activist, to serve as its chair.
In March, the new board voted to oust Pacifica’s then-executive director, Summer Reese, amid serious concerns about mismanagement. Reese had been chair of the board when Pacifica killed KPFA’s Morning Show and attempted to purge its staff. When she moved into the role of executive director, Reese led the network into a $2.2 million deficit, and presided over the loss of over $1 million per year in funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Reese did not leave easily: after receiving notice of her termination, she broke into her former offices, barricaded herself in, and didn’t leave until Oakland-based civil rights attorney Dan Siegel secured Pacifica a court order forcing her to depart. | READ the legal case and background
With Reese gone, and a new, more able and supportive leadership led by Wilkinson in control of the Pacifica network, KPFA is making rapid progress towards sustainability.
A new day for KPFA
In May, KPFA introduced Uprising with Sonali Kolhatkar at 8 AM — a bid to heal some of the damage that had been done to KPFA’s morning lineup with the purge of the Morning Show. In short order, Uprising became a top fundraiser for the station.
In June, KPFA announced the hire of a new permanent general manager — a process that Reese and her predecessor at Pacifica had stalled for three years, allowing them to impose a series of “interim” managers selected without any input from KPFA’s elected local board.
The hire was Quincy McCoy, a veteran broadcaster and nonprofit manager who most recently turned around the ailing Oakland Children’s Museum. He responded to the financial crisis with sacrifice (one of his first acts was to reduce his own salary), and vision — he started a redesign of KPFA’s website to help the station move more of its fundraising outside of traditional fund drives.
In October, KPFA’s board and manager announced the hire of a new permanent program director — the first one in 15 years. The hire was Laura Prives, former executive producer of the Morning Show, and a founding producer of KPFA’s two most successful program launches in recent memory: Letters and Politics and UpFront.
Meanwhile, the new leadership at Pacifica was at work trying to get the rest of the network back on track.
The race to fix Pacifica
In July, Pacifica chair Margy Wilkinson (who also serves as Pacifica’s acting executive director while the board searches for a permanent hire) went to work cutting national costs to lower the burden that the network places on the stations it owns. Wilkinson started with herself: she’s doing what is traditionally the most highly-compensated job in the network — as a volunteer.
In August, Pacifica published its first financial statements in nearly a year, revealing a staggering $2.2 million deficit, a quarter million dollars in undeposited tax withholdings, and pension contributions three years in arrears.
In September, progressive philanthropist (and longtime Pacifica fan) Aris Anagnos extended a zero-interest, no-collateral loan to restructure Pacifica’s most pressing debt — unpaid taxes.
By November, thanks to cost cuts at a national level, Pacifica’s board passed a new budgeting formula that lowers the amount of money stations like KPFA pay to support Pacifica’s National Office.
By December, Pacifica had restarted its own long-neglected off-air fundraising initiatives, including a direct mail campaign endorsed by Ralph Nader and Amy Goodman.
Also in December, Pacifica signed off on a plan to relocate its Washington station, WPFW — which has spent more than a year stuck on a month-to-month lease in a facility unsuitable for 24-hour broadcasting. The new space is larger but affordable, already built into studios, guaranteed for at least four years, and comes with an allowance of nearly $130,000 for improvements.
Meanwhile, Wilkinson says there has been slow but steady progress on a plan to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in transmitter rent for New York station WBAI — the network’s most-distressed signal.
Wilkinson also reports, that as of January 1, Pacifica expects to be able to demonstrate a full quarter’s compliance with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting rules, over which the network lost more than $1 million in funding under the previous administration, which will clear the path for Pacifica stations to get that funding reinstated some time in 2015.
The rocky road ahead
In mid-December, California’s Attorney General began an audit covering the past several years of mismanagement at Pacifica — a period in which previous network officials left Pacifica’s records in complete disarray. Complying with the Attorney General’s request will burden a staff already stretched to the breaking point by cleaning up the financial and administrative crisis left by previous Pacifica executives, but Wilkinson insists that every effort will be made to supply the Attorney General with everything that office requires.
So far, the best efforts of Pacifica’s new leadership have slowed the bleeding, but not stopped it. Money will be tighter than ever until the network gets funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting reinstated. And the sheer volume of unpaid bills accumulated over the past several years is so staggering that it could put Pacifica — and stations like KPFA — out of business before then.
What you can do
The next few months will make or break KPFA and Pacifica. There is much to fear, but also much cause for hope.
If there’s one thing recent history has shown, it’s the value of an alternative news source like KPFA. Station staff report they saw listenership surge twice in the past six months. First, during KPFA’s coverage of the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip; second, during KPFA’s coverage of the protests that erupted in the wake of grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
In times of crisis, we depend on KPFA. It is our New Year’s wish that in its time of crisis, KPFA can depend on you. If there is only one time in your life that you give a big gift to KPFA, make that gift now at www.kpfa.org.
In hope and solidarity,
Your friends at SaveKPFA