|Dear Pacifica Radio Members of KPFA, KPFK, KPFT, WBAI, or WPFW,|
As you may have heard, last Monday Pacifica’s interim Executive Director, John Vernile, went to WBAI in New York City. He laid off the employees, and cancelled local programming, replacing it with curated programs from all around the network called “Pacifica Across America.” You can listen to it online at www.wbai.org.
Understandably, many WBAI listeners are upset and do not understand what happened or why.
The Pacifica National Board will be voting very soon on whether to ratify Mr. Vernile’s actions — the PNB appears to be split down the middle — 11 to 11. They are being inundated with upset and angry messages from WBAI listeners. They need to hear from the rest of us who do not want to lose our stations or see the whole Pacifica Network go down.
You can reach them by email at email@example.com
Some background info: In April of 2018 Pacifica took out a $3.25 million loan to payoff a judgment against Pacifica for WBAI’s unpaid rent for their broadcast tower on top of the Empire State Building and to break the lease. That loan is secured by everything Pacifica owns, and it comes due in full on April 1st, 2021. So far, there is no clear plan to come up with the funds to pay it off. In that context, Pacifica’s move to stop the financial bleeding at WBAI makes painful sense.
Here is a message I sent to the PNB this morning. Perhaps you could use it for some ideas for your own messages in support of Mr. Vernile’s actions.
Dear PNB Members,
I urge you to vote to support John Vernile’s very painful, difficult and courageous actions at WBAI last Monday.
I believe the best hope for Pacifica now is strong and stable executive leadership with a cohesive board to back him up. The lender (on the $3.25 million loan) is watching Pacifica carefully, and very worried about their loan, I am sure. Seeing that strong action has been taken to stop the bleeding at WBAI, and seeing that the board supports that action, would be reassuring to them. Then, I believe John Vernile would have a reasonable chance to negotiate with them about extending the term of the loan. Without that, I would not be surprised to see them foreclose on their loan (as is their right under multiple conditions we have not been able to fulfill so far).
We, the whole network, have done our best for WBAI. It wasn’t enough, and has exhausted the reserves and resources that are necessary to get the rest of our stations on a better footing.
The audits tell the story, and I’m sure the lender carefully reads them. As of the last audited financial statements (9/30/17) WBAI owed $4 million in inter-division payables to the National Office and the other Stations. That included unpaid Central Services and other funds advanced to WBAI to cover expenses. WBAI’s total net deficit as of that date was ($6.6 million), including $2.36 million in accrued rent.
You can see for yourself here: https://www.pacifica.org/finance/audit_2017.pdf
Ten years before (as of 9/30/07) WBAI’s interdivision payables were $502,389, and they had a net deficit of ($99,603). See for yourself here: https://www.pacifica.org/finance/audit_2007.pdf
That is a total loss of $7.1 million over the past 10 years at WBAI.
The individual station info is in the “Supplemental Information” at the back of the audits.
Both Hurricane Sandy and the Empire State lease took a terrible toll on WBAI.
The rest of the network did the best we could to help WBAI … the national office cut everything they could, and more. I say more because for a couple of years there they didn’t have the staff or money to do critical things like do the audits (the 2017 audit was filed 2 years late!).
We (the rest of the network) sold the National Office building (paid for by KPFA listeners as part of the mortgage on the KPFA building).
We (the rest of the network) loaned them money. We (the rest of the network) picked up as much of the slack as we could with national expenses and increased Central Services payments. We (the rest of the network) got them a new transmitter.
And, finally, we (the rest of the network) mortgaged the KPFA, KPFK, and KPFT buildings (and everything else we own, including intellectual property at the Archives, all our furniture, fixtures, equipment, etc.) to get the loan to payoff Empire State and break the lease.
But our financial condition continues to deteriorate across the network. Listenership and donations continue declining. We have to change. We have to keep WBAI on the air with programs from elsewhere, while we strengthen the rest of our stations. Then, if the lender gives us a couple more years, we can reinvest in WBAI and bring back local programming … stronger and better I hope.So, again, I strongly urge you to support John Vernile. Our lender is watching. It is important for any negotiations with them that John have the strong backing of his board for stabilizing Pacifica and turning things around. Without that, I really do fear that all will be lost.
Best wishes and many thanks,
(PNB Member 2002-2004)
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But to get them elected, we’ll need your vote, and that means you’ll need a ballot.
To be eligible to vote, you have to have given at least $25 to KPFA in the year ending this Tuesday, July 14.
Not sure whether your last donation was recent enough? The best way to make sure you get a ballot is to donate right now at https://secure.kpfa.org/support/
We’ve made great progress, but we need your help to keep it up
SaveKPFA came together as an organization devoted to supporting KPFA’s paid and unpaid staff, securing local control of our radio station, winning accountability and transparency from Pacifica (the nonprofit corporation that owns KPFA), and getting terrific programming onto the air.
We won control of KPFA’s Local Board the same year that Pacifica’s then-leadership sidelined KPFA’s listeners and local management by canceling KPFA’s much-loved Morning Show, and attempting to purge its staff.
Since then, we’ve changed the leadership at Pacifica, helped repair KPFA’s morning lineup, recruited permanent, stable management for KPFA, and started to stabilize Pacifica’s financial problems. Check out our history at saveKPFA.org.
That work has finally resulted in real progress at KPFA: our station launched a spiffy new website this spring that’s optimized for use on mobile devices (where larger and larger numbers of people are getting their media). Management freed up space for new voices by piloting 20 hours of new programming on its second signal, KPFB. And, finally, KPFA has started to shrink the length of its fund drives. (Just last week, KPFA General Manager Quincy McCoy announced we’re able to cancel KPFA’s Summer Fund Drive–for the first time in 15 years!)
Everything we’ve achieved over the past several years has been made possible by thousands of mobilized listeners like you: who turned out at demonstrations to win back control of KPFA, who dug deep during fund drives when KPFA was on the brink, and who delivered landslide victories to SaveKPFA in successive listener elections.
If you support that progress — and you’d like to see more — show your support and secure your ballot by donating NOW at https://secure.kpfa.org/support.
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