*Note* – As you’ve noticed, Pacifica in Exile had ceased regular publication earlier this year. The reasons for that have been multiple and have included increasing demands on the time of the editor, the change in Pacifica leadership and resolution of the Empire State Building obligation, and the financial stress of maintaining the publication schedule on a largely uncompensated basis for multiple years.This edition is being published due to problematic occurrences at KPFA. We will try to resume publication periodically when circumstances warrant, as we can. It is noted that the quality of conversation and availability of information suffers in Pacifica in Exile’s absence and we regret that. This issue will be largely KPFA-centric, but we believe the matters involved bear on and have significance for all the stations in the network. – Editor
Berkeley-At a contentious and surprisingly crowded KPFA local station board meeting, scores of people turned out to object to the station’s sudden kiboshing of 17-year public affairs and analysis show Guns and Butter. The meeting had been previously billed as a “town hall”, but as the meeting actually unfolded, it became clear the reason for 90% of the attendance was the abrupt cancellation of Guns and Butter. (Quaintly referred to by KPFA board member Andrea Turner as the “reduction” of the program.”). Guns and Butter, came on the air in 2001, one of the first programs greenlighted by KPFA’s community-based program council that existed in those years. Guns and Butter, then hosted by Bonnie Faulkner and Kellia Ramares, and for the last decade, solely by Faulkner as an unpaid staffer, had a charter statement to bring to the air deeply alternative voices it was hard to hear elsewhere, with an emphasis on the intersection between economics and politics, and what are often called conspiracy theories, including non-mainstream versions of the events of September 11. The show has *always* pissed people off, and faced significant opposition from KPFA’s News Department and some program hosts at the get-go, and has regularly spurred controversies. It also has one of the largest and most dedicated audiences of any program in the Pacifica Network.
The latest crisis began with the airing of a two part series that featured speeches on Zionism: Deconstructing the Power Paradigm, always a spicy topic and the speakers, Kevin Barrett, Gilad Atzmon, Phiilip Giraldi and Alan Sabrosky are controversial figures whose criticism of Zionism sometimes veers pretty close to anti-Semitic sentiments and minimization of the World War II genocide of European Jews, Gypsies, LBGT populations and resistance dissenters. The format of this particular show was broadcasting speeches in another venue, so the speakers presented with no interactivity with a host or interviewer. We don’t want to put too fine a point on it. Some things were said that were factually untrue (like the body count from the WWII concentration camps). It isn’t surprising that at least some audience members were upset. While we don’t want to editorialize too much, Pacifica in Exile does not believe in the unfettered right to hate speech and in a day and age where indefinite detention is happening right now to targeted populations and fascism is on the rise in this country, we hate seeing KPFA’s airwaves used to feed a genocide minimization narrative. We would have turned the program off on our computer. But making that personal choice is different than what KPFA did. It cancelled the program, which is unique, without dialogue and without process, and wiped 17 years of program archives out of existence, purging its own product and deeply disrespecting a large and loyal audience in contradiction to the long Pacifica tradition of free speech radio for all versions of progressive politics, including those that are unpopular and subversive in their own time.
According to show producer Faulkner, the only communication she received was a few days after part 1 of the series aired, when she received two emails of complaint. For those who have not processed KPFA’s complaint pile, two emails about a program is a fairly low level of complaints. Programs that remain on the air have regularly received a dozen or more about an episode. This was followed two weeks later by a curt email terminating the program. In a public statement, KPFA’s manager Quincy McCoy citied two things: a) a lack of “balance” in the program, a somewhat odd statement for a program that consisted of prerecorded speeches of the type KPFA often airs and gives away frequently as premium gifts. By their nature, presentations of speeches by one person are inherently unbalanced. They contain only the perspective of the person speaking. The second justification provided b) was an “avalanche” of listener criticism. Pacifica in Exile has formally requested documentation of an “avalanche”, since there is no statistical correlation between the number two and the word avalanche, but as of press time, there has been no response to the request. A third somewhat specious justification emerged at the local station board meeting when KPFA’s business manager Maria Negret airily dismissed concerns about the financial impact of the decision by insisting that Guns and Butter raised “$2K an hour, at most.” An examination of fund drive stats from at least one fund drive effort in each of the last five years – and 21 fundraising programs in all – proved that statement false with the program averaging over $3K per hour in aggregate and ranking in the top 5 of all Wednesday broadcast hours (including those put together by paid and unpaid staff) in more than half of the sample set.
In summary, while concerns about this particular program should have been expressed, the inability to look for solutions and work with programmers, the unwarranted archival destruction from a network whose sound archives are a national treasure and the specious justifications offered, which seem to be of questionable veracity, are disappponting. To underline these points, the action brought more people out to object than a KPFA board meeting has seen in many a year. The sentiment in support of the program was 45-2. People spoke eloquently and at length about what the program has meant to them and how frightening they found it that the station would wipe the archives without even a warning. Unfortunately no KPFA management attended the meeting to hear them. As a retired program coordinator, Pacifica in Exile’s editor will comment that expulsion for crossing a thin blue line can only be defensible when that thin blue line is articulated. The utter lack of programming criteria and policies leaves decision making as nothing more than the arbitrary whims of a given manager and that is not fair to anyone involved, including programmers and audience members both. Controversy comes with the territory of presenting alternative perspectives. There is no doubt there is a chilling effect in execution enforcement of unstated rules that inevitably discourages bravery, risk-taking, and discussing hot topics. Which is exactly what we need more of, not less of.
Before the local station board meeting became the way for Guns and Butter’s audience to convey their sorrow and anger over the show’s removal, it had another purpose, which was to present the initial draft of the station’s budget for the next fiscal year. As readers know, Pacifica escaped from the Empire State Building lease at six minutes to midnight with loans which will come due in a few years, making it incumbent on the organization to be mega-careful with its finances. We know spreadsheets don’t make for the most exciting reading, but please bear with us for a moment, because the error-filled document is significant in a number of respects.
To begin with the preliminary budget draft itself, KPFA’s business manager Maria Negret and local station board treasurer Sharon Adams presented a 12-month budget plan that was supposed to be for the period from October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019, which constitutes the upcoming fiscal year. But the budget summary (you can view it here) left out one of the months assuredly included in that period of time, June 2019, and added a month not included in that period of time, October 2019. While it is humorous to scan the documents row 5 to see the months unfold as January, February, March, April, May, July, this has serious implications for the budgetary plan since June is not a fund drive month at KPFA and the replacement month outside of the fiscal year, October of 2019, is. This causes the budgetary plan to acquire six figures (somewhere in the range of $300-400K) in additional projected revenue that was scooped out from the following fiscal year. This essentially balances the budget via sleight of hand.
It verges on the incomprehensible this was vetted for presentation to a board of directors, reviewed by a local station board treasurer and then discussed by 15+ people serving as listener and staff delegates on a nonprofit board, or something pretending to be a nonprofit board, and not a single person pointed out that June is the month between May and July and that the fiscal year ends in September of 2019. The draft budget was relying on a projected surplus that does not exist. It should worry you that an organization that faces grave financial challenges cannot get the easy stuff, like the months of the year, right. Since digging out of the financial hole will require much more from your elected directors than knowing the months of the year. Pacifica in Exile will make a public plea at this point for listeners with a basic understanding of finances to consider filling the slots on this local station board in the upcoming election. There is no excuse for what happened at this meeting.
And it doesn’t stop there. The document also presented numbers that it claimed represented actual numbers for income and expenses in the period of October 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 or the first nine months of the current fiscal year. These numbers were also problematic. If you took the revenue numbers at face value, you would think KPFA was doing great. Somehow, despite missing the fund drive goals in the Fall, Winter and Spring telethons, KPFA had a larger amountof support pledges in this nine month period than in the entire 12 months of the previous year, $875K more than projected in the budget for this year. The preliminary budget document given out by the business manager and treasurer (see column V if looking at the document) claimed that KPFA was projected to reach $4.5 million in revenue by September, the highest revenue number in the last 20 years. Great news, right? Well, it would be, except for the other piece of paper that was handed out. That piece of paper, the station’s fund drive report, breaks out proceeds from each fund drive, comparing the goal to the receipts less the 12% of pledges that will end up going unfulfilled. Adding up the net proceeds from all of the fund drives that occurred in the first nine months of the current fiscal year (Column I in the fund drive report), the numbers only add up to $1.71 million. Adding an allowance of $300K for pledges coming in from previous years, the report only substantiates $2.1 million of listener support revenue for the first nine months of the year, a shortfall of $750K.
To summarize: KPFA’s preliminary budget claimed $2.85M in listener support monies through 6/30/18, but KPFA’s fund drive report only documented $2.1 million through 6/30/18.
On the expense side, the questionable funds seem to be getting spent. The actuals figure on the preliminary budget document for expenses ($3.42 million in Column V) is higher for the 9-month period than the entire previous 12-month period. A $2 million dollar annual payroll figure is stated to have already been hit at 9 months into the year. Expenses are 29% above budget with the payroll category at a whopping 40% above budget and on schedule to exceed the highest number in KPFA’s history by six figures.
What this means is that KPFA’s local station board and management are congratulating themselves on surpluses that appear to be imaginary or at least are not supported by their own tallies, while spending at historically unprecedented levels at a time when stringent financial oversight is mandatory. This lack of oversight and due diligence puts the station, and all of the Pacifica stations, at risk.
Again, we encourage people with an understanding of spreadsheets and a willingess to actually read and analyze financial documents for their veracity, to consider volunteering for service on this board (and all the other Pacifica boards). We also suggest that KPFA open up their “budget workshops” to the public so that donors who are willing and/or able to exercise due diligence have an opportunity to do so prior to the board vote. Current board members to date, have not demonstrated the ability to do so. The financial situation is too delicate to simply rubber stamp erroneous documents and greenlight uncontrolled spending.
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Started in 1946 by conscientious objector Lew Hill, Pacifica’s storied history includes impounded program tapes for a 1954 on-air discussion of marijuana, broadcasting the Seymour Hersh revelations of the My Lai massacre, bombings by the Ku Klux Klan, going to jail rather than turning over the Patty Hearst tapes to the FBI, and Supreme Court cases including the 1984 decision that noncommercial broadcasters have the constitutional right to editorialize, and the Seven Dirty Words ruling following George Carlin’s incendiary performances on WBAI. Pacifica Foundation Radio operates noncommercial radio stations in New York, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and syndicates content to over 180 affiliates. It invented listener-sponsored radio.