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Pacifica's Audience Drops Sharply

December 10, 2001

Pacifica Campaign Release

Audience Drops Sharply at Pacifica Radio Stations

WBAI in New York, KPFT in Houston See Big Declines

Calls Mount for Accountability and New Leadership at Embattled Network

NEW YORK, (Dec. 10) - Nearly one year after dramatic management changes and mass firings at the five-station Pacifica Radio network, audience figures have dropped sharply at the nation's oldest public broadcaster, according to recently released Arbitron estimates.

At WBAI 99.5 FM in New York, the station's share - or its percentage of all radio listening, the most commonly used Arbitron estimate - has plunged 40 percent since Fall 2000, the last Arbitron's released before December 2000's "Christmas Coup" that ushered in mass firings and new programming.

Audience figures at Pacifica station KPFT 90.1 FM in Houston also fell sharply between Fall 2000 and Summer 2001, according to Arbitron estimates. The station's share dropped from 1.5 percent of all radio listening in Houston to .9 percent, a 40 percent decline. In addition, the station's cumulative weekly audience dropped from 145,000 to 104,000, a fall of nearly 30 percent.

The dwindling audience is just the opposite of claims that the changes Pacifica managers have instituted at WBAI and around the network were aimed at "expanding and broadening" audience.

In fact, three of the five Pacifica stations saw drops in all key Arbitron measurements. Only one station showed audience growth in all five areas. The fifth station showed mixed results.

"Even by their own standards, the policies of the present Pacifica leadership have failed," said Bernard White, former WBAI program director and Pacifica Campaign staffer. "It is now time for the mismanagement and chaos to end. WBAI, KPFT and Pacifica desperately need new, competent, and accountable leadership."

Last December, Pacifica executives launched the "Christmas Coup" at WBAI, changing all the locks overnight, bringing in security guards, and firing, banning, and suspending 25 producers and staff. Those fired included the stations' most successful programmers such as Polk Award winning journalists Amy Goodman and Robert Knight.

The move followed the 23-day lock-out of community and staff from Pacifica station KPFA 94.1 FM in Berkeley in the summer of 1999. The lock-out ended when more than 10,000 people marched in the streets of the East Bay in the largest protest since the Vietnam War.

Pacifica reform activists say network chiefs want to eliminate Pacifica's traditional hard-hitting programming, de-link the stations from the communities they were intended to serve, and sell-off some of the valuable licenses estimated at more than $500 million. Three out of the five Pacifica stations already feature music and soft, non-controversial programming.

Only WPFW in Washington, DC, saw all key five Arbitron indices rise over the last year. This is largely due to its position as the only remaining jazz station in the nation's capital. Pacifica stations KPFA in Berkeley and KPFK in Los Angeles reported mixed results.

At WBAI, the number of listeners tuning in to the station, the Average Quarter Hour (AQH), dropped 46 percent between the Fall 2000 and the Summer 2001. And the Time Spent Listening (TSL) to the station declined 40 percent, from 7.6 hours a week in Fall 2000 to 4.6 hours in Summer 2001, according to Arbitron estimates.

In the 1990s, WBAI established itself as the largest and most successful station in the network. It recorded the first one million dollar on-air fundraising drive in community radio and, during the Fall quarter of Sept.-Dec. 2000, the station had the highest recorded listenership in its history, more than 200,000 listeners a week, the largest in the network.

In the latter half of the 1990s, WBAI's audience diversity was unique in all of public broadcasting. Arbitron estimates revealed that some 41 percent of WBAI's listeners were Black or Latino and that the audience was evenly divided between men and women.

In addition, WBAI won more than 45 national programming awards during that time and its journalists won the top awards in US journalism.

By contrast, KPFT positioned itself as the "Sound of Texas," featuring country music for a largely affluent white audience in a city that is more than half people of color. But, according to Houston area press reports, KPFT has been facing stiff competition from a commercial country music station.

The Pacifica Campaign is an organization of staff and listeners alike calling for democratic accountability at the 52-year-old network. The campaign has called for the return of fired and banned staff who possess the skills and experience necessary for the long-term success of WBAI and the Pacifica Radio network.