Listener Boycott Rocks Pacifica Radio,
Thousands Vote No on Network's Rightwing Corporate Drift
NEW YORK (June 10) -- In an unprecedented action for U.S. radio,
thousands of listeners to the Pacifica Radio network joined a
national boycott of Pacifica's spring fundraising drive this past
month, prompting a precipitous 20 percent decline in overall
financial pledges to the network, say organizers of the campaign.
The most stunning drop in contributions occurred at the network's
largest station, WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City, where donations
plummeted more than 50 percent. Last year, WBAI received $850,000 in
pledges during its two-week spring drive. But this year, even though
station management extended its drive to 20 days, listener pledges
totaled no more than $400,000, according to Bernard White, the
station's former program director.
"WBAI and Pacifica management have promoted the fund drives as
listener referendums," said White. "The listeners have now spoken
and theyıve resoundingly rejected the policies of the present
executive leadership. Itıs time now for the hardliners on the
Pacifica board to resign and for the rebuilding process to begin."
White was fired last December along with several other veteran
staffers in what has come to be known as the Christmas Coup. He has
since become one of the organizers of the Campaign to Stop the
Corporate Takeover of Pacifica (Pacifica Campaign), which was
launched in February to protest a takeover of the network by what
Pacifica reformers call a "corporate clique."
Campaign organizers were able to learn the astonishing results of
their boycott from WBAI staffers who still work at the station but
support the reform movement. Station's management, which has already
admitted close to $200,000 in lost revenues -- and a $130,000 budget
shortfall -- from its February fund drive, tried to keep the
disastrous results of the spring fund drive secret.
Two other stations, KPFK in Los Angeles, and KPFA in Berkeley,
experienced more modest drops in listener pledges -- totaling about
$50,000. The boycott had little impact at the two smallest stations,
WPFW in Washington and KPFT in Houston. But boycott organizers say
they never targeted Washington and Houston for much public outreach.
"They are the two smallest stations in the network and they donıt
raise much more than $500,000 combined during the spring fund
drive," said Juan Gonzalez, coordinator of the Pacifica Campaign.
"We concentrated our efforts on WBAI because that is Pacifica's main
The Pacifica Campaign estimates that the spring fund drive at
Pacificaıs five stations raised some $1.8 million, down from a
projected goal of approximately $2.3 million.
AT both KPFK and WBAI, management infuriated listeners and
crippled their own fundraising efforts by knocking the network's
most popular news show, Democracy Now!, off the air and by launching
public attacks against the show's host, Amy Goodman. The
pre-emptions of Democracy Now!, the first such pre-emptions in the
show's five-year history, prompted thousands of listeners to flood
the two stations with protest calls. So many calls came in that
station lines were paralyzed at times.
In Los Angeles, station manager Mark Schubb finally relented and
brought the show back on the air the last two days of fundraising.
That concession saved Schubb and KPFK from a disaster similar to New
York's. In those final two days, KPFK recouped many of the donations
it lost at the beginning of the drive.
But at WBAI, interim station manager Utrice Leid, refused to
allow Goodman to return. She and other personnel repeatedly accused
Goodman of refusing to fundraise -- a lie that was unmasked by
Goodman's fundraising efforts at two other Pacifica stations. The
removal of Democracy Now! and flagrant attacks on Goodman are the
continuation of nearly a year of harassment by network management.
The financial boycott is part of an overall movement to restore
democratic decision-making, listener accountability and free speech
at Pacifica. For decades the network has represented the best in
radical, avant garde public radio programming in the country. But
during the past few years control of the Pacifica board has been
usurped by a group of individuals with corporate backgrounds who
have begun steering the network away from Pacifica's historic
mission. Hundreds of staff and volunteer producers have been fired
for objecting to the network's rapid rightward drift and its
curtailment of free speech.
During the recent fund drive at WBAI, for example, one of the
main premiums offered to listeners was by Jim Mars, a neo-fascist
and anti-Semitic ideologue. At the same time, and in a frantic
attempt to counter widespread listener rejection, station manager
Utrice Leid repeatedly talked on the air during the drive of the
station being in a "race war" against white supremacists who she
claimed were resisting "black leadership," presumably like hers.
(Leid is a native of Trinidad.)
But Leidıs false accusations have been exposed by the many
progressive and radical black leaders and organizations that have
publicly condemned the policies of both WBAI management and the
Pacifica board. Among those critics have been: writer Alice Walker,
activist Angela Davis, the December 12th movement, the Black Radical
Congress, actor Danny Glover, death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal,
Roger Toussaint, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100,
veteran WBAI producer Elombe Brath, and U.S. Rep. Major Owens
Through the boycott and through public pressure and non-violent,
creative direct action directed at the individual directors of the
Pacifica Foundation, the Pacifica Campaign hopes to convince those
who continue to pursue the current bankrupt policies that they have
to resign and allow democratic accountability.
Those policies have met with such widespread opposition that many
Pacifica affiliates, disgusted with the diluted, neo-liberal bias of
Pacifica's nightly news broadcast, have dropped the Pacifica Network
News (PNN). They are now broadcasting in its place the daily Free
Speech Radio News, which the Pacifica Campaign is helping to
finance. In just one month, 33 community radio stations have begun
broadcasting Free Speech Radio News, and more than two dozen of them
have dropped PNN.
As for the campaign against the board of directors of Pacifica,
two of the renegade members on the board, Micheal Palmer of Houston
and Frank Millspaugh of New York City have resigned in recent
Listener groups around the country are renewing plans to increase
protests against the remaining board members. On Friday, June 8, and
Saturday, June 9, nationwide protests were held against board
members in the five Pacifica signal areas.
In short, the movement to reclaim reform and revitalize Pacifica
is growing with each passing day.
"Pacifica's corporate clique may temporarily control the
network's airwaves," Gonzalez said this week. "But no one can
control the hearts and minds of Pacifica's listeners. Like all
regimes who rule by fear, they're hurtling toward the garbage can of
history and still don't know it."