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St. Pete Times Article


WMNF may end a station staple Series:
2b St. Petersburg Times; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Aug 26, 2001; PAMELA DAVIS;

Abstract:

The small but mighty WMNF has been able to take an active role in an ongoing dispute over a number of issues between former and current employees of Pacifica Radio and its management. WMNF has been airing Pacifica Radio News since the station's inception in 1979. But when WMNF's contract with Pacifica ends next month, the station might not renew it.

About four months ago, WMNF stopped airing the 6 p.m. Pacifica Nightly News and replaced it with Free Speech Radio News, which the station had been airing only on Fridays. WMNF reporter Randi Zimmerman produces the show's news headlines from WMNF's studio.

Since Aug. 14, Pacifica has been airing reruns of the network's signature show, Democracy Now!. WMNF has chosen not to air the old shows and instead is airing news broadcasts that Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman is doing from a community TV station in New York. The show airs at noon on WMNF.

Full Text:

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Aug 26, 2001

In the Tampa Bay area, WMNF-FM 88.5 is just a little guy in a crowd of big guy, corporate-owned radio stations. But compared with other community radio stations across the nation, WMNF is practically a behemoth.

It's among the most successful community stations in the country because of a $1-million budget and better than average facilities and equipment (which isn't saying much compared with the budgets and offices of commercial stations). About 94,000 people listen to the station once a week.

The small but mighty WMNF has been able to take an active role in an ongoing dispute over a number of issues between former and current employees of Pacifica Radio and its management. WMNF has been airing Pacifica Radio News since the station's inception in 1979. But when WMNF's contract with Pacifica ends next month, the station might not renew it.

"That's a decision that's up to the board and staff, but I think their inclination is to sever the relationship because the network seems to have changed direction," WMNF news director Rob Lorei says.

Lorei says Pacifica is giving the station substandard programming.

Two years ago in response to the conflict, WMNF started airing Free Speech Radio, an alternative newscast carried by about 30 community stations. The broadcast is produced by a group of reporters who have contributed news stories to Pacifica in the past and who are now boycotting the network because, among other things, they say Pacifica is censoring attempts to broadcast stories about its problems.

About four months ago, WMNF stopped airing the 6 p.m. Pacifica Nightly News and replaced it with Free Speech Radio News, which the station had been airing only on Fridays. WMNF reporter Randi Zimmerman produces the show's news headlines from WMNF's studio.

"If they don't feel Pacifica Nightly News is serving their listeners that's fine," says Stephen Yasko, Pacifica's national program director. "But if they're simply making a decision based on their political beliefs about the Pacifica Network, I think they are depriving their audience of a valuable news service."

Since Aug. 14, Pacifica has been airing reruns of the network's signature show, Democracy Now!. WMNF has chosen not to air the old shows and instead is airing news broadcasts that Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman is doing from a community TV station in New York. The show airs at noon on WMNF.

Trouble has been brewing between Goodman, an award-winning journalist, and Pacifica for some time. Things got heated this month when Goodman said she witnessed her station manager at New York's WBAI, where the show is produced, going through another staffer's personal belongings. Goodman said that when she confronted the manager about the incident, she was physically harassed.

Because she didn't feel safe at WBAI, Goodman refused to do her show there. A handful of Pacifica affiliates, including WMNF, are now airing Goodman's unauthorized version of Democracy Now!. The network recently suspended her without pay.

"We are hoping Amy will come back to work," Yasko says. There is no word on whether the network will replace Goodman with a new host.

"Chains are shoving things like Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura down the throats of everybody, and there's no diversity from market to market," Lorei says about commercial radio. "Democracy Now!, one of the most popular shows on WMNF, raises the profile of community stations. It is a centerpiece. If you wipe out that show, you might wipe out one of the reasons to listen to a community radio station."

Pacifica, the main source of news for community radio stations, began in 1949 with one station, KPFA-FM. Founded by a group of Berkley, Calif., pacifists, the station was committed to fine arts and intelligent discussion about world issues and "a pacific world in our time," in the words of founder Lewis Hill.

The Pacifica Network now encompasses five stations and has 63 affiliates across the country. Through the years it has broadcast things such as opposition to the Vietnam War, a live interview with Che Guevara and the Senate Watergate hearings.

The trouble Pacifica is having started in 1999 when the executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, the network's controling entity, fired the general manager of KPFA. Another firing, a show cancellation and rumors of selling a station followed.

Things got worse when Pacifica locked the staff of KPFA out of its building for discussing on the air the internal conflict between staffers and the network

"We're horrified that the network seems to have lost its direction," Lorei said. "We're committed to things like peace and social justice. We want to be a fair forum for people who are involved in progressive causes."