My old friend Marc Cooper has a long post on Pacifica that concludes with some comments on my own recent rant on The state of WBAI (dire). Since it’s always nice to be noticed, I’ll overlook the rather patronizing tone of his “means well” and just respond to his conclusion that it’s all too late—the game’s over. If the game is really over, Marc, why did you devote 1,247 words to the topic before you get to that point?
Me, I think the situation is, as I said, dire, but not necessarily terminal. But almost every other word he writes in this post is true. Too much of the programming on KPFK (where Marc did a show for many years) and WBAI (where I’ve done a show for many years) sounds like it beamed from one of the smaller moons of Jupiter. The governance system of the network, with boards elected by staff and listeners, may sound nice in theory but has proved disastrous in practice. People run for the boards based on their political resumes, not their qualifications for running a radio station. (And, on second thought, the system doesn’t make sense in theory either: why should a board elected by a fraction of these eligible to vote, which is itself a fraction of the listeners, produce any coherent or admirable results?) Marc is also right about the silence and/or complicity of the left media and left media watchdogs on the devolution of Pacifica. As he points out, The Nation once editorially endorsed having the programming done by elected councils (something considerably worse than the current governance system), even though the magazine itself is edited by small professional staff, the chief of which is also one of the publication’s owners.
The network continues to bleed money. WBAI’s latest fundraiser, which took up much of August, was a flop, falling about 25% short of its goal. The flogging of sensational premiums, featuring conspiracy theories and health quackery, was at least supposed to bring in some quick cash, even if it did risk ruining our reputation and driving away sane listeners. But it’s not even bringing in the cash. To compensate for this failure, there’s going to be another mini-fundraiser on September 9 and 10, which will no doubt feature more chips-in-the-head and herbal magic stuff. The next day’s programming will be a commemoration of 9/11, one hour of which is supposed to be devoted to refuting Truther nonsense. One can only hope that the other twenty-three hours don’t promote it.
And one can only hope that Marc isn’t right, and it isn’t too late. Pacifica is a precious resource, with strong signals in the most important metro areas in the USA. It still carries lots of fine programming amidst the stuff that sounds like it originates from Eurydome or Pasithee. To save itself, Pacifica has to stop flogging nonsense in its fundraisers and try a dignified, quiet approach. The quantity of begging has to come down: we can’t fundraise for more than a quarter of the year—it’s suicidal. The moons of Jupiter stuff has to go. And so too does the governance system. The stations and the network need to be run by people who know what they’re doing and have some authority to do it. We need to do some serious research to find out where all our listeners have gone and why—and what might bring them back.
The nutters denounce this sort of agenda as “corporatization.” Against it, they proffer some notion of programming of, by, and for The Community, whatever that is. I’ve asked a lot of them to define The Community. They can’t, because it’s a figment of their imaginations.
So it’s either something like what I’ve just outlined, or Pacifica will have a date with the bankruptcy court. Its licenses are extremely valuable, probably worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Which makes me wonder: should it come to bankruptcy and the licenses are put up for auction, who would get the money? Hmmm. Any lawyers out there with some ideas?