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Pacifica selling out to Clear Channel?

March 21, 2013

An interview wit’ Black broadcaster Luke Stewart

by Minister of Information JR

In 1977, the Pacifica radio network, created by pacifist Lew Hill in Berkeley, acquired a jazz station that it named WPFW, located in the northwest section of Washington, D.C. Since that time a number of radical radio voices have matured on these airwaves, including Jared Ball, Sheika Amandla, Naji Mujahid and the Ill Street Blues Crew, to name a few of the Black broadcasters that give the station that chocolate sound.

WPFW signFor more than a few years, the station has been mired in financial debt, so much so that rumors are flying around that plans are under way to sell WPFW to corporate media giant Clear Channel. If this happens, Pacifica will lose its voice in the nation’s No. 1 media market. WBAI, Pacifica’s New York station, is also in financial trouble in the No. 2 market.

Before we let Pacifica ruin the tiny bit of a voice that Black people have in D.C., we have to ring the alarm so all the lovers of public radio in the nation can rally up and hopefully save the day. This is a revealing Q&A interview that I did with WPFW broadcaster Luke Stewart …

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us the history of WPFW? When was it founded? And on what principles?

Luke: WPFW and Pacifica’s mission statement describe the principles upon which they were founded. I am admittedly a relative newcomer to the station – since 2008. However, the stories and history have been regularly discussed among many of the elders of the station, who are also elders in the D.C. community.

WPFW specifically was founded in Washington, D.C., at a time when it was a mostly Black city and was at the forefront of Black culture and consciousness in the U.S. As a result the station has always had a unique identity within the Pacifica network. That identity being known as a music station, namely jazz. The station has facilitated programs for some of the most knowledgeable and experienced jazz historians and operates in a rich jazz community. Also WPFW has facilitated the voices of the rich Black intellectual community of D.C., covering the many events and activities occurring in and around town.

M.O.I. JR: What have some of the major milestones been at WPFW?

Luke: Since I have been affiliated with the station, first Program Director Bob Daughtry got fired – initially, under Grigsby Hubbard in the fall of 2010 – which led to the founding of the Programmers’ Association that fall at a meeting when then Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Englehardt was caught in a fabrication around the firing of Bob Daughtry. Finally, a letter of “No Confidence” was presented to the current WPFW general manager in December, 2011.

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little bit about the history of WPFW’s financial situation?

Luke: Since I have been around, the mantra has always been variations of “We’re broke.”

M.O.I. JR: When did Pacifica start talking about selling WPFW to Clear Channel? Where is the deal at now?

Luke: As a staff member and programmer, there has yet to be an official announcement on the status or activity around this matter. With the exception of the general manager and a select few, no one has been notified officially about the situation. The information that some programmers know is only through some espionage.

Right now the lease has been signed by WPFW General Manager John Hughes and Pacifica Executive Director Summer Reese. The last I heard, Clear Channel was ready to sign after seeing three years’ worth of financials from Pacifica and WPFW. But since Pacifica lost its 501(c)(3) status, Clear Channel has held off.

M.O.I. JR: How do you think this move will affect the station’s programming?

Luke: The station’s programming has already been severely affected by the will of John Hughes. As of Dec. 3, no longer is jazz played throughout the day. Many of the station’s most radical voices have been silenced in the changes.

I can only speculate what Clear Channel’s role will be. In speaking with a fellow programmer, I see two possible scenarios: 1) The best scenario – still a bad one: Clear Channel leaves WPFW’s programming unaffected and uses us as its progressive token station. 2) Clear Channel has a nefarious plan to take over by entering a sublease agreement with a nearly bankrupt station and a fully bankrupt network.

M.O.I. JR: Do you think this move will affect alternative media in the nation?

Luke: Pacifica is the largest mainstream alternative media network, mainstream because it is on FM radio. Alternative media is changing so much now – to the point where I believe Clear Channel and other media conglomerates will become almost irrelevant in the activities of alternative media.

The difference lies in the coverage and the amount of people who will be able to hear the alternative voices. Almost like internet hype versus radio, TV and film hype. Both have access to millions, but the internet has access to a wider range of people.

We in alternative media just have to do a better job in creating and promoting our products. All the tools we need are out there for us.

M.O.I. JR: How can people keep up with this battle online?

Luke: Social Media has proven numerous times to be an extremely powerful tool. Being organized and concise is the most important thing on the internet. Currently there is a website, http://thepeople4pfw.wordpress.com/, where concerned listeners and supporters have been directed for more info and how to get involved.

The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every other Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

 

11 thoughts on “Pacifica selling out to Clear Channel?

  1. Lance

    This is a great piece of fiction as it is legally impossible for Clear Channel to acquire WPFW.

    WPFW, along with Pacifica's stations in Los Angeles and Houston are licensed in the reserved Non-Commercial portion of the FM band and unable to be acquired or operated by a Commercial operator such as Clear Channel, Cumulus, or CBS.

    WBAI New York and KPFA Berkeley are commercial allocations that could be acquired by a Commercial operator, but once again it cannot be Clear Channel as they are already maxed out legally on the amount of stations they can own in New York, San Francisco (and for that matter the other three markets where Pacifica owns stations)

    Reply
  2. Boyle

    As always, JR Valrey makes as good a cartoon as Garfield or Peanuts. If he ever decides to be a real reporter and deal with facts instead of conspiracy-based fiction, he'd be mediocre, but still a reporter.

    Pacifica has not lost its 501(c)(3) status, despite the Pacifica board majority's deliberate failure to file as legally required.

    If JR really wants to find out what's happening, he'd best be looking into the connections between Scientology, the Aarons and Summer Reese.

    Reply
  3. Don DeBar

    Actually, under IRS regs, when the corporation’s charter was suspended, so was its 501 c (3) status, by operation of law. Upon revival of the corporation (finally accomplished only this past Friday), an application for restoration of 501 c (3) status must be submitted to IRS. This must include evidence from the appropriate state authority of a.) revival of the corporation and b.) detailing the term of the suspension (e.g., from xx/xx/xxxx date of suspension to xx/xx/xxxx date of revival). It is not an application de novo, but it is also not merely ministerial. IRS has discretion to approve or reject the application, although my understanding is they are usually approved, absent some other problem(s) which may come to their attention that would bear on the status.

    Reply
  4. Tracy Rosenberg

    It’s true that WPFW has been mostly a jazz station. The programming changes were an attempt, a somewhat ham handed one, to add more public affairs to the grid, as DC is a political town. Some of the shows that got added were Margaret Prescod’s Sojourner Truth and Smiley/West, recently dumped off Chicago Public Media. Admittedly with some loss of local music programming time. It can be a little frustrating sometimes, when I talk to friends doing social justice work in DC about WPFW, they tend to express surprise and say they thought WPFW just played music and they didn’t realize it was affiliated with Pacifica. That does seem a little sad in the context of the mission. A number of the programming changes have already been rolled back so at this point, they’re not too extensive.

    WPFW has known their existing building (the City Paper building in Adams Morgan) was going to be demolished for about 2 years. Their problem was that they had little money to move and serious equipment needs, including a lot of old stuff and a used transmitter that probably won’t make it another 2 years. So they had to find a building equipped as a radio studio as there was no money to build out a vacant or non-studio site. Limits the options considerably and at the end of the year, there wasn’t much there but the one option. The building is owned by a commercial landlord, Metro News (a weather service bought by Clear Channel a few years ago, like all commercial radio) is the master tenant and WPFW would be a sub-tenant. It’s not a great space, but it has everything you would need and it’s a $5,000 a month rent reduction, which is nice as they’ve had the paid staff on mandatory hours reduction for much of the past 18 months due to financial stresses.

    I’m sure an alternate space would have been looked at, but none was presented which made it a bit hypothetical. Hypothetical is difficult when you know you may have as little as 30 days notice to move at any time (which is the current situation, although hopefully it will end up a little less abrupt than that). While I’m vaguely sympathetic to the idea that some don’t want to do any business with a Clearchannel subsidiary, those opposed to the move need to come up with a real alternative that available and affordable and suitable for radio. The ideas about running the station out of a trailer tractor bed or using a vacant school building without any audio or studio facilities aren’t very realistic.

    I wish them luck coming up with a better scenario.

    Tracy Rosenberg
    KPFA Listener Representative

    Reply
  5. Tracy Rosenberg

    In the interests of balance, here’s a rejoinder from the other side of the fence in DC.

    http://thefightback.org/2013/03/wpfw-needs-a-home-not-scare-tactics-about-a-corporate-takeover-3/

    WPFW needs a home, not scare tactics about a corporate takeover
    Posted on March 27, 2013 by pete

    Pacifica Radio’s WPFW 89.3 FM
    “Clear Channel is not going to interfere with this station.” – Tony Norman

    Pacifica Radio’s WPFW 89.3 FM has called D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood home for the past 15 years, but it’s not likely to much longer. The City Paper building, which houses the station, is being demolished in order to make way for a taxpayer subsidized luxury hotel. Forced to move, and having looked at several properties in D.C.’s hot real estate market, the station has settled on an affordable space just outside the District in downtown Silver Spring on top of a Metro stop.

    Even though the new location would provide the station – which is listener-sponsored, commercial-free and near-broke – with huge savings, some programmers and their allies have launched a campaign to stop the move. They’ve taken to the airwaves to drum up fear, telling listeners that there will be a corporate takeover if WPFW signs a sublease, landlord-tenant agreement with Metro Networks Communications, which is a part of Total Traffic Networks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel, the media conglomerate. This effort comes on the heels of a nearly two-year-long campaign by the same programmers to fire the general manager, John Hughes, who removed some of their shows.

    WPFW’s need to move comes as no surprise to anyone involved with the station. In fact it’s been openly discussed for no less than four years and as many general managers. Yet the campaigners offer no serious alternative for relocation, just fear-mongering.

    Not everyone is on board with this approach. “People shouldn’t be so weak to think that just because you’re leasing from A, B or C that that’s going to destroy you,” said Tony Norman, an elected member of WPFW’s Local Station Board and Pacifica’s National Board. “We should have more faith in what we stand for than some people frightened by Clear Channel.”

    Along with Norman, I joined John Hughes on Friday’s edition of Manager’s Mailbox Hughes said the sublease agreement provided for no governance or programming relationship of any sort with Clear Channel. “There’s no strategic partnership [or] relationship connected to Clear Channel.”

    While the lease will not lead to a corporate takeover, it may well provide WPFW with the opportunity to regain its financial footing. Presently the station pays $17,500 a month in rent. At the new location, the rent would be just $11,500 a month. An additional savings of $1,000 a month is anticipated as a result of sharing expenses for the phone, internet and T1 fiber line, according to Hughes. But the biggest savings would come from the build out, or the absence of one, which is estimated to cost the station $150,000, an expense that would be unnecessary since the Silver Spring studio is already built out.

    This message has seldom been heard over WPFW’s airwaves which have instead been dominated by the campaigners’ efforts to drum up fear of a corporate takeover. Despite this, listeners voiced support for the station moving to Silver Spring. “That sounds like a good deal,” said one caller, Eddie, who challenged the notion that doing business with a corporation not in line with Pacifica’s mission meant instant doom. “If I go to Exxon-Mobil to buy gas does that mean that I’m a big supporter of Exxon-Mobil?” he asked.

    Fear-mongering aside, Pacifica has been doing business with Clear Channel for some time. In order for stations to receive live broadcasts (like Democracy Now!), a satellite feed is required. Among the companies that offer this service is Clear Channel, whom Pacifica contracts with. Despite this ongoing business relationship, “Clear Channel has not taken over Pacifica and they haven’t influenced the programming of Pacifica,” said Norman.

    Moving to the Silver Spring location makes sense. The savings the station would see allow for the very real possibility that staff could finally be brought up to full pay, and the station could begin to build up its capital reserves so that its next move is to a building it owns, like Pacifica’s west coast stations. While this isn’t a far out idea, it’ll only happen if the infighting stops, or at least subsides for a few years.

    “I don’t care where you move as long as you stay on the air,” said Mary, who called into Manager’s Mailbox. “And if you’re going to save money, I mean, kudos. What is the big argument?”

    Pete Tucker is an elected member of WPFW’s Local Station Board, where he serves as vice chair

    Reply
  6. Tracy Rosenberg

    Don,

    Pete Tucker isn’t management. He’s a local board member in DC and a journalist,

    Best,

    Tracy

    Reply
    1. dondebar

      The host of the program – called, BTW, “Manager’s Mailbox” – is the General Manager of WPFW, John Hughes. Co-hosting at least the past two weeks are Pete Tucker, identified on the program by Hughes as ‘vice-president of the local station board’ and Tony Norman, identified by Hughes as ‘a delegate of the local station board and also a member of the Pacifica National Board.’ I don’t understand your point.

      Reply
  7. Tracy Rosenberg

    “Managers” are people on the payroll who receive a salary and have supervisorial duties over other employees. Pete Tucker and Tony Norman are volunteers at WPFW. They are unpaid like JR Valrey. They serve on the board or boards as volunteers for no compensation after they were elected by WPFW’s subscribers. .

    Reply
    1. dondebar

      And the paid staff member termed “general manager” who was hosting a program called “Manager’s Mailbox” doesn’t qualify? If you have this much trouble parsing the world around you, it is clear to me how Pacifica has become such a mess.

      Reply
  8. Frank LeFever

    The next time JR interviews somebody, he should do some basic research about the topic to be discussed, so he is not entirely at the mercy of the honesty and information of the person he is interviewing. I am a Listener-Representative on the WBAI Local Station Board and heard all about this at the PNB meeting in NYC, a month before. The facts are widely known, and JR does his reputation and the reputation of SFBayView damage by such a poorly-prepared interview and blatant gullibility.

    WPFW, rather than be thrown out on the streets is RENTING SPACE in a building owned by Clear Channel. WPFW is not “selling out” to Clear Channel, is not being “acquired” by Clear Channel, is not having its programming “determined” by Clear Channel.

    Reply

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