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Indybay Feature
Saving Lew Hill’s Pacifica Radio
by Akio Tanaka
The current Board is unable or unwilling to address the alarming declines in listenership, membership, and donations.

Pacifica should recognize the 6820 to 5471 vote of the members for the New Day Bylaws to help save listener sponsored radio.
Pacifica is in peril because some stations do not have the programming necessary to garner enough listener-members to sustain them, which is the basis of founder Lew Hill's theory of listener sponsored radio.

In 2021, Pacifica members petitioned and voted for a New Bylaws by a 6820 to 5471 margin to address this problem; however, the Pacifica’s General Counsel ruled the Bylaws referendum lost based on a questionable interpretation of the California law.

People on both sides of the Bylaws’ battle claim that they are defending Lew Hill’s vision.

We should revisit Lew Hill’s theory of listener sponsored radio.

——
Lew Hill on Listener Sponsored Radio

“Listener sponsorship is an answer to the practical problem of getting better radio programs and keeping them.”

“The fact that the subscription is voluntary merely enlarges the same point [that programming must attract sufficient listeners]. We make a considerable step forward, it seems to me, when we use a system of broadcasting which promises that the mediocre will not survive. But the significance of what does survive increases in ways of the profoundest import to our times when it proceeds from voluntary action. Anyone can listen to a listener-sponsored station.

Anyone can understand the rationale of listener sponsorship—that unless the station is supported by those who value it, no one can listen to it, including those who value it. This is common sense.”

——
Lew Hill on programming

Because Lew Hill was a conscientious objector during WWII, many people think that he founded Pacifica to broadcast progressive and radical programs.

Someone said “[Lew Hill] founded this place particularly and specifically to broadcast wildly unpopular perspectives that could never get on the air anywhere else. “

Lew Hill’s vision of programming was more expansive and enlightened.

“The theory I want to discuss rests on two particular assumptions: first, that radio can and should be used for significant communication and art; and second, that since broadcasting is an act of communication, it ought to be subject to the same aesthetic and ethical principles as we apply to any communicative act, including the most personal.”

“The basic situation of broadcasting must be such that artists and thinkers have a place to work—with freedom. Short of this, the suffering listener has no out.
It may be clearer why I indicated at the outset that listener sponsorship involves some basic concerns. This is the first problem it sets out to solve—to give the genuine artist and thinker a possible, even a desirable, place to work in radio.”

“KPFA’s present [1951] air schedule is a modest example. It embraces four main categories— 1) music, 2) drama and literature, 3) public affairs, and 4) children’s programs.”


What is the problem?

Station programming can be committed to Pacifica’s mission of peace, social justice and diversity; however, the programs still have to garner enough listener members to support the station. This is the basis of listener sponsored radio. Having poorly-produced shows that do not garner enough listener sponsors do not help fulfill the Pacifica mission.

Sometimes a station will fall short and other stations have to step in and help.

Unfortunately, there are stations that run large deficits year after year and drain the network of resources.

Jim Dingeman of WBAI pointed out the problem.
- “Rigid adherence to narrow visions of what “community” radio is have dominated the grids for decades.”
- “Shows that do not succeed in having enough people to listen to them over populate every grid of every radio station in the Pacifica system.”
- “Attachment to forms of organizing sound that in some cases may be right on but basically contribute nothing to weekly expenses has to be changed right now.”
- “Maintaining illusory tropes that just simply bringing the community in by more community oriented shows has simply not worked in terms of numbers for decades.”

The Pacifica National Board (PNB) has been dealing with this problem by taking money from self-sustaining stations. This is not sustainable.

Any efforts to address these precarious financial arrangements are typically denounced and dismissed as attacks on radical and diversity programming.

—-
What is the Solution?

Each station ultimately has to be self-sustaining, and a functional Board has to be able to apply Lew Hill's theory and take appropriate remedial action when they're not.

—-
The Current Bylaws vs. the New Day Bylaws.

The current Bylaws were put in place 20 years ago.

Each of the five stations have four directors, so station with few members has same vote as station with many members. The governance resembles the US Senate rather than the House of Representatives. The current board is unable or unwilling to address the problem.

In 2021, the Pacifica members petitioned and voted for new Bylaws to address the problem.

Under the New Day Bylaws a majority (12 of 15) of Directors are directly elected by the members, so the Board would be more responsive to the membership. The Board under the New Day Bylaws would be better able to address the problem.

Some claim that the New Day Bylaws are elitist and racist and would disenfranchise diverse stations.
Applying Lew Hill’s theory of listener sponsored radio is neither elitist nor racist.
WPFW and KPFA are examples of how diverse and progressive stations can attract listener members with good programming.

—-
Pacifica members voted for the New Day Bylaws

Pacifica members voted for the New Day Bylaws by a 6820 to 5471 margin in June of 2021.

However, Pacifica’s General Counsel ruled that the Bylaws referendum lost, based on a questionable interpretation of California law.

Pacifica’s General Counsel has been a vocal opponent of the New Day Bylaws from the very beginning, and he misrepresented the New Day Bylaws to both the PNB and members alike saying things like:
“[W]hat bothers me most about these [New Day] bylaws is that, for—whether it’s 1-1/2 months or 3 month I’m not sure—there would be four people running Pacifica, no Board. They could do whatever they want, ... And it somehow hits me in the gut that WBAI would be back off the air, if these four people just got to run it, without a Board, without representation from anybody else in the United States from any of the stations...a total dictatorship .” (4-15-21 Pacifica National Board Meeting)

This is totally false, and it's very clear from the New Day Bylaws Transition provisions that new Directors would immediately be elected from each station to serve on the Board along with the transition officers, before the new Board ever met.

The current Board is unable or unwilling to address the alarming declines in listenership, membership, and donations.

Pacifica should recognize the 6820 to 5471 vote of the members for the New Day Bylaws to help save listener sponsored radio.

—-
Summary

Each station ultimately has to be self-sustaining, and a functional Board has to be able to apply Lew Hill's theory and take appropriate remedial action when they're not.

The status-quo situation is neither tenable nor sustainable.

What can be more self-defeating than insolvency?

—-
by a few corrections
Considering the Dobbs decision, posting about Pacifica stupidity feels tone deaf. Still, let's take a moment to point out the flaws here.

Pacifica has long been an adversary of community radio in the spirit of Lorenzo Milam. Milam didn’t own stations and started many, unlike Pacifica. Pacifica only founded and funds itself.

Pacifica’s mission and most of its board are over 70. Like its board and 99 percent of its programming, its mission isn’t relevant. Changing programming won’t make it so. Why? Out-of-touch boomers who know nothing about media remain in charge and choose leadership. Worse, they don’t want to leave to make way for others.

This narrative of “saving” Pacifica is as old as the organization. This same post could have been written verbatim 15 years ago and you’d never know. No one bothers mentioning it’s next to impossible to force a California nonprofit into bankruptcy, even with the last time Pacifica almost effed itself with the California AG; the stations have whittled down staffing to almost all unpaid labor; and its debts are such that 1,000 "national" pledge drives wouldn’t fix the mess.

If you're one of the people worried about Pacifica, know that pouring more time and money into a moribund organization is a fool’s errand. Volunteer with an abortion service provider, campaign in swing states... or do something with your life that makes a real difference.
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