For Pacifica Radio, the Revolution is Ending

For Pacifica Radio, the Revolution is Ending

Far-left KPFK, otherwise known as Pacifica Radio, has been broadcasting progressive propaganda throughout California, and across the world, for many years. (In South Africa, where I lived for several years, you could hear archival Pacifica broadcasts by Noam Chomsky and other radicals late at night on community stations like Bush Radio.) Now, however, Pacifica may be collapsing from within, according to Hillel Aron of L.A. Weekly.

Part of the problem, Aron reports, is a highly public dispute with the network’s executive director, Summer Reese, who was fired but has “occupied” the building. Ratings are also low: “During an average 15-minute period, just 700 people listen to its Los Angeles station, 90.7 FM KPFK, for at least five minutes…Pacifica’s New York station, WBAI, is even worse off.” And the feds are cutting off grant funds because of shoddy accounting.

The whole drama is reminiscent of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, where rival factions of Jewish resistance groups are too busy fighting each other to resist the Romans. (The L.A. Weekly article was forwarded to me by a correspondent who noted, laughingly: “American left in a Pretzel, all the conflicts wrapped in 1 radio station.”)

The station itself is divided into factions, Aron says, one of which favors news while the other prefers spiritual programming. Aron provides a classic quote (language warning): 

“If you fired half the staff around here, it would work better,” [host] Masters says. “They’re just useless people with no work ethic — they don’t give a fuck about anything. They act like they’re doing you a favor if they get the program up without glitches. It’s surreal.” 

Masters also cites factions on the board: the “Radio Havana” group and the “conspiracy and quackery crowd.”

Local National Public Radio affiliates have many times more listeners than Pacifica does, but Pacifica was around first, Aron notes, and even featured debates with conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Jr. The station flourished after it was targeted in the McCarthy era, and during the Vietnam era, when it helped lead protest to the war. But it eventually lost ground to NPR, which cornered the left-wing news audience.

The decline was not steady. In the 1990s, Pacifica launched Democracy Now!, still hosted by Amy Goodman (an “evil bitch,” gripes the former news director about her political tactics inside the organization). But the internal turmoil has been going on for decades, and the left’s favorite network has failed to cultivate a young audience. Pacifica’s failure may be uniquely bizarre, but it is symbolic of the struggles of left-wing media in general.


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