The Info List - Pacifica Radio

Pacifica Foundation is an American non-profit organization which owns five independently operated, non-commercial, listener-supported radio stations known for their progressive/liberal[1][2] political orientation. Its national headquarters adjoins station KPFA in Berkeley, California.

Pacifica Foundation also operates the Pacifica Network, a program service supplying over 180 affiliated stations with various programs, primarily news and public affairs.[citation needed] It was the first public radio network in the United States and it is the world's oldest listener-funded radio network.[3] Programs such as Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News have been some of its most popular productions.[citation needed]

The Pacifica Radio Archives, housed at station KPFK in Los Angeles, is the oldest public radio archive in the United States,[citation needed] documenting more than five decades of grassroots political, cultural, and performing arts history. The archive includes original recordings of interviews with John Coltrane, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Langston Hughes, among many others.

The Pacifica Radio Archives feature in their own 30-minute slot on BBC Radio 5 Live's Up All Night program.


Early history

Pacifica was founded in 1946 by pacifists E. John Lewis and Lewis Hill. During World War II, Hill, as well as Lewis, filed for conscientious objector status. After the war, Lewis, Hill and a small group of former conscientious objectors created the Pacifica Foundation in Pacifica, California. KPFA in Berkeley commenced broadcast activities in 1949.

Internal conflict, 1990s–2002

For most of its history, Pacifica gave each of its stations independent control of programming. During the 1990s, a major controversy arose over rumors that the Pacifica National Board and national staff were attempting to centralize control of content, in order to increase audience. The rumors included accusations that the board proposed changing the network's funding model away from a reliance exclusively on listener donations and toward a mix of listener donations and corporate foundation funding similar to that of NPR. There were also accusations that the Board was considering selling both KPFA and WBAI in New York City, which operate on commercial-band FM frequencies (94.1 and 99.5, respectively) worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

This led to years of conflict, including court cases, public demonstrations, firings and strikes of station staff, whose common plight inspired creation of Radio4all.net to preserve what they saw as the original spirit of Pacifica. Many listeners to the individual stations—especially KPFA and WBAI—objected to what they saw as an attempt to tone down the overtly left-leaning political content on Pacifica stations. The controversy included highly publicized ideologically-charged disputes between listener organizations and Mary Frances Berry, a former chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, who chaired the corporation's board at the time.

The board eventually was embroiled in counter-lawsuits by board members and listener-sponsors and, after global settlement of the lawsuits in November 2001, an interim board was formed to craft new bylaws, which it did in two tumultuous years of national debates among thousands of listener-sponsors and activists, finally giving listener-sponsors the right and responsibility to elect new Local Station Boards at each of the five Pacifica stations. These local boards in turn elect the national board of directors. Aside from some minor changes, the same 2003 bylaws remain in effect today.

Some history, 2002–2009

Pacifica National News director Dan Coughlin was voted Interim Executive Director of the network in 2002 (the "Interim" was later dropped). The years of internal legal battles and financial mismanagement had taken a toll. In 2005, Coughlin resigned, the network was still largely disorganized, and Pacifica reverted to operating with an interim executive director for most of the year.

In January 2006, Pacifica hired Greg Guma as the next executive director of the Pacifica Foundation. By the end of the year, the Foundation had fully recovered its financial health and had launched two new national programs: Informativo Pacifica, a daily Spanish Language newscast, and From the Vault, a weekly program drawn from Pacifica's extensive audio archives. Pacifica also produced Informed Dissent, a ten-week series for the 2006 mid-term elections that drew from talent across the network.

Guma left his post in September 2007.[4] The National Board unanimously chose former KPFA general manager Nicole Sawaya as the next executive director.

Sawaya was among the staff members fired by the national board in 1999 amidst Pacifica's internal crisis. Sawaya began her tenure as executive director in mid-November 2007, but abruptly changed her mind two weeks later. Pacifica historian Matthew Lasar said she "found the level of internecine dysfunction at Pacifica overwhelming, and fled her job."[citation needed]

The Pacifica National Board spent the next several months negotiating with her, and Sawaya resumed her job on March 5, 2008. She resigned effective September 30,[5] citing "dysfunctional" governance and "shoddy and opaque" business practices that had plunged the organization into a financial crisis.

Sawaya's departure was followed by major staff layoffs. In 2009, Pacifica Board chair Grace Aaron became interim executive director, former board member LaVarn Williams replaced Lonnie Hicks as chief financial officer, and the national office took control of WBAI in New York. Aaron appointed Williams acting GM of WBAI in May, and Hicks filed a lawsuit against the foundation alleging that he was dismissed because he is African American and a whistleblower.

Ongoing conflicts: 2017

After Pacifica's board of directors completed the 2016 board year with the exclusion of 75% of WBAI's board representation and then moved to decertify the 2016 board elections which were won handily by the independent faction not in power. The new 2017 board of directors replaced interim executive director Lydia Brazon with KPFT director Bill Crosier and reinstated WBAI's delegation.

At the 02-10-17 Pacifica National Board (PNB) Meeting the newly formed PNB recognized the alternate tally for Affiliate Directors (which included votes of the disenfranchised WBAI delegation). This resulted in Efia Nwangaza being replaced, and also resulted in a lawsuit filed against the Pacifica Foundation by Efia Nwangaza, Board Member Adriana Casanave, and resigned Board Member Sharon Brown. Attorney Sharon Brown became a party to this lawsuit against Pacifica because of a determination that a political appointment, by Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, appointing Brown as a Commissioner to the Los Angeles County Small Business Commission precluded Sharon Brown from serving as a PNB Director according to the Pacifica Foundation's Bylaws. Adriana Casanave is party to the lawsuit because of her admonishment by the PNB for dilatory behavior. [02/10/17 and 02/16/17 PNB minutes may be found at https://www.kpftx.org/archive.php][Lawsuit may be found at http://justiceunity.com/joomla34/index.php/component/tags/tag/lawsuit]


  • In 2007, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it would accept new applications for non-commercial radio licenses for the first time in more than a decade. In response, Pacifica joined forces with other advocates for independent media in the "Radio for People" campaign, helping local groups apply for these full-power licenses.
  • Pacifica has expanded its schedule of national special broadcasts, distributing more audio documentaries, covering the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales hearings live, and sending production teams to the United States Social Forum and the National Conference for Media Reform.
  • Pacifica expanded its offerings in multiple media platforms, using "Web 2.0" technology. In September 2007, one interactive website, KPFA's Warcomeshome.org, began to offer hard-hitting stories from reporter Aaron Glantz about the human costs of the Iraq War, as well as innovative ways of contributing to, and distributing information about, the impact of the conflict.
  • Pacifica suspended regular programming for three days in order to air a live broadcast of the Iraq War Winter Soldier event in Silver Spring, Maryland from March 14 through March 16, 2008.

The broadcast was co-anchored by journalist Aaron Glantz and KPFA Morning Show host Aimee Allison.[6]

California Attorney General's investigation

California Attorney General Kamala Harris notified the Pacifica Radio Foundation's Board of Directors on December 17, 2014, that its Office had opened a full and formal investigation into the actions of the Pacifica Radio Foundation in the persons of its Executive Directors, members of its Board of Directors, and other persons of the Pacifica Radio Foundation and its five member stations with respect to numerous alleged serious financial irregularities, failures to comply with California law governing nonprofit foundations and the Foundation's bylaws, and various other law violations. It required the Pacifica Radio Foundation to provide full and complete documentation as to its financial affairs from 2010 through the date of submission of those documents, due before January 15, 2015, as the first phase of its investigations. The California Attorney General ordered Pacifica's board to attend a meeting in January 2017 and demanded the filing of the delinquent 2015 financial audit by no later than August 27, 2017, and the replacement of restricted funds. The network's new interim executive director, Bill Crosier, pledged to get the organization back into compliance.[citation needed]


A show which has for years been considered the flagship of Pacifica Radio's national programming is Democracy Now!, an independent news organization that covers democracy, human rights and justice issues, and questions the motives of U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan González, this program is a compilation of news, interviews, and documentaries. Democracy Now! is heard and seen on more than 700 radio and TV stations across the U.S. including public-access television stations and satellite television channels Free Speech TV and Link TV.[citation needed] WDEV, based in Waterbury, Vermont, is the only commercial radio station in the U.S. that carries the program[7]—even though it is also heard in north-central Vermont by Pacifica affiliate WGDR in Plainfield and its sister station, WGDH in Hardwick.[8]

In 2002, as Pacifica implemented its new listener-sponsor-accountability structure and as Pacifica and Democracy Now! settled outstanding disputes from previous years, Democracy Now! spun off with substantial funding from Pacifica to become an independent production.

The Pacifica network, in addition to extensive community-based productions at its various stations around the United States, also featured a daily newscast Free Speech Radio News for over a decade. FSRN was a radio program founded by Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship, a group of mostly Pacifica Network News reporters who went on strike against the Pacifica board policies of the late 1990s. FSRN was primarily funded by Pacifica, and includes headlines and news features produced by reporters based around the U.S. and in scores of countries around the world. In September 2013, the board of directors of FSRN issued a lay-off notice to all staff, and confirmed that their last broadcast would take place on September 27, 2013. The board cited financial difficulties as the reason for the decision.[9]

In 2006, Pacifica added two new national programs: From the Vault from the Pacifica Radio Archives, a weekly program that thematically repackages archival material, making it relevant to contemporary listeners; and Informativo Pacifica, based at KPFK in Los Angeles, a daily Spanish-language newscast that includes reporters from the U.S. and many Latin American countries.

Local Pacifica stations also produce many programs that are available to network stations and affiliates. These include: Sprouts, a weekly showcase of producers and stations around the network, often in documentary format; Explorations in Science with Dr. Michio Kaku, a weekly radio program on science, politics, and the environment; Dennis Bernstein's Flashpoints a daily drive-time public affairs program; and many other regular programs.

Pacifica also produces a wide variety of special broadcasts, including live coverage of major U.S. Congressional hearings, national mobilizations against war, and other important events, such as the United States Social Forum. Special programs also include news documentaries, holidays and commemorations, and archival audio from the Pacifica Radio Archives.

Pacifica-owned stations

Stations are arranged in alphabetical order by state and city of license.

Note: All stations except for WBAI were built and signed-on by the Pacifica Foundation.

City of License/Market Station Owned Since
Berkeley, California
(San Francisco Bay Area)
KPFA–94.1 1949
KPFB–89.3 1954
Los Angeles KPFK–90.7 1959[10]
Washington, D.C. WPFW–89.3 1977[11]
New York City WBAI–99.5 1960[12][13]
Houston, Texas KPFT–90.1 1970

Pacifica Foundation Radio Board of Directors

  • Sabrina Jacobs (KPFA)—Vice Chair
  • Akio Tanaka (KPFA)—Secretary
  • TM Scruggs (KPFA)
  • Andrea Turner (KPFA)
  • Jonathan Alexander ([KPFK)—Chair
  • Jan Goodman (KPFK)
  • Grace Aaron (KPFK)
  • Mansoor Sabbagh (KPFK)
  • Adriana Casenave (KPFT)
  • Bill Crosier (KPFT)—Interim Executive Director
  • Robert Mark (KPFT)
  • Rhonda Garner (KPFT)
  • Cerene Roberts (WBAI)
  • Alex Steinberg (WBAI)
  • Kathryn Davis (WBAI)
  • Kenneth Laufer (WBAI)
  • Jim Brown (WPFW)
  • Nancy Sorden (WPFW)
  • Maskeelah Washington (WPFW)
  • Benito Diaz (WPFW)
  • Themba Tshibanda—Radio Uhuru
  • David Beaton—WSLR

Financial problems

On Friday, October 6, 2017, Pacifica lost a $1.8 million dollar settlement over what they claim was price gouging by Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT), which has been raising antenna rental charges for WBAI at 9% per year for the last 12 years under a 15-year lease WBAI signed in 2005 that does not expire until 2020. The rent is currently set at more than half a million dollars annually, which Pacifica claims is approximately 4 times the current market rent for Midtown Manhattan antenna rentals. Pacifica Radio's WBAI has housed its transmitter on the Empire State Building since 1966. The 9% annual rental increases were facilitated by the destruction of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, which dramatically reduced space available for comparable antennas. The ruling encumbers all of Pacifica's assets including KPFA and KPFB in Berkeley, KPFK in Los Angeles, WPFW in Washington, DC, and KPFT in Houston in addition to WBAI in New York City but does not affect the assets of any of its affiliates.[14]

On August 9, 2013, Pacifica interim executive director Summer Reese announced that due to financial problems, Pacifica-owned radio station WBAI-FM in New York was laying off about two-thirds of its staff, effective August 12, 2013. The entire news department was reportedly included in the layoff.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Lasar, Matthew (2000). Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network. Temple University. p. viii. ISBN 1-56639-777-4. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  2. ^ "Progressive Radio". TuneIN. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  3. ^ Meikle, Graham (2002). Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet. Psychology Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-415-94322-2. 
  4. ^ [1] Archived February 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ "Sawaya leaves Pacifica, publishes regretful critique". American University School of Communication. September 25, 2008. Archived from the original on 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  6. ^ "Winter Soldier 2008 Audio, Photo Archives from Pacifica Radio". KPFA. Archived from the original on 2009-03-31. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  7. ^ "Program Schedule". WDEV Radio Vermont. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  8. ^ "Democracy Now!". Wgdr.org. Retrieved 2013-07-30. 
  9. ^ "Free Speech Radio". Myemail.constantcontact.com. Retrieved 2013-09-24. 
  10. ^ "KPFK (FM) on air." Broadcasting, July 27, 1959, pg. 52[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "On the air." Broadcasting, March 14, 1977, pg. 38[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "WBAI (FM) given away." Broadcasting, November 30, 1959, pg. 58[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "Gift granted." Broadcasting, January 4, 1960, pg. 36[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ Court Protects ESRT’s Lease Terms for Pacifica’s Non-Profit WBAI Radio in NYC – Denies “Unconscionability” Motion, Common Dreams, 2017-10-06, retrieved 2018-01-11  For more information on what has happened since the 2017-10-06 court ruling, see What’s Up with Pacifica Radio? WTF Pacifica?, Fresno, CA: KFCF, 2018-01-02, retrieved 2018-01-11 
  15. ^ Ben Sisario, "WBAI-FM Lays Off Most of Staff", August 11, 2013, The New York Times.

Further reading

External links