"If we keep on the way we were, Pacifica will end. We just don't have the time for ideologies - we don't need them. We want professionalism."
-Ken Jenkins, pressident of the Pacifica Foundation
Back when the antiware movement was sweeping the country. Pacifica was its voice. During the almost annual Berkeley riots of the late '60s and early '70s, demonstrating students listened religiously to the local Pacifica affiliate, KPFA, even as police chased them, firing buckshots, down the sidestreets of the university town. Pacifica was then in its heyday, stridently antiwar radio whose news was considered gospel by campus activists and leftists of all colorations. For three decades - since the ban-the-bomb movement of the late '40s Pacifica has been a beacon for the left - and this gave it a credibility not assigned to the "establishment" media.
So why is Ken Jenkins, president of the foundation that runs Pacifica, sounding so coolly pragmatic and hinting at the possibility of doom for his five-station, listener- supported chain of alternative radio outlets?
Facing facts, mostly. With the protest movements dormant if not deceased, Pacifica increasingly finds itself to be radio in search of listeners. Memberships are down, internal disent simmers and, according to Arbitron ratings, the number of Pacifica listeners has been plummeting for years.Under the circumstances, even Jenkins and other top Pacifica leaders are having doubts about the chain's ability to survive the sleepy '70s.
Among the harsher realities:
Five months after going on the air, WPFW (89.3 FM) in Washington is $100,000 in debt and has been undable to pay its 14 staff employees for four straight weeks.
A strike this spring over policy differences took New York's WBAI off the air for 50 days. Union leaders on the staff and the station management are still at odds while BAI's finances approach what Pacifica Foundation treasurer Oscar Hanigsberg calls "a critical kind of state."
After seven years and a bombing incident at the station, KPFT in Houston is still limping along with only 15,000 listeners. "Less han one-tenth of one per cent of the people in town even know we exist," admits station manager Dallas Neyer.
Once virtually free of government funding, Pacifica stations have been forced to look towards agencies such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to pay for advertising salaries equipment and even staff salaries. This year CPB has given Pacifica $270,000, over one-tenth of the total budget for the five stations, and the foundation is already looking to other governmental sources, such as HEW, for further soccour.
Moves by Pacifica toward minority control of some of its stations, more minority-oriented programming and a slicker, more professional net-work-type link-up among its outlets are meeting resistance from some staff members. The push to establish a "corporate structure," thinks KPFA news director Al Smith and others, threatens to undermine Pacifica's radical ideals.
"We've been trying to be the voice of an non-existent movement," says Pacifica Foundation vice president Peter Franck. "We're just broadcasting to more of a hard core audience than we have to." Off-the-Wall Programming
Since 1947 when Lew Hill, a World War II conscientious objector, founded KPFA, Pacific's fortunes have been linked to the ebb and flow of left-wing, activist politics. First the ban-the-bomb sentiment of the '50s, then the civil rights movement and finally the Vietnam war gave Pacifica purpose - and a large reservoir of affluent, liberal supporters.
Unconventional in its programming as it was controversial in its politics, Pacifica today still offers off-the-beaten-path listening. WBAI is still the only New York station with regular, hour-long lesbian news shows and it recently devoted an hour to Hiroshima Day activities in the city. In Washington, WPFA typically offers four straight hours of jazz, or hour-long documentaries as Emma Goldman. But the audience for it seems largely to have disappeared.
As a result, meeting the $2.3 million budget for all of the Pacifica stations is becoming increasingly difficult, admits treasurer Hanigsberg. "If we can't meet these problems in a very creative way," he says, "we're going to die."
To avoid that, Pacifica's management aims to broaden its stations' appeal to attract new listeners, with WPFA a critical case in point.
After a nine-year legal battle just to get the last remaining FM frequency in the city, the station took to the air last March only to begin a long slide into debt. Some key loans are coming due soon, says station president Del Lewis, and will be difficult to repay. Station manager Greg Millard is already preparing a new "bare bones" budget that includes a salary cutback for himself and several layoffs in the 14-member staff in order to make it through what promises to be a long, tough winter.
Already WPFW has established itself as different from the other stations in town. Listeners are likely to hear jazz mingled with leftist ideology or an hour and a half discussion of the 25-year-old Rosenberg spy case. True to form, WPFW didn't join the other local stations in paying tribute to Elvis Presley after his tragic death - the explanation going that Elvis was a racist who stole his music from black people.
The future of WPFW, which is moving to new headquarters on the corner of 14th and R, depends largely on its ability to attract new listeners. Right now station manager Millard estimates WPFW has 4,000 subscribers - some 8,000 more will be needed, he says, to make it a viable institution.
Denise Oliver, WPFW's program director, believes brigging the black/whites division of Washington society is perhaps the greatest problem facing the station. "This town is black and white and never the twain shall meet," complains oliver, who calls herself "the quintessential New Yorker" because of her Puerto Rican, black and Jewish heritage. "People come and ask us if we're a black station because it's basically run by blacks."
With this in mind Oliver and Millard take pains to point out that WPFW is as interested in reaching middle-class intellectuals in the suburbs as the predominately black inner-city audience. "We're the weirdest collection here of upper crust, lumpens, working class folks," Oliver insists. "That's what makes this whole thing fun, but it also makes it very hard." Hard Times
While Pacifica hangs by a thread in Washington, New York's WBAI, once the most financially solid of all Pacifica stations, also has fallen on hard times. In the aftermath of a bitter strike by the staff this spring, the station has tried to subsist in a stifling atmosphere of distrust.
The strike exacerbated an already declining financial situation which, according to Hanigsberg, has the station as much as $280,000 in debt.At the same time listenership has been dropping - over the last few years it has plummeted from 160,000 to something close to half that number.
To save the situation, station manager Ann Kosoff hired Uruba Guzman this winter as programer director and supported his efforts to increase black and Latino programming. But Guzman's attempts also threatened the jobs and programs of many WBAI veterans, prompting the strike by staff members and 50 days of Pacifica silenge in New York. In April it also brought about the resignation of Guzman who charged WBAI suffered from the staff's "racism and mediocrity".
While the strike has been settled, the issue of the new "multi-cultural" format at WBAI has not."What has happened here is plain," asserted Kosoff. "We had this 99 per cent white situation here with all these people trying to resist change. I think to survive we have to start appealing to minorities - we lost the West Side liberals a long time ago." Looking Forward
In line with the proposed shift to a full-fledged "network" type arrangement, Jenkins in February hired Joel Kugelmass as Pacifica's first paid, full-time director. Since then Kugelmass has been shutting among the stations trying to establish communications and program-sharing. In the long run - if Pacifica has a long run - both Jenkins and Kugelmass envision a national Pacifica news broadcast, probably emanating from Washington.
In the more immediate future Kugelmass looks forward early next year to hooking up the Pacifica stations via some old NASA satellites. To pay for this services, which would run into thousands of dollars, he is hoping for a grant from HEW. Government grants already comprise about 10 per cent of Pacifica's $2.3 million income - most of them from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting - but Kugelmass says he has not intention of making his stations dependent on the federal dole.
More important, Kugelmass believes, are the basic programming shifts now taking place at some Pacifica stations. At Berkeley's KPFA, new program director Roland Young, a onetime jazz disc jockey, is trying to develop a more music-oriented, softer sound instead of the highly charged, heavily political format long dominant, at the station. Other stations, including WPFW, are stressing children's programming to appeal, on an educational rather than ideological basis, to potential subscribers. "We are trying to get away from the high-compression, super-dense programming we are known for," Kugelmass says. "We must have a more listenable format for a mass audience."
Whether Pacifica survives at all depends largely on the reemergence of a movement for change, in Kugelmass' opinion. Without some anti-establishment murmuring, particularly among the young, Pacifica's days seem numbered.
"I just have to believe we're coming into a very intense period," he says. "It will be a period where we can play a role like in the '60s. Right now we're just holding on and waiting, that's what it boils down to. We have to make it, only to be there when the big moment comes again."