Update: Doug Henwood, who I mention later in this piece, has responded with his own new post.
Kevin Roderick at LAObserved has put up a hilarious post about the local Pacifica Radio, KPFK. Readers of this blog know that I used to have a daily show there until a decade ago when “revolutionaries” took it over and have increasingly turned it into an electronic Albania.
Roderick’s post is a follow-up to a blog he did about 5 weeks ago about how the program director, Alan Minsky, warned the staff and volunteers of impending economic catastrophe and politely asked for volunteers to step forward to either surrender or shorten their programs. He said he needed to introduce some updated programming that hopefully would generate more revenue and audience and he needed room in the schedule to do it.
You might ask, why would a manager ask instead of direct and just fire those who are dead wood? Answer: because the station is dominated –both on staff and in its audience– by loonies who scream “fascist coup” if anybody’s special interest i.e. his or her program, is tinkered with. Minsky is a nice guy but what a pathetic, groveling and demeaning position to put oneself in — to have to beg your subordinates to give up their positions! Minsky himself is part of the problem. While he’s certainly among the smarter and more rational folks in the station, his pedigree was forged in the fever swamp of the Independent Media Center — a watering hole for True Believers. And he’s never quite outgrown it.
Well, you have probably guessed the payoff by now. Roderick reports this email coming from Minsky:
“Unfortunately, following my e-mail of one month ago in which I asked KPFK programmers, for the good of the station, to offer to shorten the length of their show or to move to a web-based show or to end their shows, not a single programmer stepped forward and made such a sacrifice,” writes Alan Minsky. As a result, he warns that the hammer is about to fall: “New voices need to be added to KPFK’s programming. In a week’s time some very difficult decisions will be made by KPFK management.”
Difficult? Since when is shooting fish in a barrel difficult? With two or three hours of exception during a 168 hour week, you could pretty much randomly kill off any program and it would be improvement. What’s going to be difficult, of course, are knee-jerkers who will go apopleptic and then charge that racism, sexism, ageism, liberalism, fascism, and cystic fibrosis has swamped the purity of “people powered-radio.”
What we’re dealing with here is what former General Manager Mark Schubb calls “time slot sluts” — programmers who would do anything with anybody to retain their little slice of radio time. (Schubb, by the way, was inappropriately fired by the revolutionaries in 2002 and won several hundred thousand dollars in a legal settlement). There’s also an uncomfortable truth to be found here. KPFK and its programmers go on endlessly about how it is “community radio” that serves the people. ROFL
KPFK primarily, if not exclusively, serves its own programmers. Period. Full stop. They are there for their own sake and nobody else’s. Sort of like a mirror image of Glenn Beck. The proof is the unanimous refusal by any of the programmers –95% of which are unpaid volunteers– to let go of the microphone so that the station itself can survive. What does that tell you? Fuck the people and “the community.” Apparently, every single last programmer there thinks he or she is indispensable — a word and a concept they have apparently confused with the term “unlistenable.” And we’re talking in many cases about programmers who have been on the air 15, 20, 25 years or more without a fresh idea since Oliver North took his oath before congress.
Pacifica Radio is bleeding money and audience. Mostly because the programming sucks.Big Time. And it sucks so bad that, for years now, its on air fundraising has become not only incessant, but chock a block with truther conspiracies and quack miracle medical cures. It is a bleeding sore of the Left and makes you wonder about left-wing critics of The Media (why is the Left Media even worse than the MSM?).
By the way, there are some numbers that I have that are not in Roderick’s story. Minsky’s memo is misleading as it refers to recent station growth from 120,000 to 180,000 cumulative listeners per week. But the station had 180,000 listeners twelve years ago and with a much weaker signal. What we are talking about is total stagnation. But it gets worse. The real way to measure listenership, however, is by Average Quarter Hour followers — people who tune in for at least 5 mins during an average 15 minute period. That’s very close to the number of people listening at any given moment.
According to figures I just saw, KPFK’s latest AQH is down to an all-time low of 1600 (in a signal area of 25 million people). Two points of comparison. KPFK bottomed out at an AQH of 1800 in 1995 during a similar period of decay. During Schubb’s management (1995-2002), he got those numbers to peak at about 7500-8000….which means, in reality, KPFK has about 20% of the audience it did a decade ago. By contrast, successful public radio stations like KPCC can boast of an AQH 12-15 times bigger than KPFK while running, quite literally, about one or two percent of the wattage of Pacifica and thereby commanding a much smaller signal footprint. Nice work, comrades!
This is not just a problem at KPFK, but is rather a network-wide crisis. Of the five Pacifica stations, two don’t even have recorded ratings because they haven’t paid the bill of the rating service! At this moment, all five positions of permanent station General Manager are open!
There’s been pretty much a conspiracy of silence on the Left about this. When the “revolutionaries” were in the process of taking over Pacifica a dozen years ago and Amy Goodman was scandalously using her air time to undermine her own network’s leadership and funding, the left media fell over each other to see who could more quickly (and falsely) condemn Pacifica for “corporatizing.” This was a damn lie exploited Goodman for personal gain, as it turns out, and never wanting to be outflanked on the left, the left blindly joined in the Pacifica bashing (with the honorable exception of The Progressive magazine which could smell something fishy and steered clear of the fight). At the time, I was working for The Nation and anchored Radio Nation which was produced out of KPFK. And while the mag waffled around on the issue, not willing to defend the network that hosted its own program, it ultimately went into the tank for the loonies by running a partisan editorial supporting the bone-headed idea that Pacifica should have elected listener councils to manage programming (Of course, The Nation didn’t think this would be a workable idea for itself where two or three editors made and continue to make its own editorial decisions!).
Once the knuckle-head purists took over the network, and started destroying it, we’ve never again seen any sort of follow-up report in any lefitst or “progressive” media circles, let alone among the left-of-center media criticism outfits like FAIR and Free Press. Not one in more than a decade. The five stations have a market value of hundreds of millions of dollars, but the left turns a blind eye to ever scrutinizing this failing institution.
There was one breach in the wall a few weeks ago when lefty economist Doug Henwood, still a progammer at Pacifica’s WBAI, went public with his own horror report. Read it here. I like Doug. He’s good guy and quite smart and he means well. But he’s about ten years too late. The game is already long over.
As the old joke about the Cuban government goes: The regime has already fallen. We’re just waiting on the official paper work. Or, if you prefer, what’s the sound of one lip flapping?