Pacifica Radio  

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Pacifica Radio is the oldest public radio network in the United States. It is a network of over 100 affiliated stations and five independently operated, non-commercial, listener-supported radio stations that is known for its liberal and progressive political orientation. Many other U.S. and Canadian community radio stations also carry Pacifica on a program to program basis. The first public radio network in the United States, it is operated by the Pacifica Foundation, with national headquarters adjoining station KPFA in Berkeley, California. Programs such as Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News are some of its most popular productions.

The Pacifica Radio Archives, housed at station KPFK in Los Angeles, is the nation's oldest public radio archive, 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.



Early history

Pacifica was founded in 1946 by pacifist Lewis Hill. During World War II, Hill filed for conscientious objector status. After the war, Hill and a small group of ex-conscientious-objectors created the Pacifica Foundation. On-air broadcasting at KPFA in Berkeley, California commenced in 1949.

Internal conflict, 1990s-2002

For most of its history, Pacifica gave each of its stations independent control of programming. Then, 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 listenership. The rumors also included accusations that the board proposed changing the network's funding model away from reliance on listener donations and toward corporate foundation funding. There were also accusations that the Board was considering selling both KPFA in Berkeley, California and WBAI in New York City, which operate on commercial broadcast channels, and whose frequencies are 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 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 political content on Pacifica stations. The controversy included highly publicized disputes between listener organizations and Mary Frances Berry, the radio network's board chair.

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.

Recent history, 2000s

Pacifica National News director Dan Coughlin was voted Interim Executive Director of the network in 2002 (the "Interim" was later dropped). But 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, it 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 10-week series for the 2006 mid-term elections that drew from talent across the network.

Guma left his post in September 2007. 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." 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, 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 lay offs. 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-FM 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.


A show which has for years been considered the flagship of Pacifica Radio's national programming is Democracy Now!, an independent talk show 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.

In 2002, as Pacifica implemented its new listener-sponsor-accountability structure and as Pacifica and Democracy Now! settled outstanding disputes from previous years, it 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 features a daily newscast Free Speech Radio News. FSRN is 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 is primarily funded by Pacifica, and includes headlines and news features produced by reporters based around the US and in scores of countries around the world. At a time when TV and radio networks are closing down bureaus and laying off reporters, the unique model pursued by FSRN makes it the most well-stocked show with over 200 reporters spread across the world. Free Speech Radio News's first editor was Aaron Glantz.

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 US and many Latin American countries.

Like many media outlets, Pacifica is devoting coverage to the 2008 Presidential and Congressional elections. In February, it launched Election Unspun, a daily news module that provides election headlines, features, and analysis.

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. These include live coverage of major US Congressional hearings, national mobilizations against war, and other important events like the United States Social Forum. Special programs also include news documentaries, holidays and commemorations, and archival audio from the Pacifica Radio Archives.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pacifica Radio" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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