Pacifica network fires archivist
A week before the Pacifica board plans to take its controversial
vote on centralized governance, the nation's premier alternative
radio network fired its archivist. Al Stein, the man in charge of
Pacifica's 40,000-tape library, says the five-station network is
allowing its historic collection to decay.
Stein's Feb. 19 termination comes just three and a half months
after he was hired. During the past three months, he says, he
discovered 1,000 to 2,000 hours' worth of important historic tapes
that may be at risk. Included in those are historic documents from
the 1950s and '60s, recorded on acetate tape stock, that Stein
says are disintegrating and should be transferred to a more stable
medium. Stein also alleges that thousands of reels, including
6,000 hour-long tapes from WBAI, Pacifica's New York outlet,
have yet to be cataloged.
The archivist was writing a report on the tape situation to present
to the Pacifica board at its meeting in Berkeley this weekend. That
never happened. According to Stein, his superior, a consultant to
the network, insisted on drafting her own report instead.
"The report is false. It says there is no backlog of tapes to be
cataloged. That's a lie," Stein told the Bay Guardian. "Pacifica just
continues to pour money into consulting fees and skimps on the
restoration of tapes."
In its termination letter the network told the archivist the problems lie
with him; Pacifica says Stein wasn't meeting deadlines and lacked
management skills. "Your management skills are not as strong as they need
to be to provide the Pacifica Radio Archives with the minimum necessary
leadership," reads the pink slip.
Pacifica spokesperson Elan Fabbri said Stein's claim that the
collection is in danger due to decay is false; Fabbri told the Bay
Guardian she knew nothing about any reports on the archives. "Mr.
Stein had been with Pacifica for roughly three months, and it was
clear early on that he wasn't the best fit," Fabbri said. "He was
terminated. We wish him the best."
Stein said Pacifica's charges are a "red herring they used as an
excuse to terminate me -- not coincidentally a few days before the
At the Feb. 26-28 meeting, the Pacifica board will vote on plans to
centralize governance of the network (see "Pacifica Power Grab,"
2/17/99). The proposal has drawn fire from some station
employees and listeners. The network says the changes, which
would create a self-perpetuating board, are necessary to ensure
federal funding of the radio network.
The archivist, the second hired by Pacifica in two years, initially
contacted the Bay Guardian with his concerns a few days before
his expulsion. Although Stein says he doesn't want to be branded
as the typical "disgruntled former employee," he is talking to
attorneys about a wrongful-termination suit. He says he will still
bring his report to the board.
A. Clay Thompson
Letter They Didn't Want Anyone To See
- Fired Archivist Al Stein's Report to the Pacifica Board Chair
This is the letter that got Pacifica Archivist Al Sein fired. He originally began writing the report prior to his firing. Apparently, a number of people were aware that Al intended to send this report to the Board Chair, and fired him before the meeting.
Al Stein said
he was terminated without notice. He arrived at work after several days
out sick. He found his office had been ransacked and his property seized,
including computer disks. One might imagine that this material was what
they were looking for.
February 22, 1999
Dr. Mary Frances
Governing Board Chair
Pacifica Foundation National Board
624 Ninth St. NW #700
Washington, DC 20425
Reg.: February 1999 National Board Meeting
Dear Dr. Berry:
As the Archivist
responsible for the Pacifica Radio Archives I
thought you should know that I did not prepare the two page PRA
February 1999 Board Report. I am writing you to set the record
straight before the National Board meets. Although I was to have
prepared the Archives Board Report, I was instructed not to do so
by Gail Christian. Ms. Christian is the author of the report, which
will be presented. As I am struck by the inaccuracies that the
report contains. I am submitting my own version to you.
By way of introduction
I am a Certified Archivist and Librarian who
came to the Pacifica Radio Archives from the California State
Library. I was hired as the Pacifica Radio Archivist on November 1, 1998.
Lynn Chadwick suddenly terminated me on February 18, 1999 in order to
prevent me from reporting at the 1999 Pacifica Foundation Governing Board
As a former Library
of Congress Junior Fellow I was responsible for
curating the "Amassing American Stuff," WPA art exhibit and
conference with John Cole at the LC Center For the Book in 1994.
In 1995 I was a USIA/ACOR Fellow who traveled to Amman, Jordan
to undertake a six-month survey of the Jordanian Labor Force, post
Desert-Storm. In 1997-98 I received an Arthur Weinberg Fellow at
the Newberry Library in Chicago. I have presented academic
papers at numerous conferences and am also an accomplished
photojournalist, with more than a decade of media experience. My
work has appeared in The University of California Press,
TriQuarterly, The San Francisco Examiner, the Library of Congress
Information Bulletin, and LC Gazette.
I have been a researcher
and still photographer for a handful of
historical documentaries and features, including the acclaimed
drama, NORTHERN LIGHTS. In 1992 I was awarded a New York
Times Company Foundation Grant. In 1993, I was an Albert P.
Weisman Scholar in Broadcast Communications at Columbia
College, Chicago, where I graduated with honors and began
working with Studs Terkel in his radio archives. I am an active
member of the Society of California Archivists, the Society of
California Archivists, the Southwest Oral History Association, the
American Library Association, and the Oral History Association.
During the four months
I have been at the Archives, I have
witnessed a variety of practices, which I believe jeopardize the
preservation of the important historical material over which I
putatively have had responsibility. In fact, I feel that my efforts to
employ my professional expertise has been undermined at every turn by Ms.
Christian and another consultant from the Bay Area, Adi Gevins, and that
the lines of responsibility for decisions at the Archives shift at a
As an historian,
Dr. Berry, you can appreciate the need to preserve
Pacifica's history. Not only is the collection intrinsically valuable for
the historical material it contains, but it will be used more often in the
next century in a multi-media context, especially with the Proliferation
of much fine public history programs throughout the United States and
Here are some of
the pressing problems and concerns for the
collection that I have as an Archivist:
· BACKLOG INFORMATION
Here is factual Backlog
information regarding the PRA:
Approximately 6,000 tapes sent from WBAI have been inventoried
but not prioritized for cataloging. These will need to be audited by the
volunteers already recruited by the Archivist.
September, 1997-February, 1999 not cataloged
Approximately 245 tapes
July, 1997-August, 1998 not cataloged
Approximately 250 tapes
January-February, 1999 not cataloged
Approximately 8 tapes
June, 1997 to January, 1999 not cataloged.
These will have to be audited by volunteers.
Approximately 77 tapes
Backlog (cataloged, in need of restoration work)
Approximately 2,000 tapes
Office area contains
1,000 tapes not cataloged, not climate
presents access and preservation problems in that
there has been a long history of Pacifica tapes being moved around
from site to site
· STATION RELATIONS
On February 1, 1999
I was told by Gail Christian not to go through
the KPFK tape archives with Pam Burton. This was contrary to my
Archival training, and to the Pacifica Radio Archives policy to
develop good station relations.
· RECORDS MANAGEMENT PLAN/ENVIRONMENTAL PLAN
The Archives should
play a key role in the development and
implementation of a Pacifica records management plan (which
could be modeled under the Strategic Plan). However, the
Archives do not serve as a key repository for the Pacifica
Foundation nor does it serve the full needs of the producer/archivist who
is concerned about the preservation of his or her show. Historically,
Pauline Kael, Eric Bauersfeld, Max Schwartz, Ed Robbins, and many others
have kept their original tapes because the Archives did not and still does
not have the reputation as THE ARCHIVE OF PACIFICA. It has also lost
tapes during periodic moves and earthquakes, and its air conditioner goes
out every six months or so until it gets another jolt of freon. The
temperature in the Archives, often set by Gail Christian, is excessively
warm and unstable for tapes. Many a producer and Archivist has questioned
the unstable environment, and attempts at temperature control have not met
with Ms.Christian's cooperation. When the former Archivist, Julie Graham
made such an attempt to stabilize the environment at PRA she had a staff
mutiny on her hands, led by Gail Christian.
The Archives' collections
have been deaccessioned over the years
due to limited resources at Pacifica. Periodically the Board has
taken a hard look at the need to keep the entire collection.
Consequently, one can find NFCRB tapes and manuscripts from
Pacifica at the National Public Broadcasting Archives in Maryland;
manuscripts at the Social Action Archives in Madison, Wisconsin,
and tape libraries at each Sister Station. For example, KPFK has
about 3,000 tapes stored, which are technically out of the Archives
storage facility - stored in a non-air-conditioned traffic control room at
KPFK. An immediate priority suggested by the Archivist (but not "approved"
by Gail Christian or Adi Gevins) would have been to survey, duplicate, and
share tape resources, while at the same time trying to maintain a stable
environment for all Pacifica tapes. Additionally the Pacifica
photographic collection needs to be cataloged and inventoried for the PRA
and efforts need to be made to preserve that collection and make it more
RESTORATION PROJECT (NHPRC) 1987-1990
tapes in the Archive are in the active process
of disintegration due to their advanced age. They were originally
recorded on acetate stock which was made to last only a few
years, and many tapes have severe lubrication and splice
problems. Pacifica Archives did not allocate enough time to the
restoration process. Over 6,000 reels of endangered tapes were
targeted for preservation in 1987. The project resulted in the
remastering of 3500 hours of tapes and came to an end in January
1990. Since then the remainder of the tapes have not been
restored. In order not to loose them entirely, there is an urgent
need to have them re-recorded. Apparently the National Historical
Publications and Resources Commission (NHPRC) was not
notified of this. A distinction must be made that the project was
not completed due to limited resources, not intentional negligence.
Included in this
early collection are the literature, music history,
popular culture, and social movements of the 20th Century. For example:
Sigmund Freud speaking in English during his last lecture tour of the
United States, a ten- part lecture series produced in 1963 on the history
of the Mexican-Americans in California, one of four existing interviews
with John Coltrane, an interview in South Africa with Steve Biko, a unique
collection of Northern California Indian Tales, actuality of the Vietnam
War from both South and North Vietnam, a rare interview with Elijah
Muhammed, documentaries on Martin Luther King, Jr., on the Winter Soldiers
Investigation, and interviews with Jessica Midford, Aldous Huxley, and
Iranian students in the occupied American embassy in Teheran.
· DISC RECORDINGS
In my weekly archival
reports I observed that PRA holds some 250
sound recording discs of early Pacifica broadcasts, potentially
containing up to 125 hours of material. I encouraged Lynn
Chadwick, Adi Gevins, and Gail Christian to look at these
materials, since they are the earliest items documenting Pacifica
recording history and could be used to showcase the 50th
Anniversary. No attempt was made by any of them to even
consider my recommendation. These valuable items should NOT
be at PRA but instead should be transferred to the National Public
Broadcasting Archives in Maryland where they can be properly
preserved and made available to researchers.
· MISREPRESENTATION/JOB RESTRUCTURING AT PRA
Gail Christian restructured
the Pacifica Radio Archivist's job on
1/22/99 without consulting with the Archivist or the Pacifica Board.
Pacifica management (Lynn Chadwick) and consultants (Gail Christian, Adi
Gevins) collectively supervised the Archivist during a "Special Review
(Probation) Period" which effectively reduced the Archivist's review
period from six months to four months. The Archivist was terminated prior
to March 1st, when the special review period final report was to have been
submitted to Lynn Chadwick by Gail Christian and Adi Gevins. Once again,
Pacifica Radio Archives is without a professional archivist, thanks to
Gail Christian. The same sort of restructuring pattern occurred with Pam
Burton (former Director Pacifica Radio Archive, 1993-1997) and Julie
Graham (former Archivist, 1997-1998) who also left because of Gail
FOR THE PACIFICA NATIONAL
GOVERNING BOARD MEETING,
FEBRUARY 27-28, 1999.
Archivist Alan H.
Stein intends to speak on Sunday, February 28th
at the 1999 Pacifica National Board Meeting. As former Archivist
for Pacifica, he will recommend an audit of a Federal Grant from
the NHPRC for the Pacifica Archive Tape Restoration Project; an
audit and investigation of Adi Gevins (Pacifica Consultant) and her
husband, Michael Cousins (Pacifica Attorney) for a possible
conflict of interests; and the removal of Gail Christian, who
fabricated large portions of the Pacifica Radio Archives February
1999 Board Report. She is a former National Program Director,
Pacifica Program Service Archive Director, and a paid Pacifica
consultant, since October 1998.
Additionally, I propose
instead of a Board Archives Committee, the
formation of a Pacifica Radio Archives Advisory Board to advise the
Archivist and Executive Director in developing the direction of the
PRA, including policy development, program preservation, fiscal
accountability, and long range planning
It is clear to me
and others that my termination came on the eve of
my plans to expose Ms. Christian and the problems faced by the
PRA under her so called direction. My comments and
recommendations do not seem to have met with the approval of
Ms. Christian and Ms. Gevins, who informed me that my "special
introductory period" had been shortened from 6 months to 4
months, and that they did not intend to continue my services. This
once again leaves Pacifica without an archivist. Generally, I have
encountered what appears to be lack of respect both myself
personally as well as the position of Archivist. Both my
predecessors feel the same way. My symposium and conference
budget was cut in order to make funds available for "consultants
salaries." Ms. Christian has shown the same disdain for the
Pacifica tapes. According to eyewitness reports, she wanted to
dispose of most of the WBAI tape library - thousands of tapes.
They were removed from the Archives and stored off-site in order for her
not to dispose of them. When I began my job, she asked me to stop
archiving Larry Bensky's "Living Room," and I politely refused to do so.
In order for the
Archives to best serve Pacifica and the public it is
imperative that you and the Board assure these tapes are preserved for the
21st Century. We have a mutual respect for the collection and in historic
preservation. While I don't expect you to respond directly to this letter,
you should know that I can be called upon at any time to be of any kind of
assistance to you in regards to the Pacifica Radio Archives.
Alan Harris Stein