Edward S. Herman

The operations of the Pacifica management call to mind the anti- stalinist classic poem of the 1950s by Bertolt Brecht, "The Solution," in which the worker uprising in Berlin caused the government to "lose confidence in the People," leading to the question: "Would it not be easier in that case--for the government to dissolve the People--and elect another?" The Pacifica management has been very dissatisfied with KPFA's (and the other stations') audience (the protesters mainly whites over 50, according to Berry), and its "dysfunctional" staff (Palmer letter to Berry), so it moved rapidly in the direction of dissolving both. A sale to a commercial operator would have consummated this neo-stalinist objective of essentially "dissolving the People."

What is breathtaking about this management's using words like "dysfunctional" is that nothing could exceed the management's own dysfunctional quality. Completely out of step with the Pacifica stations' original goals and their audiences' devotion to their stations; lacking any sympathy with the democratic tradition of the workforces involved; and under the pretence of financial crisis (to which "consultants fees" and security expenses contributed) and interest in "diversity" (which has declined under their policy of mainstreaming) this management has bungled continuously and ended up contemplating a sale to commercial interests for whom diversity and public interest are completely irrelevant.

When Coca Cola Company delayed by one week its response to the crisis engendered by the sale of contaminated Coke in Belgium and France, this was treated in the business press as a case of managerial ineptitude. The Pacifica management, by contrast, has made a series of managerial blunders extending over several years that has aggravated the crisis to a bursting point, apparently incapable of learning, of understanding the forces involved, and of moving in any way toward a constructive resolution. It is ironic that a management that is so out of tune with the ethos of a nonprofit operation, and that flirts with growth, market share, and station market value issues, has survived only because it operates in a non-market environment where serious ineptitude is protected by a system of managerial insulation from accountability to anybody. In a market world, stockholders and bankers would have thrown this management out on their ears long ago for incompetence and dysfunctionality.

Pacifica management has repeatedly expressed a desire to increase market share, arguing that the audiences of KPFA (et al.) are small given the potential of station power, etc. They are undoubtedly impressed with the market value of broadcast licenses, that reflect a potentially larger audience than KPFA (et al.) have established. But that market value represents the advertising potential of a signal when all other values are ignored, including the positive externalities of cultivating the public sphere, of providing quality children's programs, and of serving minority and local community interests; and the avoidance of negative externalities like excessive violence and exploitation of sex. Also ignored is the value of the extensive local programming, local participation, and audience involvement at the Pacifica stations. These values represent the very rationale for their creation, so that criticizing them for their restricted audiences and modest market share reflects an abandonment of those values. KPFA and its allied stations serve sizable and exceptionally devoted niche audiences, whose commitment is ignored by measures of audience size, although made evident in the outpouring of support at the recent managerial threats to station integrity and survival. Also ignored is the fact that if these stations were displaced by commercial operators, the new commercial stations would simply draw audiences from other commercial stations, and the KFFA (et al.) audiences would be left stranded without any options.

The market value of the Pacifica stations is thus highly misleading, but it would only mislead those whose commitment to the nonmarket values sustained by those stations did not rank high. The Pacifica management includes leaders who claim a long involvement and devotion to public radio, but the commercial spirit long ago infiltrated public radio under the pressure of the deliberate financial crunch imposed by the enemies of nonprofit media. In the 1980s a leader with a market share ethos was brought in to manage the University of Pennsylvania's FM station, WXPN, and he succeeded in enlarging the station's audience with more mainstream and light programming and a sharp diminution in controversial public affairs material. Interestingly, he terminated Pacifica News, substituting for it "All Things Considered" even though the latter was already available in Philadelphia, whereas Pacifica News was heard only on WXPN. (In his mission statement he indicated that news and public affairs should elicit "a positive response," calling to mind "happy hour" news on commercial broadcasting. All Things Considered met this standard better than Pacifica.)

WXPN's market-oriented leader quickly became a popular consultant to other stations eager to increase market share. An important place has been carved out for such "realists" who are "practical" and are prepared to compromise on matters like admission of advertising and the need to attract larger audiences and tone down controversial programming in order to facilitate fund raising. When combined with a contempt for those over 50 white folks who listen and protest, and for free speech and the democratic rights and traditions of the workforce, this can lead to a desire to "dissolve the People"--and to a seriously dysfunctional management. _

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