In 1995, the producer of The Sounds of India at KPFT in Houston heard on her car radio that her show had been replaced with a new program. She had been on the air for 10 years, and her show had a large following. Gary Coover, who had hosted a Celtic folk music program on KPFT for 15 years lost his program and was banned when he expressed his outrage at the treatment his colleague. He is not the only programmer at Pacifica to be banned for speaking out in another's defense.
are so many similar cases of disrespect and injustice that to tell them
all would take pages. The commenters know these stories. John Martinez,
producer of "Radio Chicano" at KPFK sent e-mails asking
for support to prevent his program being cut. He used the computer
in the KPFK newsroom to send the appeals. For this, he was banned from
the newsroom and KPFK manager Mark Schubb attempted to have him fired from
his paying job at the Pacifica archives. - LG
Bensky's Update and Summary
24 December, 1998
Thanks for your inquiry about me and "Living Room" and Pacifica Radio. (And, in many cases, thanks for your strongly expressed support!)
The good news is that because there have been so many letters, telephone calls, and e-mails supporting me and the work I've done for Pacifica over the years, Pacifica Radio has decided to do what we've been talking about doing for some months now: establish a two-hour weekly program, which I will host, "Sunday Salon,"which begins January 3 (9-11 a.m. Pacific time).
"Living Room will do its last broadcast Thursday 12/31.
But there is much bad news, I'm afraid, as well.
First, the program will be carried live for two hours on just three of our five Pacifica stations (Berkeley/Fresno, N.Y., and L.A.)..The other stations - Houston and Washington, D.C.- will carry a tape of the first hour only, later the same day. Therefore listeners in those areas will not get to participate in the live phone-in second hour of the program.
Second, because of the lengthy and unpleasant process which is resulting in the birthing of "Sunday Salon," we will not have the time or resources to work on placing it on other community radio stations, and thereby increasing our audience beyond our Pacifica signal areas. And the reality is that if such efforts are not made when a program begins, it is much more difficult to make them successfully later on.
As for what happened these past few weeks, I'll try to tell the story as briefly as I can.
Many of you know that I was seriously ill with pneumonia earlier this year. When I came back after nearly two months off the air, it was understood that I would see how the daily regime of "Living Room" worked for me after a few months, with the increased production resources that I had asked for and, with some difficulty, obtained.
By late summer, it was apparent to me that the daily strain of working on a program with diverse subject matter and much behind-the-scenes research work was getting overwhelming once again. I began to talk about doing a weekly program instead of a daily one. At around the same time, Bill Sokol, who had anchored a Sunday morning music and talk show for almost 25 years on KPFA announced that he was leaving to spend more time with his family. Thus what seemed to be a natural programming slot opened up here at KPFA, the originating station for me.
Before I could get into serious conversations about this possibility, however, I discovered, accidentally, that funding for "Living Room' had been written out of the next fiscal year budget, which was on the table for an October Pacifica national board meeting. Meaning, in effect, that "Living Room' had been cancelled without consultation with either me or my producer. I was never able to determine who made this decision.
To understand much of what else has gone on, you need to know that we have had extreme personnel instability behind the scenes in Pacifica for the past two years. This year, Pacifica has a new board chair; our executive director and director of national national programming both resigned in June, though they were kept on as consultants through the end of the year; a new executive director just assumed her job this month; and most recently, our executive producer of national programming and our KPFA program director have also resigned. The previous year, 1997, when "Living Room" began, we had almost a year without a KPFA station manager and program director as well. This has made communication difficult, if not impossible, at times with people ostensibly in authority. It has led to constantly shifting lines of authority/responsibility; indeed, it often seemed that there were no lines of responsibility/authority.
In any case, I was disturbed and, frankly, insulted at having had "Living Room" cancelled without notice, even though it was my desire to shift to a weekly program. I wrote a memo to the national board members for their October meeting, pointing out the lack of process involved (and also that "Living Room," like every Pacifica national program I've ever been a part of, had more than made its expenses through on-air fund raising, had built audience, and had a loyal, and growing, following).
In mid-October I received a memo indicating that it was agreed that "Living Room' would be extended to the end of the year, and that work would be done to establish and fund the new Sunday program by January 1. All five stations agreed to air the program. But nothing, apparently, was done to secure the funding necessary, beyond pledges of support from the stations.
This, too, was and is odd. There has never been, to my knowledge, a Pacifica national program required to raise full funding before airing. There was no notification that the policy had changed. Through my nearly thirty years of association in various capacities with Pacifica (including two and a half years as station manager of KPFA in the 1970's, and originator of much of our national programming for the past ten years) it has always been believed that if we air national (or local!) programming that is consistent with our mission, listeners will be appreciative enough to fund it.
On December 1, I was informed via a memo faxed to me after I finished doing a ten-hour day anchoring live impeachment hearings, that I was being given my contractually required 60 days notice of termination. Although there was still a possibility that funding might be found for the new program.
As I had seen a memo just
a few days earlier indicating that 60% of the funding for the new Sunday
program had been pledged, by participating stations,and as I had not been
contacted since mid-October about fund-raising or anything else having
to do with the transition from "Living Room" to "Sunday Salon," I was stunned
once again by this memo.
I sent an urgent e-mail to Pacifica national board members asking for a clarification of my status. When no one wrote back, I began to leave urgent messages for the new executive director. When my calls were not returned, I told the (since resigned) executive producer, who was urging me to anchor all of Pacifica's live and special feature broadcasts of the upcoming impeachment programs, that I felt like I was being totally ignored and disrespected. That as things stood I was about to be let go, but was being told at the same time I was indispensible for anchoring important events like the upcoming impeachment hearings. And that no one in authority was even willing to talk to me about my situation!
As I put it then, I felt like someone was trying to get a few last pails of milk from an old cow consigned to the slaughterhouse. Since my current job was to host "Living Room," which I was willing to continue to do until the end of the year. I didn't see any reason for me to do endless hours of exhausting overtime (which threaten my health) for an organization that valued me so little after the decades of work I'd done, frequently under very difficult circumstances, as to let me go.
After, finally, being able to relay this same message to Pacifica's executive director, I anchored both "Living Room" and the first program of "Impeachment Watch" on Monday, December 8. As I left the studio after the latter program, I was handed a two-sentence memo, saying that I was terminated effective immediately. After grieving this decision through my union (AFTRA) I was offered my old job as "national affairs correspondent," under the conditions that I would be available for all assignments and travel, and could be terminated without compensation should I refuse. As I am no longer willing, for family reasons, or able, for health reasons, to do that kind of work, I did not see this as a serious offer.
So you heard re-runs of old "Living Room" programs(except in Los Angeles, which immediately went to substitute music programming) recently. And that's why I was not a part of Pacifica's impeachment coverage.
There was, as I mentioned at the beginning, a great deal of protest expressed to both Lynn Chadwick, now Pacifica's executive director, and Mary Frances Berry, Pacifica's board chair. I have seen copies of some of the letters people sent, and I am profoundly touched and grateful for your support.
It is my hope that we can now move on, and that "Sunday Salon" will be all that we want it to be, and will even assuage those who miss our daily "Living Room." I want to reiterate that the choice to go weekly instead of daily was mine, and not in any way forced upon me. (The awful process was, however, forced upon me, and has been a very demoralizing and exhausting experience.) I'm looking forward to not being "the story" and getting back to what "the story" should be.
But finally, I want to say that I am, and have been for some time, disturbed by some seemingly chronic problems that we have in Pacifica's national programming, problems that are in some way tipified by the situation I've had to struggle through.
At a time when we need, as never before, a strong and unified approach to our national programming, we have had a near total lack of leadership, coordination, and agreement among our stations. With the demise of "Living Room," we have once again shown that we cannot seem to implement one of the most popular - and useful - formats in broadcasting, live, daily nationwide talk radio. (Earlier efforts include Julianne Malveaux's program, whose strong voice should have been live and interactive with callers, but stations were unable to agree on a common time; Jerry Brown's program was carried on only 4 of 5 stations and no affiliates; similarly "Living Room" was on only 4 of 5 - though a different 4 - with no affiliates.) ("Democracy Now!!"a successful daily public affairs program, was never conceived as a having a talk format.)
With the positions of director of national programming and executive producer of national programming now vacant, this is a great time to begin building a new team, which can use the strengths of local Pacifica stations and affiliates to build the kind of programming we need to face the continuing social and political crises in our country. "Sunday Salon" will be my contribution. I hope that yours will be to continue your attention, support, and participation.
P.S. Please understand that this e-mail, and "hard" mail copies, are going out to hundreds of people who have inquired/supported me since I was "terminated." I cannot possible begin to correspond with all of you individually, but I am deeply, deeply grateful for your involvement, and will read attentively anything you care to write in response...again, thank you! ..
Other Points of View on Bensky's "take"....