Unlike the infamous "Black Tuesday" at KPFA in August of 1995, program and program personnel changes at KPFK under the Scott administration haven't been as closely scrutinized. There have been several major reorganizations since January 1995, which have made the details and implications of the changes harder to follow. Yet, statistics compiled from the July 1994 schedule and compared to KPFK's July 1997 format show that the changes have been profound.
One of the major public concerns has been the "mainstreaming" of programming as a result of the Scott regimes' plan of creating a "professional broadcast organization" (see the Pacifica 5-Year strategic Plan) with a centralized source of decision - making squarely in the hands of the Pacifica National Management. (also see the Strategy for National Programming.)
To "prove" a trend toward "mainstreaming" conclusively would require a detailed analysis of the contents of specific programs -- after first having agreed on the criteria for "mainstream" versus "alternative." I have not attempted this task here. However, the personnel statistics compiled through comparison of the schedule definitely show an increasing "professionalization," which, if following the paradigms of censorship and self-censorship which have been widely studied in relation to mainstream media, would result in a corresponding reduction in the freedom to program controversial and experimental material.
The Changes Reflected in the Statistics
Subsequent to July 1994, KPFK began receiving "mandates" regarding programming from then Acting Executive Director Pat Scott. These included insistence on a "morning show" to start in the Fall of 1994 and a deadline to install "strip" programming by January of 1995.
Scott removed KPFK's management personnel in one fell swoop on Jan 4, 1995 as she did not believe they were sufficiently enthusiastic about her changes to programming or administration.
In 1994, only 4 out of KPFK's 99 programs were produced by paid local staff or Pacifica National Programs. In the past three years, the total number of different program titles aired over the course of a month has fallen 25% overall to 74. Eight out of those 74 programs are now produced by paid local programmers or Pacifica National Programs. This amounts to a 250% increase in the number of paid programmers. More than 60 community producers have been removed.
Analyzing the changes in the numbers of air hours per month filled by paid KPFK producers and Pacifica National Programs shows an even greater change. In 1994, 141 out of a total of 672 possible air/hours per month were filled by paid local and National Programming Staff -- 21 percent. As of July 1997, 276 out of 672 possible air/hours per month have been "professionalized." This is a near 100% increase.
This is most marked in examining the change of air/hours per month devoted to regularly scheduled Pacifica National Programs, from 10 hours/month in 1994 to 122 hours/month three years later -- an increase of 1200%.
These numbers can not address quality or content. However, a narrowing of diversity of information and points of view might be expected to occur as a result of the numerical reduction of opportunities for variety. The numbers of community producers overall at KPFK have declined from over 180 in 1994 to approximately 120 currently. This represents a one third reduction overall, but is more marked in the area of public affairs, the domain of what Pacifica official Dick Bunce has termed "the unlistenable cacophony of haranguing ideologues."
Five Pacifica National Programs: Democracy Now, We The People, Living Room, RadioNation and Pacifica Network News now comprise 118 hours, nearly 30% of the 396 total news/public affairs programming hours monthly. An additional 142 hours, 36%, is done by paid KPFK staff producers. Of the remaining one third, 136 hours, an additional 20 hours are filled by syndicated, pre-taped satellite broadcasts. It seems clear that the Pacifica Management now has the ability to directly control, through the pressure of the paycheck or the ability to pre-screen, two thirds of the public affairs content directly. Who controls the Pacifica Management? (see the "Who Decides" section)
In 1994, two/thirds of the community producers were engaged in covering news and public affairs material. Now, only half of the community producers are engaged in news and public affairs. Of the programs that were replaced, two/thirds of those were news/public affairs or eclectic programs with substantial public affairs content. (Most of the 1994 era programs that were retained were music programs. This supports the allegations of a political clean-up, though management claims "quality" not ideology has been the deciding factor.) These have been replaced with programs by paid local staff, syndicated satellite programming and Pacifica National programming. This reflects a 50% reduction in the number of community members producing news and public affairs -- from approximately 120 to approximately 60.
Some types of programs previously heard on KPFK, and NOWHERE else, were programs with overtly leftist or dissident perspectives (Voices from the Left, Communist Party USA Commentary, Atheist Perspectives, and Green Perspectives -- some obvious examples. The National Lawyers Guild remains, with a less provocative title "The National Lawyers Guild.") Also gone, a program serving as the voice of the Hemp Legalization Movement, and programs dealing with Black Nationalist views, militant Afrocentricity, and Native American Rights. Public affairs programming geared toward the Spanish-speaking has been reduced.
Another significant change reflecting the position of the station as a focus for community organizing has been the elimination of the KPFK Calendar of Community Events, which used to air twice daily in morning and evening "drive times." (the times of greatest listenership in radio). The evening Calendar which aired directly before the news has been entirely eliminated. The morning Calendar has been shortened from five minutes to three and absorbed into the Up For Air "morning show", resulting in a decreased opportunity for listeners to get connected to activist and cultural alternatives in Los Angeles.
Another noticeable feature of the new schedule is the absence of "open time" available for special broadcasts and long form public affairs speeches which have been some of the most popular and uniquely Pacifican programs. These speeches' in-depth political analyses were one of KPFK's most truly educational -- and radical aspects. In July 1994, 40 hours monthly were left unassigned to enable the scheduling of public affairs speeches. These programs are now almost unheard outside of the overnight programs -- except during fund drives. As money continues to be raised based on the availability of these tapes as rewards for subscribing it would be hard to make a case that they were not "relevant" to the listeners.
At KPFK, notions of "professionalism" appear to include aping commercial radio's format conventions -- programs are now interrupted eve 15-20 minutes with arbitrary "music bytes" that have no relevance to the rest of the program's content or with promo announcements for other KPFK programs or events. These promos used to be aired only at the transition between programs. Their current intrusion into program material has the effect of taking the momentum out of a serious discussion. I find it makes listening irritating and frustrating. One displeased listener characterized these interruptions as sounding like the listeners were being "conditioned to accept commercials" in advance of their eventual arrival.
This fixation with "the clock" was one of the conventions of radio that Lewis Hill founded Pacifica to avoid, as they had the effect of trivializing content in order to serve the real broadcasting purpose, the airing of the commercials. Though there are not, thankfully, actual commercial announcements, this format has served to make the friendly station promos sound like hostile interlopers.
Another area in which commercial radio form is being emulated is the imposition of "peppy" music beds below announcements. This results in imparting a "canned" feeling to even live announcements by board operators --who had previously sounded like real people talking to you.
One of the main justifications given by the current regime for the centralization and "professionalization" of programming has been "quality." Pacifica's current management has not at any time, in their Strategic Plan or elsewhere publicly articulated in what way they considered specific cancelled programs to be deficient in quality or expressed what they consider the elements of quality to be. Anyway, there is, in REALITY, little relationship between "professionalism" and "quality" though these words are often used synonymously (to everyone's confusion.)
The term "quality" as we use it in the context of Pacifica programs refers to a variety of characteristics of *content*, such as intellectual substance, veracity, creativity, coherence, usefulness and so on.
Professionalism, on the other hand, is primarily an issue of * form*, (as well as payment for services.) Or, professionalism is concerned with craftsmanship of *how* something is expressed rather than *what* is actually expressed.
In the area of radio, craftsmanship can be described as a set of skills. A "professional" will speak properly into the microphone, follow time clocks precisely, use their voice so it is pleasant and intelligible, use technology optimally, creating an impression of "seamlessness." None of these skills in and of themselves guarantee the production of programs of intellectual, social or cultural value, as Hill understood (and wrote about).
Obviously, even programs with content of great interest suffer when the person presenting the information is not speaking into the microphone, for example. The ability to master these skills to an acceptable level, however, is not contingent on payment. As many of us have said elsewhere, the essential operational difference between "professionals" versus "volunteers" is the leverage to dictate content created by the paid broadcaster's financial dependence.
That the Scott regime intends to control content is quite clear. Not only is control of local stations' programming content by Pacifica bureaucrats unprecedented, it is all the more ominous considering that no written, publicly available statement describing what is "desirable" has been placed on the table for public debate. This, despite claims that the purpose of these changes is to "better serve our audiences." (The Pacifica Strategic Plan refers only to "signature" and "mission-driven" programming -- unspecific terms with a corporate-speak flavor.)
The Scott administration admitted its expectations that many listeners would be unhappy with the (at that time) intended changes. A memo issued on July 12, 1995 stated:
"At the October, 1994 National Board meeting, the Board mandated that the station managers re-configure programming to better serve core listeners in each signal area, to develop more relevant and professional programming and to, thereby, increase the audience. We were mindful that this would unfortunately inconvenience, if not distress, some staff, board and audience members. It will mean that there will be many alterations to current and long-standing practices at the stations. This may include the elimination of aspects of the traditional program format, the repositioning of others, and the development of new and innovative programs."
The term "core listeners" is an Arbitron/Audigraphics term which refers to those who listen to KPFK as their primary station. The memo poses certain contradictions; presumably the core listeners already find the station "relevant." Who then were they expecting to displease by the "development of new and innovative programming?"
KPFK's station manager Mark Schubb has on more than one occasion told disgruntled listeners who confronted him that their numbers were insignificant in relation to the number of potential new listeners who could be gained by changes in programming. Nevertheless, there *is* a standard which is being applied, if not publicly disclosed.
The nature of it can be inferred from Helen Caldicott's claim that she was told by the Pacifica Administration that if she wanted her program to be carried nationally (she airs a local program on WBAI in New York) she will have to "not criticize America so much." Or, the instruction given to Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, to include more pro-Clinton guests on the program.
"Professionals" must not only comply with their bosses' wishes to keep their jobs; they must also consider whether their current actions may alienate potential future employers. This is a cause for concern among those of us who have relied upon Pacifica to be a free voice for otherwise suppressed ideas. As has been much discussed in the context of the mainstream press, professional journalists who wish to advance learn to engage in self-censorship. Those who arouse the enmity of the powerful find themselves covering dog shows in the country, as has happened recently to San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb who wrote on CIA involvement in the drug trade. Public broadcasting also has an establishment, which is growing increasingly corporate-oriented. (see "The FCC and Community Radio" Z Magazine, July 1997)
Paying producers does not automatically lead to more mainstream and less interesting programming. One of KPFK's most interesting, controversial and popular programs has been produced by a paid staff member for 20 years. Having the ability to pay more of the programming staff could be a positive step which would allow broadcasters to focus on their work without the necessity of also maintaining outside employment. It is the people giving the orders, who have already proven themselves secretive, mendacious, authoritarian and hypocritical -- rendered all - powerful through an undemocratic and closed system of governance-- that are the real concern. In this respect, Pacifica has now become no different from corporate media -- a centrally controlled and publicly unaccountable corporate entity basing its decisions on Arbitron ratings and cash flow.
About the Data
The data was derived by analyzing the July 1994 folio in comparison to the current schedule posted on KPFK's website, coupled with my personal knowledge about the nature and composition of the programs and programmers.
I broke programs down by type: news/public affairs; arts and culture; and eclectic, programs which combined significant elements of both.
I also determined whether programs were produced/hosted by community programmers (aka unpaid staff), paid local KPFK staff, Pacifica National Programs or syndicated non-Pacifica programs distributed via satellite.
I also counted the number of people involved with each program. Some of the programs were produced by groups such as collectives, coalitions and organizations. I arbitrarily equate a group with 5 persons. I preferred to err on the side of caution rather than inflate the numbers. Regarding the current schedule -- as I am now an "outsider," I no longer have the ability to know who does what on which program -- thus, I may have erred in the numbers of producers assigned to any given show. If you spot any inaccuracies, please notify me.
NP - News/Public Affairs
AC - Arts and Culture
E - Eclectic, combining elements of both
CP - Community (unpaid staff) Producer
PP - Paid KPFK Producer
PN - Pacifica National Program
SS - Syndicated satellite program
Hours/Month -- number of air hours in a month. For our purposes I am defining a month as 4 weeks
Broadcasts/Rebroadcasts -- the ratio of total broadcasts of the program in relation to the number of repeats. The quantity of rebroadcast programs has increased from 1994 to 1997.