March 4, 1997
To: Gail Christian, National Programming Director
From: Mario A. Murrillo, WBAI Radio
RE: Our Americas and the KU

On Monday March 3, after making arrangements with Michael Yoshida of KPFA to record last week's edition of Our Americas: The Weekly Report on Latin America and the Carribean via ISDN, I received a call from Jim Bennet telling me there was no need to send it, given that Gail Christian had pulled the program off the KU schedule, effective immediately. He said he assumed that I had been informed about the change, and that your reasoning was that no stations were carrying the program and there was no need for it to continue on the KU.

I am writing to you to express to you my disappointment, not in the fact that you removed the program off the KU schedule, but in your blatant disregard for the dedication that some of us put into our work, and the general disrespect you continue to show for your colleagues within the Pacifica Radio system, and more specifically, WBAI. That you were unable to personally inform me of the program adjustment with a simple phone call is either an acute example of unprofessionalism that has no place in the National Programming office, or an indirect way of telling me that the program does not fit your standards of public affairs production. Judging from your handling of the "KU project" from the outset, and guessing that you probably have not listened to more than three minutes of any of my programs, I can comfortably say that your failure to inform me of the change is a reflection of the former, not the latter.

Although I am speaking for myself, I am expressing a frustration that was felt by two other highly-respected individuals from WBAI (ie, Pacifica) who were also toyed around with over the last several months as you embarked on this ambitious but not insurmountable effort that is the KU Satellite distribution system. Although not promised anything in particular, Gary Null and Dr. Helen Caldicott, two people who have contributed dearly over the years to the system on a number of levels, were left dangling with very little moral let alone material support, leading both to pull themselves out of the KU lineup before they even had a chance to develop into viable national programs.

With exception to a ludicrous "contract" that was sent to us last year a contract which was as empty in style as it was in substance (how else can one explain signing off all of one's rights away to Pacifica without getting anything in return?) -- there was absolutely no correspondence or contact between yourself and the individual producers. There was absolutely no promotion, no encouragement, no interaction whatsoever. All the key players who could make this system work very effectively for all of the Pacifica family, the program directors, the producers and the national office, were left talking to themselves without any genuine direction from the person occupying this primary leadership position in programming.

It seems to me that if we are attempting to create a radio network, then those at the top should do some networking with those people who are breaking new ground on the bottom. Granted, the KU is still an experiment, and it is understood that we are forced to work under many limitations. Nevertheless, a project of this nature requires serious attention and at least a small degree of commitment for it to work. Instead, as in other national endeavours, a haphazard, unfocussed approach is taken, and we are all left pretending.

Let me point out that for me, this indifferent approach did not come as a surprise, given your track record in national projects the Julianne Malveaux Show for instance. Indeed, when sending you the materials for Our Americas over a year ago, I expected nothing to come out of it, and had already started making plans for the show that stretched beyond the limited bounds of your office's reach. I was confident that the high journalistic, analytical and production standards that we bring to the show on a weekly basis would speak for itself. The collaboration with NACLA, an institution that has sustained a reputation for progressive analysis of the region for over 30 years, was certain to perk the interests of stations beyond the Pacifica five. In fact, with the most minimal levels of outreach we have already been able to put the program on almost 20 stations in the US and Canada, with absolutely no support from Pacifica. What was difficult for me was to explain to people like Helen and Gary why their shows could expect no real backing from your office, despite these lofty claims of national distribution.

I want to reiterate that this is not about Our Americas being pulled off the KU. I respect the autonomy of the stations in determining what programs they will and will not air and understand the complex implications of putting a national program on one's local schedule. We mustn't forget that as Director of Public Affairs Programming at WBAI for eight years, I have been forced to make this choice on a number of occasions. In fact I have spoken with all the program directors of the four other stations about the merits of the show, understanding that there was a good chance that none of them would choose to air it, despite my passive lobbying efforts (actually, I was under the impression that KPFA was considering airing the show, as I was told by Ginny Berson, and that KPFK was planning to begin picking it up in the middle of March). Whether or no this was the case, I can live with the program director's decisions, since they should know what is best for their audiences.

What I cannot accept is people shirking responsibilities, basic responsibilities like communicating changes, and the reasons for those changes. We all have busy schedules, various commitments and indeed other priorities. It's the nature of community radio. But if we are serious about some of these projects, and look to work together in building a truly alternative radio network, then we cannot afford to continue disrespecting the work of others as if it were irrelevant or insignificant. If we continue operating in this manner Pacifica will never overcome the negative stigma of being an insignificant media outlet, and will forever remain simmering in a pool of mediocrity.

Thank you for your attention to my concerns.

Mario A. Murillo
Director, Public Affairs Programming, WBAI Pacifica Radio
Executive Producer, Our Americas
Cc: Pat Scott, Julie Drizin, Valerie Van Isler, Samori Marksman, Lou Hankins, Kathy Lo, Ginny Berson, Eric Truax, Pamela Burton, Mark Torres, Fernando Velasquez, Chuy Varella

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