WORT in Madison. WI is a democratically operated community radio station which airs Pacifica programs. WORT has taken a strong stand in solidarity with democracy and union activists against Pacifica management abuses for the past several years.

For Information Contact: Norman Stockwell (608)256-2695


Following an extensive discussion that included the input of numerous listeners and volunteers, the WORT- FM Board of Directors took steps to address concerns over the recent policies and actions of the management of the Pacifica Radio Network.

Three separate motions were approved.  First, to inform listeners by airing an informational statement prior to the broadcast of Pacifica programs. (WORT currently airs the Pacifica National News from 5:30 - 6:00 pm Monday through Friday, and Pacifica's award-winning "Democracy Now!" on Thursdays from 1:00 - 2:00 pm.)  The first informational statement reads as follows:

     "PACIFICA RADIO is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. However, over the last few months, PACIFICA radio has made numerous changes in its governance structure and staffing. In February, the national board voted to change its structure to decrease local participation and to self-select its members, making it unaccountable to listener-sponsors, staff or volunteers; in March the Board refused to renew the contract of popular KPFA station manager Nicole Sawaya; in April they fired award-winning, longtime host Larry Bensky for speaking about these issues on-air.
     "Numerous progressive voices, including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Alexander Cockburn are now calling for PACIFICA management to enter into a facilitated mediation process with its staff and critics.
     "WORT will continue to keep you informed of developments. To express your opinion to PACIFICA management call (510)-848-6767."

The text of the second informational statement run by WORT before or after Pacifica broadcasts:

In what appears to be another component of a recent trend, in May Pacifica hired a 24 hour security guard for KPFA in Berkeley, at the cost of $360 per day, a rate much higher than the station's staff earn. On May 20, the National Labor Relations Board filed an unfair labor practices complaint against WBAI's management and the Pacifica Foundation.  The practices under fire were drafted by the American Consulting firm, a union-busting consultant employed by Pacifica two years ago. Pacifica's Board Chair, Dr. Mary Frances Berry, has not responded to staff requests for talks.

WORT has signed on to a letter drafted by community stations voicing strong concerns over the way Pacifica's Board and management have been operating. WORT also drafted its own letter, discussing our experiences and suggesting that democracy, diversity and openness to alternative ways of doing things, and to the many communities that make up community radio, have resulted in a stronger, better, more successful station.

We will continue keeping you informed of developments at Pacifica.


Secondly, the Board voted to sign on to a letter of concern, drafted by the Grassroots Radio Coalition, a four- year-old group of more than 50 community stations from around the United States.  And finally, the Board decided to compose a letter of its own (see attached), highlighting the success of the governance model chosen by WORT, which
includes the active participation of volunteers and non-professionals in democratic decision-making with regard to programming and policy.

Pacifica Radio was begun in 1949 by Lewis Hill and today the network is made up of five member stations in
Berkeley and Los Angeles, California; Houston, Texas; Washington, DC; and New York City.  In addition to providing programming via satellite to over 40 member stations, Pacifica also maintains a collection of historically significant audio tape, available to the public through the  Pacifica Radio Archives in Los Angeles.

WORT was incorporated as "Back Porch Radio Broadcasting" in September of  1973, and first went on the air December 1, 1975.  Since its humble beginnings on Winnebago Street on Madison's eastside, the station has
grown into an established community landmark reaching over 30,000 listeners throughout a 50-mile radius of southcentral Wisconsin.  The station is democratically operated by over 200 volunteers, together with an active nine-member board of directors and a small paid staff.  Many programmers have been with the station for over a decade, and some for over two!

May 20, 1999

Ms. Lynn Chadwick, CEO
Pacifica Radio
1929 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way
Berkeley, CA 94704

Dear Ms. Lynn Chadwick:

    As WORT-FM solidifies its plans to celebrate 25 years on the air in the year 2000, we are dismayed to find that the kind of community radio we have fought successfully to nurture has been dismissed in other quarters as unrealistic and without merit.

    From our experience, quite the opposite is clear. In 1999 the station has experienced 5 years of steady growth in the number of listeners; it can boast 5 years of improved financial stability, and it can show concrete evidence of community involvement in the increased on-air diversity and greater number of women, people of color, LGBT, and others participating in producing shows. Moreover, our audience has supported -- with money, with participation, and with vocal positive and negative criticisms -- a programming schedule that is more varied and diverse than ever before. It must be emphasized that many of our programmers are acknowledged local experts in their on-air areas. We are proud to have some of the best programming in  jazz, blues, bluegrass, country, and international music in the U.S. Some of our locally produced news programming is distributed nationally and internationally.

     These sound improvements (pun intended), which are conducted in a building that has a brand-new studio, an enlarged music library, and renovations throughout the entire physical plant, came hard on the heels of a number of years in which "radio professionals" tried to take over the station, diminish the number of community members involved in it, and homogenize the programming to make it more like commercial and public radio. This centralized, authoritarian and "professional" management caused much community strife and a serious decline in listeners'
financial support for the station. It also caused a rebellion among programmers and listeners, much like the one occurring in various Pacifica stations currently.

     We should note that the financial bottom line is not one of the points of our Mission Statement. Our goal is to remain financially stable while airing music and talk that is not heard elsewhere on the local dial, while serving those unserved by other stations, and while constantly seeking community opinion and participation. Yet, since the station returned to its community, non-professional focus, listeners' support has soared; WORT's balance sheet has never looked better.

     Like other community stations, for many years WORT's volunteer rules included a prohibition against speaking about station business on the air. In recent years the rule has  been changed, though volunteers are encouraged to refrain from airing their personal grievances on the air. Because of the overall positive morale that currently characterizes internal relations, very few complaints are actually aired. Volunteers' on-air statements are disciplined if they break FCC rules, but not if they state their opinions about station business or decisions. We have found this to have absolutely no negative effect in the relationship between the station and the community. The community perceived us in a far more negative light when complaints about the station were being misstated and misreported by other media, and even in the rare instances when they were being reported correctly.

     In general our internal relations have succeeded far beyond our hopes -- with new rules and station bylaws
protecting democratic procedures rather than autocratic authority, a larger number of people than ever are participating in all levels of decision-making including planning for future programming. Are all decisions ideal by
anyone's lights? Not at all. But it seems unlikely that one person with a lot of power, or even a few people with all decision-making in their hands, would make better decisions than those that take into consideration input from the whole community. WORT is a living example of the way in which a collective decision-making process can create a
whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

     Clearly one of the key issues is the definition of community. We had a station manager who insisted that WORT's community was area businesses. Although we do, in fact, receive support from local businesses for which we are very grateful, they are no more the whole of our community than are students by themselves or old hippies by themselves or people of color by themselves. Our definition of community has included all those groups and more. That said, none of us would argue that there is only one model for community radio and that every station should do it our way. We do wish to be acknowledged as a model of internal democracy, nonprofessional but excellent and diverse programming, financial stability, and proud members of a community that finds us precious.

     We hope that the Pacifica Foundation will reconsider its policies of the past few years and its drive toward
homogenized, professionalized non-community-driven format. We are offering our own experience as a possible model and as a so-far successful experiment which shows that, at least in this case, openness, democracy and community mindedness have worked well for the station and its listeners.


Judy Seymour, President
for the WORT Board of Directors

cc: Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Chair
      Pacifica Board of Directors

==========================END LETTER=============================

Related news: In its recent pledge drive, WORT made almost twice the amount it set out to get. Listeneres voted with their pocket books when they pledged $28,000. The station's goal had been $15,000.

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