Pacifica Radio, America’s largest non-commercial progressive radio broadcaster, is facing a hostile takeover that threatens the existence of the Los Angeles station KPFK 90.7 FM and the entire network. Pacifica’s National Board (PNB) was infiltrated by a politically motivated group and as a result has canceled mandatory elections, extended their own term limits, suspended multiple members of KPFK, and put the Los Angeles building up for sale — all without approval of their listener-members. The only thing that stands in the way of KPFK’s imminent destruction is the Los Angeles local station board, which is fighting a bitter legal battle to save their station — and thereby the largest progressive media outlet in the US.
Pacifica Radio is a unique exercise in democracy and the inventor of listener-sponsored, nonprofit, independent radio in the US. Founded by conscientious objector Lewis Hill in 1946 and supported by countless celebrities — like Halle Berry, Jack Black, Woody Harrelson, Roger Waters, and Joan Baez — this radio network has been a beacon of hope and information for the progressive movement ever since.
Today, Pacifica has five stations — KPFK (Los Angeles), KPFA (Berkeley), WBAI (New York), WPFW (Washington), and KPFT (Houston) — as well as over 220 affiliate stations nationwide. KPFK has the most powerful radio signal west of the Mississippi. Being in a unique position to spread uncensored political news and information, Pacifica has been under attack for years — but the current power grab by its national board might run it off the cliff.
Some say Pacifica is the conscience and moral compass of America: Its amazing history and archive includes the Seymour Hersh revelations of the My Lai massacre, reporting on bombings by the Ku Klux Klan, a programmer going to jail rather than turning over the Patty Hearst tapes to the FBI, and the “Seven Dirty Words” ruling following George Carlin’s incendiary performances on WBAI. Its archive is a treasure trove of American untold history and contains original interviews and recordings that exist nowhere else, from Martin Luther King, to Malcolm X, to Rosa Parks and other icons the mainstream media deemed irrelevant or too political.
For years, the intelligence community has sought to infiltrate Pacifica to bend it to its will. As all other TV and radio networks have been muzzled and moved increasingly toward uncritical middle-of-the-road infotainment, Pacifica has fought to stand its ground. The network functions with over 95% of its staff working for free, and its revenue amounts to about $11 million a year. Hundreds of people nationwide volunteer, all in the name of free speech and independence from censorship and corporate control.
Republicans have always considered Pacifica as “far too left.” To the corporate Democrats who hate criticism from the Left, Pacifica has long been a painful thorn in their side. The Berkeley-based advocacy group “New Day,” with a large influx of Silicon Valley and Hollywood money, have made it their mission to either privatize the network, to turn it into a censored NPR, or to destroy it. In the past few years alone, New Day has been the cause of two failed Bylaw referendums and six lawsuits, costing the network over $400,000 in legal fees.
There have been many attempts over the years to take the two most outspoken stations off the air: in 2019, interim executive director John Vernile locked staff out of WBAI in New York, trying to forcefully take over and change the programming. A court order, signed by a judge in pajamas in the middle of the night, put a stop to it. Currently, the Los Angeles station, KPFK, is the victim of a hostile takeover attempt by the PNB, which has fallen under the stranglehold of New Day.
In their multi-year attempt to wrestle control from the five democratically elected local station boards (LSBs), the PNB has canceled elections, prolonged their own term limits, and put the KPFK building on sale — without consulting with the Los Angeles station or its members. To suppress any opposition, the PNB also suspended five KPFK members without due process and disallowed the station to use its own websites or airwaves to notify its members and listeners of the showdown.
Once the proud flagship of the Pacifica network, KPFK has been financially mismanaged for years. Whether this occurred intentionally to curb its reach and power is hard to prove. Only recently, Michael Novick, a long-term LSB member and chair, has volunteered to act as interim general manager, after the PNB claimed it was unable to pay for the position. Since Novick started, his substantial changes to the programming grid have initiated a positive turnaround. Within two months, listenership has doubled, resulting in more revenue. KPFK is “the little engine that could” return to its progressive roots and it is inspiring the other Pacifica stations to take heart and follow its example.
But just when things are looking up for KPFK, the PNB is working to squash the tender sprouting greens: on February 1, PNB put the 14,000 square foot station property across the street from Universal Studios on the market for the fire-sale price of $4.9 million, without any contingency plan on where the station should move. Is this how badly the PNB wants to render KPFK and the famous Pacifica archives housed there homeless?
The PNB claims that selling the KPFK building, the most valuable in the network, is the only way for the Pacifica Foundation to survive financially. The PNB used the same excuse in 2022, claiming there were no funds to hold the bylaw-mandated elections.
Investigating the PNB’s claim, it appears odd that the $11 million a year not-for-profit corporation asserts it can’t afford the estimated $50,000 to hold national elections that might unseat them.
The Pacifica Foundation received a $2 million Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) in March 2022. But just like the $2.4 million Pacifica Foundation received in PPP money, the EIDL funds just “just went away,” as a PNB member claimed at a public meeting. The PNB has not provided balance sheets nor a comprehensive accounting to their local boards and members in years. Meanwhile, the executive directorm, Stephanie Wells, who should be tasked with cleaning up this managerial mess, has been forced to sign a contract curtailing her most basic powers and is now unable to keep the self-empowered PNB in check.
As per the bylaws, the 2022 election was to be initiated in spring 2022. That didn’t happen. Instead, in fall 2022, when the election results were supposed to be announced, the PNB stated it had canceled elections for lack of funds — without providing a new date nor financials. Seriously.
The fight became dirty long ago: New Day has used Pacifica’s member email lists to solicit donations to sue Pacifica. Pacifica has countersued New Day to end this practice. Who is New Day and who is behind this effort to defang or destroy the largest progressive network in America?
The chair of the PNB, Julie Hewitt, claimed in her running statement from 2019 that she wants to make the network “more financially sound.” But she is strongly influenced by the foundation’s lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, the secret kingpin of the takeover attempt. Even though unelected, he councils and directs the PNB and even local stations. Schwartz has a major conflict of interest: the foundation owes him $150,000 which he hopes to recoup from the KPFK building sale he pushes — and he is a Democratic Party operative in New York. The Pacifica bylaws state that no one in governance can be affiliated with any political party office. While Schwartz was never officially elected to the Pacifica PNB, he acts as their shadow chairperson.
Enter Jan Goodman, the Driving Force of New Day
Born into a progressive high pedigree family, Goodman surrounded herself with wealthy Democrat donors and celebrities for decades. A lawyer by profession, she used her clout and fundraising power to turn the court system against Pacifica in various lawsuits. In 2022, she allegedly threatened to sue Pacifica if the foundation would not break their own bylaws and keep her New Day board members, who had termed out after 6 years, in place. They are the key to her power over the network. The PNB gave in to this threat and extended the term limits, resulting in the current crisis.
The most recent lawsuit, initiated by the KPFK local station board chair Ziri Rideaux and 23 Pacifica members from all five station areas, aims to bring the rampaging PNB back into compliance with the bylaws and the California corporate code. Demands are to:
- Stop the sale of the KPFK building
- Remove the termed-out delegates from all boards immediately and replace them with runners-up to restore legitimacy of all boards
- Initiate the long-overdue elections
- Reverse all actions by the illegitimate PNB to suspend members and block KPFK access
- Reinstate the KPFK board, which has been declared illegitimate by the illegitimate PNB
KPFKnot4sale is an initiative started by KPFK members that have taken a stand against the actions of the PNB and that enjoys broad grassroots support from all five Pacifica stations. During times of increasing media and government censorship, Pacifica Radio has an important role to play in informing and educating the public. The ethical crisis at Pacifica reflects the ethical crisis on the left.
KPFKnot4sale fights for a democratic, transparent governance structure with checks and balances, fair elections, and truly independent free speech radio content as required by our mission statement.