If you’re an old FM radiohead from southern California, and especially if you slum it around the low end of the dial, down below even where the NPR stations lurk, you will be familiar with KPFK, the flagship station of the very left-wing Pacifica Radio. I tune in from time to time just to get a good chortle over their latest Chomskyite Zinnsanity. Well, KPFK and other Pacifica stations are apparently in a death spiral because no one listens to them.
When I say “no one listens” this is almost literally true. The Guardian’s recent story about Pacifica’s troubles included this tidbit:
The LA Weekly reported last year that during an average 15-minute period just 700 people listen to KPFK for at least five minutes versus 8,000 and 20,000 respectively for LA’s other other public radio stations, KCRW and KPCC.
There are more people reading Power Line at any given moment than listen to KPFK. But the really fun part is contained in the Los Angeles Times op-ed from a disgruntled KPFK personality about how the Pacifica station is circling the drain precisely because it embraced Bernie Sander-style “worker management,” which the Times calls “death by democracy.” There have been heavy layoffs of staff, and lately a 50 percent pay cut across the board. Pacifica is reportedly $2.1 million in arrears to their biggest star Amy Goodman. The Times op-ed tells the story without a trace of irony:
How did we get here? Fourteen years ago, a group of listeners mounted a successful legal challenge to the earlier, more traditional style of nonprofit governance that oversaw Pacifica Foundation, the five-station radio network of which KPFK is a part.
Led by a sincere belief that Pacifica was in danger of joining the homogenized ranks of NPR affiliates, they restructured the network with an emphasis on democratic decision-making. A system of regular elections would enable listeners and staff members to choose their own representatives to the local station boards, ensuring radical, commercial-free radio that promoted social justice — at least in theory.
Unfortunately, Pacifica’s version of democracy is primarily for those who consume the content, not those who produce it. Listeners are accorded 75% of board seats. The staff members are not guaranteed board representation and are lumped into the same category as volunteers who donate at least 10 hours of their time per month, together making up the remaining 25% of the board.
In other words, KPFK is failing precisely because it manages itself according to the nostrums of the syndicalist left. Democracy Now! indeed. Who doubts that no one will learn the obvious lesson?