Decline of KPFK

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jun 12 11:18:30 MDT 2001

Doug Henwood quoting Marc Cooper:

>Fourth, I think it a great distortion to say that Clare [Sparks] or I were
>fired because we were resisting "impending" corporate funding of the
>news. It is true that in 1981 the then executive director Sharon Maeda
>came up with a proposal to seek 100K in funding from Exxon to pay for
>"promotion" of Pacifica News. We opposed this measure, as just about
>everyone else at the time did, and it suffered a quick and painless
>death.  There was NO other such suggestions "impending."
>Clare, Tim Frasca (founder of PNN) and I ran into trouble with
>Pacifica not because we were in some anti-corporate faction.

Back in the early 1980s Clare Sparks was the program director of KPFK, the
Los Angeles Pacifica station that Marc Cooper and David Shubb have turned
into NPR-lite. You might gather the impression from Cooper's missive that
Sparks is on the same wave-length as him and would blithely dismisse
charges that Pacifica is becoming corporatized. Nothing can be further from
the truth. Here is something that Sparks wrote that is on Z Magazine's

Clare Sparks:
What follows is my e-mail letter to Dr. Berry after I saw the job posting
for a National Program Director in early January.

"Dear Dr. Berry, I don't know if you remember the letters I wrote to you
when you assumed the Chair of the Governing Board of the Pacifica
Foundation, an organization with which I had been so long associated as
volunteer programmer, department head, then Program Director of KPFK
(Feb.1981-August 1982). I was concerned then about the increasingly
commercial direction of the organization (a problem intertwined with the
question of governance). At that time I appealed to you as a fellow scholar
and public intellectual and you were reassuring about your determination to
bring more honesty and openness to Pacifica. I am writing to you today
because I am disturbed about the job posting pertaining to the open
position of National Program Director. According to the Pacifica website,
the applicants are to have extensive experience in management as such,
including the ability to conduct and read audience surveys. There is no
highlighting or emphasis given to actual experience in evaluating the
intellectual content and artistic quality and originality (in an
educational sense) of the programming broadcast by Pacifica. Nor is there
any emphasis given to vision of the kind necessary to fulfill the
tremendous demands of the Pacifica Mission Statement, let alone the mature
emotional qualities necessary to oversee and maintain a cooperative working
environment inhabited by a highly contentious group of programmers and
listener-sponsors with varied political agendas and social experience.

"For years now, those of us who have built the organization have been
watching, helplessly and with diminishing morale, the transformation of an
invaluable cultural resource (unlike any other) into just another
institution controlled by the same values and goals as profit-driven
establishment media. How can Pacifica justify its educational non-profit
status if marketing strategies trump independent radio
production--controversial, bold, challenging, and unfundable by other means
than diffuse listener support? What shall Pacifica say to the autodidacts
who look to it as the only educational institution that cares about their
needs, and, at its best, can provide a range of debate, cultural
production, and cutting-edge research in humanistic and scientific thought
superior or equal to that of the very best universities?

"The present job description for National Program Director bodes ill for
Pacifica. I am not opposed to management skills as a necessary prerequisite
for leadership in a non-profit organization as my letter must already have
indicated, but management in programming should not be about luring or
seducing a target audience with the methods perfected by commercial media;
rather management skills should arise from familiarity with the particular
work processes that make a Pacifica radio program potentially vibrant and
meaningful to everyone in a democratic society. Managers must first of all
have been successful producers themselves; they must also understand the
technical and social environment that facilitates good work and motivates
loyalty and commitment. It is a question of objectives and outlook. If
Pacifica at its best has been a unique organization (as I believe to be the
case), then leadership should be chosen from those with Pacifica experience
encompassing those critical, artistic, and emotional skills I have outlined

"Please tell me where you stand on this question."

Dr. Berry's response to my letter reiterated her statement of goals as
quoted above, adding the need for "increasing progressive news oriented
programming." While aligning herself with my values and concerns, she saw
no contradiction between audience building under the supervision of
professional managers and the stringent demands of education for democratic
participation--an education which, in my view, intellectual conflict is
inevitable and desirable; with competent leadership and listener
participation, likely to be productive. More than ever, I am alarmed for
the future of the Pacifica Foundation.


PS: Dullness and quackery might not characterize Marc Cooper, but it
certainly does characterize Ariana Huffington, whose Nation co-editors Marc
Cooper, Micah Sifry and David Corn make odd bedfellows with.

Louis Proyect
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