Decline of KPFK

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at
Tue Jun 12 16:30:48 MDT 2001

I have tended to look at Mr Henwood as someone who was not my cup of tea, but an
ally for the most part who simply had allowed his theorising to become a matter
of too much academia and not enough struggle and practice. I have little
patience to read through most of such things, but can readily be pleased these
people exist as slightly flaky versions of our movment. I had thought the bulk
of the "left opposition" (LP and others) from the internet found him to be an
inflated ego, perhaps one who had rubbed them personally the wrong way. In other
words, the majority of the criticisms were overplayed due to personal
contradictions I couldn't decipher. In other words, Henwood had become
unfortunately an Ivory Tower intellectual.

I am however, stunned that he can take the time to drift outward into this issue
with such non-chalance. I am no longer convinced he would know, the day of the
barricades coming down, where he stood. I fear he would simply report on the
events, as a disconnected observer. And that, is the ultimate shame. We have a
fledgling radio station here. It is always a matter of struggle for it to stay
on the air. If someone were to try to make a left-liberal CBC out of it, then I
would be of the highest worry and the implications would be clear.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Les Schaffer" <schaffer at>
To: "marxmail" <marxism at>
Sent: Tuesday, June 12, 2001 10:05 AM
Subject: Re: Decline of KPFK

> [from [Doug Henwood <dhenwood at>], reformatted, and
> substituted a pen-l URL for a previsouly quoted email. Les]
> Marta Russell wrote:
> >More on Pacifica, specifically the decline of KPFK in Los Angeles
> >which has turned into a station barely worth turning the the dial to.
> >I used to listen to the KPFK news regularly -- no more though it is so
> >awful, insulting compared to the previous incarnation.  Mark Schubb
> >and Marc Cooper dominate KPFK now and it has badly deteriorated.  We
> >now have ooga booga shows about spiritual healing, etc., little to no
> >original news reporting (Frank Stoltz left a couple of years ago and
> >the department died), and far too many NPR type hosts who the station
> >claims are more "professional" but are boring to the bone.
> Whatever you think of Marc Cooper (and I like him), dullness and
> quackery aren't among his faults.
> Here's something Cooper wrote the other day.
> Doug
> ----
> X-From_: owner-pen-l at  Sat Jun  9 01:26:41 2001
> Mime-Version: 1.0
> X-Sender: dhenwood at
> Date: Sat, 9 Jun 2001 01:24:42 -0400
> To: PEN-L at
> From: Doug Henwood <dhenwood at>
> Subject: [PEN-L:13028] Fwd: Re: Fwd: Re: Re: Reply to Marc Cooper
> Reply-To: pen-l at
> Sender: owner-pen-l at
> [I forwarded the thread on Pacifica to Marc Cooper, who responds:]
> Reply-To: mcooper at
> From: "marc cooper" <w6iww at>
> To: dhenwood at
> Date: Sat, 09 Jun 2001 00:56:31 -0000
> Doug.. You may post the following if you wish.
> The basic facts in Clare's report are correct. But they are
> overstated, individually and as a whole.
> The Friends groups were indeed composed of people whose commitment ran
> deeper than just subscribing. However, there were few such groups and
> in no way could they be deemed representative of anything. In total,
> they were about 150 people out of a listenership one thousand times
> greater.
> Second, the Local Advsiory Boards then, twenty years ago, were just as
> dysfunctional and irrelevant as they are today.
> Third, the National Board at that time was hardly viewed as an
> "oligarchy." It was seen more as your usual sort of non-profit board:
> detached, flabby, more conservative than its constituency, and
> ineffective. And stupid. As stupid as the current board.
> Fourth, I think it a great distortion to say that Clare 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. We got
> into trouble I would say over two key issues: a hard push by us for
> more cooperation among the stations and toward more sense of a
> network. And because in general we were VERY tough in demanding
> accountability throughout the network, a sort of professionalism that
> clashed with the prevalent "laissez faire" mentality. We argued then,
> as I would argue now, that such a mentality (which today parades as
> "pure community radio") was in fact just a cover for poorly produced
> programming that better served the pyscho-political needs of the
> progammer than that of any real or imagined "community."
> Those criticisms made.. I would say there is something VERY VERY
> valuable in what Clare wrote. If read properly, you can see that the
> supposed left/right fight within Pacifica today is something that is
> in fact decades old. Which means that the "left" argument that the
> current trouble is the product of some conscious, "corporate" move to
> the right by the current board is just plain not true. The problems
> are endemic and transcend simple ideological characterizations.
> Indeed, Tim Frasca and I were both fired in September of 1983, that is
> to say 18 years ago, right after we forced a very acrimonious debate
> at a National Board Meeting.  We raised hell because KPFT in Houston
> and WPFW in Washington were not carrying the newly introduced PNN
> national newscast. KPFT at the time was paying 8k a year to run NPR's
> All Things Considered! And WPFW which had no news department of its
> own, wouldnt run PNN because it was primarily a black jazz
> station. KPFA was just as local-centric then as it is today. It also
> refused to run the entire PNN newscast.. At that time there was no
> ideological objection made.. it's just that KPFA didnt want the
> national product-- so it would chop up PNN and use pieces of it in its
> own local newscast.
> Reflecting on this will perhaps give the reader some insight into why,
> two decades later, I so easily dismiss the screeches of the Free
> Pacifica people who claim some horrible corporate takeover is
> transforming the network. Wrong. KPFT was running NPR 20 years ago. I
> remember no protests from the "comrades" at the KPFA news dept who
> were around then and are STILL there today.  WPFW as a music station?
> You bet it is. It was always only a jazz station. KPFA at war with
> PNN? True today. And true twenty years ago!
> In the end, many of the "principled" fights within Pacifica are not at
> all about ideology or "direction" of the netowrk. They are usually
> only about access to the air.  Scratch beneath the surface of the
> "crises" at either KPFA or WBAI and what you will see is a grubby
> fight to stay on the air-- waged by contending programmers who cloak
> themselves in political purity. Frankly, most ALL Pacifica programs
> are mediocre and dreary-- be they of the "Free Pacifica" or the
> "corporate" Pacifica faction.  In the case of KPFA, for example, the
> news department has been in the forefront of the "struggle." But four
> of their key people have been there roughly twenty years or more.
> Principle, shminciple.. they are fighting to retain tenure. My two
> cents.
> >From: Doug Henwood <dhenwood at>
> >To: Marc Cooper <mcooper at>
> >Subject: Fwd: [PEN-L:12979] Re: Re: Reply to Marc Cooper
> >Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2001 17:00:24 -0400
> >
> >Marc - someone forwarded this to the progressive economists list -
> >any comments? - Doug
> [ snip, URL: ]

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