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D.C. DAILY REPORTS and Documents | iPNB D.C. meeting info
Evidence of needed listener education about Pacifica

Presented at the iPNB meeting in Washington D.C, December 6 - 8, 2002

[posted on the message board at: goodlight.net/wbai ]

Misinformation out of DC. Very important
Mon Dec 9 10:00:44 2002

In his column in the Dec. 5, 2002 edition of The Washington Informer, Askia Muhammad discusses the new crisis at Pacifica, the most popular network in America among Black listeners. The article can be viewed online:

Black Washington: Pacifica Radio's enemy?

By Askia Muhammad

(December 5, 2002)

"What is going on at WPFW-FM?" a loyal listener to the Pacifica Foundation's non-commercial radio station in Washington, D.C. asked me a few days ago when morning Jazz music and all normal programming was preempted for yet another all-day national fund-raising drive.

"Are they trying to appeal to another audience?" the listener continued.

"That stuff they are playing today is antiquated," another listener told me later that day, commenting about the programming from the Foundation's 47,000-tape archive, which includes the voices of Margaret Mead, Lenny Bruce, Bertolt Brecht, and Malcolm X, among others.

"I actually turned to the Smooth Jazz station and listened to Kenny G," yet another listener volunteered in a separate conversation.

"Clearly, the impression I get is that they are trying to replace the African American character of WPFW that had developed into the only remaining radio station that reflected the true character of Washington, D.C., from Ivy City and Trinidad, to the Gold Coast," another regular listener complained.

Sadly, those unsolicited comments, which came from supporters who normally contribute to the station two or three times each year and which were told to this 25-year-veteran WPFW volunteer, may be more telling about the latest round in the battle for the soul and control of the Pacifica Foundation than any contrary explanation the station's local or national officials might provide in rebuttal.

What's more, according to official records, and complaints from insiders, the worst suspicions of those listener-supporters, which they discerned on their own by simply tuning in to the airwaves of 89.3 FM, may be true...and then some.

"The essence of the sentiments expressed by Carol Spooner (an interim Pacifica National Board member) at a recent meeting in D.C. was that not only KPFT (Houston) and WPFW as stations and staff were not (in step with) 'the (Pacifica) mission,' but that also their listeners weren't either," interim National Board member and Treasurer Jabari Zakiya wrote in an e-mail message dated Oct. 17. Ms. Spooner and her supporters "feel THEY are the Guardians of the Mission, because KPFT (and) WPFW can't be trusted to do so."

Could the group which took control of the Pacifica Foundation nearly one year ago in the settlement of a lawsuit brought by Ms. Spooner in Berkeley California, be trying to disenfranchise the mostly Black listeners and staff who have since 1977 supported WPFW and nursed it from its infancy into one of the largest Black-managed non-commercial stations in the entire country? Among the 25 largest public radio audiences in the nation? Unprecedented because it's in a city with three other even larger (mostly white-supported) non-commercial stations?

The answer to that rhetorical question appears to be an emphatic yes!

Last March for example, Leslie Cagan, the interim Chairman of the Pacifica National Board referred to Washington's less progressive (read Black majority) political culture as "very, very dangerous," and said the city is a "cesspool," according minutes of that board meeting in a published report. "This is not just a parochial issue about WPFW or even just about African people in Pacifica," Mr. Zakiya continued in his message to the B-PAC Yahoo e-mail group. "It is the notion that a small group of people--primarily white Berkeleyites in this case--have a divisive ideology which is being seriously played out in the Bylaws, the Foundation restructuring vote, and the 'Democracy Now!' productions contract."

Both Mesdames Cagan and Spooner are white activists from Berkeley where Pacifica's flagship station, KPFA was founded in 1949. They were both instrumental in a recent vote by the interim board to move the foundation's headquarters from Washington, back to Berkeley. Ironically, Mr. Zakiya is the African American who marched into station offices last year when the new interim board first took charge, supporting...actually proclaiming the "Berkeleyite" mantra: "we're going to get rid of all the Jazz programming around here, and replace it with hard-hitting, progressive public affairs and talk programs," Mr. Zakiyasaid on several occasions to staff and volunteers, and at Local Advisory Board (LAB) meetings.

But these insults are nothing new. As long as I have been associated with the station--dating back to six months after it went on the air on Feb. 28, 1977--white left-wing activists throughout the network have complained that WPFW was "too cultural" and not "progressive;" that the station aired too much music, and not enough news and political talk.

This trashing of WPFW has gone on despite the initial solemn promise of local control and self-determination made to the community activists who supported Pacifica's quest to win the license for 89.3 FM from the Federal Communications Commission going all the way back to 1967. In WPFW's Mission Statement, Pacifica promised that Jazz and Caribbean and African-based music would be the core of the station's on-air sound, reflecting the roots of Washington's Black-majority indigenous population.

I can say without any fear of contradiction that for the entire life of WPFW, these same white "Berkeleyite" forces have systematically sabotaged practically every single Black progressive voice that rose up at WPFW (and at other Pacifica stations) because these whites think they know better than Black folks what's best for Black listeners in public broadcasting, an under-served area of the radio spectrum.

These white leftists--since the days of Richard Wright and his troubles with the Communist Party USA--reject some Black voices that are perfectly acceptable to Black intellectuals, Black professional broadcasters, Black Pacifica managers, and to Black audiences, as being too radical, too militant.

That's the funny thing about freedom of speech and self determination. It seems to affect all people, even Black people--even Black people who reside in this "dangerous" cultural "cesspool" that is Washington--in the same way...that is: they want to exercise it in their own peculiar manner. They don't want some white "Berkeleyites" in Pacifica looking over their shoulders and telling them how to govern/free themselves, any more than they want some all-white U.S. Senate and a (90 percent white) Congress--where D.C. doesn't even have a vote--looking over their shoulders, telling them what to do and how to do it, reserving ultimate veto power, just in case they insist on trying to manage their own affairs their way!

The Pacifica interim National Board meets in Washington, Dec. 6 through Dec. 8 at all Souls Church Unitarian.

Welcome to Washington Pacifica interim board members, where the correct nickname is "Chocolate City," not the "cesspool!"---


some responses:

Leigh Hauter -wPFW listener - repost
Open Letter to Askia Muhammad
Mon Dec 9 09:13:14 2002

Mon, 9 Dec 2002

Hello Askia,

I recently read a copy of your article, "Black Washington: Pacifica Radio's enemy?", and I was absolutely amazed that you, or anyone else, could believe that the conditions at WPFW and Pacifica were as you presented them. The truth is, Askia, I've always thought that you were a more perceptive and honest person than your article would have anyone believe.

First off, let's put our cards on the table. Whether WPFW airs more, or less, jazz programming is not a race issue. To try to pretend that it is, is disingenuous at best. As you well know, the listening audience for WPFW's music shows, including your own morning drive time show, are in fact very multi-racial. Another fact, if you look at the addresses of the financial supporters of the various jazz shows, including your own, you will see a high (actually, the largest percentage) coming from predominately non-African American communities. Jazz is a music form that is appreciated around the world by people of many, many races and nationalities. And this is more than true in the greater Washington DC community and WPFW's large, multi-racial listening audience. An audience that reaches, besides DC proper, into West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, most of Maryland and 70 miles south and west into Virginia.

And since you profess to be very concerned about the make-up of WPFW's supporters, just look at which programs the supporters call in their support to. The vast majority of WPFW's funding does not come from the jazz listening audience. The truth is, WPFW's jazz programming is mostly subsidized by the political and public affairs programming. The two top fundraisers are overtly political shows. Democracy Now! is by far WPFW's leading fundraiser, followed by Ambrose Lane's "We Our Selves". In fact, out of the top 10 fundraisers, only 3 are jazz programs.

But let's go on and discuss the real disturbing parts of your article, the misguided, misinformed, and spiteful, attack on Carol Spooner, Leslie Cagan (Askia, as a reporter you have a duty to at least get the obvious facts straight -Leslie is from New York, not California. I believe she was, among other things, the campaign manager for former NYC Mayor Dinkin) and your attempt to simplify what is going on with Pacifica into a them and us issue.

The last time we talked, at this fall's anti-war demonstration, I made it very clear to you that Arturo Griffiths, a leader in DC's Hispanic community, and I were also co- plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by Carol Spooner. Unlike you, I was born and raised in Washington DC. I have taught in the schools and organized in the communities. Askia, the lawsuit is not some sort of California conspiracy.

And as far as your race-baiting, Askia, you can't have it both ways. At one time it is a white conspiracy and the next moment you are quoting Jabari (out of context, I might add) as being "the African American... proclaiming the "Berkeleyite" mantra: 'we're going to get rid of all the Jazz programming around here, and replace it with hard-hitting, progressive public affairs and talk programs'".

Personally, I find it extremely offensive for you to simplify the struggle for Pacifica's soul (and yes, WPFW's) as a race issue. Why not a class issue?, A war and peace issue? (after all this is the Pacifica, as in Pacifist, network we are talking about here). How about a health care, housing, food, jobs, education issue? (just to name a few classifications). Just because someone self-identifies as black (let's think Colin Powell or Clarence Thomas here), does that put them on the side of the angels? I think not. And just because someone self-identifies as 'white' (think Tony Mazzocchi or Ralph Nader), does that make them in league with the devil? Not likely. The truth is, Askia, your article reflects a rather small minded willingness to say just about anything to defend your own self-interest (ie your own radio show). As I have listened to you for over 20 years, on occasion even given money during your airtime, and in the past thought that, while I sometimes disagree with him, he is an intellectually honest person. This article is a complete disappointment and a mark against your personal integrity.

Leigh Hauter


Re: Black Washington: Pacifica Radio's Enemy
Mon Dec 9 14:52:08 2002

Repost from New Pacifica by Loraine

This is totally ridiculous. What this article is really trying to say is that serious public affairs programming isn't suited to a primarily African American audience. That is nonesence! KPFK in Los Angeles had some of its highest listenership during its Wednesday night African American programming line up, until most of it ("Family Tree" and "Freedom Now!" was purged in 1994, and the one remaining program, "Continent to Continent" was removed a year later.) All these programs met or exceeded their quotas during pledge drive. And the special yearly program, "African Mental Liberation Weekend," raised up to $30,000 for the station every time it was aired. Yes, there is a large segment of the entire listening audiences of every color, on the entire radio band, AM and FM who only want to be anesthetized by nothing but music of one type or another, but Pacifica is not about putting folks to sleep but waking them up. I remember clearly it was not long ago that Mark Schubb claimed his approach was going to increase KPFK's funding and audience. (Remember his "morning coffee" remark?) Well, today, as KPFK gradually has added just a few new, more local radical public affairs programs, and put Democracy Now! on a 9:00 AM drive time slot, we have seen a substantial rise in both listenerships and donations from communities of color as well as the more activist white audience. All communities will respond to public affairs programs that are relivant to its interests and issues. KPFK lost a large portion of its audience base in the African American community during the Los Angeles Riots becaue it chose to not pre-empt its regular programming, as opposed to R&B stations who turned off the music and devoted their entire airtime during those 3 days to reporting on the civil disturbances. So please don't tell me there is no place for public affairs programming for African Americans.


Repost from Goodlight

3 untrue presuppositions made by this article

1. Content of radio programming should be based on profits. This premises validates the author's presupposition that success is based on dollar signs. The obligation made in the Pacifica mission to air public affair shows is forsaken and so is the obligation to educate listeners. Radio stations like WBGO use all jazz formats and it is an NPR station. Jazz is good. WBGO might educate its listeners to be Ornithologists but that's about it.

2.The article appears to speak with authority about the general opinion of all WPFW listeners. It is self-serving to imply that WPFW listeners with lower incomes and people living below the poverty level have the same needs as the listeners of WFPW that have middle and upper level incomes. Which people does Mr. Askia represent. It6's about time stations take surveys of its listeners so this misinformation wouldn't be passed as fact.

3. The article infers that WPFW has a separate mission from the rest of Pacifica. This is troubling. Article c) in the Pacifica mission reads as follows: The purpose of Pacifica is to: "To engage in any activity that shall contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors; to gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between any and all of such groups; and through any and all means available to this society, to promote the study of political and economic problems, and the causes of religious, philosophical and racial antagonisms."

The truth is that the Washington D.C. based board members of Pacifica already tried to change Pacifica. Now that their takeover of the whole network was not successful, their followers at WPFW and elsewhere want to separate from the rest of the network. Part of the attraction to Pacifica is the diversity of programming. It is truly a unique media outlet. It has attracted everybody from every ethnicity and economic level. Gatherings of the WBAI audience is proof of this. The conflict inferred by this article wants to change this quality. This is a hidden power struggle where some people do not want a shared network but a separate one and will do what it takes to get it. It is disingenous for the author of this article to attack the iPNB when the author himself is advocating for separatism and the iPNB is not. It is campaign based on fear that conceals motives based on profit and political censorship. Some Pacificans are still keeping hope alive.

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