D.C. DAILY REPORTS and Documents | iPNB D.C. meeting info
WPFW general manager report
Presented at the iPNB meeting in Washington D.C, December 6 - 8, 2002
Found at www.wpfw.org
This year, 2002, marks the 25th anniversary of Pacifica Radio's WPFW. The station, which is a renowned information and cultural icon in Washington, DC, was founded in 1977 as part of a proaction fostered by the Pacifica Foundation working with a creative, committed group of African Americans and White Americans in direct response to the riots which tore this city apart following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The effort to create the station was initiated because the African American community in Washington, DC, was voiceless and powerless to speak truth to power. A radio station was seen as a good solution, certainly not an end all, be all in a complex world in which there can be no single solutions to problems that go back centuries, but it was a good place to start making positive change happen...
At 50,000 watts, WPFW, a community-sponsored public radio station, has met the challenge and served to provide not only its core audience of African Americans — but all Washingtonians, and listeners within the circle of the station's 50,000 watt signal area. For our listeners, WPFW has become that rare platform where they know they can speak their minds and hearts as "exceptions to the rulers..."
After a protracted struggle that almost destroyed Pacifica, and nearly drove the half-century-old organization to bankruptcy, new leadership nationally and locally worked hard to save this venerable engine for peace, pulling it back from the brink.
Locally, the transformation of WPFW has been just as dramatic.
When I assumed leadership responsibilities as WPFW's Interim General Manager eight months ago in February, 2002, Pacifica, WPFW staff, and I, were faced with a number of critical challenges including WPFW's vastly detriorated technical infrastructure; a nitrogen leak at the station's transmitter site; eliminating station debts to the tune of $500,000; restructuring and balancing WPFW's cultural programming with public affairs programming to reflect a better relationship between "the music" and "the message"; gaining the trust and support of WPFW's well-regarded, talented, on-air, volunteer program staff; and re-empowering the station's small but dedicated paid staff.
Since that time, working closely with WPFW programmers and staff, I have implemented considerable change at this station, including design and creation of a state-of-the-art website (www.wpfw.org), that will shortly offer 24-hour audiostreaming of WPFW's programming, effectively taking WPFW programming global via the Internet.
Operating with a sense of respect for the sensibilities of the station's core audience, but wanting to increase listership by reaching out to new audiences, we began the process of change by focusing on the station's self-identity by writing and producing a package of now familiar on-air station ID announcements, e.g., "Powerful, Positive, Progressive! This is WPFW, 89.3, in Washington, DC!"
Other, more significant changes in my strategy to restructure the station followed, including introduction of "2kNation," a fantastic teen talk show that is a partnership between WPFW and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts (see Washington Post "Style" article, July 6, 2002: "WPFW Teens Are An On-Air Force"); we've trained the young people on this program have been trained to research, write, produce, engineer and host the show completely by themselves, with little adult supervision. The program is now a self-contained production unit run by teens.
I also introduced "Nightwolf," a popular, often controversial Native American talk show airing live on Sunday evenings that has made visible the Washington, DC area's hidden Native American community, making it possible for WPFW listeners to explore the Native American worldview and culture via our airwaves; we also introduced "African Journey," an issues-oriented program focusing on Africa and the Diaspora, hosted by veteran African journalist CeCe Fadope Madope, that includes transatlantic calls to program guests speaking live from Africa; brought a peace activist-oriented program on the air, "The Peace Show," hosted by Terry D. Kester; introduced "The Pulse," a hard-hitting public affairs program with long-time Washington, DC journalist Jonetta Rose Barras (also videostreamed live!); "Spirit in Action" with Damu Smith, a former Greenpeace environmental racism specialist, now an activist minister; brought online "Acentos" (Accents), WPFW's first-ever Latino public affairs program, hosted by Arnoldo Ramos; introduced "Bush Medicine"- an alternative medicine program hosted by physician and naturopath Dr. Sunyatta Amen; restored the media watchdog program "Counterspin" to WPFW's airwaves; and "Challenging Corporate Power," a program investigating corporate shenanigans, hosted by progressive corporate crime reporter and White House correspondent, Russell Mokhiber.
WPFW also produced, sponsored, and presented a successful town hall meeting: "Voices for Peace: Community Views on the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict," broadcast live, April 20, from Washington, DC's All Souls Church, Unitarian, a popular venue for anti-war rallies during the Vietnam and Civil Rights eras, allowing WPFW listeners to weigh in on germane questions about the conflict in the Middle East. This event was sponsored by WPFW's Local Advisory Board.
WPFW's Native American talk show host, Jay Winter Nightwolf, have also partnered with curators and special event programmers of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, scheduled to open in 2004, to participate in and do live news intercuts from September's "Pow-Wow on the Mall".
On the cultural side where the music rules, we've emphasized community outreach, including restoration to WPFW's airwaves of a full menu of grassroots-oriented public service announcements (PSA's)- as well as public appearances and events produced and/or sponsored by WPFW and our on-air programmers, including: an event partnership with Arlington County of the "The Rosslyn Renaissance Jazz Festival," which was also broadcast live on WPFW.
The station also entered into a sponsoring partnership with the Musicmakers Foundation of a benefit starring Blues legend, Taj Mahal, for aging, down and out, Blues artists in the deep South; a production fully sponsored and produced by WPFW at the historic Lincoln Theatre " Blue Lights in the Basement," a Rhythm & Blues opera; we've introduced a new program, "The Spirit of Jazz" featuring WPFW's Lona Alias, that has become a runaway Sunday morning hit; and brought talented Jazz programmers Hassan and Donnie McKethan, both stashed away in the overnight schedule, to primetime where Hassan's classical sounds of Jazz and Donnie's "Sinatra and Company" have gained extraordinary following and support from WPFW listeners.
I also had the great pleasure of expanding WPFW's ever popular, weeknight, audience-pleasing "Latin Flavor" program schedule from one-hour to 90 minutes, and, restructured the entire "Evening Jazz" and "Morning Jazz" line-ups to better reflect the needs of WPFW's wonderfully diverse audience.
Additionally, WPFW's long-neglected news and public affairs department has been given a badly needed infusion of adrenalin that includes newsmaker soundbites running in the station's entire news presentation schedule - including introduction of "The Messenger," a 10-minute, progressive, evening news round-up featuring national and international stories read by "Democray Now's" Amy Goodman and followed by relevant Washington, DC-area local and late-breaking national affairs stories from the White House and Capitol Hill.
"The Messenger" airs live Monday through Friday at 7:00pm, and rebroadcasts at 1:00am. WPFW's reorganized news department is now on its way to becoming an authentic, competitive, alternative voice for information in Washington, DC's important broadcast news market.
Future plans for WPFW include introduction of a weeknightly, 5-minute bilingual news brief (Spanish & English) following the "Latin Flavor" strip; plans for a "2kNation 2K Race Against Racism," hosted by the young programmers from WPFW's hit teen show, "2kNation".
Also in the works are efforts to reach out to and further provide communications bridges between Washington, DC's burgeoning Latino and Ethiopian communities - with live events hosted by members of the "Latin Flavor" program group, special events targeting the core audience of African Americans (including Caribs and African immigrants) as well as the station's incredibly loyal, super-committed music fans and cadre of politically progressive White and otherwise diverse listeners.
The station is also planning, or is involved with a number of other special events on the community level designed to increase its presence and name recognition in the DC media market, as well as concerts, town hall meetings interconnected with other Pacifica stations, and a bus caravan to a Native American reservation in North Carolina, and "The Bill Picket Invitational Rodeo: A Salute to Black Cowboys," poetry slams, spoken word competitions; a community talent show that will resolve into a CD we can offer as a membership drive premium; a series of lecture/music venues "A Night Out with WPFW" and Latin and Zydeco music festivals. We also plan, before the end of the year, to present special events programs that celebrate WPFW's 25 years of afrocentric, cultural, progressive and alternative news and information programming.
As station manager for WPFW in this critical period of growth, change, and survival - even as the winds of war rage all around us, I have been pleased and privileged to lead the station to post two record, back-to-back membership/fund drives, as well as a successful mini-drive during the Summer.
Currently, WPFW, for the first time in years, despite an obvious need as a community-sponsored radio station to continue efforts for development and fundraising, is operating in the black.
On the technical side, the internal infrastructure at the station, though improved, still requires further professional engineering attention, and though the nitrogen leak at the transmitter site has been stabilized, it still requires repairs that will necessitate taking the station off-the-air for two successive weekends; completing that work will come in at an estimated cost of $50,000.
The work has been hard - but rewarding. The committed staff and dedicated programmers here at WPFW, along with the new leadership shepherding change on the national level at Pacifica, and members of the Local Advisory Board are doing everything possible to promote WPFW up from the network's so-called "step-child" - to a station that in my vision has the potential to become the flagship for the network and the number one news, information and entertainment station in the Washington metropolitan area.
As we celebrate WPFW's 25th anniversary, we have much to be thankful for, especially for the support of our listeners, without whom nothing we do would matter - or happen.
The struggle to bring this station online was a long, tough one. Successive U.S. presidential administrations, beginning with Richard Nixon's, refused to sign the FCC license request allowing Pacifica to sign the station on-the-air.
But it did finally happen in 1977 when Jimmy Carter came into office.
And now, as an extraordinarily challenging 2002 winds down, and we move into a future filled with questions and strategize to serve, as never before, the thirst for relevant and truthful information, while preserving our status as an oasis of solace, please join me and the staff of WPFW in celebrating the station's 25th year of broadcasting to Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia!
Kind regards, Tony
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