Let's begin with Matthew Lasar. You wrote a book on the rise
of an alternative network. Tell us a little about why you
found it so interesting look at Pacifica -- why it is a first.
Matthew Lasar: Well, Pacifica Radio...First of all, good
morning, Amy. It's a great pleasure to be on this show with
you, and it's also a great pleasure to be on this show with
Ralph Engelman, whose book "Public Broadcasting: A Political
History", is very important, and I've read it many times.
The thing about Pacifica Foundation that is so fascinating is
that...Most things, by virtue of the things that it puts on
the air, and by its internal life, you can really study on
the wholeness of the political problem, as even...as Lewis
Hill put it..I mean, everything is discussed: free speech,
how to share community space, how to manage public dialogue,
the question of the relationship of the individual to the
state. All of these things happen and are constantly being
invented and reinvented in the history of Pacifica Radio.
So it's really a kind of mirror into the complete political
culture of the United States, if you will, and I found it
fascinatingto study these things and think about the problems
that being a part of the Pacifica Foundation poses to any
AG: Professor Ralph Engelman, you put Pacifica in the context
of all of public radio and television in America, with a few
chapters on Pacifica. What distinguished Pacifica, even
within public radio and television?
Ralph Engelman: Well, originally you couldn't distinguish it
from the rest of public radio and television, because public radio
and television didn't exist. The earliest experiment, really,
in public radio and noncommercial radio after World War II was
Pacifica. Bascially, the old educational radio stations had
been wiped off the air by World War II, when the networks
realized how important radio could be as a money earner.
And..but if Pacifica really...it helped create a new public
broadcasting movement that in some ways...distant descendants...
you could consider National Public Radio, and actually public
television as well. Lewis Hill was involved with the creation
of KQED, which was a pioneering public television station as
AG: In San Francisco.
RE: Right. But, the important thing for Hill from the outset
was to provide an alternative to mainstream media. And I
think in some respects public radio and public television, as
I argue in book, have become mainstream media to a certain
extent -- to be independent, to draw on independent sources of
information, provide perspectives that otherwise aren't on the
air....And, you know, while I know the history -- I've written
about it -- to hear, you the excerpts...it blows me away all
AG: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting: Explain where
that came from.
RE: Well, this was the...when public television, in particular
educational television, developed after World War II, it was
really sponsored by establishment institutions. The Ford
Foundation and then LBJ created a sort of blue ribbon
commission of very powerful people that established CPB. And
essentially, as I see it, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
and National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service,
are really only quasi public -- you know, they're really quasi
governmental, quasi noncommercial entities -- and it's interesting
that...When NPR was first established, after the creation of
CPB, Pacifica was invited to really become a kind of a charter
member and made a decision -- I think a very important,
principled decision -- to remain distinct, to go its own way.
AG: And what has been the relationship of Pacifica and CPB
through the last twenty, thirty years?
RE: Well, we...Pacifica has received money from CPB, because
taxpayer money is allotted on a certain..with a certain formula
to all the public radio stations, and we accept some of that money.
But at the same time we have been independent, we have not...
We have sort of existed outside, you know, the orbit of the
mainstream public broadcasting -- and it's interesting that often
while Pacifica is criticised, is marginalized or attempts are
made to do it within the mainstream structure of public
broadcasting, many of the people that public radio and public
television draw on for program are people are who have gone
through Pacifica...So they value the work we do. They watch
us. But at the same time we make them very nervous.
ML: You know...
AG: Matthew Lasar.
ML: ...it's important to add at this point that recently
there has been clearly a tension between Pacifica's relationship
with the CPB and the membership of much of the Pacifica
Foundation. As you know, recently the National Board
restructured the National Board and its relationship with the
local boards of the Pacifica Foundation, and one of the reasons
it did so was because it was publicly stated that the reason
this was necessary was in order to be more in compliance with
the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's rules. In fact,
apparently a letter was produced at the last minute claiming
that if we didn't restructure the Pacifica Foundation we'd
lose a lot of CPB money. So it's pretty clear that on some
level or another the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has
a great deal of influence on the internal life of the Pacifica
Foundation, and obviously that's created a great deal of
dissension and rancor within the Pacifica community.
AG: I want to talk about what is happening currently within
Pacifica, but I also want to talk about future visions of
Pacifica and where it goes. Many people see it as the last
bastion of hope for community radio, being on the vanguard
of the whole community radio network in this country. In
addition to Matthew Lasar, who's written the book "Pacifica
Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network" and "Public Radio
and Television in America" by Ralph Engelman, our guest in
the studio, we're joined also by Lynn Chadwick, who is the
Executive Director of the Pacifica Radio Network and the
Pacifica Foundation. She comes from the National Federation
of Community Broadcasters, where she has headed up that
organization for the last twelve years. We welcome you to
Democracy Now, Lynn Chadwick.
LG: Good morning, Amy. Good morning, Matthew. And
morning, Ralph. It's great to be on the air with you
bright and early here in California.
AG: Well, we thank you for being with us. And what about
this vision of where Pacifica Radio fits in and how Pacifica
in an extremely corporate age can maintain its decentralized,
station-based -- as listeners just heard, even though it's
outside of Pacifica, we have five stations around the country:
in New York, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles, and Berkeley --
that station-based focus. Lynn.
LG: Pacifica actually...I just want to mention briefly that
we have affiliates also, as you are aware -- some 65 affiliates
across the country -- so the voice of Pacifica and Democracy
extends beyond those markets, which are pleased about, because
the vision of Pacifica is to make available to as many
listeners as we can this important dialogue that has been the
history of Pacifica. And the vision is to extend that. The
vision is to make it available and to make it more important
in this country. We have fought over the years around
marginalization. And the goal for us is to try to create
even more value(d?) programming. We have many handicaps at
Pacifica -- financial handicaps. Some of them are self-imposed
because we still do not carry any corporate underwriting. But
in spite of these barriers we've been able to really move
forward. The...the organization put together a strategic plan
prior to my joining the staff as the Executive Director, which
only happened about four months ago...which was to say, we are
a decentralized organization of these five stations. However,
we are also one organization -- and what can we do to combine
our efforts so that we can use resources more efficiently and
help support more stations across the country and get more of
this programming out. This program today, Democracy Now, is
an example of that kind of effort, where the Pacifica stations
came together and jointly funded a program that none of them
could produce independently, and as a result it's on all the
Pacifica stations and many others as well. And that it is...
part of our vision is that we have a long history with the
Pacifica National News. We would like to extend that program,
and we have ambitions for creating headline news and things
like that that we think would be important.
AG: Now, Pacifica came under serious attack during the reign
of Newt Gingrich. It became a kind of hobby for him to speak
out against public radio in general and Pacifica Radio in
particular. In fact, the senator who particularly went after
Pacifica, Senator Larry Pressler of South Dakota, put out a
very famous questionnaire that was put to all National Public
Radio staff, and it said, basically, are you now....well, clearly
not now...or have you ever been a member of Pacifica Radio? How
did Pacifica finagle that situation, being focused on so much by
Congress, and how did the CPB end up, stronger or not? What do
you think? Ralph Engelman.
RE: Well, I'm not sure how to answer that question, but I think
it's important to point out that in many respects the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting can be viewed, you know, as the police
of public broadcasting in this country, and that the structure
of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the fact that it's
a bureaucracy that is based in Washington, DC -- appointments
are made from...by the President of the United States -- the
board, that is -- with the advice and consent of the Senate --
means that it is a body that is very much attuned to political
pressures in the Capital. And I think that's important for
people to keep in mind. Also, I think it's interesting that --
you know, many of the top officials at the CPB, you know, have
links with the government -- or at least a history of links with
the government -- and quite a few have come from the United
States Information Agency. So...
AG: Explain what that is.
RE: Well, the United States Information Agency essentially is
the propaganda arm of the United States government abroad.
And it's interesting too, I note in my book, that there were
at some point actually were proposals to link CPB and USIA
directly. Those fell by the wayside, but the very fact that
that could be proposed is interesting. It also, actually in
National Public Radio as well -- many officials came from
government. And what is unique and really defines Pacifica
is its really unrelenting desire to distinguish itself and be
independent both from government and from corporations,
AG: And yet the idea....Lynn Chadwick, you wanted to respond
LC: Yes. I would like to say something, because I was involved
in Washington during that whole fight -- sort of on the front
lines -- with Newt Gringrich and the proposal to defund public
AG: You testified in Congress..
LC: ...and...I testified several times. I met with Larry
Pressler and others, and I would have to say -- and I want it
to be clear -- that CPB was a strong defender of Pacifica.
We had...Not only was all of public broadcasting being singled
out for defunding, along with the National Endowment for the
Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities...But there
were some in the House who said "Well, even if we do fund
public broadcasting, we want to defund Pacifica." And the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting said "We are going to
fund all of public radio. We're not going to isolate Pacifica."
And they were key in helping us to stop that fight.
RE: Lynn, if...why, though if CPB -- and there are elements
there that are sympathetic to Pacifica...why would they now --
let's say -- mandate structural changes that really weaken
the more democratic responsive organ...structure of the
Pacifica board and the relationship between the local and
AG: Well, I'm going to leave that question hanging, Lynn,
for a minute, because stations have to identify themselves
around the country. We are talking with Ralph Engelman, who
is a professor of journalism at Long Island University and
author of the book "Public Radio and Television in America:
A Political History". It's published by Sage Press. We're
also joined by Matthew Lasar in San Francisco. He is author
of "Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network",
former KPFA newsman. And Lynn Chadwick is with us. She is
Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation. On this
fiftieth anniversary of Pacifica Radio, you're listening to
Democracy Now. We'll be back in a minute.
Amy Goodman: You are listening to Pacifica Radio's Democracy
Now. I'm Amy Goodman, as we talk about the present and future
of Pacifica Radio. And I also want to point out that I don't
know if you would hear this anywhere else, a network talking
about themselves. Pacifica really has a very important history
of fifty years, a volatile history, a tumultuous history, both
in terms of what it has broadcast -- the very important voices
over the fifty years, and we've heard snipets of that over the
last two days on Democracy Now and on programs around the
country -- they are honoring Pacifica by playing those voices --
but also in terms of the governance of the network and in terms
of stations, because of the democratic nature of it. And so
this is a special conversation. Our guests: Ralph Engelman,
who is author of "Public Radio and Television in America".
Matthew Lasar, "Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative
Network" is his book. And Lynn Chadwick. Pacifica Foundation
is the organization she heads. She came to Pacifica four months
ago. And we left that question hanging. And I also don't want
listeners around the country, who perhaps, you know, are not
specifically a part of Pacifica -- their eyes to glaze over
when we raise the issue of governance [Chadwick chuckling in
the background]. But it is an important issue, because people,
I think, on the outside and the inside are concerned about
preserving the decentralized nature of Pacifica and the
accountability of a national governing board -- which many
organizations have -- to the local stations...
ML: You know...
AG: Matthew Lasar.
ML: ...there is an interesting irony to Pacifica governance,
which is rooted in the very amorphous nature of the Pacifica
Foundation, the rest of the society, and really..really to
itself. What is it that legitimizes a Pacifica leader? What
is it that makes this person meaningful to the rest of the
Pacifica community? Well, a Pacifica leader cannot say that
they own the company -- right? It's not a privately-owned
company or corporation. They can't say -- at least in this
structural moment -- that they were elected to that position
of leadership. They frequently cannot say that they have
been around for a really really long time, and therefore they,
you know, have all this experience, because frequently they
haven't been around for a very very long time. And they
can't say that they have some ideological authority. Because
frequently the very mission of the Pacifica Foundation is
very contested. So, it's very important for the leadership
of the Pacifica Foundation to legitimize itself, to have some
way of legitimizing itself. And my concern was that when the
national board cut off a very clearly understood relationship
between it and the local boards, then in a sense it delegitimized
itself in the eyes of much of the rest of the Pacifica community.
Ironically, the more authority one draws to oneself in Pacifica
governance, the less power one has. Because one cannot seem
to demonstrate one's accountability. And so that..so that..
one has to..the Pacifica leader really has to build consensus
before trying to make any dramatic structural change. And
I think that that it what has left us suddenly in this crisis
which we all know is taking place at KPFA right now.
AG: Well, let me just say one thing that people may not
understand, is that is, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
said that Pacifica was in violation of the CPB mandate, saying
that the people on the national governing could also not serve
on the local advisory boards of the local stations, which had
been done for, oh, all of the years of Pacifica. And so,
the national board recently voted. Each member decided
whether they wanted to be either on the local board or the
national board, and they simply decided not to be on the
local advisory boards, and they just remained on the national
board. Lynn Chadwick, let me ask you on that point -- and I
do want to get to other points, so I don't want to just stay
on this one [Chadwick chuckling]. But let me ask you on that
point, how then, if you have a national board that isn't
directly accountable to the local boards, how do you
remain decentralized and accountable? How does that board
LC: There's a couple things I just want to clarify before
I answer that question, if I could, Amy. The policy around
the separation from community advisory boards and governing
boards is embodied in the Communications Act, which CPB has
to follow. And it's a long-standing policy. It was a little
unclear -- and there have been some stations that have had to
go through this clarification process. And we are not alone
in that. The interesting thing, in terms of public broadcasting,
is Pacifica's unique status throughout public broadcasting --
public radio and public television -- is the fact that we have
a national organization with licenses to five stations in four
different states. So there has been...that's always difficult,
when you're trying to manage a decentralized yet nationwide
organization. Coming back to the question of how do we stay in
contact with the local level -- how does the accountability
come in? Well, it's very direct accountability with community
radio and its community, obviously. Our stations depend on --
overwhelming, for eighty-five percent of their financial
support -- from the local community. The only thing that has
really changed through this governance restructuring is that
no one can serve simultaneously on a local advisory board and
on the national board. And, because we expect nominations to
the national board to come through the local communities,
most likely, I assume, they would come from local advisory
boards, because those are the people who are involved at the
station level. We...When we passed the change, when...Well,
I'm not a member of the board, but when the board passed the
change, they put several protections in, so that people
would feel there was still that accountability relationship,
including the fact that there would be representation from
each signal area, that we would continue the dialogue that
occurs regularly between the chair of the board and the
chairs of the invidual local advisory boards. This move
was not intended, by any means, to cut off the dialogue
between the national board and the local boards. We have
been seeking over the months that I have been involved with
Pacifica to enhance that dialogue, to find better ways to
have the conversation. There have been complaints I've
heard for the last couple of years that there is still not
enough linkage between the national board and the local
boards despite the previous structure, where there was
representation..direct representation of the..the same
invidual being on both bodies. It has clearly been a sore
point in the organization for a number of years. We are
committed to maintaining that accounability. I know that
from the discussions I've had with the board. And I, in
the position of Executive Director, am committed to
maintaining that dialogue with the local community.
AG: Lynn Chadwick, I know that Howard Zinn, Noam
Chomsky, Ed Herman wrote a letter also concerned about,
you know, the issue of remaining decentralized. Is there
a rule, as opposed to just the hope...Is that the board
establish a rule that some percentage of, or the vast
majority of the people from the national board, would be
tied to the local communities of the stations that make
LC: I don't know if it's the vast majority. It is...At this
point, everyone on the board is from a local signal area.
And there is...Part of that policy was that there would
continue to be defined representation. And the truth is I
can't imagine that people would be serving on the board who
were not listening everyday to Pacifica Radio, because that's
where the interest in working for this organization comes from.
ML: You know, this is a very important problem because...
AG: Matthew Lasar.
ML: ...because historically the chasm between the
national leadership and the KPFA community is...I'm
speaking directly as a historian of Pacifica, a historian
of KPFA, and as a KPFA listener and supporter, someone
who's been involved with KPFA for many many years. This
is a very important issue, because -- as you know, the
chasm between the national leadership and the KPFA
community has frequently been pushed to the edge, and in
those instances KPFA has frequently been pushed to the
edge of a cliff, as is currently the situation at KPFA
AG: Matthew Lasar, let me just put in some bit of
information for people who might not be so closely
following the situation. Just to say, this conversation
today follows a protest yesterday at KPFA of about seven
hundred people on the fiftieth anniversary of Pacifica.
And it is..was the demand of the people there, and
particularly the staff of KPFA, that there be a mediation
to deal with the underlying problems of Pacifica, and KPFA
in particular. And that was first prompted by the firing
of the General Manager of KPFA several weeks ago, and when
that started to be discussed on the air, which violated a
gag rule that people..that Pacifica network has had for a
number of years, saying that internal business can't be
discussed on the air, one of the programmers did discuss
that -- Larry Bensky, who is a national programmer. He was
fired, and other programmers were given warnings. So, that's
the picture for people to understand around the country, that
we are in right -- this, the morning after the seven hundred
person protest. But, we aren't going to have too much more
time, so each of you make your comments concise. Matthew.
ML: Well, historically this has happened many times in
the past. Lewis Hill, who is, of course, usually idealized
and deified, was in fact perfectly capable of purging people
from the organization, and in fact in 1953 and 1954 he so
polarized the staff that he threw KPFA into a tailspin, a
very polarized situation, just like it's in right now. Lewis
Hill, however, was willing -- when he realized what he had
done -- to mediate with the staff and to come to some kind
of an organized reprochement. And I wonder, Lynn, are you
willing to do that as well with KPFA at this time?
LC: Actually, Matthew, I came to the staff over a week ago
and said, "We need to sit down and talk." The issues that we
are hearing about today at KPFA are..have been simmering
for some time. And I agree that it's time to come to the
table and talk. So, I made that offer a week ago. We have
been talking to a facilitator. I understand the facilitator
is talking to the staff KPFA. And I am..I'm sure we're
going to come to the table. My hope is that we come to
the table as soon as possible to begin this long...what I
think will be a long and hopefully a fruitful dialogue,
where we will be able to honestly, openly and face to face
discuss these issues and come to some solutions. My goal
would be to have this conversation internally with the staff
and then communicated to the broader community.
AG: Ralph Engelman.
RE: Well, you know, anyone who knows anything about Pacifica's
history knows there's been a long history of internal conflict.
The struggle for Pacifica's survival has been struggle not
only against attacks by the McCarthyite committees and
bombings of our stations, as in Houston, but we've had to
struggle internally as well, but that struggle is related
to a higher principle, which is a search for a more democratic
way of running a radio station and a group of radio stations,
at the same time functioning with a structure in which we
have to be somewhat accountable to the FCC to maintain our
licenses. So, I think that...And the other thing that I
think is very important to keep in mind that...One of the
reasons for the terrible pressures internally on Pacifica is
that Pacifica stations together represent a unique resource
for various groups that couldn't approach the mikes of other
commercial or public radio stations. And so there's a
tremendous pressure to resolve these problems. But it's
also a tribute to the fact that we don't take the easy way
out, that we don't have the top-down kind of authority that
exists at NPR or PBS.
AG: We don't have much time.
ML: I'd like to add something to what Ralph Engelman just
said, 'cause it's very important. We as a people within
Pacifica Radio are starved for public access air time.
And the result is that we are crowded into these relatively
small venues, which are the Pacifica stations, and some
other community radio stations, which tend to serve huge
audiences in any given metropolitan area. And because of
that the tensions in these stations are very high. And
that's yet another reason why it's very important for
Pacifica leaders to go slowly and not to take any
precipitous actions in any given instance which will
potentially polarize the staff.
AG: Finally, Lynn Chadwick, on the issue of the gag rule,
which many people gag over...[Chadwick chuckling]...
Can you explain why it is in place -- and maybe Matthew
Lasar would like to comment -- on why -- I don't know,
actually, Matthew Lasar, what your view is of it -- but
it might surprise some people that call this the free
speech network -- that you can't talk about internal
politics on the air.
LC: Well, the important thing to think about free speech
on the radio is it's free speech for whoever is lucky
enough, actually, and privileged enough to be on the
air. And that's a few people...a relatively few people.
The...There's a couple of reasons behind it. One is
that the licensee must demonstrate to the FCC that they
have control of the airwaves. The other thing is that
we...and there's previous airwaves and powerful airwaves..
and let's be aware of the power of the airwaves. For
people to abuse that power, to take on personal issues,
is...is..really has been unacceptable to Pacifica. This
gag rule..so-called gag rule..has been in place for some
thirty years, and I'm sure it came out after long discussions.
I was not part of those discussions. But it's important
that at Pacifica we do not allow free speech. We do not
allow antisemitic speech. We don't allow sexist speech.
We don't allow racist speech. That's important to us.
And those values we want to convey to our listeners. So,
there's reasons behind that, and I think they are core to
the value of what we're talking about, in terms of what
Pacifica's goal is in presenting the progressive agenda
to the country.
AG: And Matthew Lasar.
ML: Historically the Pacifica Foundation has tended to
honor the gag rule. Most of the time the staff..most of
the time the staff don't want to talk about internal
business on the air. But there are times in Pacifica's
history when the stations become...when a given Pacifica
station becomes so polarized...when the staff is really
actually terrified that they're all going to be fired,
or that something's going to happen within the organization
that's going to affect them. And they feel that they have
absolutely no power over the situation. And then they
turn to...they feel they have no choice but to appeal to
the larger Pacifica community in order to make their
case when they feel that they have their backs up against
the wall, quite literally. I think that most people in
the Pacifica Foundation agree that Pacifica stations
should not talk about their internal business. As I say
in my book, you know, Pacifica stations when this happens,
they sort of become stations, venues dedicated to broacasting
news and views about their internal incompetence...[Chadwick
AG: We have twenty seconds.
ML: ...You know, it's not a very good situation. But when
because..frankly because of actions of the leadership, the
staff..the situation becomes extremely polarized, the gag
rule usually falls flat on its face.
AG: Matthew Lasar and Ralph Engelman, I want to thank you
for joining us. And Lynn Chadwick, Executive Director of
Pacifica Radio, do you think we'll see a mediated solution
to the conflict at KPFA in the next few days?
LC: That's what we're hoping for and we're working on it
AG: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. This is
the fifty years of Pacifica, moving on very quickly to the
next fifty, and moving to the end of this show. I'm Amy
Goodman. This is Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now. We
thank you for listening.