Pacifica's L.A. Station in Turmoil as Funds Are Diverted
By CLAUDIA PESCHIUTTA
Pacifica Radio Network's L.A. station is attracting more donations than ever before, but KPFK-FM (90.7) has been telling listeners that its bills are going unpaid and that even its electrical service is in danger of being shut off.
The station has been repeatedly broadcasting an announcement apologizing to donors who had not yet received gift premiums they were promised for making pledges during KPFK's November fund-raising drive. The announcement also notified listeners that the installation of new transmitters had been delayed, and that the Pacifica Foundation, which oversees the network's five stations, is to blame.
"KPFK's savings accounts, years of operating surpluses, and even the bulk of KPFK's $800,000 capital fund for our transmitters and new control rooms are simply no longer available to KPFK. The money has been and continues to be diverted elsewhere in Pacifica," said the announcement. "Pacifica has taken control of our finances, and the money that we raised from you, KPFK's listeners, is not being used for the purposes intended or budgeted."
The station is two months behind on its electrical bill and has until Jan. 18 to catch up, or the power may be shut off, according to Station Manager Mark Schubb.
Other accounts, including those for office supplies, telephone service and trash collection, are past due or have been paid only sporadically over the past few months, he added.
Past-due bills have prevented KPFK from completing the installation of two new transmitters. Complicating matters is that last September the station switched its signal to a low-power transmitter, just until the new transmitters could be completed. Since the outdated transmitters already have been dismantled, the station is stuck indefinitely in low-power mode.
"Since September, the only bills that have been paid are emergency bills, something that would be shut off," he said. "It's very clear they (the Pacifica Foundation) have no cash and every dollar that comes in goes to what's most overdue."
All this comes just weeks after KPFK held the most successful fund-raising drive in its 42-year history, raising more than $535,000 in just 10 days. That's a sizable amount for a public radio station known for offbeat, left-leaning programming especially in the midst of a recession.
So, where has all the money gone? No one seems to know.
Schubb said it has been more than a year since he last received a monthly financial report from the foundation, which manages the money brought in by the listener-supported Pacifica stations. David Fertig, a local member of Pacifica's recently elected interim national board, appeared to know even less about KPFK's financial situation.
"I just got on the board. I don't know where those funds are," Fertig said. "I'm worried that they (KPFK) are in really bad shape."
Schubb and others say they have tried to get answers from the foundation, but are getting nowhere. A Sept. 24 memo, sent to former Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash and other officials, detailed several problems at KPFK, including overdue payroll and unpaid operating bills. Schubb said he never got a response.
"We can't get a (return) phone call," said Marc Cooper, host of KPFK's "The Marc Cooper Show" and "Radio Nation." "We don't know anything."
The mess at KPFK is born of the turmoil that has long plagued Pacifica. The network last month settled four lawsuits brought against it by a group of dissident board members and listeners, a move that was expected to bring an end to the fight for control of Pacifica.
Many blame the network's current financial problems on the legal expenses and other costs incurred by the power struggle. The dispute pitted Pacifica's former board, a majority of whom sought to appeal to a larger audience by making the network a more professional organization, against a group eager to return to the come-one-come-all approach of the past.
"There's a lot of debts outstanding for legal and PR fees," said David Adelson, chairman of KPFK's local advisory board and a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits.
"The money was used and abused, and just now we're trying to figure it out," Fertig said. While he conceded that KPFK has been "mistreated," Fertig argued that the announcement broadcast by the station last week incorrectly suggests the new board is unwilling to move forward.
Fertig said he expects to learn more about KPFK's financial situation and hopes to get money allotted for the station at a meeting of Pacifica's interim board, set to be held Jan. 11-13.
Meanwhile, KPFK is slated to kick off its annual winter fund-raising drive at the end of the month, but station employees may be reluctant to ask listeners for more money, given the financial uncertainties.
"If anybody thinks we're going on the air three weeks from now...to ask this audience to give more money...then they are living in a different world than I am," Cooper said.
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