Death Spiral

Pacifica Radio – the nation’s “oldest leftwing radio network” – has entered a death spiral:

Founded in 1946 by conscientious objectors from the second world war, the network was an influential outlet for Beat poets, Bob Dylan and Vietnam war protesters but has in recent times suffered from dwindling ratings, in-fighting and financial hemorrhage.

The network’s biggest star – Amy Goodman, host of the independently produced Democracy Now! – is also its biggest creditor. She is owed an estimated $2.1m in unpaid broadcast fees.

Observers trace the travails to 2001 when a group of rebellious listeners and broadcasters took control and instituted an elaborate governance structure of multiple boards, sub-committees and painstaking elections.

The result, according to Matthew Lasar, author of the 2005 book Uneasy Listening: Pacifica Radio’s Civil War, was continuous feuding between rival factions. In a Nation article earlier this year, he compared the network to the “late Ottoman Empire of public broadcasting” and urged progressive outsiders to step in and save it before it was too late.

Of course, it’s not just Pacifica; all of the institutional broadcasting industry as we’ve known it since the 1930’s is undergoing a radical realignment in how it does business.  The broadcast industry one step behind newspapers; its audience gutted by the internet’s explosion of free material and advertisters’ splitting their money in many different directions (what’s left of it, anyway, in the Obama economy), even the better commercial broadcast operations are having to become very lean, and very creative when it comes to sales.

And Pacifica?  Not only is it entirely dependent on handouts from non-profits and governments, but it is “creative” in all the wrong ways:

Ian Masters and Sonali Kolhatkar, hosts of the Los Angeles-based KPFK, said its parent network Pacifica Radio, the country’s oldest public radio network, was putting pressure on staff to reduce their hours and pay, leave or work for free, alienating listeners and approaching a point of no return.

“This is the end. They’re running out of road,” Masters told the Guardian. He accused managers and board members of promoting conspiracy theories – including those related to the “truth” about 9/11 and claims about cancer and HIV. “They’ve run this place into the ground.”

Today it’s Pacifica.

Of course, it’s been happening in commercial radio for a long time; commercial radio stations have been slashing costs for a solid decade now (most music radio is “voice-tracked”; the “disc jockey” actually bangs out all the spoken elements for a show in one sitting, and the computers that run the shows slip the spoken bits in to the right spots, usually), finding creative ways to make money (or not so creative ways; 40% of the revenue at many talk stations comes from weekend infomercials) or avoid it (the NARN was a decade ahead of the trend of people doing talk radio as a hobby, barring the occasional talent fee).

So how long can public radio – especially Minnesota Public Radio, with its union-level pay scales and lavish facilities and gargantuan, padded staffs – survive?

14 thoughts on “Death Spiral

  1. “took control and instituted an elaborate governance structure of multiple boards, sub-committees and painstaking elections.”

    so the old Soviet model fails again – who’d-a thunk it

  2. I used to occasionally listen to their “news” on KFIA. They are really into conspiracy theories. And related to your post below…..if you think all of MSM is rightwing, you must be pretty far out on the leftwing fringe.

  3. Make that KFAI. Actually I miss that station (some of the music programming). Will have to tune in again.

  4. Public radio will be around as long as there are demagogues in the statehouse. Which, put another way, is forever.

  5. *** the better commercial broadcast operations are having to become very lean, and very creative when it comes to sales.****

    I notice all the talk hosts are doing A LOT more ads personally than they did even five years ago.

  6. I think this is somewhat related to the “Am I the Only One…” post of last week.
    http://www.shotinthedark.info/wp/?p=55096
    Interesting to me in that I prefer radio (maybe I AM the only one) for getting information. Radio cuts through all of the pictures (and five o’clock shadows and better make-up) and gets right to the idea. I almost wish the Republicans would require a radio only debate so you could listen to the ideas & issues without being required also think about the candidates hair, clothing, etc.
    Most Lefties, including those in the Democrat Party Dominated Media & Entertainment Culture (DPDM&EC) as well as the Current Occupant hate/hated Ronald Reagan. But they admired Reagan’s ability* to work/warp the narrative by having a presence for the camera and producing pretty pictures (ie: Morning in America) so much that they had Barry appear with Greek Columns in his Denver acceptance to lend him some ‘gravitas’.
    The fact that a radio network that is straight from the Central Planning Committee is going out of business isn’t a surprise. But MPR will be around as long as there is a Teachers Union/DFL. I’d say it’s forever but things that can’t go on forever won’t.
    *SITD Required Lefty Input: “More like his HANDLERS! Reagan was just a dumb actor. And an evil genius. I’m so confused.”

  7. So how long can public radio – especially Minnesota Public Radio, with its union-level pay scales and lavish facilities and gargantuan, padded staffs – survive?

    I listen to Classical MPR every day (but ONLY classical, no 91.1, and no Current). I get so much enjoyment out of it, I will consider becoming a paying member, but not until such time as they receive exactly $0.00 from taxpayer funded subsidies. Granted, I know that my money wouldn’t just go to fund Classical MPR, but it goes to fund the whole shebang. Freemarket principles and all that.

    *SITD Required Lefty Input: “More like his HANDLERS! Reagan was just a dumb actor. And an evil genius. I’m so confused.”

    The same thing was said about Bush. On one hand, he was “the most incompetent president in this country’s history”, and on the other hand, “9/11 was planned and executed by the Bush administration so he could invade Iraq and take down Hussein to finish what his father started”. So, the most incompetent adminstration EVAR, was able to coordinate sending foreign nationals to partial flight training, planning the hijacking of 4 separate airliners, somehow magically installing hidden explosives in the WTC towers and other buildings, AND have the thousands of people involved keep their mouths shut.

    In just 9 months.

    Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

  8. I notice all the talk hosts are doing A LOT more ads personally than they did even five years ago.

    Back when I first got into the business, “live read endorsements” were the the cherry on the sundae – the thing that made the likes of Steve Cannon wealthy, and made people like Don Vogel a very nice little supplement to their incomes.

    Today? They’re bread and butter, along with regular recorded spots, going mostly to the bottom line.

  9. Pacifica Radio’s 2001 chaos was a kind of “Peoples Judaean Front” versus “Peoples Front of Judaea” business. Oh, why can’t they all lose? Why do the lefties insist on forcing innocent people to play along with their neuroses?
    Back in the 80s, public radio faced declining ratings as (mostly) a provider of classical music. Public radio then deliberately chose to move into current events programming while targeting a liberal audience (“urban professionals”), to improve their funding prospects.
    Public radio has not represented the public, or produced content for the public, for three decades.
    Bill McGlaughlin’s “Exploring Music” is a treasure. I subscribe & listen to the program online rather than on the radio.

  10. I wonder if Trump will be open to cutting NPR funding?

    I’m happy whenever anything concerning the left takes a crushing hit, naturally, but the loss of radio is a non factor. The inter webs have a thousand times the reach, and no reason to couch the propaganda

  11. If he advocates kutting PBS they can’t complain about killing Big Bird anymore. BB is flying over to HBO.

  12. The “killing Big Bird” meme was the kind of nonsense that an independent press should have ignored. Conservative criticism of public broadcasting is narrowly focused on news and public affairs programming, which has a relentless progressive bias. The only time that I’ve ever heard PBS/NPR seriously address the issue of its bias was a short piece by the NPR ombudsman regarding accusations of anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian bias in news coverage. The ombudsman seemed to be afraid that the perception of anti-Israeli bias might affect fundraising from American Jews.

  13. It would do my heart good to see Bill Moyers welcoming the lefty slob of the week into his basement studio.

    Too say nothing of reading the tear stained “Don’t cry for me, Argentina” from that smug gerbil, Bob Collins.

  14. “So how long can public radio – especially Minnesota Public Radio, with its union-level pay scales and lavish facilities and gargantuan, padded staffs – survive?”
    – are you familiar with the concept of “Regulatory Capture”?

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