Accounts of relations between Pacifica and other stations in the early years of community radio foreshadow the way that Pacifica and its affiliates relate today. Athough Pacifica pioneered listener- sponsored community radio in the United States, community radio stations began springing up elsewhere as well. In the 1970′s, KPFA veterans Lorenzo Milam and Jeremy Lansman were renowned for pioneering independent community stations from St. Louis to Seattle. Inevitably new community radio stations and Pacifica began to find shared interests and needs and began collaborating.
In the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, reporters at Pacifica stations, some international stringers, and several KPFA reporters situated in Washington DC (called the Washington Bureau) patched together a news feed using telephones for distribution. While the news feeds went primarily to the Pacifica stations, independent community radio stations like KGNU in Boulder and KUNM in Albuquerque began to pick them up as well.
Meanwhile, stations began looking for ways to share desirable radio programs. In 1975 the National Federation of Community Broadcasters was created and established a cooperative program exchange service as part of its initial mission. This service was a somewhat unwieldy exchange of audiotapes from station to station, via mail. When Bill Thomas, who organized the exchange, left NFCB to work for Pacifica Archives, Pacifica inherited the exchange and its mailing list of participating NFCB member stations with him.
The spontaneous activities of the early grassroots radio movement anticipated Pacifica’s role as the broadcast network for independent community radio, both as a provider of news and high-end live production and as a provider of infrastructure for exchanging content by producers at many stations, Pacifica and independent stations alike.
Those who remember the early days say that live coverage of national events was also pivotal in establishing an affiliates program. Veteran KPFA producer Larry Bensky describes Pacifica coverage of the 1972 Democratic and Republican conventions in Miami as its first major live national broadcast. Bensky, who was the producer/anchor, writes; “We had about twenty people from KPFA and WBAI and KPFT there. A techie genius named Jeremy Lansman hooked up a land-phone relay system so that about twenty stations – some of them student stations, some commercial “alternative rock” stations got our feeds.” In 1987 Bensky went on to lead the Pacifica coverage of the Iran Contra Hearings, which are widely credited with establishing Pacifica’s national reputation for live national broadcasts.
Finally, satellites played a pivotal role in national collaborations. Pacifica began distributing its news reports on Public Radio’s satellite system when it was established in 1980. Due to Pacifica’s new satellite access, Bill Thomas also began to realize the potential of his program exchange. Producers from Pacifica stations and independent community stations sent him their programs for national distribution and he coordinated their up link to the satellite.
Thus, by the late 1070′s and early 1980′s, the need for news coverage and the desire to exchange programs drew Pacifica into coordinating a national network. These are needs that continue to be expressed to this day.
During the early 1990′s Pacifica began developing formal client relations with affiliates. In 1997 Pacifica moved to its own satellite called the KU Band Digital System, aspiring to fill this isolated band with its own programming and start its own distribution system. Use of this satellite had been introduced by KFCF, a community radio station in Fresno, California that wanted to receive and air programming originating from KPFA-Pacifica in Berkeley. The satellite was originally used only by KFCF for this purpose, until it was realized that another channel on the satellite could be used for the Pacifica national program distribution we know today, to Pacifica stations and affiliate stations. KFCF has remained an associate station of KPFA-Pacifica. Rych Withers, at associate station KFCF and
However, by the end of the 1990′s relations with affiliates began deteriorating. Between 1999 and 2002 the National Program Service was terminated and the affiliates program suddenly dissolved. Identified by many affiliates as the era of “Pacifica’s implosion,” this collapse reflected Pacifica’s political struggle known as the “takeover.” Our archives include numerous letters from affiliates terminating their relationships with Pacifica. The reasons they gave included: unfair prices, breakdowns in contract negotiations, chaotic broadcasts and business relations, unreliable services, hostile relations, and a general sense of mayhem resulting from the struggle over the Pacifica Foundation’s governance. These problems were also repeatedly expressed to us during a survey conducted in 2002 to document this period.
Some long-standing affiliates, who saw the Pacifica mission as inseparable from their community radio stations’ missions, participated in the Pacifica struggle, primarily through boycotts and public manifestos. In 2000, sixteen affiliates boycotted Pacifica programming for a day, signaling the beginning of affiliate contributions to the political struggle. The Pacifica National News (PNN) covered this boycott, and Pacifica management censored their newscast. This also ultimately led to the removal of PNN Director, Dan Coughlin. To protest this censorship, over forty of PNN’s freelance reporters went on strike, and eight affiliate stations withdrew from the network in support of the reporters. This strike led to the formation of Free Speech Radio News, which is distributed by Pacifica Radio today and serves as the primary nightly international newscast.
In 2001, nineteen more stations who called themselves “Affiliates in Exile,” withdrew from the network in protest when Democracy Now! was removed from Pacifica airwaves. By the end of 2001, only seventeen affiliates remained.
In 2001, Deena Kolbert, a volunteer from New York City, began the first significant positive outreach to these stations on behalf of Pacifica as part of Juan Gonzales’ Pacifica Campaign to Stop the Takeover. She traveled to various community radio stations across the country and discussed the situation with their managers, in order to begin documenting their concerns and views on their affiliate relations with Pacifica.
In 2002, when the rebuilding of Pacifica began, the newly instated interim Pacifica National Board (iPNB) formed a committee to investigate the possibility of rebuilding the affiliates program. Chaired by board member Teresa Allen, committee members hired Ursula Ruedenberg to conduct a survey of former affiliates to create a working body of information. The results of this survey prompted the Pacifica National Board to set out to rebuild the affiliate program. A working committee was formed, including iPNB members, Pacifica volunteer Deena Kolbert, consultant Ursula Ruedenberg, and leading personalities from affiliate stations, including Norm Stockwell from WORT, Madison; Marty Durlin from KGNU, Boulder; Vicky Santa from WMNF, Tampa, Behr from KMUD, Redway, CA and Christine Ahern from WJFF, Jeffersonville, NY.
A vision for the program was developed by this working committee based on pragmatic problem solving, mutual understanding and history, and a shared desire to build community radio into a media force in the future. Pacifica is indebted to these community radio leaders at affiliate stations, for their activism on behalf of the Pacifica mission and for their help in rebuilding Pacifica’s affiliate program. A great deal of input was also gathered at conferences of the GRC and NFCB, where many former affiliates expressed their opinions and needs during meetings with Pacifica representatives.
In September of 2003, the affiliates committee submitted a plan called “PACE,” to the iPNB for building a new affiliates program as part of Pacifica’s national services. The plan’s endorsed a “vision” for a “mutually supportive resource” for a “community of interactivity.” The plan called for the immediate fulfillment of affiliates” most urgent and universal request “an affiliates coordinator for customer and liaison services “and for the more gradual fulfillment of more services and development of policies.” In September of 2003, the iPNB unanimously ratified a motion stating, “The iPNB endorses the direction outlined in the “PACE” report of 9/19/03, and encourages further refinement through discussion in the Affiliates Committee and with the national staff.” In October, 2004 Pacifica added an affiliates coordinator to its staff and Ursula Ruedenberg was hired for this position.
Since 2002, the number of Pacifica affiliates has grown from 13 to 180. New stations join the network every month. They include community radio stations, college stations, public, low-power, and Internet radio. Stations in Europe, Africa, and Central America are included in the growing number of international affilates.
In July, 2005, Pacifica introduced its Internet-based distribution system – the Pacifica AudioPort. First envisioned by Norm Stockwell of WORT, the AudioPort was built by Pete Korakis, Pacifica.org Progect Manager and Shawn Ewald, contractor for Pacifica and creator of Radioforall.org software. AudioPort offered more avenues of distribution opportunities and more flexibility for program reception that eliminated the need for satellite equipment.
With the introduction of AudioPort, the Pacifica Network moved from a vertical model – with Pacifica being the primary distributor of content to its affiliates, to a more horizontal model where radio producers from all of the stations can self-upload their content for distribution and exchange their content. Collaboration has increased significantly since producers of like interests can easily find each other. This model energizes community radio in general as a profession and brings more grassrooots voices to the national platform. AudioPort greatly contributed to rebuilding Pacifica’s affiliate program in the spirit of partnership that was recommended by the “PACE” proposal of 2002.
With the new technologies and a pressing political needs for grassroots media, our mutual history has great potential as a springboard for moving independent media into the future in bold and innovative new ways.
Although relations throughout the network enjoy a new level of collaboration, they are built on many traditional interests and visions that always existed between Pacifica and other community radio stations. The coalitions of interests that historically instigated Pacifica’s understanding of its own potential as a network have always included affiliate participation. Because of this, there is a natural give and take in our affiliate relations that can provide a solid base for real growth in the future.