This is Pacifica Radio
Pacifica Radio has been one of the largest radio networks in the United States in recent decades and its importance remains enormous today despite the time elapsed. It has given voice to figures of all kinds of political and ideological trends and artists from all genres who sought a platform in order to be heard. However, such popularity does not make this organization to be free from controversy that, like its history and shows, we would also like to explore with the greatest possible respect.
Next, we will talk about the most outstanding to observe about this radio station since its beginnings from 1946 to this day, since talking about Pacifica Radio is also talking about communication in the United States and the role played played by Latino culture and music in all of this.
Beginnings of Pacifica Radio
Pacifica Foundation is a non-profit organization that owns five independent radio stations financed from listener contributions. It is widely known for its progressive and liberal tendencies and is located next to KPFK in Los Angeles, California.
This organization is also responsible for managing everything related to Pacifica Network, which, in turn, runs much more than a hundred affiliated stations with all kinds of shows and content, although it specializes on political and social issues to varying degrees. It is the oldest radio network in the country and the oldest non-profit network in the world, which speaks of Pacifica’s relevance compared to other media.
It was founded in 1946 by E. John Lewis and Lewis Hill after the Second World War. Both men were totally anti-war and refused to perform military service as conscientious objectors. They joined other pacifists to create Pacifica Foundation, whose first station started to air on April 15, 1949 in Berkeley, California.
Being true to the beliefs with which they started this project, the founders gave voice to all those who were against the Korean War the following year along with many other minorities who could not find means of communication to express their views contrary to the majority position of the time.
The station started operating in several cities over the years due to its enormous success and the following radio stations were created in several cities: KPFA/94.1 and KPFB/89.3 in Berkeley, California (San Francisco Bay Area), KPFK/90.7 in Los Angeles, WBAI/99.5 in New York, KPFT/90.1 in Houston and WPFW/89.3 in Washington, DC.
Pacifica is governed by a board of directors that sets out the policies that determine the organization and oversees the network operations. The board is comprised of representatives from each of the stations that comprise the foundation, as well as directors elected by the Pacifica community.
The members of this board are elected and replaced every three years and have regular meetings to discuss issues related to the operation of the foundation and decision-making regarding the management of the network. It is from there that the use of resources donated by the audience is being decided.
The board members are as follows:
Lydia Brazon (Chair), representing KPFT in Houston, Texas
Sabrina Jacobs (Vice-Chair), representing KPFA in Berkeley, California
Alex Steinberg (Secretary), representing WBAI in New York City, New York
Donald Goldmacher (Treasurer), representing KPFA in Berkeley, California
Christina Huggins, representing WPFW in Washington, D.C.
T.M. Scruggs, representing WBAI in New York City, New York
Janet Coleman, representing WBAI in New York City, New York
Cerene Roberts, representing KPFA in Berkeley
Pacifica Foundation’s Latino shows
If there is something Pacifica Radio has stood out is for the enormous space provided to the Latino community to spread its music and culture in general. That is why there have been many shows entirely dedicated to these topics and whose hosts have been Latinos or children of Latinos.
KPFA has Luis Medina and Emiliano Echeverría, who are in charge of hosting the show ”Con Sabor”, which specializes in artists and news related to salsa, Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean music, among other genres. In addition, they also interview these artists, provide the audience with the musical calendar and offer concert tickets.
In the case of KPFK, the Latin community has the well-known show ”Canto Tropical” hosted by Kathy Diaz and Hector Resendez, whose work is focused on promoting the main Latin music genres such as Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban music and salsa. They also focus on interviewing and giving space to both local and foreign artists to promote their talent and be made known to the widest possible audience.
On WBAI, ”Salsa Con Candela” is a weekly celebration of the rich history and diversity of the salsa music genre. The show hosted by DJ Candela includes a mix of classic and contemporary songs, as well as interesting and enlightening interviews with artists and important figures in Latin music culture.
Another noteworthy Latin program is ”Salsa y más” on KPFT, which explores in detail the world of salsa and other important Latin genres. The program hosted by DJ Leonard Trujillo, as well as ”Salsa Con Candela” also offers a mix of Latin and contemporary songs along with interviews with local and international artists.
And finally, WPFW has ”Latin Flavor”, a program dedicated to the most important Latin genres such as salsa, Latin jazz and many others. The show hosted by DJ Jim Byers explores the cultural and historical roots of Latin music and provides a platform to present new artists from around the world.
Since the beginning of this foundation, its stations have been embroiled in a series of scandals that have not gone unnoticed by telecommunications and the community at large, especially political and ideological. Among the many events suffered by Pacifica, we cannot fail to mention the requests from the government to obtain the recordings of some shows, controversial interviews such as the one with Che Guevara, reports about embezzlement of funds, financial crisis, among many other things.
In 2020, it was learned that some Pacifica listeners, volunteers and donors have created an organization called Pacifica Safety Net with which they seek to expose mishandling and attitudes of Pacifica’s board members, whom they accuse of compromising the main mission of the station network. The members of this group have filed a lawsuit against this board for prevarication and mismanagement, assuring that the board’s lack of leadership resulted in the loss of many revenues in the station network and, therefore, caused a serious problem of solvency in the organization.
A great example of this mismanagement is the reduction from 120,000 to 40,000 members the network has today, as was the case in just a few years. There are also many complaints about the type of programmes broadcast by the network in recent years due to their high content of hate, conspiracy theories, racism and a lot of things that did not represent the values upon which Pacifica Foundation was based.
In that sense, the members of the aforementioned committee make an urgent call to all members of the radio network to recover these spaces to go back to the main mission of the foundation, which unfortunately has been taken by other interests completely unrelated to those of the donors, workers and listeners.
In 2019, the network was able to get a $3 million loan that would allow it to pay part of the debt accumulated up to that date, but the possibility of the foundation achieving long-term financial stability is not even close to being a fact. Due to mismanagement, the foundation is not able to pay this amount back, so it is forced to cut costs. This reduction in income is causing the board of directors to seek to sell the building where WBAI operates, which had been given by the Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT) in exchange for a rental agreement that is quite detrimental to the foundation from the point of view of current and former workers.
Wit regard to this issue, Mexican broadcaster Jesse ”Chuy” Varela, who worked for several years at KPFA, told us a little about the irregularities presented both there and at other stations where he worked. The radio professional points out that there have always been serious communication problems between administrations and workers. ”The board always thinks they can do something better with the money raised and spend a lot of resources without notifying the audience about what they are doing. When you ask for money from the listeners, they have to trust that when they give it to you, you are going to put it to good use” declared Varela.
”I knew of many cases where executives who had meetings in different cities, stayed in expensive hotels and ate in exclusive restaurants. I consider this is an abuse and a lack of respect for those who donate their money. I have seen this in all the stations where I worked unfortunately. In this sense, trade unions play a fundamental role to avoid these kinds of problems” the broadcaster continued.
As for other announcers and former Pacifica Radio employees or managers, they did not want to make comments in this respect. We presume that this could be because of possible reprisals due to the power accumulated by the largest radio network in the United States.
It should be noted that everything written here is based on testimonies of others that have not yet been confirmed, so we neither confirm nor deny any of the facts as presented here.