Tuesday, February 26, 2013

From a February 26, 2013 response to Tracy Rosenberg, posted on the WBAI-LSB public list by Steve Brown. His thoughts on what can be done offer a refreshing gust of reality and reason to those of us who have cringed and groaned through Frank LeFever's misguided ideas. I post it here in hopes of soliciting your comments. —Chris 
Pacifica may limp along for a bit longer, but it will not survive because of a fatal flaw in its character – by which I mean its inability to stop doing things that don’t work. Many reasons have been advanced to explain this flaw -- incompetent management; arrogant staff; clueless board members; ideological rigidity; anti-intellectual bias; lust for power by some; unwillingness to relinquish power by others, etc. Choose your favorite reason, since all have played a part in the impending demise of Pacifica, sometimes one at a time, sometimes simultaneously.

In the past, those flaws didn’t matter (much). That was when money was easy, when as recently as 10-12 years ago, our “big three” stations could raise a million dollars in a short 15-day fund drive without breaking a sweat. Which meant that mistakes, false starts, mismanagement, poor hires, factional wars, embezzlement and outright theft (sometimes amounting to hundreds of thousands a year) – all could be fixed, patched up, or at least swept under the rug, as long as the money kept flowing. But the money is no longer flowing, and there is no more room under the rug.

Right now, at a time when declining audiences and shrinking revenues should prompt Pacifica and its stations to experiment with new ways to attract listeners and boost fundraising, they are still stuck in old ways that don’t work well. Not that those ways ever worked well. But as I said, for nearly 50 years, when money was easy and listeners had nowhere else to go for progressive content, it was good enough. But clearly, as the numbers show, it is no longer good enough.

We are not only losing listeners to the 26,000 progressive websites like Alternet, Huffington Post, Daily Kos and PRN (many of them streaming live radio) that now provide the same or often better progressive content than Pacifica. We are also losing listeners to mainstream (!!!) radio and TV programs like The Daily Show, Colbert Report, Thom Hartman, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, the Young Turks, and many others.

To make things worse, we are not only getting fewer pledges during our fund drives (e.g., WBAI and KPFA are meeting only half their current daily projections, and less than a quarter of what they were getting as recently as 7-10 years ago), but we are not even collecting all the pledges we get. Currently, WBAI fails to collect 80% of its cash pledges, and our other four stations, although they collect more, still leave a significant amount of uncollected pledge money on the table each year – as much as $3-$4 million in uncollected funds across the entire network.

Which brings me to the latest instance of why I think that Pacifica is hopeless -- clinically brain-dead -- and steaming full speed ahead towards the nearest iceberg.

At last weekend’s PNB meeting in New York City, I had decided not to use the “open mic” time to tell the board (and the audience tuned to the live stream) how to save the floundering network. After all, I had been explaining how to do this for more than 12 years (9 of them as a WBAI board member) without having the slightest effect. But at the last minute, my old “save the world” reflex took over, and so – at least for the sake of the new PNB members, who may not have heard it -- I stepped up to the mic and, in my allotted 2 minutes, explained (for the umpteenth time) how Pacifica could immediately raise an additional $1 million during the next pledge drive, and as much as $3-4 million within the next 12 months – without spending an extra penny or requiring any additional network or station resources. (By the way, that is enough money to wipe out all of Pacifica’s debts and make it instantly solvent.)

So what happened after my 2-minute talk? If Pacifica were sane, and not brain-dead, the moment I finished talking, the entire board would have leapt to their feet, tied me to a chair, and fed me on bread and water till I explained exactly how to do what I had just promised.Did that happen? Nope. In fact, there was no reaction at all. Nothing. Not a flicker. Just ho-hum, yawn, who cares -- and let’s break for lunch.

Now, it wasn’t as if I were a barefoot Neanderthal who had somehow stumbled into NASA-Control and was attempting to advise its engineering staff on how to build a superior new rocket propulsion system for the next Moon launch. As many PNB members knew, I was the former owner and president of a $300 million dollar marketing corporation with three thousand employees in seven countries; as well the former owner of the second- (or maybe third-) largest telephone call center and fulfillment facility in the Unites States; and for over 25 years have been successfully advising progressive non-profit organizations such as FAIR, Mother Jones, Alternet, Free Speech Radio News, Progressive Radio Network, El Taller Latino Americano, and numerous others on how to raise money and increase their listener and subscriber bases.

Yet there was no interest, from either old or new PNB members, in hearing more about this plan – offered by an acknowledged expert in the field of marketing, fundraising, and fulfillment – that promised to fix the network’s marketing, fundraising and fulfillment problems so that it could raise enough quick cash to save it from insolvency.

Can an organization that is so blind, so blasé, and so clueless survive in today’s environment? Not a chance. 

“Mene mene tekel upharsin.”

Stephen M Brown

The following brief comment was posted by Mitchel Cohen—who, for reasons never adequately explained, has been banned from the Blue Board:

"For the record, I agree with everything Steve says below (except for his unnecessary attack on Neanderthals), and I feel similarly frustrated. And frustrated by WBAI management's lack of response, as well."  Mitchel


  1. Hard to disagree with this analysis...but ultimately not enough...unless or until the artistic and freakish (in the sense of frisky) Yippie spirit is invoked and honored and nurtured, until we dance with Emma Goldman or laugh with Irwin Corey, we don't have a prayer,' or we had better pray 'cause that is all we got... The powerful big buckeroo artists that have helped in times gone by,D no longer want to see art scorned or given lip service or blown off because the bureaucrats are in charge of the asylum...Dick Gregory,
    Lily Tomlin, George Carlin, and yes Cheech and Chong did much to earn the respect and affection of the artists who formerly loved supported and participated in Pacifica's challenge to the main- stream

    1. Thank you. Where is Lord Buckley when we need him...where has all the good stuff gone? Who left the back door open?