Sunday, November 9, 2014

Houston, we have a proposal...

Yesterday, October 8, Dr. Stephen D. Cohen, who presumably lives in the Houston (KPFT) area, responded to Teresa J. Allen, a local Board member who had been helpful in his search for board meeting audio. Ms. Allen appears to be dedicated to the welfare of the station she serves (a rarity), and Dr. Cohen appreciates that. Here is his response to her, a preamble to his proposal (which you will find a download link to at the end of this post.).

I want to take the opportunity to give you some praise. You singular, and you plural.

 I've been a fan of Pacifica board and committee meetings for quite a while--initially the current ones and now I am slowly going through the audio from 2007 forward.  I admit, up front, that it is an acquired taste.

To me, it is one of the most amazing "serials" out there.  Like those reality TV shows.  Maybe we can call it "Things get so sticky on the Peanut Butter Board."  

I want to praise you for what shines through the audio signal about you:  your kindness, your faith, your commitment, your concern, your intelligence, your care for those less fortunate than all of us.  Every time you speak, my ears prick up--I know I am going to hear something intelligent, creative, thoughtful, concerned and committed to establishing a measure of equity in a world rocked by greed and self interest.

The most amazing, and gripping, feature of the audio, is that you are not alone.  I could say the same about every single voice I hear--and I really mean that.  This is what I hear, from each and every one of you, in these audios.  To a man/woman, every adjective I have used to describe you could be said about every single one of you--especially all of those who have been chewed up and spit out by the Pacifica Peanut grinder.

My respect for each and every one of you is profound.  I came to the party a lot more conservative than all of you, but, by listening to your struggle for Pacifica, and hearing the selfless ideals that guide each and every one of you, I have been moved to rethink many of my positions.

I used to purely relish in listening to the struggle of the board meetings because of the intelligence and strategic play by play action around the audio table. Like any good serial, I followed each of you in your individual and factional struggles. The audio delivers:   the most intense debates about nothing I have ever heard.  The most incredible ability to create complex arguments and strategizing between parties that are in full agreement that I have ever found.

But my feelings about that the meetings has also changed.  I also find I am now worried about you guys, and realize there is more to this than my entertainment at the debating skills of very, very bright people. 

While the meetings have been unbelievably interesting (along with some boring parts) as theater and debate, and the creation of gratuitous conflict, and incredible cloak and dagger street fighting, I now realize what is happening is more important than a game of Mouse Trap.   I am also sad and worried and struggle to understand the true meaning of your conflict.

Sad comes from the notion that vicious conflict among such fine people as those who occupy your PNB and your LSBs and the various committees threaten to bring everything down.  I don't agree with much of Pacifica radio content, but it is vital that your network exist.  Even if it is not the dominant voice in our culture, it is a vital one.  This country will truly suffer if all of you are silenced. Pacifica exists to bring what Paul Harvey (I love slipping in a right winger when you guys are not paying attention) called "the rest of the story."  And, in many, many cases, the most troubling, the most disturbing, the most thought provoking, and hence, the most important part of the story.

 It is critical that your antennas continue to work, that your transmitters continue to transmit (KPFT    at 2-3 %????!!!!!#####), that your experiment continues to bubble in the chemistry lab of ideas in our culture.

Worried comes because, while I find the debate and back and forth extremely interesting and gripping, I also recognize that, as you fight with each other, you are slowly moving to the edge of the cliff.  If your conflict with one another takes you over the edge, the loss, and the sadness of it, are enormous.

Struggle to understand comes from the cautionary tale that is  Pacifica, and the central question that is raised:  How could such bright , intelligent, caring, committed (in the correct direction) people make such a spaghetti out of Lew Hill's creation.  What does it say about us, the nature of human intelligence, human conflict etc.  

The radio content of Pacifica is fine--but it is, to me at least,  as predictable in its orthodoxy as listening to Limbaugh and his friends.  In the case of Pacifica, or Limbaugh, I can finish your sentences before you say them--I can predict you positions before you enunciate them.  I have suggested that you bring in both sides to debate the issues of the day--or have more call in shows.  That could be as exciting and vital as the debates between the two factions on your boards.  Alas, I've been told that the "other side" already rules the airwaves, and that Pacifica is not interesting in mixing it up with them, and debating ideas fairly and squarely.  Too bad you see it that way.  Maybe folks at Pacifica are as afraid of scrutiny and challenge to their ideas and Limbaugh--who will only allow "ditto heads" to get through on his show---boring!!

What makes the board meetings so vital is their intensity, their unpredictability, their spontaneity as some of the finest people I have never met find ways to fight to the death with one another, despite being in full agreement with each other.  To tear down fine edifices that they both built into rubble, pour in some water, and then get down and dirty in the ensuing mud of it all.

As Ambrose Lane used to ask, and I paraphrase--How is it that such intelligent, good hearted, eloquent, properly committed,  and passionate people cannot act toward one another other than to fight with each other, factionalize with each other, and threaten to destroy something so good?

I don't know Ambrose, and I suspect you never quite knew the answer to your question either.

I'd love to have somebody post the audio of the october 8th KPFT LSB meeting and future ones so I don't have to write these emails.  But once in a while, I try to write them and circulate them to you guys--hoping it might get through some very thick skulls.  At least I tried to help.  

But I understand when good hearted people get together and desire to behave in a destructive, hopeless kind of way.  At least in Mouse Trap, a mouse is caught.  The way you guys are going, I'm afraid when the cage comes down, all you will have caught within it is the air of conflict--an audio version of the bread of affliction.


Stephen Cohen MD

There have been more proposals submitted to Pacifica than the Reverend Moon's mass wedding committee ever arranged. As one might have predicted, the official ones from WBAI's dysfunctional LSB were self-serving rehashes as, from what I understand, is the Nouveau Pacifica norm. Here are the suggestions submitted by Stephen D. Cohen today via PacificaRadiowaves—advice more related to the real world—ready for download and perusal. Take a look.


  1. As you rightly observe, there is no shortage of plans to save Pacifica – nor has there ever been.

    Cohen’s plan has a false premise: That the reason for Pacifica’s failure is shitty programming.

    The reason for Pacifica’s failure is Pacifica. The shitty programming is a result of who these people are – it isn’t complicated.

    The fighting and factionalism are not a result of shitty programming. They are endemic to Pacifica and have been since its founding.

    Leftists and ‘progressives’ seem to be particularly disposed to these problems. As to why that’s the case we can all speculate, but I think it’s pretty clearly the case.

    Cohen’s notion is perfectly fine. It could work. Any number of alternative approaches might also work.

    The problem is that these are people who can’t make *anything* work. With the inherited capital of the enormously valuable assets of the licenses they have, all they have been able to accomplish is a long, bitter series of failures.

    So it goes…

    ~ ‘indigopirate’

    1. Yes, Pacifica is not rotten TO the core—it is rotten AT it.

      The abominable, stagnant air fare is dominant by default.

  2. Chris -- this is off-topic but I think it will interest you. There is a music forum -- Steve Hoffman's Music Forums -- that has a lot of good stuff. They currently have a thread about Columbia's 30th Street studio -- the thread has great photos, info, etc. and was started by engineers who worked there. (I think it would be interesting if you signed in at the music forum and added your considerable knowledge to the mix.) The link is below -- enjoy -- rj

    1. Thank you, rj! I have been a member of Hoffman's forum for several years, but rarely visit it.... now I will.

  3. The funny thing is that for all the ideas and plans put out to save WBAI and/or Pacifica, the ones chosen are the ones that do the most to marginalize them.

    Interesting thing is how all these plans are to "save" WBAI and/or Pacifica, not to improve or grow the institutions into significance. It's essentially an admission of defeat from the start.

    Anyway. I haven't listened to WBAI in days now, and don't miss it at all. However, I did listen here and there to the other four Pacifica disasters. That last sentence should tell you what I think of them.


    1. Your second paragraph describes the flawed attitude and warped priorities that are sinking WBAI. When you live from cheque to cheque and never look beyond the last one, this is what happens.

      I recall a few years back when Frank Lefever was advocating the distribution of flyers, to make people aware of the station. I argued that this was idiotic beyond belief—so you get them to tune in and what do they hear? Ifé's BlS chit-chat? Kathy's phony, simpleminded "spiritualism"? Brady's loonies?

      When it comes to the broadcasting field, a PhD is worthless if the person holding it is clueless.

      Daulton's hours of worship drew no praise, much less a red penny this past Sunday.

    2. Funny you mention Brady, because I have been listening to some old Art Bell shows on my internet radio today. Brady is a pathetic third rate Bell wannabe.

      Maybe God is mad at Daulton? I'd recommend he do some self-flagellation to repent.


    3. I think it may be the wrath of God, a reaction to the ungodly music. Did you get your ticket to the big church concert and food orgy? Last Sunday, Dalton was pushing tickets to the concert, giving out the phone number for his "manager." Hmmm

      Art doesn't ring a bell, as it were, but I'll Google him.

    4. If you didn't check it out, Bell does/did/does/did (he has a thing for retiring and comebacks) a show of conspiracies and the paranormal within an AM talk radio style and has a strong cult following. He's really the best of the genre because he will ask questions and probe claims rather than just accept them out of hand as truth. Someone once said something like, "I like his show, even if 90% of his guests are crazy and the other 10% aren't far behind." I like him in moderate doses, especially late night, because he's entertaining and even interesting, at times.


    5. Now I definitely have to check him out.

  4. Bad programming is a feature not a bug. First, you have the ideologues and narcissists who don't care if no one is listening as long as *they* get to put out their "message." Second, if you want to sell off an asset, then having no listeners - and especially those pesky "listener members" - is where you want to be and bad programming is how you get there.

  5. Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for writing. A few things. I basically agree with what you say, but try to understand that changing programs at Pacifica is firstly a fraught process and secondly it is an activity the boards play no direct role in although they play a huge indirect role since they get rid of managers who make program changes they don't like. Or more to the point, that the programmers don't like.

    Doing something different requires space and different techniques, two things Pacifica doesn't do very well. Not because of factionalism. The pre-existing problems predate the factionalism. Factionalism is the symptom. We often suffer from confusing the symptoms with the disease.

    I'm not in the least afraid of substantive debate. I am afraid, or more correctly, would be deeply disappointed by, straw man conversations moderated with faux objectivity on right-wing terms. Let me give you an example: Climate change. The debate the right wing wants to have is whether it exists. The debate that needs to happen is what to do about it. Spending an endless amount of time "winning debates" about whether climate change is occurring - is a straw man process. You don't "win" anything, but more delays in taking any kind of meaningful action. The conversation is hijacked into debating whether 2+2=4. These are the debate terms the right wing often wishes to engage with. It serves their purposes. It just doesn't serve much of anything else.

    So yes, but mindfully. With intelligence. Not just pointless screamathons on fake straw man issues.