“Wake up before our buildings are sold!” – ex-Chair Grace Aaron, W9Oct2019

. . . and then there was one . . .

This was passed to me by Peter Müller, one of those peeps slaving away in Switzerland, making sacrosanct cheese. He used to live in Gelsenkirchen.

It’s in three sections: Wake Up Before Our Buildings are Sold! … Is there a Solution? … Should We Seek Outside Help, Change the Board Structure, Replace Governance and Follow Experts? https://mega.nz/#!amAygQJK!Ioxsc7_fmq-iHLGpGl2Kqv2M2nmPYeiqPVNAV51kUwI

Cited, & attached, is what’s purported to be ICFO Tamra Swiderski’s cashflow projection for FY2020 (so the year ending 30Sep2020), with FY2018 & 2019 as comparatives. It’s undated, but the original filename includes the phrase “Pacifica Cash Flow Presentation 9.19.19”.

Another worker in Switzerland had passed this to me at the beginning of the month, but that copy lacked explanatory notes, esp. assumptions, so it made no sense publishing it. GA’s copy has the list of assumptions, plus the data for National Office & Pacifica Radio Archives. So here it is: https://mega.nz/#!mmZUkICB!1c74TQ4oTKyQ6dHNB_h5eLYHspltLDujlGFbEcj-X_c.

Note that for WBAI alone, it says “Assumes not funding Central Services FY20” (page 4). Oh. In the absence of a recommendation by the PNB Finance Cttee on the financial dimension of WBAI’s future, & no decision made by the PNB itself, why is this assumption in a fundamental planning document, such as Pacifica’s FY2020 cashflow projection? Who’s doing the planning here for a radically different WBAI?!? If this isn’t evidence of planning between the Interim Chief Financial Officer & the Interim Executive Director, I don’t know what is.

What was that date, again? “Pacifica Cash Flow Presentation 9.19.19”, Th19Sep2019. So perhaps presented at the private PNB session that evening. 2½ weeks later, home invasion station invasion. Will this be raised at the PNB, in a public session, calling these individuals to account? Don’t hold your breath.

I’ll discuss Ms Aaron’s piece in a summary post next week.

~~~

Wake Up Before Our Buildings are Sold!

Pacifica iED, John Vernile, has laid off all staff at WBAI, taken control of their transmitter and is broadcasting shows from other stations.  This was done without Pacifica National Board approval.  John Vernile never gave prior notice or a plan to every member of the PNB.

This action coupled with inaction to remedy financial shortfalls at all of our stations may very well result in the forced sale of our buildings.

Recent weak fund drives at all of our stations indicate that our financial crisis cannot be attributed solely to shortfalls at WBAI.  Bequests in 2019 at KPFA, KPFK, WBAI and the National Office have kept the Foundation afloat.  However, bequests are rare, so income projections cannot include them.  See the attached cash flow report from our iCFO.  Scroll down to see the actual income and expenditures for 2018 and 2019 as well as projections for 2020.  Significantly increased spending on the Pacifica National level in 2019 of about $600,000 above 2018 must be factored in to any financial analysis.  This increase in expenses dwarfs any WBAI shortfalls.  Therefore, even if WBAI disappeared (ie- no income/no expenses) predicted fund drive underperformance at the other stations coupled with out of control spending at the national level will rapidly create a cash crisis that may very well result in the forced sale of our buildings. 

Here’s why:

1) To my knowledge as a PNB Director, Mr. Vernile has neither calculated nor communicated the financial ramifications of the shutting down of operations at WBAI.  Initially, it will mean the loss of at least $200,000 to $300,000 in income from the WBAI fall fund drive.  The laying off of staff without proper notification of the WBAI Union will most likely result in legal expenses, arbitration costs, etc.  Severance payments will have to be made to employees who are laid off.  Where will the money for that come from?  Legal challenges have already ensued.  Travel, hotel and other expenses are being incurred without PNB approval.  Instead of ameliorating Pacifica’s cash flow crisis the shuttering of WBAI has exacerbated it.

2) No income generating mechanism has been put in place to replace the income currently brought in by WBAI.  In order to maintain the WBAI license it will have to be kept on the air.  That means that the overhead of the transmitter rent owed to 4 Times Square of almost $18,000 per month will have to be paid by the National Office or the other stations.  At least one WBAI staff member will have to be paid.  This will most likely mean an additional $10,000 per month in expenses.   Thus, overhead of about $28,000 per month will have to be paid without any income coming in from WBAI unless there is some plan that has not yet been communicated to the PNB for income generation. 

3) The sale or swap of a signal is a lengthy process.  A reasonable estimate is that it would take at least 1 ½ years and is, therefore, not an option that would prevent the forced sale of our buildings if we are not able to meet payroll at one or more of our stations or if a vendor or creditor takes legal action against us, which appears more likely than not in the next few months.  Three National Board Directors, Nancy Sorden from WPFW, Lawrence Reyes from KPFK and myself, Grace Aaron from KPFK spoke with Marc Hand, who is an expert on signal sales and swaps.  He verified that the sale or swap of a radio license is, indeed, a lengthy process.  To explain, first a buyer or swap opportunity for a signal has to be found.  Terms have to be negotiated.  Next, the National Board has to agree to the swap or sale.  Then the exact terms of the swap or sale have to be communicated to all members of the Pacifica Foundation and they must vote to approve the sale or swap.  A 10% quorum has to be reached.  If the membership approves, Pacifica would submit an application for approval of the specific swap or sale to the Federal Communications Commission.  The FCC process takes a minimum of 90 days.  In that 90 days is a 30 day public comment period.  If there are any objections the FCC investigates them which adds at least 2 or 3 months to the process.  Also, it is not legal to borrow money against a potential signal sale or swap.  Bankruptcy would add another layer of approval to any signal sale or swap process, thus lengthening the process not expediting it.

4) Initially, if there is a lack of cash, vendor payments will be delayed.  This is already happening at the National Level.  The next step if income cannot meet expenses will be the inability of more stations or units to meet payroll.  It can be predicted that the first step will be for the National Office to use the $200,000 set aside to make payments on the $3.2 million loan to meet payroll or emergency vendor payments.  After that there will be no buffer whatsoever.  There is no other reserve.  Pacifica will not be able to make scheduled payments on the loan.  Bankruptcy will be the only option.  This will trigger the calling in of the loan by the lender to protect the lender’s interests from a Pacifica bankruptcy filing.  Then our buildings will be foreclosured on and the forced the sale of our buildings will take place to cover the $3.2 million principal owed as well as pay employees and other pressing obligations.

Is there a Solution?

In times of great stress, it is tempting to reach for quick, magical solutions.  Although these can sometimes pan out in rare instances, this would be a very risky course of action.  Staff, Board members, volunteers and others should be encouraged to seek help from major donors, etc., but the most likely way to stave off the forced sale of our buildings is to do the usual, not the unusual.  In that light I propose the following:

1) That the actions taken against WBAI be reversed immediately and that WBAI resume its fall fund drive.

2) That all efforts be made to improve the performance of fall fund drives across the network.

3) Our unions should be consulted and immediate union negotiations be started to help us reduce our salary and benefits expenses in a humane manner. 

4) Plan and execute a network-wide national fund drive to bring in extra resources.

5) When finances permit, consider hiring a National Development Director to pursue grants and major donor fund raising.

Should We Seek Outside Help, Change the Board Structure, Replace Governance and Follow Experts?

Commercial and public radio, newspapers, public TV and internet media are in terrible shape.  Experts galore have not found a solution to the changing media landscape which is causing the rapid decline in income of most traditional media sources with resources moving to social media.

Look at the facts:

The iHeartRadio bankruptcy: https://www.rbr.com/bk-end-for-iheart/

Cumulus Radio bankruptcy: http://www.insideradio.com/free/cumulus-post-bankruptcy-cleanup-may-continue-into/article_2be5180e-d5c7-11e8-9329-db4323e4e460.html

Pew Research on the state of the media: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/21/5-facts-about-the-state-of-the-news-media-in-2017/

There is also the demise of Air America, Current TV and Al Jazeera English. 

I doubt that ‘experts’ are the answer.  But, hey, someone at the LA Times reached out to a billionaire who bought that newspaper and is spending a lot to revive it.  So if anyone knows a billionaire, please reach out!

That’s all for now.

In peace,

Grace Aaron, Pacifica National Board Director from KPFK

One thought on ““Wake up before our buildings are sold!” – ex-Chair Grace Aaron, W9Oct2019

  1. robertgartner 11 October, 2019 / 02:29

    I find it so amazingly odd that Grace should be so apparently forthcoming only now. Yet we must remember her foundation (Social Uplift) asking for donations to it on the KPFT “Move Pacifica Forward” push card mailout. Years of secrecy and now this???

    How is it you are asking for an ear now??

    Like

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