Chris Albertson died one year ago

Chris Albertson, WBAI studios, 1965 (photographer: Sam Falk, New York Times)

Chris died a year ago today.

Respect.

His blogs, that are still maintained:

http://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/

Two of his obituaries:

https://jazztimes.com/features/tributes-and-obituaries/jazz-and-blues-historian-chris-albertson-dies-at-87/ (written by Michael West)

Welcome!

“Excellent!”, exclaimed Mr Burns . . .

[Please note the convenient tabs at the top of each page of this blog: the blog feed (replicated vertically, top right of each page); sources on Pacifica & its operating environment, with many links; annual auditor’s reports, covering the period from 1Oct2004 to present; &, lastly, details of the $3.7m loan from the Foundation for the Jewish Community, FJC, taken out on 2Apr2018.]

[Welcome! This blog started Th18July2019. This was the day the Pacifica ‘leadership’ told the world they’d blown it – again. They’d discarded an executive director, Maxie Jackson, who had been trying to give the radio network a sound foundation, & therefore the possibility of a sustained future, rather than being in perpetual firefighting mode, quenched somewhat by the occasional shower of a bequest. Listeners, after all, can only take so much ZR, Zombie Radio. And they deserve so much better. Pacifica needs its renaissance. Bio-economics, not necro-economics.

Please also note the pages at the top. One is Sources on Pacifica, carrying links to documents that are usually forgotten about – or some wish didn’t exist at all, & certainly not spoken about. You’re welcome to add links or make suggestions (please either make a comment to any post – it’ll be held as pending – or send an email to jara.handala@yahoo.com, or, for end-to-end encryption, to pacificawatch@tutamail.com). https://pacificaradiowatch.home.blog/sources-on-pacifica/

When I can make the time, I’m adding, as context, older material that I’ve written. Most of that comes from the blog of Chris Albertson, a former station manager of Pacifica’s WBAI in NYC, https://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/. Sadly, Chris died in April this year. He was a gentle man, kind, and decent. This blog is dedicated to him.]

. . .

Spreading knowledge to improve transparency & accountability all too often a conceit, a pious hope even. Many know what’s best but refuse to act. But when one cares, other than trying, what else can one rationally do? This is steadfastness, sumud.

So, yes, it’s often banging one’s head up against a brick wall, or the breakfast table. And, yes, given that normal people are quite limited in their incompetence & cock-ups, & for how long they let things go before seriously addressing what’s going wrong, one occasionally does have the sneaky suspicion that just a tad of Pacifica’s dysfunctionality might be intended, simply left to fester, making it easier to break up the network to the benefit of any station happening, against all the odds, to be making an operating surplus. Yes, Mr Burns is the metaphoric elephant in the studio.

This blog will assemble mostly publicly available info on the Pacifica radio network, known legally as Pacifica Foundation, Inc. The info will be commented upon, particularly for the gaps, &, importantly, a special striving will be made to ask the most illuminating questions, especially about what is not being said by decision-makers & the documents.

Pacifica entered a new, critical, phase in its history on 2Apr2018 when it signed the largest loan in its history, with the Foundation for the Jewish Community, known legally as FJC. The loan was $3 700 000 (albeit now reduced to $3 265 000), pretty onerous for a now annual $11m organisation that last made an audited annual net income in fiscal 2006. Yes, 2006. That run of consecutive losses, through fiscal 2017 (the latest statements), has totalled at least $12 745 968. (‘At least’ because the 2017 auditors refused to declare whether the statements were materially accurate: they found insufficient supporting evidence.) Pacifica last had audited net assets at 30Sep2012; & last had audited net current assets (that is, liquidity) at 30Sep2009. Yes, 2009. Not surprisingly, to get the loan, it had to give FJC as collateral all its property, every chair & coffee cup, besides the station buildings used by, not owned by, KPFA, KPFK, & KPFT (those in Berkeley, LA, Houston).

Pacifica decision-makers come & go, but the institution is noted for its obdurate & deep secrecy culture. Nevertheless, the co-signed loan contract between Pacifica & FJC was leaked on W26June2019, published with other documents on a public Facebook group, co-moderated & -administered at the time by Grace Aaron (she chaired her first public Pacifica National Board, PNB, meeting on Th9May this year). As an aside on the matter of info flow & speech advocacy, supposedly Pacifica values, my application to join that FB group, thereby acquiring the right to comment, has remained “pending” for three weeks now; two FB messages have gone unanswered, even unacknowledged; as context, this year just six people have joined. https://www.facebook.com/groups/PacificaRadiowaves/permalink/1264765520345396/ [UPDATE: the remaining gatekeeper let me in M12Aug, as if I’d wandered up the same day – rather than almost 50 days before.]

The leaked documents are linked from the original FB post, plus here: https://www.mediafire.com/folder/e1lo0t30pd4wc/ (the original drop); & https://mega.nz/#F!PloCiSqJ!9rLejSkttE7gCVCCq3q86g (convenient one-click download of the folder; also ‘preview’ allows reading online)

Pacifica power is now even more concentrated because Grace Aaron became the executive director on the evening of F5July: yes, Maxie Jackson left his job that day, “resigning”, according to Aaron’s statement, ‘Executive Director Transition’, at the Th18July PNB (13:18, https://kpftx.org/archives/pnb/pnb190718/pnb190718a.mp3). Committee meetings M8 & Tu9July had quietly disclosed, without using his name, that he had been disappeared. The most contemptuous was from director Mansoor Sabbagh, a KPFK staff delegate, to the PNB Finance Cttee: “we have got rid of our Executive Director” (44:46, https://kpftx.org/archives/pnb/finance/190709/finance190709b.mp3; unbelievably, R Paul Martin, WBAI’s stalwart treasurer, didn’t seem to know that Maxie had gone). With Pacifica being Pyongyang, without word from The Dear Leader this must have been unrestrained hubris. Quite pathetic, really, coming from Pacifica’s Uriah Heep. Yes, all human life, & much more, is found in PacificaWorld.

Well, be that as it may. The Personnel Cttee’s ED evaluation had stitched Maxie up M1July; the next day’s private PNB gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse; & Ken ‘I-can’t-help-it-if-I-sound-like-an-associate-of-Jimmy-Hoffa’ Aaron did the rest.

And being Pacifica, for over two weeks, no public announcement of the dismissal. No press statement. No statement to staff. No statement to listeners. Nothing on the website, https://pacifica.org/ (except ‘Contact>Foundation’ had a change, “Interim Executive Director”, but then gave “Bill Crosier”, which was true upto 23Jan2018 still there as of F19July; no surprise, as the latest item in the ‘News’ section is dated 25Feb2015). And even now there’s no explanation. Contempt for listeners & staff alike. A complete lack of manners. Just milk them for cash. Last night’s words, or lack of them, an insult. The behaviour, cowardly. A board of directors, lacking in integrity. But what’s new?

The Pacifica ‘leadership’ had a real opportunity with Maxie, but didn’t seem to recognise this, & now they have blown it. Despite their repeated words of receptivity, they actually couldn’t cope with the prospect of change, fundamental change. In two posts I have examined what happened & why, & what it means for Pacifica’s future: https://pacificaradiowatch.home.blog/2019/07/24/maxie-jackson-pacifica-the-politics-of-technique-a-tragedy-for-both/ & https://pacificaradiowatch.home.blog/2019/08/01/administrative-measures-not-open-discussion-the-pacifica-way/

Pacifica’s inability to cope with an ED determined to bring industry norms to the network, comes on top of all five Spring Fund-Drives failing, & cashflow becoming seriously more acute than usual in June. Unable to generate an annual net income since FY2006, & now with the added burden of the c. $300k annual FJC interest charge, Pacifica now finds itself descending into necro-economics: relying on rich corpses to offer up bequests.

Pacifica, through its actions, & inactions, is faced with declining & ageing listenership, declining membership, declining listener-fundraising, & grants cut off through lack of listeners & audited financial statements (the FY2017 auditor made things worse Th27June by refusing to declare that the statements were materially accurate, having no alternative given the acute lack of supporting financial records). To cap it all, the PNB majority has now driven out a moderniser & technician, ED Maxie Jackson. He was behaving in a completely, not just un-Pacifican, but anti-Pacifican way: trying to raise standards, trying to lay the basis for Pacifica to improve its competencies, structures, & processes in broadcasting, programming, community involvement, fundraising, bookkeeping & accounting, & governance.

This was never going to end well. Being told home truths, & pushing for best practices rather than the same-olde-same-olde, just ruffled too many feathers, just upset too many people. The whiff of NPR-lite. The ED simply didn’t understand Pacifica. The ED simply had to go.

So what’s the plan? “[The] Pacifica Foundation is in the process of hiring a highly qualified radio, television, & multimedia professional to hold the interim position of executive director. More information will be forthcoming. A formal search for a permanent executive director is already in progress” (‘Executive Director Transition’, Th18July PNB; 14:00, https://kpftx.org/archives/pnb/pnb190718/pnb190718a.mp3). Sounds reasonable. The sort of thing a normal radio network would say. But what are the prospects?

Consider the evidence. There were seven ED’s 2004-2009; since then, with Aaron, there have been another nine. So 16 in 15 years. Maxie lasted nine months. How many other outsiders, since 2009, have lasted longer than Maxie? One: Arlene Engelhardt, 2009-2012. Pacifica is so toxic for outsiders that there were only two others amongst these nine: John Proffitt, five months; Tom Livingston, eight months. Maxie was the second-choice: Numero Uno, at the last minute, decided to tune in to a PNB livestream. He immediately withdrew his application. Today, as yesterday, which media professional will risk their career with Pacifica?

So much for the current goings-on. This blog, in an attempt to give context & coherence, will begin with posts of work written in 2018 & 2019, corrected to remove the few errors pointed out to me. They were kindly published by Chris Albertson, a former station manager of WBAI, at his longstanding blog, https://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/. Sadly Chris died in April this year, & his blog cannot be added to. He was a gentle man, kind, and decent. This blog is dedicated to him.

But first I post the materially objective quantitative starting point, the annual auditor’s reports, here those covering the period from 1Oct2004. (These don’t include the reports by the pensions’ auditor, which I have been unable to obtain.)

Readers are heartily invited to comment, of course, & it would be even better if you also submitted posts & shared ideas on what should be covered & discussed. Please email me at either jara.handala@yahoo.com or, for end-to-end encryption, pacificawatch@tutamail.com.

For convenience, the main longer pieces I’ve written are downloadable as PDF’s here (I had sent them to all delegates of the five Local Station Boards on 16Nov2018): https://www.mediafire.com/#mr2t6dtdeknsd