On Jan. 24, print and radio journalist Greg Guma took the reins of Pacifica, a foundation that holds the licenses to five progressive radio stations, including KPFA in Berkeley.
Guma, 56, co-founded the Vermont Guardian, worked as a daily news reporter, managed bookstores, edited the Vermont Vanguard Press and the progressive international affairs magazine, Towards Freedom.
He is the author of books, documentaries and civil liberties dramas. On Friday, the Daily Planet spoke to Guma, who was working at the Washington, D.C. station. He is visiting each of the Pacifica stations before coming to the national office in Berkeley around Feb. 24.
DP: Why did you seek the job of executive director?
Greg Guma: The Foundation of the Pacifica network is one of the most important progressive institutions in the country. It’s an opportunity that comes to few people to really have an impact on the national dialogue, on a whole wide assortment of issues and to be involved in an institution that has a tremendous history and an important role to play in the years to come.
DP: And you decided to try for the job despite the tremendous hurdles you knew you would face, especially in dealing with many of the conflict situations.
Guma: That’s not the basis on which I make decisions. You know many things in life have obstacles. I’ve been involved in a lot of political struggles in my life. I’ve been involved in creating institutions, managing others, political campaigns and civil liberties, anti-nuclear, the peace movement, human rights and justice and so, you know, people have arguments. There are disputes. When the stakes are high, people get excited and I come into this with a clean slate. There have been many disagreements and even a virtual civil war inside Pacifica. But that’s over now and we’re moving on. And I’m very excited and challenged by the opportunity to bring people together to be involved in a process of realignment, reconciliation and the dynamic process of finding new audiences and really making a difference in the years ahead in these critical times. The next two years are going to be tremendously important and it’s centrally important that an organization like Pacifica play a major role in countering the dominant narrative in this country. And I want to be a part of that.
DP: You talk about finding new audiences and I would guess that that means creating new programming, which means somebody has to give up a slot on the radio.
Guma: I think there’s a fallacy in that. Yes, one radio station only has 24 hours, but there’s also satellite radio that we’re looking into, there’s Internet channels, there’s iPods. People are going to start to get their information from a lot of different sources. And as a major content producer, Pacifica has an edge here. There’s also a tremendous amount of good programming already being produced by Pacifica stations and the idea is to find out how to project the personalities and the programs to a national audience.
At some point there’s going to be change, there’s going to be accommodations, that people move on, a new generation comes in. Radio is an evolving medium. ... But what I’m talking about is redeveloping the national programming capacity of the station, doing it from the ground up and using the talent that’s here and bringing in new talent to project the voice of the progressive community to millions more people around the country and beyond.
DP: Specifically, here in the Berkeley area and at KPFA you are aware of the turmoil that the station remains in even after the (former General Manager) Roy Campanella has left. How do you see resolving some of the local conflicts at the station?
Guma: Well, some of that’s going to have to wait until I’m actually there. I’ve visited the station once. I was in Berkeley for two days. I am helping them to begin to recruit a permanent new general manager. We’ll appoint an interim general manager, perhaps at the end of February, or beginning of March and I’m hoping that the [local station board] there will fast track the process of finding a permanent general manager within a matter of, hopefully, less than three months.
Long-term, however, there are issues having to do with internal staff relations and how people treat each other inside the station and what I would describe as somewhat as people adopting almost a tenure-system approach to programming, that is to say that people who come in with the best of intentions as programmers or producers come to believe they own that small piece of real estate within the station. That’s not true and that will change.
DP: I know you have a lot of experience in print journalism. Tell me about your experience in radio.
Guma: I have a degree in radio and television broadcasting from Syracuse University. I first appeared on Pacifica Radio in 1978 doing a national feed on the terrorist trial in Burlington. I was co-producer of a radio program in WRUV in Burlington. I’ve been trained by the American Radio Network on the boards. I am not an expert in radio, but I have considerable experience on the air as a producer and I’ve also made documentary films. I am a multi-media communicator who was also a manager and that seems to be what the Pacifica Board wanted. What I don’t know about the technology, I can learn. Fortunately there are a tremendous number of talented people in this network who can help me.
DP: How are you going to promote democracy within Pacifica. Something that you have written—and I find interesting is that in a democracy the loudest voices seem to win. Democracy is a messy thing. How would you promote democracy given the challenges?
Guma: Growing democracy is obviously important and so is good management. Good management is if it is done on a consultative basis without trying to impose solutions on people, can enable people to amplify their voices. By winning trust from the board, by getting people who haven’t spoken to each other to begin to talk to one another, by getting them to distinguish matters that really are important policy matters and matters which are personnel matters or management concerns. Having them distinguish between those two things, it will help to free up more time for them to have discussions that they need to have so that the important things we have to do are not displaced by internal debates that tend to be so enervating and discouraging. Also promoting the election process itself. A revolution like the one that has been underway in Pacifica for the past three years will not sustain itself unless it is actively promoted.
So I think one of the jobs that I have, and it is in my job description, is to promote both the network as an entity but also to promote the institution’s goals and that means getting the stations to put out the word that this is the place where they won’t just be subjected to boring meetings, but that they’ll be involved in the dynamic and exciting process in which progress is made. So what I’m going to try to do, is through this kind of active promotion throughout the stations, get more people into the election process so that the number of votes goes up rather than down in the next cycle. What they do as a result, that’s up to them. I don’t determine the outcome. My concern is the process.
DP: Are you going to relocate here?
Guma: I’ll be living in Berkeley or the environs. I love Vermont and I hope to return there some day and I have a house there and three cats and many friends, so I’m not giving up on Vermont but for the next while I’ll be living somewhere near the station.
DP: What else would you like people to know about yourself?
Guma: Don’t listen to Internet rumors; don’t listen to third parties who will attempt to distort not only what I say but what other people say. Finally, judge me by what I do, come talk to me, keep your minds open and so will I..