Public Comment

KPFA’s Current Dialing for Dollars Plan Is At Odds with Pacifica’s Mission

By Richard Phelps
Thursday June 12, 2008 - 10:51:00 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second part of a critique of KPFA’s current management’s “selling” and not playing public affairs. The first part appeared in the Daily Planet on May 22 and can be found at 


As I pointed out in the first commentary, “KPFA: The Alternative Home Shopping Network,” speeches and other public affairs programs are being recorded, not for play on the air for all to hear, but for sale as “gifts.” This is a gross violation of Pacifica’s Mission as a source of alternative ideas in a society where the corporate media severely limits our access to “non-status quo” presentations.  

In my vision of Pacifica the stations would play important speeches etc. for all to hear in a timely fashion and with the programs ask us to contribute so that we may have access to such programs on the radio or in the station archives. Some of these speeches, when appropriate, could be aired live to give the station a sense of excitement, “this is where you hear it when it happens.” People talking on the streets and at work would be saying “did you hear Michael Eric Dyson on KPFA yesterday, he gave a really interesting perspective on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy.” This comment builds loyalty and encourages new people to tune in and donate. 

Now the comments are “ I heard part of a Dyson speech, and to hear it all I have to pay $60 and wait several weeks to get the CD.” And maybe “Damn, why aren’t they playing that all right now so I can hear it when it is timely?” or “I love KPFA and I can’t afford to pay for all the speeches, why aren’t they playing them so we can all hear them?” This type of comment kills loyalty and is partly responsible for the loss of 5,000 subscribers in the last five years. Unfortunately, this type of comment is appropriate given KPFA’s “selling” of public affairs instead of airing public affairs for all to hear!  

KPFA could also use such speeches to do outreach. For example, the Dyson speech could have been promoted in and thus made available to the Bay Area African-American communities. This community service would have increased KPFA’s listeners in these communities with a few dozen well-placed flyers. Mission accomplished! 

Speeches/programs could be played shortly after recording or when the station gets them, while still fresh and with on-air promotion to let everyone know when to tune in. Fund pitches could be made with the programs. And of course copies could be sold to anyone who would buy one. KPFA develops a reputation for being the place to get the current programs when they are happening. Not sometimes, all the time.  

This would give the station more presence in the community and develop more loyal listeners who, I believe, will donate for something that is “live” and responsive to community interests. This is much better than being known as the stations that plays one third of a speech to get us to buy it! “Pay per listen” radio is a retrograde concept at a “Free Speech” Pacifica station! Too much like “Pay Per View” on cable TV. 

The Pacifica Mission is to get alternative information out as far and wide as possible. KPFA is a radio station for all those with a radio to enjoy, not a CD sales center for those with the money to buy programs. Unfortunately in the last few years it has become much more of the latter and less of the former!  

Here are a few examples of the last fund drive tea$er program$. Michael Eric Dyson, $60, Isabel Allende, $60, Left Forum, $200, Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, $175, Rachel Corrie Speaks, $75.  

If you wanted to hear these programs with their several hours of current and interesting material it would cost you $570.00! And you wouldn’t get the CDs for several weeks or months, when they won’t be current. 

Along with this retrograde method of fund raising comes “Madison Avenue double talk.” Is this appropriate for Pacifica? Shouldn’t honesty and straight talk be the Pacifica method? A “gift” is something that is given, not paid for. There were some concrete examples of this “sales double speak” in the first article and here is a quote from Sasha Lilley, the interim program director, from the last fund drive:  

“The most important thing of all is the unfettered flow of radical information, culture, arts, news and politics that you get here on KPFA.” (May 20 at 11:47 a.m.)  

Now excuse me if you think I am going too far, but I believe that $570 is a fetter to most people who want to be well informed! Especially four times a year! And from the Mission perspective, every loss of non-corporate analysis or thoughts from public consciousness is a default to pervasive, corporate spin. Not playing important public affairs for all to hear prevents Pacifica from playing its part as the largest presumptive antidote for this poison.  

Non-corporate ideas are necessary to help develop alternative politics and culture. That is why the corporate media won’t provide them! Without these alternatives our rights and human possibilities are continually diminished. Is this what Pacifica is about? I think NOT and I don’t understand why the current management, who claim to be Mission adherents, doesn’t see the contradiction. Is it lack of vision or concern or both?  

The current “Concerned Listener” majority on the Local Station Board supports management’s “Madison Avenue” approach of selling public affairs instead of playing them for all to hear. They must be voted out in the next election if we want to save KPFA from this rightward drift.  

If you want more information on the struggle for the Pacifica Mission and democratic process, transparency and accountability at KPFA and Pacifica go to  


Richard Phelps is a former chair of the KPFA Local Station Board and a 34-year listener/subscriber.