Ian Masters on “What Happened to KPFK?”

We thought you might appreciate a recent insightful letter written by Ian Masters, host of the show “Background Briefing” heard on KPFK Los Angeles since 1980. Ian is an Australian-born and BBC-trained journalist and filmmaker. For over 40 years Ian has asked provocative questions of the most informed thinkers in order to bring light to the day’s most important news stories. Here’s Ian’s letter:

Ian Masters photo
Ian Masters

As someone who has raised millions for KPFK in the increasing numbers of fund drives we have had to inflict on our diminishing audience, I ask myself “what happens to the money we raise” and I get no answer. Surely KPFK’s listeners are equally puzzled.

Now we are told there is no money in KPFK’s bank account and that we have to raise $650,000 for KPFK by the end of next month. This contradicts the happy talk the Pacifica Foundation sends out to listeners with no explanation for how they will repay the $3.1 million loan they got an extension on, and no mention of what happened to the $2.4 million they got from the government from the PPP stimulus. And while we can point to the management at WBAI in New York for being responsible for the $3.1 million loan Pacifica appears unable to pay back, it is criminal to have had Los Angeles listeners subsidize WBAI losses for many years instead of investing in better serving the Los Angeles community.

But rewarding failure and supporting incompetent and unqualified managers has been the MO of the Pacifica National Board (PNB) whether it is run by the leader of the wannabe revolutionary faction or the conspiracy/quackery faction, both of whom have alternated in running Pacifica into the ground over the past two decades while controlling the PNB.

After firing professional managers, they then install themselves as interim Executive Directors of the Foundation and clearly they are the most responsible, along with WBAI, for dragging the Pacifica network down to the brink of bankruptcy.

Instead of accepting responsibility, they are quick to call any reform attempt a “coup” and resort to the tired lies of a “corporate takeover” and the racist trope of “white elitism” but the record is clear, they have turned Pacifica into a political organization primarily concerned with its own internal politics instead of being a radio network that serves under-served communities.

These perennial Pacificans on the boards who serve themselves and not our listener/donors, appear to have one financial plan, which is when you run out of money, you just do another fund drive. They also have created a patronage system of votes for favors that reward failure with generous salaries like the WBAI GM who does not pay the bills as he runs the station and the network deeper into the red.

Now in a desperate last-ditch effort to stem the tide of red ink, the PNB are punishing success by getting rid of KPFK’s only popular programs on KPFK, firing Roy of Hollywood, having Sonali take a leave, and of course going after me.

While we are told the 2019 and 2020 audits will now take place, the dire financial condition eventually cannot be denied and the inability of the boards to raise funds has to be faced. At some point perhaps there might be an audit either by the California Attorney General’s Charity Division, the FCC, the CPB, or as a result of lawsuits against the former heads of the PNB, and maybe then we will find out what has been happening to your donations but that will be a day late and many dollars short.

In the meantime, the only hope to right the sinking ship is to vote in favor of New Day Pacifica to bring in the necessary basic reforms which hopefully will not come too late.

The future of Pacifica, including Background Briefing, will take place in June. If you have donated $25 or more to KPFK between April 7, 2020 & 2021 you will be eligible to vote. Vote, so that you can have a say in the survival of Pacifica, and thus, this and your other favorite shows.


Ian Masters

More Background on KPFK

KPFK has been particularly hard hit by Covid19 as Los Angeles was particularly hurt by the pandemic. The biggest loss they had was over the last year or so. Rather than being supported by the PNB during this difficult time, the PNB voted on how to conduct layoffs over the objections of then KPFK General Manager Anyel Fields. Mr. Fields resigned shortly after the PNB laid off virtually all of his management staff, making it impossible for him to succeed in his job.

When there is a financial shortfall within any organization, the quickest and easiest way to address it is elimination of personnel. However, most organizations implement layoffs with a business plan. We have seen no such plan from the PNB. They conducted the layoffs with an ax rather than a scalpel, laying off or forcing out the majority of the most successful programmers, who are also the most successful fundraisers. While sustaining WBAI’s losses for years with the PNB forming no analysis or plan of how to improve it, KPFK just got the shaft.

Going forward, how will KPFK improve financially after being gutted by the PNB? Below is a graph that shows the extreme difference between the financial losses incurred between WBAI and KPFK. The figures are based on the audits for those years. It is difficult to see how KPFK can survive intact with such abysmal mismanagement.

Bar graph showing comparing the very large accumulated deficits of WBAI as compared to the much smaller deficits of KPFK
Bar graph showing how WBAI leads KPFK and other stations, by far, in the accumulated balance of millions of dollars that station owes to the rest of Pacifica. Other stations have been covering WBAI’s deficits for years, and the $7.9 million (and growing) figure from the most recent (2018) audit is more than double the amount of the $3 million loan Pacifica got to refinance debt for WBAI’s tower lease.

We at Pacifica Safety Net fully support what Ian Masters wrote. It accurately details what has been incrementally destroying the Pacifica network for the past 20 years. If you want to help us correct this, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Pacifica Safety Net by sending a check to: PO Box 8226, Berkeley, California 94707 or donate via this PSN gofundme link.

We thank you for your support in protecting the Pacifica mission. For more information go to our website at pacificasafetynet.org