Explosive Pacifica Radio Memo Raises Storm

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Here at CounterPunch we have always predicted that the end game of Pacifica’s national board would the sale of some or all of the 5-station network’s assets, worth some $300 million. Such a sale would finally destroy the listener-subscriber basis of this once progressive radio network.

Latest evidence of the Board’s bad faith comes in the form of an email, purportedly from Micheal Palmer, a real estate broker in Houston who is treasurer-elect on the governing board. The text of the memo follows. Palmer’s email to Pacifica national board chair Mary Frances Berry puts forward a plan to destroy grassroots opposition and raise money to pay for the voracious cash needs of the national superstructure by selling either KPFA, the network’s flagship station in the Bay Area, valued at around $70 million, or WBAI in New York, probably worth even more. Thus far Palmer has not responded to CounterPunch’s phone messages left at his office, home and cell phone, explaining clearly the reason for our calls.

There are a couple puzzling features in the address panel of the email. Berry’s name middle name is incorrectly spelled, though Micheal is the proper spelling of Palmer’s first name. How can such an explosive memo be seeing the light of day instead of remaining locked in Mary Frances Berry’s safe? The truth is ironic and extraordinary. The IGC internet service provider did a trace and confirms that the email originated at Micheal Palmer’s email account. (Click here to read the IGC trace of the email’s origins.) But it was sent to the email address of Andrea Buffa, director of the San Francisco Media Alliance and one of the protesters on whom Pacifica manager Lynn Chadwick had conducted a citizen’s arrest for demonstrating outside the Pacifica national offices in Berkeley. Buffa was arraigned on July 13 directing the attention of the press to the text of the letter on CounterPunch’s website. (Click here to read press release from the Media Alliance.) It seems that Palmer in one of the most momentous Freudian slips in recent memory managed to direct his email to an active opponent of all the schemes being hatched by him and Berry.

The memo shows that a small clique on the national board has been planning all along a strategy which even many people disapproving of the Berry strategy had regarded as inconceivable. Here at CounterPunch we are not in the least surprised. A year ago we were told by an entirely reliable source that the notion of selling one of Pacifica’s frequencies has long been debated inside the high command. Four years ago, then Pacifica national director Pat Scott and others were actively lobbying for the sale of WBAI’s prized frequency on the New York FM dial, arguing that the proceeds would in part purchase a less valuable frequency and be otherwise invested in projects dear to the board’s heart. In sum, the content of Palmer’s damning email is well within the bounds of credibility. Its inadvertent release promises to raise the Pacifica battle to a new level and draw in many previous fence sitters in the struggle against Berry and her clique.


From: Palmer, Micheal @ Houston Galleria, mpalmer@cbrichardellis.com
To: ‘Mary Francis Berry’, ma@igc.org

Hello Dr. Berry,

I salute your fortitude in scheduling a news conference opportunity in the beloved Bay Area regarding one of the most pressing issues of our time…………

But seriously, I was under the impression there was support in the proper quarters, and a definite majority, for shutting down that unit and re-programming immediately. Has that changed? Is there consensus among the national staff that anything other than that is acceptable/bearable? I recall Cheryl saying that the national staff wanted to know with certitude that they supported 100% by the Board in whatever direction was taken; what direction is being taken?

As an update for you and Lynn I spoke with the only radio broker I know last week and his research shows $750,000-$1.25m for KPFB. There would be a very “shallow pool” of buyers for a repeater signal such as this and it would be difficult to do a marketing effort quietly due to the shortage of buyers. So there is no profound latent value to that asset. The primary signal would lend itself to a quiet marketing scenario of discreet presentation to logical and qualified buyers. This is the best radio market in history and while public companies may see a dilutive effect from a sale (due to the approximate 12 month repositioning effort needed), they would still be aggressive for such a signal. Private media companies would be the most aggressive in terms of price, which he thinks could be in the $65-75m range depending on various aspects of a deal. It would be possible to acquire other signals in the area, possibly more than one, to re-establish operations, but it could take a few years to complete if we want to maximize proceeds from the initial license transfer, or leave only $10-20m in arbitrage gain when purchase(s) is complete. None of this reflects tax consequences. This broker, just like any other that would undertake such an effort, would need certain agreements in place prior to starting.

Mary I think any such transfer we would ever consider requires significant analysis, not so much regarding a decision to go forward, but how to best undertake the effort and to deploy the resulting capital with the least amount of tax, legal and social disruption. I believe the Finance Committee will undertake a close review of the Audigraphics data provided recently to determine what it is costing us per listener, per subscriber, per market, per hour of programming…in order give the Executive Director and the General Managers benchmarks for improvement. Even with that data my feeling is that a more beneficial disposition would be of the New York signal as there is a smaller subscriber base without the long and emotional history as the Bay Area, far more associated value, a similarly dysfunctional staff though far less effective and an overall better opportunity to redefine Pacifica going forward. It is simply the more strategic asset.

With this in mind I would encourage frank description of the realities of the media enviornment we operate in and of Pacifica’s available resources to participate and have impact in the evolving media world. The Executive Committee, at a minimum, should have access to experts (whether from Wall Street, NPR/CPB, Microsoft or otherwise) to get a strong reality check (me included) about radio and Pacifica’s position in it so that informed decisions can be made. My feeling is that we are experiencing a slow financial death which is having the normal emotional outbursts commensurate with such a disease. We will continually experience similar events, in fact we have been experiencing similar events over the past several years, primarily because we are not self supporting through subscriber contributions and have a self imposed constraint on asset redeployment that leaves us cash starved at a time when our industry is being propelled in new directions, each requiring capital outlays of consequence. We’re boxed in at our own will. This board needs to be educated, quickly, and to take action that will be far more controversial that the KPFA situation. How can we get there?

So, now I’ve exhaled more than I should, but you know where I’m at. Let’s do something.

MDP

For more information on Pacifica visit these sites:

http://www.radio4all.org/freepacifica

http://www.savepacifica.net

An afternoon panel discussion on the Pacifica crisis will be held Saturday, July 24 from 1-4 p.m. at the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society, 9550 Haskell Avenue in North Hills. Panelists include former Pacifica board president Peter Franck, fired Pacifica national programmer Larry Bensky, KPFK local advisory board chair and litigant David Adelson , and long-time KPFK programmer Roy Tuckman. Dr. Helen Caldicott will also address the issues via a pre-taped presentation.

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