The Back Page

Free Radio For Sale


Editor’s Note: On July 13, Media Alliance of California received a misdirected e-mail memorandum from Micheal Palmer, national board member of the Pacifica Foundation, addressed to Mary Frances Berry, board chairman. Pacifica and Palmer have since described the memo as simply Palmer’s personal thoughts, but its broadcast by KPFA—Berkeley reporters became the catalyst for protests at KPFA and other Pacifica stations, including KPFT—Houston.

We are reprinting the substantive portions of Palmer’s memo here, so that Observer readers may judge for themselves whether or not it represents the spirit of Pacifica and listener-sponsored free-speech radio. We suggest that readers, especially in Houston, politely transmit any thoughts they may have on the matter to Dr. Berry at (888) 387-8263 or Pacifica Executive Director Lynn Chadwick at (510) 843-0130; you can e-mail Palmer <[email protected]> or KPFT’s Garland Ganter <[email protected]>.

From: Palmer, Michael@Houston Galleria

To: Mary Frances Berry

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…. The primary signal [KPFA—Berkeley] 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…

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…. My feeling is that a more beneficial disposition would be of the New York signal [WBAI—New York] 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….

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.