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;;V:WW”..z:M ,` FEATURE No Peace at Pacifica BY MICHAEL KING rf he battle over community radio moved to Houston this month, as the Pacifica Foundation’s governing board of directors is holding its quarterly meeting at the Doubletree Hotel \(October ming, governance, finances, and other general matters, although the bland surface of the official The board meetings rotate among the five Pacifica station locations is fitting that this session should land in the home of KPFT, founded as a Pacifica station in 1970. The winds of change blowing through the network are also swirling around KPFT, and it may well be that the Houston station becomes a test case for the continuation of Pacifica values and traditions. As reported in the Observer August 6 \(“The Crisis at Pacifica,” work and some station staffers exploded at KPFABerkeley on July 13, when an on-air shouting match between a manager and a broadcaster erupted first into a sit-in by station staff and then a twoweek lock-out by network management, with the station defended by armed guards and surrounded by hundreds of demonstrators. The broadcaster was longtime KPFA staffer Dennis Bernstein; the manager was Garland Ganter, station manager at KPFT, who had been brought in from Houston by the network to run KPFA temporarily. Ganter had just placed Bernstein on administrative leave because according to Ganter and Pacifica executive director Lynn Chadwick Bernstein had violated the network’s non-disclosure policy or “gag rule,” by reporting news about internal Pacifica matters: specifically, a board member’s leaked proposal that the station frequencies for KPFA and WBAI be sold \(“Freedom’s The lockout ended August 1, the KPFA staffers are back at work, and Ganter is home in Houston. The ensuing weeks have been relatively quiet, although KPFA broadcasters are for the present not bound by the gag rule, and the web sites are humming with polemics, denunciations, charges and countercharges. Some of this controversy will come to a head in Houston: organized by the staff and listener and community groups will be attending the board meeting to rally, lobby board members, and hold a teach-in, part of their campaign to “democratize the network.” They will be joined by a new local organization, the Houston Committee for People’s Radio, founded to press for changes at KPFT. Pacifica management has characterized the controversy as simply a labor dispute at one station, but the dissidents insist what’s really at stake is the core meaning of community radio. Unlike government-sponsored public radio, the Pacifica stations were founded by progressive activists who opposed commercial, corporate media, and who believed that broadcasting should be what writer Alex Cockburn has called “a rendezvous for cultural and political A The boarded front of the KPFA building Susan Druding contrariness.” The founders considered Pacifica radio one small but crucial means to a much larger end: building and sustaining democracy in the society at large. They believed in participatory democracy at the sound board, and that a politically passive audience, however demographically large, is none at all. The current Pacifica management, on the other hand, apparently looks toward conventional public radio and commercial stations for its corporate organizational models and finds the uproar generated in response to that perspective incomprehensible. One might wonder whether they ever listen to the programs on their own stations. Lynn Chadwick, the network’s embattled executive director, told the Observer that the Houston budget meeting will set the network’s priorities for the coming year. Also at issue is how to handle the “extraordinary expenses” connected to the KPFA lockout. Critics charge that Pacifica wasted more than $500,000 on security and public relations, but Chadwick insists those expenses were necessary, because opponents of Pacifica’s new by-laws \(which had removed local advisory board members from any direct network governance penses are for Pacifica to absorb, the board understood why they 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 3, 1999