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Comprehensive Pacifica Crisis Chronology

by Guglielmo Marconi Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2001 at 7:22 PM

This chronology began as an attempt to get the Pacifica Crisis history straight in my own mind. It proved useful, and so I post it here for everyone else. It's major lesson is that the crisis was a long time coming.

errorI have attempted objectivity here, by using many different sources and sides in the conflict. However, readers will probably be able to guess which side I'm on by the time they reach the end.

LAB = Local Advisory Boards, one per station, open to any listeners who wish to participate. These used to elect members of the national board by democratic vote.

-- .- .-. -.-. --- -. ..

Pacifica Crisis Chronology

15 April 1949

KPFA, in Berkeley, CA, goes on the air as the first of 5 Pacifica owned-and-operated radio stations.


Lew Hill, the visionary pacifist who invented listener-sponsored radio by starting KPFA and Pacifica, kills himself. While he is known to have been in pain from arthritis, his recent defeat in an early Pacifica
factional struggle may have also contributed.


KPFK, the second Pacifica O&O, takes to the air in Los Angeles with a huge signal. News great Terry Drinkwater is the first GM.


Owner of WBAI donates the station to Pacifica. It remains the only Pacifica station to occupy a commercial FM frequency (above 92 MHz).


HUAC and SISS begin a Congressional investigation of "subversive" programming at Pacifica. Problems with the government and FCC continue for three years.


One of the National Board's first firings under the still informal Pacifica "gag rule" against public airing of dirty Foundation linen comes after KPFK GM Paul Dallas repeatedly discusses fund raising matters on-air.


KPFT, the fourth Pacifica station, takes to the air in Houston. The Klan bombs it off the air twice in its first year.


KPFA leaves the air for a month, in a strike over personnel and third-world diversity issues.


WBAI broadcasts George Carlin's "Words You Can't Say On TV," and says all of them. Resulting litigation reaches the US Supreme Court, defining these words as the broadcast speech standard for many years.

22 Jun 74

National Board meets and adopts the first formal gag rule.


WPFW, Washington, DC, goes on the air as the fifth Pacifica station, after its bid for the region's last FM frequency is accepted by the FCC.

Late 70's

Factional struggle at WBAI leads to a strike. Dissident staff faction actually siezes the station transmitter in the Empire State Building, and runs its own program. Power is cut to stop this operation, and the station is off the air for three months.


KPFT, at the time probably the most adventurous community FM station in the country, begins broadcasting in 11 languages. Pacifica executive director Sharon Maeda is sent out to "professionalize" KPFT. This leads to the departure of the legendary Rafael Renteria, a Marxist revolutionary who was unafraid of airing anything. Internal battle lines begin to form within Pacifica's rather lumpy organization over passionate niche programming intended to radicalize tiny communities ("Balkanization") versus stripped-in, personality-oriented shows ("mainstreaming") designed to entertain and perhaps inform broader, richer audiences.


Tim Frasca and Marc Cooper are fired after a National Board meeting where they raised the issue of KPFT and WPFW's airing NPR instead of Pacifica Network News (PNN). Cooper remains deeply involved in the Pacifica wars to this day.


Amy Goodman's program on East Timor wins several of radio journalism's most prestigious awards. 10 years later, some of her detractors will try to suggest she faked it.


WPFW participates in DC's first Capital City Jazz Festival. Some say this marks the beginning of the station's evolution into an all-jazz format slightly similar to KPFT's "Texas Music."

1986 on

Following purges and a staff exodus from KPFT, Garland Ganter comes on as news director. He moves to PD in 1990, and GM in 1994. As time passes, he finishes the station's conversion into a music-oriented, "Sound ofTexas" format. Ratings and fund raising dramatically improve. Local businessmen take note of the phenomenon. Two of these, Michael Palmer and David Acosta, are eventually appointed by the KPFT LAB to the national, where they join the call for similar "professionalization" at the other 4 stations.


Republican majority in Congress attempts to eliminate all funding for public radio, which comes under attack for "liberal bias." One CPB director calls for total de-funding of Pacifica (which would be painful, but not fatal).

Sep 92

"Brave New Pacifica:" The internal name given to the network's new national "vision statement," which proposes a mini-NPR. An accompanying report shows that pro-corporate foundations have been approached for funds.

Feb 93

Vision statement is approved; Pacifica orders KPFA GM to lobby Congress in DC. CPB funding narrowly survives the House.

Oct 94

National Board resolves to "re-configure programming to better serve core listeners in each signal area, to develop more relevant and professional programming and to, thereby, increase the audience." Pat Scott, a dragon-lady who has become the acting Exec. Dir., begins ordering massive format changes. Purges begin at WPFW.

4 Jan 95

Pat Scott swoops into KPFK, fires the GM and PD, and takes over the station's books. A gag order is imposed, and purges begin. By 2001, 150 people will be gone.

12 Jul 95

Infamous "My Way or the Highway" memo: Scott freezes membership of the Local Advisory Boards, and demands full compliance with the PNB. Station GMs and PDs are advised that they have new bosses, and told to stand by for major changes.

Aug 95

Purges begin at KPFA.

30 Sep 95

Take Back KPFA group sends formal complaint to CPB describing secret board meeting agendas and circumventing of local station advisory boards. CPB is at first sympathetic, but changes its mind after Scott and friends make a few phone calls. Two CPB investigators are fired.

Feb 96

First Democracy Now! airs, with Amy Goodman (currently suspended), Larry Bensky (fired) , Juan Gonzalez (resigned), and Salim Muwakkil as hosts.

Feb 96

New KPFK PD Mark Schubb fires a producer for discussing situation on-air, slaps gag rule on KPFK, and begins serious union-busting.

Nov 96

Pacifica National Board issues the first draft of its infamous 5-year plan, "A Vision For Pacifica Radio."

27 May 97

Scott orders Democracy Now!, the network's only national program, to stop talking about Mumia Abu-Jamal, and to be less critical of President Clinton. DN staff cries censorship. Thus begins the ongoing war of nerves which continues right up to the present.

June 97

Mary Francis Berry becomes new National Board chair. The National Board members continue their attempts to wrest control over Pacifica from the local boards (LABs) that appointed them.

July 97

GM of KPFA resigns, is replaced by Lynn Chadwick.

28 Sep 97

The LABs are changed from electing the National Board to nominating members only, in a vote many allege was illegal.

Feb 98

KPFK internal memo prohibiting encouragement of anti-war protests leaks onto the Internet.

Jun 98

Gail Christian resigns as Pacifica national program director, and is kept on for a year as a consultant.

1 Mar 98

CPB president Robert Conrood, formerly of the Voice of America and the propaganda-laden Radio Marti, supposedly threatens Pacifica with a funding cutoff if it does not comply with a policy requiring local boards to be separate from national. The National Board interprets this as a mandate to take the LABs out of the loop.

Late 98

Scott resigns under fire, and is replaced by Chadwick as National Board Executive Director. Chadwick's style makes many people wish they had Scott back.

28 Feb 99

Right in front of an angry Berkeley audience, and ignoring solidarity demonstrations in several cities, Chadwick, Berry, and the Pacifica National Board unanimously change the by-laws. The Board becomes a self-selecting body in total control of Pacifica stations, dramatically weakening the LABs. For better or worse, this move begins the "Pacifica Crisis" as we now know it.

31 Mar 99

Chadwick fires KPFA GM Nicole Sawaya by not renewing her contract. The station staff goes on the air to protest. Street demonstrations begin outside the station. Someone fires a gun shot at Pacifica National Headquarters. Two weeks before Pacifica's 50th anniversary, the first major skirmish is underway.

9 Apr 99

Larry Bensky interrupts a program on the Kosovo war to give a speech on the mess at KPFA. Chadwick fires Bensky for gag rule violations and (many think) because of his vehement opposition to the by-law changes at the 28 Feb meeting.

13-27 May 99

KPFA spring fund drive brings record 7000 pledges, but 6200 are under protest.

20 Jun 99

KPFA staff protests the firing of Robbie Osman by taking the station off the air, running dead carrier for the entire two-hour time slot of his cancelled program.

26 Jun 99

David Adelson and others in four local boards file the "LAB Members' Suit" against the Foundation in Alameda County Superior Court. This is the first of the big three lawsuits alleging improper conduct in the by-law changes. This begins the nearly constant court room maneuvering which continues up to the present, and which greatly hastens the eventual downfall of the National Board.

27 Jun 99

Pacifica board hires a large industrial security firm specializing in strikebreaking. KPFA is occupied by armed guards. David Acosta is continued on in the Executive Committee despite his term being up in March. He ultimately becomes chairman.

Jul 99

Chadwick temporarily assigns Garland Ganter to run KPFA. Listeners fear the beginning of a format change like the one at KPFT, though Pacifica and its PR firm deny this.

12 Jul 99

Media activist Andrea Buffa "just happens" to receive the infamous Palmer Letter in her e-mail. This very quickly proves to be the "smoking gun" memo establishing that Pacifica really was discussing reformatting KPFA and selling WBAI, while all the time denying both.

13 Jul 99

Attempts to discuss the Palmer Letter on KPFA precipitate a physical struggle between Ganter, station personnel, and the hired guards. This spills over into the announce booth, where it gets onto the air. Ganter pulls the the big switch, going to all taped programming, which will soon lead to a straight ISDN feed from his Houston station. A labor lockout begins when the entire staff is placed on administrative leave and told to leave the building. Several are arrested when they do not. Major street demonstrations outside the station produce 52 more arrests.

Late July 99

24-hour protests continue with a camp set up at KPFA. The studio remains boarded up. Many more arrests are made. Joan Baez performs at a sold-out benefit.

30 Jul 99

Berry surrenders, ending the lockout at KPFA. Rumors fly that the PNB is bankrupt from security and PR bills, and that the sale of KPFA is imminent.

31 Jul 99

10,000 KPFA supporters march in Berkeley.

5 Aug 99

Fire department allow KPFA staff back into the boarded-up studio, finally ending 23 days of canned and relayed programming. They find $30,000 worth of damage to satellite equipment, presumably done by the guards installing Ganter's ISDN lines when the union wouldn't. At some point, Ganter returns to KPFT.

12 Aug 99

More power struggles at KPFK; purges continue, and community-oriented programs vanish from the air.

20 Aug 99

California legislature investigates the actions of the National Board at KPFA. After being subpoenaed, Berry divulges that she has spent $58,000 on a PR firm, $390,000 for the guards, and $7,000 to board up the station.

27 Oct 99

12 of Pacifica's 65 news affiliates stage a "No Pacifica Day" protest boycott. Chadwick re-assigns Pacifica's news director over a gag rule violation.

5 Jan 00

Pacifica National Board moves its offices from Berkeley to Washington, DC, slipping out in the proverbial dead of night.

31 Jan 00

After several more firings, Pacifica News Network stringers begin a strike which continues to the present. One result is the Free Speech Radio News program now on the Internet.

7 Mar 00

Garland Ganter is hired as Pacifica's first national PD since 1998.

Jul-Aug 00

Amy Goodman gets Ralph Nader into the Republican National Convention, which otherwise would not admit him, by taking him on as a reporter and giving him a press pass. Angry Ganter revokes Goodman's press credentials for the Democratic convention. There are unsubstantiated rumors that Ganter's son was seen wearing one of them.

14 Sep 00

Steve Yasko replaces Ganter as the national PD. Immediately he and Schubb call in Amy Goodman and order that she tone down her show. Shouts of "I am your boss!" are heard. (Shouting has always been common at Pacifica.)

15 Sep 00

The California Attorney General, having found grounds for legal action in the KPFA matter, appoints Carol Spooner and 11 other listeners from the Committee to Remove the Pacifica Board to file their own lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court. This is the second of the big three lawsuits, and becomes known as the "Listeners' Suit" or the "Spooner Suit."

19 Sep 00

Robert Robinson and Rabbai Aaron Kriegel, two dissident National Board members, file the third big lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court, accusing the Foundation and its executive committee of illegal tactics in the KPFA matter. This becomes known as the "Board Suit" or the "Robinson Suit."

16 Oct 00

Amy Goodman files a grievance with AFTRA after she is threatened with termination unless she sticks to a list of work rules presented by Yasko. Tensions rise at WBAI, where Democracy Now! is produced.

7 Nov 00

On election day, Amy Goodman learns that she has seconds to prepare for a live phone-in from the president of the United States. Clinton, who expects a quick, warm-fuzzy, "get out the vote" call, is immediately hit with, "What do you say to people who feel that the two parties are bought by corporations?" The president, Slick Willy himself, audibly blows his cool when Goodman keeps him on the phone for 30 minutes, with pointed questions on Peltier, Iraq, racial profiling, and other issues the spin doctors have been keeping far from the campaign. The next day, Goodman receives a nasty phone call from the White House broadcast office. Rather than being elated at lucking into the political interview of the year, Pacifica's national management go ballistic, probably imagining all their nice CPB money fading away.

28 Nov 00

Bessie Wash, the new Pacifica Executive Director, puts WBAI GM Valerie Van Isler on notice of termination effective January first. Plans for protests on New Year's begin to circulate around the Internet.

22-23 Dec 00

While most of New York parties, new executive director Bessie Wash leads a force from the National Board into WBAI, literally taking over the station just before midnight in an action now called the "Christmas Coup." While amazed staffers look on, Utrice Leid is installed as the interim GM, door locks are changed, and a list of banned employees is given to security guards. At 1:40 AM, Leid comes on-air to announce the change. Bernard White and Sharan Harper receive their termination letters from messengers. An angry crowd begins to form downstairs, and is held back by building security for most of the next day.

25 Jan 01

Listeners seek a court injunction to prevent the National Board from adopting yet another new set of by-laws which would reduce the board to a small group with absolute authority. John Murdock, a corporate lawyer who has become influential on the Board, continues to write these while his law firm "just happens" to represent the Board in the lawsuits.

31 Jan 01

Juan Gonzales, co-host of Democracy Now!, resigns on-air with his famous "corporate vulture" speech. He helps start a militant organization called the Pacifica Campaign.

3 Mar 01

Worn down by massive opposition, and beset by internal squabbles, the once-monolithic National Board shows weakness at its scheduled meeting in Houston. Street protesters are held back by police. Tempers flare at the public sessions, and some minor scuffles take place outside. The expected vote on the Murdock by-laws never takes place.

5 Mar 01

Utrice Leid cuts off a New York City member of Congress as he begins to give a prepared statement on the "public radio mess." The show's host is fired. Three days later, the same statement is given on the floor of the House of Representatives, where there is certainly no gag order. :-) It likens Pacifica's conduct to the state of media in Iraq. The Democratic Progressive Caucus begins holding public hearings on the matter.

26 Mar 01

Bessie Wash breaks into Democracy Now! to deliver a tirade relating to a scuffle between Garland Ganter and a protester in Houston. Ganter files assault charges, which are thrown out of court on 16 July.

14 May 01

Michael Palmer resigns as treasurer of the National Board, after listener action leads to pressure from his employer, a large real estate firm heavily involved in sensitive deals including Mexican maquiladoras.

15 May 01

Democracy Now! is temporarily removed from WBAI and KPFK, in a dispute relating to the spring fund drive. Pacifica Campaign calls for a boycott of KPFK.

23 May 01

In an attempt to rescue what has become a disastrous fund drive, Schubb allows Democracy Now! back onto KPFK. It remains off WBAI.

6 Jun 01

A bill for the first part of $23,987 owed ADT Security for alarms and surveillance cameras at WBAI leaks onto the Internet. KPFA veterans get deja vu all over again.

12 Jun 01

National Board chairman David Acosta resigns, and corporate hit man Ken Ford moves up. Karolyn Van Putten resigns the same day. The majority faction is left in disarray. They send out feelers to Dick Gregory, among others, as possible replacements.

17 Jul 01

After the National Board is enjoined from meeting to replace its three departed members, Andrea Cisco resigns. This leaves the "pro-corporate" majority with a shaky, one-vote advantage.

21 Aug 01

Following a steadily escalating exchange of ugly confrontations, physical threats, and racial epithets, Amy Goodman moves Democracy Now! production to a nearby public TV studio with an ISDN. When negotiations fail, Leid takes the opportunity to yank the show from the satellite and suspend its entire staff without pay. Even though it is still being produced, the program is replaced with reruns, except on KPFA and a few news affiliates.

24 Aug 01

National Board contracts with Feature Story News to produce timely new content that is inserted over the old news at the beginning of the Democracy Now! reruns. This news is represented as being "from the Pacifica newsroom," although it is actually coming from a remotely located company that also supplies Fox and the Voice Of America.

28 Aug 01

Protests occur at all Pacifica stations in a "National Day of Solidarity" for Democracy Now!.

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