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Progressive Radio Station KPFK Could Be On The Brink Of Collapse

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Progressive public radio station KPFK is facing possible collapse due to financial and leadership challenges.

Part of the Pacifica Radio network—which also includes Berkeley’s KPFA, and New York’s WBAI—L.A.-based KPFK was founded in 1946 by conscientious objectors from World War II. But after decades of heavily left-leaning broadcasts, the station is now struggling to survive, reports Pasadena Weekly. Staff members of KPFK—who recently had their salaries and hours cut in half—attribute the mounting trouble to bad management, poor financial planning and board members more focused on political and social agendas, rather than keeping the station afloat. Sonali Kolhatkar—host and executive producer of the station's "Uprising with Sonali"— explains the situation in an L.A. Times op-ed:

Those of us on the inside are now wondering whether this already fragile institution can survive yet another austerity measure in a long line of layoffs and reductions. Continuous turnover of upper management over the last decade, coupled with nonexistent long-term financial planning, has turned Southern California's oldest public radio station into a micro-version of Greece.
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Kolhatkar goes on to explain that many of the difficulties the station now faces are rooted in financial debts created by others over the years. Back in 2001, a group of listeners and broadcasters legally seized control of the Pacifica Foundation—which oversees KPFK and the other four stations—and restructured the network to focus on democratic decision-making. According to Kolhatkar, the group wanted to keep the stations "radical, commercial-free radio that promoted social justice—at least in theory," instead of using the more traditional non-profit approach used by other public radio stations.

But what ultimately resulted, according to Kolhatkar, was a radio network too focused on the whims of the listeners who suddenly occupied 75% of the network's board, instead of the staff members who were creating the content. She also points to last year's firing of executive director, Summer Reese, and the recent hiring of Leslie Radford, who is responsible for the recent pay cuts. Kolhatkar says:

Our board members fired an excellent manager and spiked his long-term vision, which included courting donors, luring foundations for special projects and organizing community events that double as fundraisers. He was replaced by Radford, who, after slashing salaries, told staff members that we could apply for California's Work Sharing program to make up the difference, and then failed to complete KPFK's application properly, leaving us in the lurch. She also abruptly changed show schedules, including mine.

Pacifica is also struggling with mounting debts, which includes $2 million in broadcast fees owed to host Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!,” WBAI’s most popular show, according to the New York Times. Radford contests that the ship is not sinking, “We just need a little time and a little space to reorganize how we do business. KPFK is coming back.”

Kolhatkar and other staffers, on the other hand, argue that what's needed is regime change, regaining control from the current board, and a new financial plan. For her, the fight is not over, but much needs to change.