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Pacifica's function: to increase listenership?

Gregory Wonderwheel
UC's poison apple offered to Pacifica
Fri May 9 19:01:06 2003

The shiny red and sweet smelling apple of diversity has been poisoned by the wicked Queen who cannot stand rivals.

Am I the only one who feels that buried in the UC [NYC "Unity Caucus"] plan is the explanation of why the UC team is working so closely with its new alliance with the appointees of the old guard? The Arbitron oriented language of the 5-year Strategic Plan is embedded in the new UC plan and institutionalized in the bylaws if this proposal is adopted.

Buried in this simple language is an issue that is many times more basic and crucial to Pacifica than any of the debate over mandated diversity.

Folks, if Pacifica is a "media outlet" then I've been giving to the wrong organization. "I don't want no stinkin outlet." This orientation to media is exactly what is wrong with the last 15 years of Pacifica governance.

Enlarging audience numbers may sound like a noncontroversial given, but that is exactly why it is so poisonous. It can only become an end in itself and a rationale for compromising on integrity at every step it is raised.

Pacifica must not embed in its bylaws the fundamentally flawed notion that expanding audience is a worthwhile goal. If Pacifica is to broadcast with integrity, larger audiences, and the resulting increased listener membership support, can at most only be a hoped for result of good and important programming, never a goal in itself. Qualtiy and integrity must remain the exclusive goals of programming.

Survival, is of course an inherent goal of any being or entity, in order to perform its purpose. But that does not equate into expansionism anymore than the economy must depend on expanded markets rather than steady-state economies. The difference between steady-state survival and expansionism as a goal in itself is a fundamental difference between national existance and imperialism.

This is the kind of diffference Pacifica needs to be pointing out, not acquiesing to.

Folks may want to review what Lew Hill wrote about the 2% goal for survival in his essay The Theory of Listener-Sponsored Radio available at

The last two paragraphs:

"The fact that the subscription is voluntary merely enlarges the same point. We make a considerable step forward, it seems to me, when we use a system of broadcasting which promises that the mediocre will not survive. But the significance of what does survive increases in ways of the profoundest import to our times when it proceeds from voluntary action. Anyone can listen to a listener-sponsored station. Anyone can understand the rationale of listener sponsorship—that unless the station is supported by those who value it, no one can listen to it including those who value it. This is common sense. But beyond this, actually sending in the subscription, which one does not have to send in unless one particularly wants to, implies the kind of cultural engagement, as some French philosophers call it, that is surely indispensable for the sake of the whole culture. When we have a radio station fully supported by subscribers who have not responded to a special gift offer, who are not participating in a lottery, who have not ventured an investment at 3 per cent, but who use this means of supporting values that seem to them of basic and lasting importance—then we will have more than a subscription roster. It will amount, I think, to a new focus of action or a new shaping influence that can hardly fail to strengthen all of us. We are concerned, of course, with a supplemental form of radio. Listener sponsorship is not a substitute for the commercial industry. But in every major metropolitan area of the country there is room for such an undertaking. I believe we may expect that if these theories and high hopes can be confirmed soundly in a pilot experiment, the idea will not be long in spreading.

"KPFA happens to be the pilot experiment. No one there imagines he is the artist or thinker whose talent ultimately must be attracted to radio. KPFA is the beginning of a tradition to make that possible. The survival of this station is based upon the necessity of voluntary subscriptions from 2 per cent of the total FM audience in the area in which it operates. We are hoping to succeed for several reasons, not the least among which is the realization that our success may inspire others to experiment for the eventual betterment of the broadcast product."

I don't advocate slavish worship of the past, but I firmly believe that the basic principles of the tradition of the Pacifica "experiment" need to be maintained with attention to the most basic: the throry of listener sponsored radio.

Advocating that Pacifica adopt the theory of commercial radio and the notion of enlarging audiences as a goal would fundamentally redirect the purpose of Pacifica. The notion of expanding audiences is part and parcel of the direction of commercial radio and one of the basic problenms that Pacifica was created to counter balance. There is no integrity to be found there; only the attempt to make more money.

Turning the commercial quest for expanded markets into some sort of "essential" noncommercial need for "enlarging audiences" for funding is only a poison apple that would put Pacifica to sleep.

Gregory Wonderwheel


[the above post was in response to diversity bylaw proposal excerpted below]

Submitted by Mimi Rosenberg and Sheila Hamanaka
May 8, 2003

1. Attached hereto, incorporated by reference and made a part of these bylaws is the "Affirmative Action Plan for Nominations and Elections to the Local Station Boards and Pacifica National Board."


One function of a media outlet is to work constantly to enlarge its audience The Pacifica Radio network must do this both to carry out its mission and because it depends on listener contributions for the majority of its funding, and so audience growth is essential for its financial health.

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