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The religious right is destroying public radio

From: Carl Gunther
Sent: Thursday, September 19, 2002 5:26 AM
Subject: The Fear of God and "Public Radio Capital"

After reading the appended article (see below) on how the religious right is squashing community radio stations, it's really not at all paranoid to think that somewhere, right now, there is a room, or several rooms, full of right wing religious zealots plotting on how to use Pacifica's coming elections to knock us off the air and transform the network into a vehicle for their own, God-inspired designs. Let's keep that in mind as we consider these bylaws proposals.

A few additional notes of interest about this article. Note that there seems to be a "hard cop, soft cop" operation going on between the right-wingers and a CPB-created entity called "Public Radio Capital," ( http://www.pubcap.org/ ) whose claim is that it is will "save" the public stations from being put out of business by religious broadcasters. PRC is also funded by the Soros Foundation's ubiquitous Open Society Institute.

Public Radio Capital's online summary of activities includes the following:

"Public Radio Capital can...help public broadcasting companies obtain tax-exempt financing for the acquisition of new radio channels as well as other critical capital projects. Public broadcasting companies have limited experience in using this approach, and PRC has a team of business partners to facilitate the most cost-effective tax- exempt financing possible for public broadcasting."

Another article ( http://www.current.org/funding/funding0115capital.html ) describes how PRC is funding regional networks to gobble up independent and college radio stations. According to the article, "Expansion in public radio, as planned in Maryland, takes advantage of the same cost sharing that drives multiple-station ownership in commercial radio."

Like the IMF and the World Bank, these acquisitive networks' financial backers (with the CPB as "enforcer") will work to ensure that their debtor stations keep a strong eye out for "fiscal accountability." From the same article:

"As potential borrowers, pubcasting is 'very stable,' with an attractive diversity of revenue sources and 'just not a lot of risk,' says Sharon Gigante, director of the municipal enterprise group at S&P. The field is 'much more stable' than hospitals, with their variable revenue streams, she comments, but is naturally less stable than municipal agencies with tax income.

"S&P also liked seeing CPB's role as overseer, providing an 'early warning system' by requiring annual station audits, according to Hand."

And, this page ( http://www.srg.org/auction.html ) has an invitation to stations to apply for PRC funds to participate an actual FCC auction of stations. PRC even offers to buy a station for you itself, and then execute an operating agreement in which you (an existing public station) will expand to run the new station on PRC's behalf. Now *that's* accountability - you're only renting the station from them! Actually, you have an option to buy in five years provided there are no problems flagged by the FCC...

Remember the recent talk about Pacifica purchasing an additional radio station? Everyone scoffed, "where could Pacifica get the money for that kind of an acquisition?" It is just possible that Public Radio Capital is the money pit to which those proposing such acquisitions would like to lead us. That is, toward financial dependency upon the CPB and its minions, who would corrupt our entire message in exchange for their financial "support."

If Pacifica were to participate in the acquisition of a station or stations with backing from PRC, we would be doubly vulnerable, because not only would there be pressure to mainstream the signals of those new stations, but those new mainstreamed stations would inevitably get to *vote* to elect people to our governing board.

PRC is, by the way, centered to some extent around WERA FM/TV of Dallas. It wouldn't surprise me at all if a certain Texas-based acquisition specialist board member (you know who) moved in the same circles as the PRC folks.


------- Forwarded message follows -------
To: NewPacifica@yahoogroups.com
From: paul_surovell
Date sent: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 04:52:37 -0000
Subject: [NewPacifica] Religious Right Targets Public Radio Stations

Religious and Public Stations Battle for Share of Radio Dial

New York Times
September 15, 2002

LAKE CHARLES, La., Sept. 13 - The Rev. Don Wildmon, founding chairman of a mushrooming network of Christian radio stations, does not like National Public Radio.

"He detests the news that the public gets through NPR and believes it is slanted from a distinctly liberal and secular perspective," said Patrick Vaughn, general counsel for Mr. Wildmon's American Family Radio.

Here in Lake Charles, American Family Radio has silenced what its boss detests.

It knocked two NPR affiliate stations off the local airwaves last year, transforming this southwest Louisiana community of 95,000 people into the most populous place in the country where "All Things Considered" cannot be heard.

In place of that program - and "Morning Edition," "Car Talk" and a local Cajun program called "Bonjour Louisiana" - listeners now find "Home School Heartbeat," "The Phyllis Schlafly Report" and the conservative evangelical musings of Mr. Wildmon, whose network broadcasts from Tupelo, Miss.

The Christian stations routed NPR in Lake Charles under a federal law that allows noncommercial broadcasters with licenses for full-power stations to push out those with weaker signals - the equivalent of the varsity team kicking the freshmen out of the gym.

This is happening all over the country. The losers are so-called translator stations, low-budget operations that retransmit the signals of bigger, distant stations. The Federal Communications Commission considers them squatters on the far left side of the FM dial, and anyone who is granted a full-power license can legally run them out of town.

Religious broadcasters have done this to public radio stations in Oregon and Indiana, too, and many large-market public radio stations, like WBEZ in Chicago, complain that new noncommercial stations, most of them religious, are stepping on the signal at the edge of their transmission areas.

Stations are scrambling for these frequencies at a time of rapid growth in the national NPR audience and even faster growth in religious networks like American Family Radio. It owns 194 stations, has 18 affiliates and has applications for hundreds more pending with the F.C.C.

"The noncommercial band is getting very, very crowded, and there just is not a lot of room for new stations in desirable areas," said Robert Unmacht, a Nashville-based radio consultant. "The competition is fierce, and the Reverend Wildmon is especially hard-nosed. His people are very good at what they do."

Public radio is belatedly fighting back. Last year, a national nonprofit organization was set up to fend off the new hardball competition. Called Public Radio Capital, it raises money through tax-exempt bonds to help local public stations end their reliance on translators and buy full-power stations.

Public Radio Capital, created with seed money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a federally financed agency, has since helped public radio stations in Chicago, Denver, Nashville and Tacoma, Wash., to outbid their competition.

In Tacoma, the organization bought a noncommercial FM station from a local technical college for $5 million. Money to operate the station will come from major public stations in the area.

"Until recently, public radio had been completely dependent on local initiative to protect its signal and acquire new stations," said Marc Hand, the managing director of Public Radio Capital, which is based in Denver. "A lot of times, local radio is not aware of how to compete. We are stepping in when we can to help."

For many of NPR's 273 member organizations, the legal and administrative costs of competing against religious broadcasters are sponging up millions of dollars that they might otherwise spend on news and other local programming.

"It is, like, nuts," said Torey Malatia, general manager of WBEZ, which has the country's third-largest public-radio audience. "Starting about four years ago we realized that if we didn't learn how to fight back, our coverage area would effectively shrink by a million people."

As NPR itself acknowledges, religious broadcasters are often far better prepared for the radio wars. "They have employed a long-term strategy, where we have failed to do that," said Dana Davis Rehm, vice president for member and program services at NPR in Washington.

The two public radio stations heard in Lake Charles, for example, were caught napping as American Family Radio maneuvered over several years to bump them off the air.

Those college-based public stations, one in nearby Lafayette, La., and the other just across the Louisiana border in Beaumont, Tex., could have applied for F.C.C. licenses granting them the right to build and operate full-power stations in Lake Charles. Instead, like many public radio stations, they chose to operate on the cheap, using translators.

Translator-based stations have given American Family Radio the opening it needs to grab space on the noncommercial FM dial between 88.1 and 91.9 megahertz.

As early as 1997, the network filed applications with the F.C.C., declaring its intention to build two full-powered stations that would step on the two translator-based public radio signals in Lake Charles. But KRVS in Lafayette and KVLU in Beaumont did not react and apply for full-power stations of their own.

"NPR people should really be embarrassed," said Mr. Vaughn, the lawyer for American Family Radio. "They knew for years that we had applied, and they didn't do anything about it. NPR people were drawing money out of the community in the form of pledge support, but they didn't bother to apply for a full-power station. It is not our fault."

Religious broadcasters are snapping up most noncommercial stations when they come on the market. In the first two quarters of 2002, there were 14 sales of noncommercial stations. Of those, public radio groups bought only two.

Competition between religious and public radio stations is not always acrimonious. Competitors have amicably divided a contested frequency in some cases by agreeing to use directional antennas that limit interference. Here in Lake Charles, local rage at the loss of all access to NPR has fueled a yearlong effort to bring back public radio.

"What Wildmon has done to the public broadcasting band is try to eat it all," said Robert W. McGill, 74, an NPR devotee and a retired chemist.

Mr. Wildmon, who became well known in the 1970's when he led national campaigns against sex and violence on television, declined to be interviewed.

Mr. Vaughn, the general counsel for American Family Radio, acknowledged that the network was aware that its two new stations would be "blocking out" public radio in Lake Charles. But, he added, "We were in no way targeting it."

Like many religious networks, American Family Radio has little local content; its stations rely instead on satellite feeds from the home office in Tupelo. Radio industry analysts agree that public stations usually carry more local news and offer programs more closely tied to the communities they serve.

More than a year after American Family Radio went on the air here, its two stations (one carries what it calls Christian contemporary programming, the other what it calls traditional gospel) have just one local employee. Elizabeth Arrington, 21, the station manager, works in a remodeled house on the edge of town. Its broadcast studio is an empty room, although Mrs. Arrington said radio equipment would arrive soon.

In all likelihood, before American Family Radio gets around to local broadcasts in Lake Charles, public radio will be back on the air here.

A $309,000 antenna, nearing completion about 30 miles west of town, will let people here pick up KRVS, the NPR affiliate in Lafayette.

Sixty percent of the money for the antenna came from a Commerce Department grant. The rest came from the city and parish governments, as well as from private local contributions. The primary local mover in raising money was Carolyn Woosley, a financial planner and playwright.

"We lost access to a treasure that we all pay for with our tax dollars, and we got mad," Ms. Woosley said. "We decided you don't have to like NPR in this town, but you are going to have to make room for it."

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