LA Community Radio Station KPFK-90.7 FM Defies Death Again—For Now

Just like rumors of the late Fidel Castro’s demise circulated in Little Havana for years, the fate of KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles has been constant chronicle of a death foretold. The threat seemed more alarming this week when the Pacifica Network, which KPFK belongs to, found itself on the edge of asset forfeitures that could’ve have knocked some of its politically progressive stations off the air. But thanks to an emergency “bridge loan” from Southern California supporters, the shows will go on.

So what the hell happened this time? The trouble didn’t begin in Southern California, but New York City. That’s where Pacifica station WBAI’s repeated failure to pay rent to Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT) ended up in the courts. A judge ruled in favor of ESRT, which owns the Empire State Building where WBAI houses its transmitter, in late 2016. When time came to begin collecting on the nearly $2 million judgment, the network pulled out its empty pockets instead. As early as this week, ESRT could have seized Pacifica’s lucrative assets in LA and KPFA, its Berkeley sister station.

Programmers spoke of doomsday prophecies while the network’s governing board fumbled over declaring a Chapter 11 bankruptcy or selling off WBAI’s prime position on the dial in a signal-swap to help solve its woes. The last minute bridge loan allows KPFK to defy disaster once more and averts another sad tale of a Southern California media apocalypse. “One never quite wants to underestimate the incompetence of people involved in Pacifica’s governance,” says Alan Minsky, KPFK’s interim program director, “but I can’t imagine they will fail to communicate that the money has been raised.” The loan, and its terms, are expected to be finalized next week.

LA’s lefty radio station is nearing its 60th anniversary next year. The publicly-funded, advertising-free programming is doing better in these Trump times. “Certainly in broadcast media, we are the most stridently anti-Trump voice out there, proudly so,” says Minsky. “People appreciate that about us.” Folks can tune into UC Irvine professor Jon Wiener’s “Trump Watch” program every Thursday at 3 p.m. for all the latest outrage coming from the shithole White House.

But Pacifica isn’t out of the woods yet. “We have been kicking the can down the road for years, accumulating debt and hoping we’ll be able to reverse the downward trend the next year, but it has not been happening,” Pacifica Foundation interim Executive Director Bill Crosier wrote in an internal email obtained by the Weekly. He reported the network’s annual losses had lessened—from $980,000 in 2016 to just $184,000 last year—but issued concerns for the future with the network’s governing board approving a plan seeking a second, long-term loan to pay off the bridge loan and other piling up expenses.

“Pacifica has a lot of debt, a bad history of paying our financial obligations, and inadequate cash flow to pay our current obligations,” Crosier wrote. The foundation looked into a possible loan in November to payoff the ESRT judgement but found it would have defaulted under the terms on the very first day, a fact that would have triggered a foreclosure on LA’s paid-off North Hollywood building, which also houses the Pacifica Radio Archives on its second-floor. “I’m worried the second loan we’re looking for may have similar problems,” Crosier added. He later mused that there may not be a Pacifica Network around next year to fight about.

Minsky is a little more optimistic about the ability to manage the network’s debt and stresses KPFK’s vitality in a fund-drive like pitch. “KPFK is still inarguably the most significant progressive media asset, in terms of broadcast, in Southern California,” he says. “With the near demise of the LA Weekly, that once was a veritable partner of KPFK’s in terms of getting out a progressive message here, the station is still important. It will be here going forward.”

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