The gut feeling of one of this country’s foremost advocates of radio archives is that Pacifica Radio is close to abandoning what experts believe is one of the most important radio archives in the United States.
Josh Shepperd, director of the Radio Preservation Task Force and professor of media studies at Catholic University in Washington, listed his reasons for concern in a recent post on the Library of Congress’ Issues and Advocacy webpage.
The Pacifica Radio Archives, according to Shepperd, holds 90,000 hours of activist history, produced by Pacifica journalists. The Radio Preservation Task Force, a Library of Congress project that includes universities, museums and archives, entered into a partnership with Pacifica Radio in 2015 to help the network write grants for funding to digitize material.
“However, just as these initiatives were set to begin, the Pacifica Executive Board of Directors unexpectedly implemented austerity measures on archive staff and maintenance, including massive pay cuts and the cancellation of these national collaborative projects, leading to the resignation of longtime Archive Director Brian DeShazor,” Shepperd wrote in his opinion piece.
Shepperd also pointed out Pacifica Radio’s history of labor unrest and recent [Pacifica Foundation] board infighting as reasons why the group’s archival efforts may ultimately fail.
“Please be confident that we have come to this conclusion for multiple tangible reasons, but I hesitate to speculate on a single cause of Pacifica’s financial and organizational problems in this appeal. The current situation might simply be framed that fundamental components of the Pacifica Radio Network infrastructure are being dismantled without a strategic vision,” Shepperd continued. “The outcome that we fear most is that the archive will be treated as redundant or unsustainable, leading to its incineration.”
The RPTF, according to Shepperd, now considers Pacifica Radio’s archives an “endangered” collection.
However, Mark Torres, interim director of Pacifica Radio Archives, says its operations are far from endangered.
“The Pacifica Foundation Board did reduce hours and pay earlier this summer by about 25% in a cost-saving measure, but there is still a staff of five continuing to work. Our functions are to digitize the collection, catalog and preserve the collection. That work continues at its usual pace. We are doing digitization every day,” Torres said. “Our other function is to fulfill everyday requests for material from our Pacifica stations and the network.”
At this point the Pacifica Foundation Board is committed to keeping the archives attached to the foundation, Torres said. “That’s the legacy of the foundation but it’s costly. The trick is doing while the foundation is going through financial difficulty.”
Torres told Radio World that Pacifica Radio is looking at additional revenue streams for the archives, including more outreach to universities and institutions of higher learning that can use archive material for educational purposes. “Using this audio in the classroom can be an incredibly valuable teaching tool.”
A Radio World email to the Pacifica Foundation Board seeking comment went unanswered, but in a story published this week in Current, Pacifica Foundation board chair Tony Norman said the board would consider working with a university on maintaining the archives “if board members decide that the foundation can no longer afford to do so.” Norman says the board hopes to decide how to proceed within 60 days.
The Pacifica Radio Foundation owns and operates five noncommercial radio stations, including KPFK(FM) in Los Angeles, KPFA(FM) in San Francisco, KPFT(FM) in Houston, WBAI(FM) in New York City and WPFW(FM) in Washington. Pacifica Radio, which had its radio origins in Berkeley, Calif., dating back to World War II, also operates the Pacifica Network with approximately 200 programming affiliates.
Torres said approximately 13,000 Pacifica Radio programs are digitized and available on its website. Pacifica Radio Archives’ facilities are located in Los Angeles in a building it shares with KPFK(FM).