Flew the KOOP

Pacifica Network Pulls Out of Local Radio Cooperative

The conflict between Pacifica Radio and Austin's KOOP radio has come to a head and, as of Oct. 1, Pacifica Network News is no longer heard on the local 91.7FM frequency.

The controversy, detailed previously in this column ("Static Interference," Feb. 28), began about a year ago after cooperatively run KOOP learned of a conflict between Pacifica -- a progressive/left-wing national news network -- and the unionized workers at some of its stations. At the same time, a group called Free Pacifica was complaining that the 50-year-old network was becoming more corporate in its outlook and less responsive to the principles of community radio.

This dispute resulted in KOOP airing a disclaimer about the labor conflicts before and after each broadcast of Pacifica Network News, which included the sentence: "Pacifica is no longer using a consulting firm listed by the AFL-CIO as a union buster for its contract negotiations with the United Electrical Workers." Pacifica has maintained that the firm, American Consulting Group, was never hired to bust unions, but simply to lend advice on labor law, and, as the disclaimer points out, Pacifica broke off its association with the company. Nevertheless, KOOP continued to run the disclaimer, which Pacifica regarded as a black eye.

The situation caused much hand-wringing on both sides -- KOOP, even before it went on the air in 1994, had hungered to air Pacifica as a non-corporate alternative to National Public Radio, and Pacifica had long sought to reach Austin's sizable progressive community. However, after a year of insisting that KOOP's disclaimer was inaccurate and unfair, Pacifica finally decided to pull out. When KOOP's contract with Pacifica came up for renewal on Oct. 1, Pacifica -- which once billed itself as "Free Speech Radio" -- inserted new language into the contract that allowed Pacifica to terminate its agreement with the station if KOOP "dilutes the good will associated with Pacifica's name."

KOOP, bound by its mission statement to promote labor causes, deemed the added language intolerable and refused to sign the contract. It was then left to KOOP's board of trustees to decide its future with Pacifica. But the national network cut KOOP off at the pass. A letter from Gail Christian, Pacifica's director of national programming, informed KOOP that "...after considerable discussion, we have decided not to renew our contract with your station for the coming fiscal year."

Pacifica Communications Director Burton Glass explains the network's position this way: "Our intention was not to discourage discussion of Pacifica, but we thought the disclaimer was outrageous and unfair and undermined our relationship," he says. "In no way does this mean that affiliate stations can't discuss Pacifica on their news and public affairs programs, we just want them to get rid of the disclaimer. One or two people with KOOP have been so shrill and dogmatic that it just broke our hearts, and it became difficult to continue the relationship. Some things were said by high-level people at KOOP which were hurtful."

Glass further points out that the network has reached labor agreements with the Communications Workers of America at Pacifica station KPFA in Berkley and with the United Electrical Workers at KPFK in Los Angeles. (Pacifica owns five stations nationwide, and has yet to settle with the workers at New York's WBAI).

On the local front, Glass refused to specify who the "high-level" KOOPers were who had fanned the flames over the disclaimer controversy. "There's no need for name-calling, and we were on the [receiving] end of it," Glass says.

It's not hard to figure out to whom Glass might be referring, however, since KOOP programmers Paul Odekirk and Eduardo Vera have been among the most vocal leaders of the anti-Pacifica charge. Odekirk, who originally wanted to keep Pacifica in order to have leverage to pressure the network on the labor issues, is now opposed to reopening negotiations with Pacifica. "I believe Pacifica is and was busting its unions. Their programming is moving farther from community [programming]," Odekirk says, pointing to Pacifica's trend toward pushing its national programming onto its five stations and de-emphasizing locally produced shows.

Also, Pacifica's absence has given birth to a "network" among some other community stations around the nation, something which Odekirk informally calls the "grassroots radio coalition." Odekirk supports this newest network as a replacement to a bureaucratized Pacifica, and he is enthusiastic about a system of sharing news pieces and programs with the stations over the Internet. KOOP's contributions to this effort are being handled by its News & Public Affairs Collective, which the board of trustees has authorized to fill the Pacifica slot on an interim basis.

Vera echoed Odekirk's comments, adding that Pacifica's decision to discontinue a Latino program also influenced his stance, and referred to Pacifica's actions as "anti-labor and anti-Latino." (Vera's programs specialize in Latino culture and issues, especially on pro-Zapatista issues.) As for Pacifica's contracts with its unions, Vera alleges that, "The full-timers organized into a union that sold out the interests of unpaid staff [the unions had originally sought an unusual arrangement that would have included unpaid volunteers in its protections]. The assessment that we [the anti-Pacifica faction] has is that the union participated in selling out workers' rights."

But KOOP members and programmers are far from united on the issue. Jere Locke, who works with the program "Labor Intensive Radio," questions whether KOOP's bylaws were violated when the board of trustees installed the News & Public Affairs Collective to occupy Pacifica's time slot. Such decisions are normally made by the programming committee. Also, like some other pro-Pacifica KOOPers, Locke charges that personal agendas may be motivating the anti-Pacifica movement.

"Some of the people that were most vocal in getting Pacifica off the air are now the people filling the slot," Locke says. (Indeed, Odekirk and Vera have been prime movers on the replacement programming.) "That's not by chance," he adds. "They were interested in those issues, but they also wanted a greater voice. That wasn't the only reason, but I think it played a role."

Odekirk denies that assertion. "What kind of personal agenda could people have? I don't think it's pushing a personal agenda to be against the station signing a contract with a gag order. I'm standing up for the mission statement and asking who we are going to serve. If they [Pacifica] are going to give us a gag order, then we need to say screw these people. I'm upset at losing a quality news program, but sometimes we have to make a choice to keep democratic, community programming."

KOOP programmer Bob Coleman, also the owner of the 33 Degrees record store, insists that Pacifica should be kept because KOOP listeners want it. "In dealing with the public in my store, I've had conversations with hundreds of people, and the conversations have led me to believe that listeners like Pacifica," Coleman says. "It's also my impression that the people who pledge [financial] support to KOOP want Pacifica. I don't think the amount that they support is important, but that they are willing to support us at all, a penny or more, is. I've worked every pledge drive, and my impression is that the general membership wants Pacifica."

According to Trustee Teresa Taylor, the KOOP board has not taken an official stance on whether to again pursue Pacifica, nor is Taylor certain that there is even a basis to reopen negotiations due to Pacifica's decision not to extend an offer to KOOP.

Pacifica's Glass says that Pacifica still wants to be in Austin, but will probably pursue negotiations with another community station. He didn't specify a station, but KAZI would seem to be the most likely candidate, as it had considered carrying Pacifica in the early Nineties.

Austinites who are still interested in listening to Pacifica can do so over the World Wide Web at http://www.pacifica.org/.

Writer Lee Nichols is a former programmer at KOOP.

Family of Populists

If the name of Railroad Commission candidate Gary Dugger has a familiar ring to it, then you are probably a reader of The Texas Observer. Dugger is the son of Observer founder Ronnie Dugger.

Dugger the candidate says he is running as a "populist Democrat" for the Railroad Commission because he wants to fight the dominance of the agency by the very interests it is supposed to regulate.

"I felt like a regulatory agency should regulate, and act on behalf of the people," Dugger says, adding that he is "really into" renewable resources. "It's easier to get a permit for a toxic waste dump than one to add a deck to your house."

Dugger says that he will accept no PAC money and no soft money, and is asking people for contributions of $100 or less. "I really want to reach the disenfranchised people who don't vote," Dugger says. "People are sick of money in politics. I want to emulate the campaign of Victor Morales."

Unfortunately, his populist Democrat position, placing him outside of the Democratic power structure, just might cause him to emulate Morales -- who lost to Phil Gramm in last year's U.S. Senate race -- a little more than he would like; however, since his opponents won't be quite as entrenched as Gramm, perhaps Dugger can tap into a sufficient number of the 2.4 million Morales supporters and win a seat on the commission.

Unlike his father, Dugger mainly worked in the business side of the Observer. "I ran the coin racks," he says.

Politically Incorrect

Austin's best political radio commentator will be appearing on one of television's best political talk shows tonight (Thursday): Jim Hightower will take a chair on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, matching wits with Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, actress Laura San Giacomo, and Late Night With Conan O'Brien co-host Andy Richter. And, no doubt, promoting his new book, There's Nothing in the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. The show airs on local ABC affiliate KVUE at 11:05pm.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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