NEW LIFE FOR PACIFICA? JOHN PROFFITT MIGHT MAKE IT HAPPEN
I am surprised and pleased to hear that former KUHF GM John Proffitt has been hired to be the new Executive Director of Pacifica. Proffitt seems to be an unusual choice for the highly politicized noncom network and station owner. Proffitt, respected by his public radio peers as solid broadcasting professional, might be the right person at the right time to re-create Pacifica.
As I have said before, Pacifica has become an embarrassment to all of us who work in public media. The last I heard about them was when former temporary Executive Director Summer Reese locked herself in her office to protest being fired. It took an army of lawyers and a California Superior Court Judge to get her out of there. Pacifica is known as a workplace with petty personal politics, long-simmering grievances and LOTS of lawyers.
I met John Proffitt at public radio conferences back in the 1990s when I was Director of News at PRI. At KUHF, John was known as a conservative decision maker who kept a close eye on the budget. KUHF was known as a TV/FM dual licensee where TV ruled the roost. When John was there, KUHF-FM was one of the last big-market stations with a dual format: NPR News and Classical together in an unhappy marriage.
John was forced out of KUHF in 2011 for reasons that were never made clear. But he forever changed KUHF Radio for the better when he acquired a second FM frequency. KUHF became 24/7 NPR News and the new KUHA became 24/7 Classical thanks to John Proffitt. This is a big achievement.
I hope John does well at Pacifica. I have two pieces of advice:
1. REMEMBER STEVE YASKO
Many people know Steve Yasko as a talented manager and innovator at WTMD. Before WTMD, Yasko spent a couple of not-so-great years as National Program Director at Pacifica – a job rumored to be one of the Rings of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.
Yasko came to Pacifica as a successful program manager at NPR. He tried to make changes but encountered merciless bureaucrats whose fulltime jobs was keeping their fulltime jobs -- by any means necessary.
Then Yasko pissed off Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! His life became a living hell. Goodman is and was a proven street fighter who knows how to use the system to her advantage. She and others filed grievances, lawsuits and undermined Yasko with the Pacifica Board. Around the same time, an anonymous agitator posted a vicious online smear campaign to embarrass and discredit Yasko. He posted this note when he left:
Effective September 15, 2001, I will no longer be the National Program Director of Pacifica. Before you all gloat too much, I did not make this choice because of your attacks on me. I made this decision because Pacifica cannot move forward until it is free from persecution. This persecution is executed by people who say they are champions of free speech and tolerance, but use the tactics of hate and bigotry to achieve their ends. I don’t know what drives you, but I choose not to be a part of it.
Today Steve Yasko runs WTMD, a successful noncom Triple A station in Baltimore. Pacifica now is in the dustbin of radio history. What goes around, comes around.
Advice to John Proffitt: Protect yourself legally before you start work.
2. START WITH BASICS & LEVERAGE THE ASSETS
From 30,000 feet, Pacifica looks like a dream assignment. They own five of the most powerful FM signals in five of the largest markets in the nation: NYC, LA, Bay Area, DC and Houston. No other noncom group owner – not even APM – has such a reach. But, you’ll never develop this potential unless you Kick Out the Jams first.
Pacifica is jammed by its arcane system of governance. Get rid of as many committees as possible, particularly Program Committees. Don’t try to change programming until you have the governance system streamlined.
Advice to John Proffitt: Take the longer view, avoid internal politics and keep in mind many of us in public media are grateful for what you are doing and wish you well.