Friday, July 26, 2019


Maxie Jackson
It is been a busy week in our part of cyberia. 

Last Monday we broke the national story about Maxie Jackson resigning as Executive Director of Pacifica Radio.  We have had over 3,000 page-views since we posted the story.

We’ve also learned more about Grace Aaron, the Chair of the Pacifica Foundation’s National Board of Directors. 

Aaron’s management style is one of reasons Jackson departed. 

Today we will let you, our readers, learn more about Aaron and the Pacifica National Board.

John Vernile
Jackson had been the Executive Director of Pacifica for around nine months. He was hired after a national search by Livingston & Associates. On Thursday (7/25) Aaron announced that Jackson had been replaced by John Vernile, who will serve as interim Executive Director until a full-time ED can be found.

Vernile has had an impressive career in the music business including over a decade at Sony Music. He worked in various capacities at Sony Classical, Columbia and Legacy, ending up as SVP of Artist & Catalog Development. Vernile also worked at as the head of promotion at Windham Hill/High Street (BMG).

Most recently Vernile worked as a sales rep for Forest Incentives, a firm that provides pledge drive items for public radio and TV stations. He worked at two radio stations in the late 1970s and early 1980s: WUSB, the excellent student station at Stony Brook and WYSO in Ohio.

Vernile’s lack of experience in radio may work to his advantage at Pacifica because he is about to experience radio “Grace Aaron style.” 

We wish Vernile success at Pacifica.

Aaron is product of the Pacifica governance system. 

Some folks call it "democracy" but it actually seems more like a Soviet style politburo. 

Aaron has no experience or expertise in broadcasting or public media that we know of. She has risen to become the Chair of the Pacifica Foundation the old fashioned way: She played the system to her advantage.

As a service to Mr. Vernile, and anyone else who is curious about what it is like to work for Ms. Aaron, we prepared a YouTube video based on audio from an actual Pacifica Foundation Programming Committee meeting. The meeting was held via a conference call on March 19, 2019, and it features a dialog between Aaron and Jackson where each explains their radio programming philosophies.

There was nothing secret about acquiring this audio clip. It was publically posted on the Pacifica website [link].  As your listen to this seven-minute excerpt, imagine yourself in Maxie Jackson’s shoes.”

Link to video:


Also this past week we received a copy of a memo from Anyel Fields, the General Manager of Pacifica’s Pacifica’s KPFK in Los Angeles.  Anyel sent it to the staff of KPFK short after the announcement that Maxie Jackson was gone. 

We are posting it verbatim and without commentary:

From KPFK GM Anyel Fields:

I write this letter to express my sincerest concerns about stability in the Pacifica Foundation. I have spoken with my fellow managers who are perhaps the most qualified individuals to speak on behalf of our listeners, members, staff, volunteers, and board members as we engage with them daily to hear their concerns.

It is our responsibility to ensure that Pacifica serves at the highest levels and that the Foundation can continue to conduct business for years to come.

In the spirit of speaking truth to power, I want to express the deepest concerns of staff, volunteers, potential donors and members that I have had conversations with about the vote to dismiss Maxie Jackson and or Pacifica's path of instability.

Instability is the bane of our healing process. Pacifica has weathered turmoil after turmoil, but how long does Pacifica have, how long do we have as custodians of a once great network to get it right?

Pacifica is in debt in which we have no plans nor contingency plans that have been communicated if there is one to face what some consider a doomsday clock. We are suffering from increasing days of fund drives, relying on an old model of fundraising with old tools.

The over-reliance on our old models of raising funds is driving the very listeners we rely on away. It also makes it difficult to truly grow our listenership, when we interrupt regular programming for fund drive programming that nearly equates to infomercials.

Many in the network say we need youth in our organization, but many aren't willing to pass the torch for another generation to inherit the duties of being vanguards to this progressive network nor embrace the changes necessary for a new generation.

What is to become of Pacifica once most of its supporters have transitioned and when the Foundation continues to drive away youth and seasoned professionals it needs?

For the past several months under the leadership of the previous ED, network-cohesion among the stations started to take root, and we began to look beyond Pacifica's comfort zones. We had begun to adopt best practices, develop, and implement plans to make Pacifica relevant in the rapidly changing media landscape.

Having seasoned professionals that immerse themselves in the industry they work in and staying abreast of market changes is a key factor to a successful business. Stability is one of the most critical circumstances in growing a successful company. The following are four essential factors that impact nonprofit success:

A well-informed, passionate, engaged board

A relationship built on respect, sincerity, and open communication between board members

A knowledgeable, dedicated lead staff person

A relationship built on respect, sincerity, and open dialogue between the staff, volunteers, and all board members

I understand many don't want to risk the Pacicifca status quo, and it may feel suitable for some, but this comes at the risk of keeping Pacifica less than its potential.

The world is rapidly changing, and no longer is the Foundation, the only place people can get information, enlightenment, and encouragement to forge progressive social change. The nature of how public media has changed too, and Pacifica and its stations require the resources to adapt and be an innovator in the field.

I ask these questions of the Pacifica National Board:

• When will we set aside our differences and together work towards a strong and thriving Pacifica?

• Do we have the courage to face the terror of change to evolve and adapt to new public media models?

• What are the plans to inspire confidence in our members under unstable conditions?

• What are the plans for hiring another Executive Director?

• Will seasoned public media veterans a chance to make positive impacts in our Foundation?

I hope you take into consideration what is expressed in this letter, the effects of the board's decisions have ripple effects. The Foundation you represent on behalf of our listeners needs all vested parties to work together.

As members of the Pacifica National Board of directors, their unique role as high-level volunteers make each of them responsible for the position of raising support, awareness and providing the conditions for stability.

It is my hope that all factionalism on the board end so that we can quickly hire a new Executive Director that is seasoned and allowed at least a year to get acclimated with our unique working environment that isn't always welcoming, establish network cohesion, and develop a business plan to re-establish Pacifica.

PS: I am committed to making a positive impact on KPFK and Pacifica's future during my tenure. I know that there will always be some disagreements with my decisions, business philosophies, and management style. However, I make my decisions from an objective and respectful position and have always engaged with anyone that is willing to contribute there input. I believe that Pacifica's greatest accomplishments will be born out of collaboration. I will always strive to foster a collaborative and transparent working environment at Pacifca.

BCC: I have included the KPFK staff and programmers on this email so that they are aware of the concerns many of us have and perhaps seize the opportunity to contribute to a healthy discussion and solutions moving forward.


Anyel Z. Fields
General Manager, Sustaining Member, and Listener


  1. Here’s a statement Grace made at a recent National Finance Committee:

    Grace: I have a creative idea to raise a lot of revenue. I mean, not raise revenue, do a lot of promotion. For next to nothing. If you’d like to hear it.

    Chris Cory (chair): Yes, OK if you make it quick, we’re out of time.

    Grace: OK. We have considerable celebrity support. If we interview celebrities, hopefully longform interviews, but they don’t have to be longform, evergreen interviews, we get the celebrities to promote the interview on their social media, which is the absolute best targeted audience. The celebrities have massive social media followers. Then have them promote the interview before the interview, and then link to it in the archive after the interview.

    And the other thing is, we passed a motion, the national board passed a motion, to do a network wide voter education, voter empowerment and voter registration drive. We can go to voter education and registration organizations like Rock the Vote, like the Hip Hop Caucus, the League of Women Voters, etc., etc. They have celebrity spokespeople. And also have them advertise the shows on our air before it’s aired and after it’s aired. That’s a powerful way to get huge amount of public relations and visibility out there for zero cost. And I think it would work.

    And having celebrities, people love celebrities. No matter what people think about it, they love it. It will improve listenership and improve the visibility of our stations and our network. And those shows can be aired over and over. [End]

    It’s not hard to see why Maxie had to go. “The board” thinks they have much better ideas than any radio professional. I see her statement as a fundamental betrayal of the Pacifica Mission Statement plus a basic lack of understanding of radio, why and how people listen to it, and the reason for having an NCE (non-commercial educational)radio license.

    - Kim Kaufman

  2. 1 of 4
    Unfortunately there was little discussion here, so I don't think I'll be hogging things if I make three points: the Drew Precedent; choosing not a rational course, but administrative measures; & fermenting instability.

    1) The Drew Precedent: The end of Maxie Jackson's first month delivered a stark warning of what he had let himself in for. He witnessed a considered, evidenced judgment, by an experienced & knowledgeable professional, being trampled into the dust by the Pacifica National Board (PNB). Why? It was simply politically inconvenient.

    Pacifica were due for local station board elections (LSB's) in late 2018, so iED Tom Livingston had hired Drew North Consulting to act as the National Elections Supervisor (NES). A company. Professional. "Our election teams are led by Graeme Drew, Certified Electoral Officer[,] whose experience includes general elections, by-elections, special elections, and membership ratification processes involving referendum votes to adopt Custom Election Codes, Land Codes, De-Annexation Agreements, Impact Benefit Agreements, and Constitutional Frameworks." For Pacifica, this was a high-risk option. ('Elections' tab)

    Sure enough, it soon ended in tears.

    Mr Drew & his team started work, in the Pacifica National Office & the five stations. They soon found what the reality was, & it halted them in their tracks: on M29Oct, he found himself with no alternative but to terminate the election. Why?

    The 10 elector rolls, listener & staff for each of the five stations, are principally derived from the c. 46k membership records – and these had proved inadequate. They weren’t materially accurate: lapsed members included; current members excluded; out-of-date contact details; & inadequate supporting evidence, of donations made, & of volunteer timesheets. Through a lack of maintenance, the records had become corrupted. *The membership list was, in a word, corrupt*. Damningly, this meant that *the eligibility of not one candidate could be verified*: “I am unable to reliably verify *any* of the applicants for candidacy due to the poor quality of elector lists” (his final, leaked, report to the PNB, Tu30Oct, page 2, my emphasis). He also determined that there was no prospect of this being remedied any time soon – as I'm sure we can all imagine.

    The most basic building block was absent. *The process had self-destructed*. Logically, he terminated the election process. After all, if a NES is empowered to declare a certification of the election results, just as logically they are empowered to declare a self-destruction of the election process. And this he was about to do.

  3. 2 of 4
    He told the PNB in his Tu30Oct report that, "I plan to announce the end of the 2018 election on Wednesday, October 31, 2018" (p. 3). PNB Chair Nancy Sorden (WPFW, in DC) called an emergency private PNB meeting for that evening. The PNB majority chose to ignore the considered, evidenced judgment of the elections professional: they wanted voting to happen – *any* voting.

    For the defenders of the Pacifica secrecy culture, trying to end something, that’s one thing; telling *the public*, quite another.

    That meeting instructed Maxie to hire a new NES. The next day Mr Drew resigned. A pseudo-election took place, results declared 16Mar2019. Currently underway is another pseudo-election, for the other half of the seats of the five LSB's. Sham elections because no evidence has ever been publicly presented showing that the membership list, & the derived electoral rolls, are no longer corrupt. The PNB majority feel they don't have to reassure anyone, least of all the members.

    So unbeknown at the time, the Drew treatment set a precedent for Maxie. He had seen, in his first month, how professional judgment gets the Pacifica treatment. But he wasn't cowered. He consistently defended professional standards. And so, over the subsequent months, hearing the wrong news, the core of the PNB majority planned, then engineered, the ousting of ED Maxie Jackson. If Pacifica is really good at one thing, this is it.

    2) Choosing not a rational course, but administrative measures: The Aaron Machine spent a lot of time & effort ousting Maxie. People working unpaid. Giving up their spring & summer evenings. Plus all those Skype preparation calls. Week after week . . . after week. True dedication. The proximate context is captured well by Ken's audio compilation above of excerpts from the exchange between Maxie & Grace, at the Tu19Mar2019 PNB Programming Cttee. Probably not a defining moment, but illustrative. So what to do?

    Within a month, the wheels were in motion, ready to grind. The PNB Personnel Cttee hadn't met in Feb & Mar. But it was awoken from its slumber. And put to work. Starting Tu16Apr, it met each & every week, for 12 weeks. The last five meetings, from M3June, were all in private. M1July everything was ready, agreeing its ED evaluation report for the PNB. The next evening, the PNB ousted Maxie. Friday, he left his job. Sorted.

    If Pacifica's good at anything, this is it.

  4. 3 of 4
    Much politics is not so much conflict resolution as it is conflict pacification. Suppressing the unacceptable. The Pacifica way is not evidence, but belief. Not open discussion, but secret manoeuvre. Not persuasion, but brute force. Not rational argument, but administrative practice.

    This is the Pacifica set-up. And the final element used in deciding the fate of this radio professional, a technician, knowledgeable & experienced, is a bedrock of Pacifica governance, 'the silent hands', the cttee members who say nothing, & prevent someone else occupying their seat, but who, crucially, vote with The Dear Leader. Pyongyang has captured Pacifica. One may as well call it the Pyongyang Foundation, Inc..

    All this was too much for a woman of honour, like Maskeelah Washington (WPFW), who had protested, in the public sessions, about the lengths being gone to by 'the evaluation'. She resigned from the Personnel Cttee, & also as a director of Pacifica. As is normal in a secret society, this has not been announced publicly by Pacifica, neither in writing nor orally. This means Maskeelah has never been thanked publicly for her service to the members & listeners. Her name was simply removed, without explanation, from lists. People just disappear in PacificaWorld.

    Given this, is there any surprise that a blog like PacificaWatch, rooted in evidence, was started the evening Maxie's ousting was announced by Grace, at the Th18July PNB?

    3) Fermenting instability: The email to the PNB from the KPFK station manager, Anyel Zuberi Fields, that Ken kindly published, rightly focused on the further creation of instability. That has been exacerbated by two appointments, announced on M22 & M29July: John Vernile as Pacifica's iED, & Jack Valinski as iGM of KPFT in Houston. (JV)².

    Vernile has been a corporate careerist, in music, with Sony & EMI: Pacifica has presented no evidence that he's ever headed a failed & failing organisation, let alone a radio network, nor that he's succeeded in ever stabilising one. I say that, rather than turning one around, because he's on a six-month contract – according to Jan Goodman, still Chair of the Personnel Cttee, the one that delivered Maxie to the slab (Su21July KPFK LSB, 3:40,

    As I said in another comment, the swiftness of his appointment shows that he'd already been lined up. And, politically, he would have been carefully chosen: having waited for over a decade to have the chance to become executive director, Grace won’t be dislodged that easily. In fact, there’s every chance she pushed through Vernile’s temporary appointment because he’s happy to be a silent partner, relying on her knowledge of Pacifica, & she'll be more than happy to do the work, poking her nose into each & every station. She'll rope in her confidants, functioning as a collective shadow ED, call it Pacifica's de facto executive cttee – pushing the PNB further away from where the decisions are actually made. In fact, surprise, surprise, when they can't find a permanent ED, maybe Vernile extends, or Grace becomes iED again. Either way, there's going to be no regime change any time soon. Just like with the son of the real Dear Leader.

    But stability at the top won't trickle down, because performance is not determined by agreement amongst friends but by the quality of radio output: do people want to listen, & then donate? Deteriorating performance is the fundamental cause of the instability that GM Fields wants to end. And in this, sadly, the PNB majority is an obdurate obstacle.

  5. 4 of 4
    Turning to this Monday's communique, the KPFT iGM hiring, its content is revealing – in what it left out. No mention of the LSB. They're mandated to draw up a shortlist for the ED, who chooses the lucky one (by-law 7.3B). So, had they done this? The silence poses four questions concerning her well-known dispositions: another example of Aaron's authoritarianism?; of her willingness to steamroller by-laws when they get in the way?; of her disposition to misjudge politically?; &, dangerously, an example of her willingness to knowingly create more turbulence, this time in a locality?

    KPFT has no recent series of Nielsen ratings. But internally there is longitudinal evidence. Recently, membership has fallen precipitously: 25% in less than 2½ years, from 5 736 to 4 294 (the election record dates of 30June2016 & 19Nov2018 – Supervisor's final report, 18Mar2019). And the LSB, highly factionalised for many years, split into two in early Jan this year. They met separately, & had never been happier. But now they're back in the same room, &, perversely, keeping radio silence, with none of the last four meetings recorded & put in the Pacifica meetings archive. They can't be happy bunnies, can they? So Pacifica's default secrecy mode kicks in.

    Into this Valinski has been thrown. But actually he's part of the furniture: exec producer of 'his' show for 20 years. So he'll have made lots of friends – and enemies. In a highly factionalised station, when 'national' recruits from within, it sends the strongest signal of intent: war will be waged in the localities. Such as this, GM Fields was warning against. Maybe his own days are numbered.

    To sum up Pacifica, fuelled by bequests, & with the iCFO skilfully judging which creditor to pay next, not least the $3.265m owed to the Foundation for the Jewish Community (FJC), the current structure is plain for all to see: Pacifica = zombie radio + necro-economics.

    4) What does all this mean for any radio professional thinking of working for Grace Aaron? This isn't personalising the matter because this is the substantive reality, a pigheaded authoritarianism that is based on belief, not upon radio knowledge, least of all upon radio success. Maxie was trying to create the conditions allowing Pacifica to turn itself around. The Board stopped him. What is any new ED at Pacifica supposed to do? What sort of radio professional will take the job? Does it really have to be someone who doesn't really care, content to do whatever it takes to keep their job? Seems so. Rationally, that's all that's possible.

    The ousting of Maxie proves that under this Pacifica Board there is no place for technique, no place for rationality.

    Inverting what's just been said leads to a highly disturbing question, one that any radio professional taking the ED job will have to live with: *why does the Board majority, by its actions, not want Pacifica to improve?*