John Vernile — the interim executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, the parent company of the Berkeley-based KPFA radio station — laid off staff and canceled programming at its New York-based WBAI radio station Oct. 7.
The Pacifica Foundation, which operates five radio stations nationwide, including KPFA and WBAI, has run a deficit of at least $5 million from 2014 to 2018, according to a report from the organization’s interim Chief Financial Officer Tamra Swiderski. Of the five radio stations, WBAI fared the worst, according to the report, losing nearly $1 million in 2018 alone.
According to Bill Crosier, secretary of the Pacifica National Board, or PNB, the increasing costs at the New York radio station may have impacts on the other four stations, including Berkeley’s KPFA.
“There have been effects across the whole network, since WBAI has had to take money that is put in by the other radio stations,” Crosier said. “This means that the more WBAI is reliant on the rest of the foundation, the more costs other stations will have to face.”
In a press release published by local organization SaveKPFA, former PNB member Carol Spooner said the foundation sold its national office building and mortgaged multiple buildings from different stations, including KPFA. The other stations increased their contributions to WBAI, Spooner added, but the situation did not improve.
While KPFA does not face the same difficulties as WBAI, according to PNB member and KPFA representative Donald Goldmacher, the Pacifica Foundation’s financial situation could have consequences for the radio station.
“If this board allows WBAI to keep functioning the way it has, it will continue to bleed resources,” Goldmacher said. “We may have to sell off assets, including the building that KPFA operates from. We have wonderful donors in the early ‘90s who put money to make the building, and if we sold it, we would have to rent it back, which is another expense that we didn’t have in the first place.”
In the past five years, KPFA has been one of the Pacifica Foundation’s more financially successful radio stations, according to a report sent by the foundation to the California Attorney General’s Office. In 2016, the Berkeley radio station generated a surplus of $289,000 and was the only station among the Pacifica Foundation’s stations to run a net surplus between 2015 and 2018, according to the interim chief operating officer’s financial report.
Although some people may expect KPFA to run independently of the Pacifica Foundation and its other radio stations, according to Goldmacher, it would be impossible for the station to operate separately from its parent company.
“KPFA is definitely not becoming independent,” Goldmacher said. “There’s no legal way to separate KPFA from the rest of the network, and even then, it is a part of the Pacifica Foundation and greatly benefits from being part of a larger organization.”