“Clear Channel is not going to interfere with this station.” - Tony Norman
Pacifica Radio’s WPFW 89.3 FM has called D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood home for the past 15 years, but it’s not likely to much longer. The City Paper building, which houses the station, is being demolished in order to make way for a taxpayer subsidized luxury hotel. Forced to move, and having looked at several properties in D.C.’s hot real estate market, the station has settled on an affordable space just outside the District in downtown Silver Spring on top of a Metro stop.
Even though the new location would provide the station – which is listener-sponsored, commercial-free and near-broke – with huge savings, some programmers and their allies have launched a campaign to stop the move. They’ve taken to the airwaves to drum up fear, telling listeners that there will be a corporate takeover if WPFW signs a sublease, landlord-tenant agreement with Metro Networks Communications, which is a part of Total Traffic Networks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel, the media conglomerate. This effort comes on the heels of a nearly two-year-long campaign by the same programmers to fire the general manager, John Hughes, who removed some of their shows.
WPFW’s need to move comes as no surprise to anyone involved with the station. In fact it’s been openly discussed for no less than four years and as many general managers. Yet the campaigners offer no serious alternative for relocation, just fear-mongering.
Not everyone is on board with this approach. “People shouldn’t be so weak to think that just because you’re leasing from A, B or C that that’s going to destroy you,” said Tony Norman, an elected member of WPFW’s Local Station Board and Pacifica’s National Board. “We should have more faith in what we stand for than some people frightened by Clear Channel.”
Along with Norman, I joined John Hughes on Friday’s edition of Manager’s Mailbox (listen below). Hughes said the sublease agreement provided for no governance or programming relationship of any sort with Clear Channel. “There’s no strategic partnership [or] relationship connected to Clear Channel.”
While the lease will not lead to a corporate takeover, it may well provide WPFW with the opportunity to regain its financial footing. Presently the station pays $17,500 a month in rent. At the new location, the rent would be just $11,500 a month. An additional savings of $1,000 a month is anticipated as a result of sharing expenses for the phone, internet and T1 fiber line, according to Hughes. But the biggest savings would come from the build out, or the absence of one, which is estimated to cost the station $150,000, an expense that would be unnecessary since the Silver Spring studio is already built out.
This message has seldom been heard over WPFW’s airwaves which have instead been dominated by the campaigners’ efforts to drum up fear of a corporate takeover. Despite this, listeners voiced support for the station moving to Silver Spring. “That sounds like a good deal,” said one caller, Eddie, who challenged the notion that doing business with a corporation not in line with Pacifica’s mission meant instant doom. “If I go to Exxon-Mobil to buy gas does that mean that I’m a big supporter of Exxon-Mobil?” he asked.
Fear-mongering aside, Pacifica has been doing business with Clear Channel for some time. In order for stations to receive live broadcasts (like Democracy Now!), a satellite feed is required. Among the companies that offer this service is Clear Channel, whom Pacifica contracts with. Despite this ongoing business relationship, “Clear Channel has not taken over Pacifica and they haven’t influenced the programming of Pacifica,” said Norman.
Moving to the Silver Spring location makes sense. The savings the station would see allow for the very real possibility that staff could finally be brought up to full pay, and the station could begin to build up its capital reserves so that its next move is to a building it owns, like Pacifica’s west coast stations. While this isn’t a far out idea, it’ll only happen if the infighting stops, or at least subsides for a few years.
“I don’t care where you move as long as you stay on the air,” said Mary, who called into Manager’s Mailbox. “And if you’re going to save money, I mean, kudos. What is the big argument?”
Pete Tucker is an elected member of WPFW’s Local Station Board, where he serves as vice chair
Listen to Manager’s Mailbox here (segment begins with Tony Norman)