WPFW—D.C.’s self-proclaimed “jazz and justice” public radio station—is in once again in trouble. At an open meeting on Wednesday night, general manager Jerry Paris spelled out just how bad the situation is. According to Paris, the station is in such financial dire straits that it has “60 to 90 days of money” left to operate.
During the occasionally contentious meeting, Paris noted that the station, which relies largely on donations from its listeners, received approximately $140,000 in pledges for its three-week on-air February fund drive; only 40 percent of its goal. The station’s previous two drives only reached 50 percent of its target fundraising goals. WPFW’s next on-air fundraiser is scheduled for May, but if things don’t drastically change, it could all be for naught. Paris, along with interim station program director Katea Stitt, are holding a private meeting tomorrow to inform its volunteer programmers about the situation and to discuss possible changes.
WPFW—which, in addition to playing jazz, soul, blues, old-school rap, and international music—is known for its left wing and African American-rooted news and analysis. It’s one of five Pacifica Foundation-owned radio stations in the United States. WPFW’s monthly bills include rent for its K Street studio (WPFW’s previous home was in the same building as Washington City Paper‘s old offices in Adams Morgan), some paid staff, and expenses related to its transmission equipment and communication lines. Paris noted that the station also has some other outstanding bills, including $50,000 to a contractor for work on the transmitter. He stated that WPFW once lent $30,000 to fellow Pacifica station WBAI in New York City, but WBAI hasn’t—and can’t afford to—pay back that loan. The station in the past has received money from Pacifica, some of which comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But Tony B. Norman, a board member who’s also a listener representative on the Pacifica National Board, said that Pacifica, which is having its own cash flow problems, must undergo auditing before those payments can possibly resume.
Paris and the station’s board members mentioned in scattershot fashion various ideas they had to bring in funds, along with new listeners, to the station. Paris was pleased with the recent Civil War To Civil Rights fundraiser at the African American Civil War Museum on March 6 and he noted that doing something similar could be an option.
The possibility of taking money from corporations and businesses for underwriting and mentioning such entities on the air was also discussed, but this option remains controversial within the WPFW community, with some believing that the Pacifica bylaws don’t allow for corporate funding. Meanwhile, the board’s programming committee hinted that they and the general manager were looking into possible changes to the station’s schedule, but the issue wasn’t fully addressed.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery