Pacifica’s financial woes drive Free Speech Radio News to shutter production

By Ben Mook

The financial stranglehold on Pacifica is taking down Free Speech Radio News, a progressive news show that relied on the five-station network for the bulk of its operating costs.

The show, airing weekdays on 100 stations, will close production Sept. 27 and lay off its staff, a core of part-timers and an international network of nearly 100 stringers.

Owed nearly $200,000 in back payments by the California-based Pacifica Foundation, FSRN’s board of directors decided Sept. 13 to shutter the program, holding out hope that FSRN could be revived under a different production model.

“Our fortunes have always been closely linked to Pacifica’s fortunes,” said Russell Gragg, managing editor. “So when Pacifica hits problems, its troubles trickle down to us as well. And we just hit a point where there’s not enough money in the bank to produce the show past Sept. 27.”

Cash-strapped Pacifica also owes $2 million in back fees to the producers of another flagship program featuring progressive views, Democracy Now! In addition to its debt to producers, Pacifica can’t meet payroll and maintain facilities for two of its stations: WBAI in New York and WPFW in Washington, D.C.

According to a memo from FSRN’s board, Pacifica was contractually obligated to cover the bulk of the show’s operating costs. In 2008, Pacifica paid $50,000 per month to FSRN, but the foundation renegotiated its agreement twice this year to reduce its payments — to $25,000 and, more recently, $10,000.

The renegotiated contracts and absence of other funding made FSRN financially unsustainable. Its  monthly production costs total $36,000.

According to the board’s memo, FSRN’s bank balance as of Sept. 13 was $32,000. The cost of closing down production, including related legal fees, will eat up $29,000.

The show’s demise doesn’t mean FSRN will disband, according to the memo. The board is considering alternatives, such as producing a headline news service, special features or a weekly news magazine.

“We’re not throwing in the towel,” Gragg said. “Everyone involved with FSRN remains committed to the idea behind it. In one fashion or another, it will continue to go forward.”

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