Today WMNF radio's Arlene Englehardt officially becomes the new Executive Director of the Pacifica Radio Foundation, the oldest radio network in the country and the distributor of Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Free Speech Radio News.
Englehardt has been involved with WMNF for 20 years, most recently as a board member. She was president of the board from 2001-2004. Listeners have also heard her every Saturday morning on 88.5 FM since 1996 , as a co-host of The Women's Show.
Pacifica Radio runs five radio stations, in Berkeley, New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Houston. It has approximately 150 affiliate stations across the country (including WMNF in Tampa). This past summer marked the 10th anniversary of a particular low point in network history when Pacifica management locked out the staff and volunteers at KPFA in Berkeley for over 3 weeks (including this reporter), a story that made national headlines at the time.
That controversy revolved around rumors that the Pacifica National Board and staff were trying to centralize control of content and attempt to gain more funding from corporations. More bad news followed in late 2000 at New York City station WBAI when some top programmers were fired in what came to be known as "The Christmas Coup.".
In an interview yesterday, Englehardt said that in terms of the network, "There are some serious financial issues...they've made some cuts, they've had to tighten their budgets. Those moves will have to continue." She says she hopes she can obtain new grant funding, and will continue to find other ways to be more efficient.
But Englehardt says there are tremendous opportunities with Pacifica, saying of the network, " It stands very much for peace and social justice. There's so little independent media today, and so it's important to have a strong network." She says that "in my book, NPR and PBS have been influenced by many other forces, so they're not as progressive as I'd like to see, and as Pacifica has been. " She compares the radio network as the equivalent of the Nation magazine in print.
Englehardt replaces Grace Aron, who has been serving as interim Executive Director for the foundation for the past year. Aron replaced Nicole Sawaya, who quit the network in 2008, saying at the time that Pacifica had a dysfunctional governance and shoddy and opaque business practices .
Englehardt will travel to Berkeley, California, the home of Pacifica, next week. She says she intends to return to Tampa for the holidays, and then we'll head back and find permanent housing in Berkeley.