The High Cost of "Free Speech" Radio

Well, it’s fund-raising time once again at Pacifica Radio. People of conscience who tend to love the content of the various programs, such as Guns and Butter, Democracy Now, Flash Point, Against the Grain, etc., find ourselves bombarded once again with pleas to "call us and let us know you are out there", especially if you can spare fifty bucks or a hundred or two in order to receive a "gift" from your local station or favorite program.

The content of these programs tends to attract people of conscience, who, like myself, often tend to be far from affluent in a financial sense. We allow for sometimes mediocre on-air performance, such as the relentlessly poor interviewing of guests by Amy Goodman, asking non-perceptive questions such as "Talk about so and so…" to one interviewee after another.

And then we find ourselves favored to hear taped interviews and speeches of great people like Bill Moyers, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Wakari Mathaai, and others. These taped speeches and interviews are often very special (if a good interviewer directs the discussion), but during fundraising week we are asked to pay scores and even hundreds of dollars to hear portions of these speeches that were not aired. The speakers often donate their materials to the radio-stations for free, and then the stations charge big bucks to listeners. If corporations marked up their products in similar manner, the same stations would lambaste them for their greed, but "free speech" radio never gets criticized for their own greed.

Why can’t these stations simply appeal for money from interested parties, and not charge for "gifts"? Why can’t they provide all that content on their websites for free to anyone wishing to access or download it? Why cannot the instructions of Jesus be applied, when he said, "You received free, now give free".

This sort of greed, which allows Democracy Now to broadcast seemingly every single day from a different city, is a turnoff to some of the listeners who would otherwise approve of the content. Why do they want my money when I cannot travel the country to event after event can barely pay my rent and have no health insurance? If Bill Moyers gave his speech for free, why can’t the gifts to Democracy Now pay for archiving and access to those speeches so I can access them without having to pay a hundred dollars or so?

This unabashed money grabbing is almost enough to make a person of conscience turn off the radio and keep it off.