During the first week of July, Houstonians learned that the land and building housing community radio station KPFT 90.1 was for sale. Shortly thereafter, OutSmart learned that the station’s new general manager, David Baes, is moving on.
Baes has accepted a position with a PBS-affiliated station in another city, but he notes that he is pleased with the progress he made in his short six-month tenure with KPFT. Thanks to his extensive engineering know-how, the station’s regional translator towers are now in full service, and there is a new program-automation system allowing the station’s host-producers to broadcast their own shows.
“Things were coming along nicely,” Baes states. “We are seeing the donations go up and the listener numbers stabilize. Due to the automation, the producers can now really take ownership of their shows. It eliminates a middleman. KPFT is in a good position to grow.”
While the station is largely operated by local volunteers, it is not locally owned. KPFT is one of five listener-sponsored radio stations under the ownership of the national nonprofit Pacifica Foundation. Pacifica established the concept of community radio in 1949, and it currently owns stations in New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston.
On July 4, the Pacifica’s Foundation emailed a statement to KPFT’s members that summarized its objectives for the station:
“Pacifica is in the process of relocating [the offices of] KPFT, our Houston station, to another site in Houston which can best suit our needs. KPFT’s existing building holds a very special and sentimental meaning for the Pacifica community. Projected costs for the major repair and restoration of the building proved to be prohibitive and the property is now on the market. As a result of a favorable real estate market in the Houston area we expect to use part of the proceeds from the sale of the building to pay down the principal on our outstanding loan and still have sufficient funds left over to finance the relocation of the building.”
KPFT sits on a prestigious and pricey 13,000-square-foot lot at 419 Lovett Boulevard, and the property is listed for $1.2 million in a sellers’ market.
“Pacifica told us that the money will be used to help relocate KPFT as well as pay a loan that Pacifica owed,” according to Nuri Nuri, producer of the station’s popular Nuri Nuri Blues show. “But our faith in what they have planned for us is not at its highest right now. I certainly do think there is a future for KPFT, but who knows where?”
KPFT has hosted many important programs serving the LGBTQ community since its launch in 1970, but survival has been difficult for the station. Since community radio stations have no corporate advertisers, they must rely on individual donations and volunteer talent to keep them alive. While paying the bills is a constant challenge, the five Pacifica stations are not beholden to corporate interests and thus can foster free thought, free speech, and full-frontal creativity.
Members of Houston’s LGBTQ community have long played a starring role in the operation of the station. The land and building were originally donated to KPFT in 1975 by a friend of one of the station’s original founders, pioneering queer activist Ray Hill.
Does KPFT’s board of directors have any insight into plans for the future? “I do not know what Pacifica’s end game may be,” states Niecie Williams, who chairs the station’s board. Williams has many years of experience in radio operations. “I do know what the board’s objectives are. Whether [the station] is listener-sponsored radio or commercial radio, it needs to function like an actual radio station. We intend to continue our work to secure KPFT’s position in our community for a long time to come.”
For more information on KPFT 90.1, visit kpft.org.