Listener activists scramble to keep the Progressive talker on the air, but time is short, and the fight is difficult...
By Brad Friedman on 3/17/2009, 12:47am PT  

I wanted to offer an update on the Peter B. Collins situation, that I detailed last Friday following Peter's announcement that he would be leaving the air after this Friday's program due to the difficult time he has been having in continuing to self-finance and self-syndicate his daily, live radio show in this economic climate, and under the rigid Progressives-need-not-apply rightwing corporate control of our public airwaves. [Disclosure: I am a regular weekly guest and occasional fill-in host for PBC, just to get that out of the way.]

Following last Friday's announcement on his show, some of the audio of which we posted with last week's article, a number of listeners have been working to help determine if sustainable funding could be raised to keep PBC on the air. I've been in close touch with Peter, both before his announcement last week, and since then. I have, of course, offered any help I might be able to provide, but what can feasibly done has been difficult to determine.

He noted during last week's show that his monthly costs are just over $5000 to stay on the air, and that while a miracle could happen to help keep him on the air, stations had been notified, and the outlook wasn't good.

Folks have asked me what can be done, and I've been doing my best to try and figure that out, while respecting both listeners' feelings (and the avoidance of building up hopes, only to see them dashed) and Peter's concerns, which are similar. But I'll take the liberty of trying to share some of his feelings here, many of which he's now shared himself publicly in a blog item he posted at his website over the weekend, and then during today's program (selected audio from which I'll post at the end of this article) in response to a number of callers rallying to see what they can do to help keep him on the air...

In his weekend blog item, he detailed quite specifically, the uphill climb he currently faces:

Since we started on KRXA in 2005, I’ve been covering the costs of producing the show and delivering it to our affiliate stations by satellite. With phone bills and the other expenses, it adds up to more than $5,000 a month. We get a little advertising revenue and some generous listeners contribute, but most of it is absorbed by my small business, Collins Media Services. Until last summer, I was able to cover the costs from my work as a radio producer and consultant. Like everyone else, the Bush recession has hit me hard.

To make money in syndication, we need to be on 20+ stations and at least one of the big 3, NY, LA, Chicago.

In addition, he summarized the shrinking access that Progressives have been given to our airwaves, as corporate ownership continues to shut down station after station across the nation over the last several years. "The total number of stations offering progressive talk in the US peaked at about 105 in 2006, and is now around 70," he wrote. "Miami, DC, and even Ann Arbor have lost their progressive stations in the last month."

In response to those who had felt that raising $5,000 a month could be done with a few hundred $10 or $20 per month pledges, he wrote: "We have tried that to some extent, but I don’t want to turn the show into a pledge-a-thon, ’cause I listen to the radio, too, and don’t like them....Overall, I don’t think we can shift to a voluntary subscription plan to produce a reliable funding stream."

Those feelings were largely what he expressed to me during our conversations, and as he didn't want to simply raise money to stay on the air for just another month, only to have to go through the same exercise again, he thought it best to pull the plug instead. At least that was his feeling last week, over the weekend, and even as expressed during today's show.

But callers on today's show expressed the idea that they'd like more time to try and help raise funding to see him continue. And while Peter made no promises, he said he planned to assess the situation on Tuesday and determine what looked possible and what didn't.

"Absent a miracle --- and I don't rule out miracles," he said, "I need to make a final final decision by Tuesday morning."

In response to a call, and a direct question from Aldous Tyler, a progressive radio supporter who put up a "RED ALERT!" on his nonstopradio.com website to let folks know about PBC's situation, Peter gave as direct an answer as he was able to:

"It costs more than $5,000 a month to cover the production and distribution costs for this program," he told Tyler. "And what we need is a reliable funding stream. It can come from advertising contracts, it can come from underwriting agreements, it can come from private contributions. It has to be substantial and reliable enough that I could tell the radio stations 'Look, I can stay on the air for the foreseeable future, so I'm withdrawing my cancellation notice'. And I can't, at this point, guarantee that every station will agree to that, but I know that the longer we wait, the less likely it would be."

Tyler has been part of a concerted effort by a group of listeners and activists who are hoping to raise pledges for $10/month from 500 people. "Given the short time we have," Peter conceded, "it's hard for us to determine how reliable pledges would be." But he has asked those who wish to pledge, to drop him a note at Peter@PeterBCollins.com by Tuesday morning so he can make such an assessment.

"I want to make it very clear," he added, "If you don't have extra cash, I don't want you to feel pressured or obligated or even just generous. I want you to hold on to that money and buy your next meal, or fill up your gas tank when you need to go look for a job....If you can help, that's fine, but I don't want people betting the rent, or something more valuable."

Dave Berman, another activist from Humboldt County, CA called in to say that he had been able to accumulate pledges of close to $1200 over the weekend, while Peter said he'd heard himself from roughly 50 people, totaling commitments for $600 a month or so.

Berman blogged about PBC's announced departure over the weekend at his website, We Do Not Consent, imploring folks to "help save the Peter B. Collins Show".

In response to another supportive caller who was disappointed at having so little time to take action, Peter apologized and explained that the possibility for turning things around has only come about due to listener reaction. "This really came from listeners," he said. "I'm trying to listen to the listeners, and give them the chance to be activists. But the timeline is now somewhat out of my control."

Ed Porter, a Monterey Santa Cruz, CA Councilman called in to say he'd like to keep Peter on the air, and asked if it'd be possible to find commitments to sustain him for a couple of months, to give time to then "design a more long-term financing plan."

"If I see that possibility, that would be enough," Peter told Porter in response. "If I have two months committed, and people who are willing to rally, put together a fund raising event, I'd be happy to do that. But we've got to get through this first phase, and that's where we need people to let me know, by Tuesday morning, so I can make an assessment."

It's a very difficult and fine line that he's been walking in trying to not build up hopes for listeners --- I know for a fact he had decided, without question, to leave the air as of this Friday --- while also giving them an opportunity to take action if they wish, and if they can.

He did mention, at the beginning of today's final hour that he hoped to return in one format or another, even if the current efforts do not materialize. "When I get things settled down," he told listeners, "I'm planning to launch a podcast."

But as to the listener supported efforts to keep him broadcast on the public airwaves, he told them: "I support your efforts. This is a show by and for activists. And for you to use your activism on behalf of me and this program, is something I'm grateful for, I'm humbled by and," he added with a chuckle, "it wouldn't do any good for me to ask you to stop, would it?"

If you'd like to try to help keep Peter on the air --- and I believe he is one of the nation's most important progressive voices who should not only be on the air, but be on the air in every market in this country --- then let him know if you're able to pledge any amount on a monthly basis at Peter@PeterBCollins.com.

He can also be reached at: Peter B. Collins, P.O. Box 100, Mill Valley, CA 94942, though first things first: let him know your intentions. He has said he'll set up a PayPal system to make monthly subscriptions a no-brainer for folks, if he's able to determine there is both listener support, and support from his affiliate stations to continue.

The final hour from today's program --- minus commercials, and one call that was on a different topic --- can be downloaded here [MP3], or you can listen online below (appx 33 mins) ...