Pacifica was founded in 1946 by pacifist Lewis Hill who was born in Kansas City in 1919. During the Second World War he filed as a conscientious objector. After the war he and a small group of ex-conscientious objectors created the Pacifica Foundation. The foundation's first project, KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, was inaugurated in 1949.
For most of its history, Pacifica gave each of its stations independent control of programming. Then during the 1990s, the national Pacifica board attempted to centralize control of content, in order to increase listenership. The board also proposed changing the network's funding model away from reliance on listener donations and toward corporate foundation funding. This led to years of conflict, including court cases, firings and strikes of station staff, and public demonstrations. Many listeners to the individual stations — especially KPFA in Berkeley, California and WBAI in New York City — objected to what they saw as an attempt to tone down the overtly political content on Pacifica stations.
The board eventually backed down; formerly censored and fired Pacifica National News Director Dan Coughlin was voted Interim Executive Director of the network in 2002. But the years of internal legal battles and financial mismanagement had taken a toll. As of late 2003, the network was still on shaky financial ground.
The flagship of Pacifica Radio's national programming is Democracy Now which covers democracy, human rights and justice issues, questioning the motives for U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, this program is a compilation of news, interviews, and documentaries. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Democracy Now provided a clear alternative to mainstream news coverage. Democracy Now is also seen on dozens of TV stations in the US.
The network's daily news magazine Free Speech Radio News is produced by 'Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship', a group of reporters who went on strike against the Pacifica board policies of the late 1990's.
Pacifica Radio's audio archive is the nation's oldest public radio archive, documenting 50 years of grassroots political and performing arts history. The Pacifica Radio Archive houses original recordings of interviews with John Coltrane, Lorraine Hansberry, and Langston Hughes, among many others.