NY Times on WBAI Rally

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sun Jan 7 12:04:27 MST 2001


January 7, 2001

Hundreds Protest Firings at WBAI-FM


The New York Times
A demonstration was held on Saturday to protest the firings of producers
and other personel at community radio station

A few hundred protesters gathered outside the Lower Manhattan offices of
the radio station WBAI yesterday afternoon, denouncing last month's abrupt
dismissal of three longtime employees in what has become known as "the
Christmas coup."

The struggle between employees and volunteers at WBAI-FM (99.5), a voice of
the left for a half-century, and the management of its parent group, the
Pacifica Foundation, has become increasingly tense since Pacifica fired
WBAI's general manager, Valerie Van Isler, and locked her out of her office
on Dec. 22. Ms. Van Isler was replaced by Utrice Leid, a producer.

Two other WBAI employees were also fired, the program director, Bernard
White, and the union steward Sharon Harper, a program assistant on the
morning program "Wake Up Call." Also, some volunteers were banned from the

Ms. Leid did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.

Yesterday, John Riley, who has become the unofficial spokesman for
Concerned Friends of WBAI, complained that Ms. Leid betrayed the WBAI staff
when she walked out of a meeting at which the staff "voted in favor of a
resolution that called on the staff at WBAI not to accept a new general
manager from Pacifica."

Besides WBAI, Pacifica owns licenses for KPFA-FM, in Berkeley, Calif., and
for stations in Los Angeles, Houston and Washington. Many critics of the
foundation, which was organized in 1946 by a group of pacifists and former
conscientious objectors to World War II, say that its national board is
trying to weaken local control of its stations. They speculate that it is
an effort to either broaden the stations' audiences, or to sell their
frequencies, which by some estimates, could fetch between $150 million and
$200 million for WBAI.

At times, yesterday's protest resembled a party. Demonstrators, including
Mimi Rosenberg, the host of "Building Bridges" on WBAI, and Al Lewis, who
played Grandpa on the "Munsters" television series and recently lost a bid
to capture the Green Party nomination for United States Senator from New
York, smiled, chanted and cheered. But at other times the protesters
shouted angrily toward the radio station's offices on the 10th floor of 120
Wall Street.

It is still unclear why Pacifica officials decided to remove Ms. Van Isler,
Mr. White, and Ms. Harper. Pacifica officials have made few public comments
on the matter.

In November, Ms. Van Isler was given a chance to take a job in Pacifica's
national office in Washington.

Ms. Van Isler has said that when she declined to take it and said that she
would rather stay as WBAI's general manager, she was told that she had
until the end of December to take the Washington job. She was fired nine
days early.

Regardless of the reasons for the firings, Carol Spooner, a plaintiff in
several listener lawsuits against Pacifica and a member of a local advisory
board at KPFA, told the crowd yesterday that Pacifica's national board had
strayed from "its founding purposes" in interfering with local control.

But Pacifica board members have said that they are trying only to broaden
their stations' audiences based on studies that showed that listeners did
not reflect the diversity in the areas served by the stations and were too
old to sustain future operations.

WBAI, which does not sell advertising or accept corporate underwriting,
finances most of its $3 million annual budget through listener donations
and a small contribution from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Louis Proyect
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