Time Magazine sympathetic to WBAI cause!

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Jan 22 10:00:54 MST 2001


JANUARY 29, 2001 VOL. 157 NO. 4
Time Magazine

STEVE LOPEZ'S AMERICA/NEW YORK
This Just In: We're Fired
A hostile takeover rocks radio's voice of the left
BY STEVE LOPEZ

On election day, with a certain relative of his running for the U.S.
Senate, the Commander in Chief surprised New York radio stations by calling
with a genial get-out-the-vote message. But Clinton's goodwill wagon lost
an axle when he called WBAI in Manhattan and was put on the air with Amy
Goodman, host of a Pacifica Radio program called Democracy Now!

Goodman, an award-winning rabble rouser whose show is carried by 30-some
stations, does not have a change-up. She only has fastballs, and she throws
at the head. For 30 minutes she kept Clinton dancing and ducking, at one
point accusing him of being responsible for the genocide of 5,000 Iraqi
children monthly through U.S. sanctions. It was vintage Pacifica Radio, the
hell-raising, corporate-bashing voice of the left for a half-century, with
stations in Los Angeles, Houston and Washington, in addition to WBAI and
the flagship KPFA in Berkeley, Calif. But that voice is now being muffled
in a way that would embarrass the sandal-wearing founders of the nonprofit
Pacifica Foundation, some of whom now stage their sit-ins in the next life.

Dreaded capitalists have commandeered the ship, speaking the bottom-line
language of Arbitron ratings and floating the idea of raking in millions by
selling a station. They literally changed the locks and barred several
employees from the building at WBAI last month, after doing the same thing
two years ago at KPFA. The irony is richest at WBAI, where the program
director and others were fired without warning on Dec. 22 in "the Christmas
coup." So much for "Democracy Now!"

"Many are calling it a political purge," says Goodman, who's been feuding
with management over what she regards as attempts to turn her bark into a
yip that would be more palatable to more listeners. She has lamented the
firings on-air, and 300 loyal listeners marched last week demanding that
the commercial-free and listener-supported station be returned to its
rightful owner--them.

And therein the divide. Some of the 18 members of the national board want
centralized control of a network that would reach a broader audience and
rival National Public Radio in prestige. That was never a goal when the
board was thick with community activists from the five local boards, who
were committed to local programming unavailable in the mainstream press.
But national-board members are now recruited from the business world
instead of the protest lines, and although they consider themselves
progressives, their wiring is different.

"Pacifica has 800,000 listeners, and after 50 years of being on the air,
that's just not good enough," says board chair David Acosta, a Houston
C.P.A. Vice chairman Ken Ford, an engineer with the conservative Housing
Trade Association in Washington, says the challenge is to honor the
social-justice mission while Pacifica grows. "But we are a corporation.
It's nonprofit, but we have to operate as a business."

To Palo Alto, Calif., board member Tomas Moran, it's operating more like a
totalitarian government. Moran is among six dissenters who insist they're
being locked out. Matthew Lasar, a professor at the University of
California at Riverside who wrote a book about Pacifica, says the longtime
advocate for openness and democracy is running itself "in a way that could
be described as secrecy and fiat."

The retooling comes after a consultant sniffed that Pacifica's impact has
gone from "insignificant to irrelevant." If they paid this guy 25[cents],
they were robbed. What's irrelevant is the numbing prattle of
indistinguishable loudmouths who populate ratings-driven broadcast media.

Everything is numbers today. The weekend box office. The President's
approval ratings. The quarterly profits. For 50 years, there was one place
where numbers did not exist as a measure of success or as validation of
purpose. Pacifica broadcasting can be tedious at times, with its tie-dyed
version of truth and justice. But the voice is indignant, probing and
unapologetic, and in the age of megamedia conglomerization, an alternative
view is a necessity.

And I say this as someone who went on WBAI last year knowing I'd be a
punching bag. I'd written a screed about misguided support for convicted
cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal and was attacked on-air as a lazy
corporate-media hack. They were wrong, of course. But they were damn good
at it.

Copyright © 2000 Time Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.



Louis Proyect
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