[Marxism] Layoffs and Canceled Shows at WBAI-FM, a New York Radio Original

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 8 06:00:12 MDT 2019


NY Times, Oct. 8, 2019
Layoffs and Canceled Shows at WBAI-FM, a New York Radio Original
By Ben Sisario

For decades, WBAI-FM has remained a proudly scrappy alternative in New 
York’s radio market, a bastion of left-wing political commentary and 
community voices rarely heard elsewhere on the dial.

That identity was cast into doubt on Monday when the station’s owner, 
the nonprofit Pacifica Foundation, abruptly laid off most of WBAI’s 
staff and replaced its local programming with shows drawn from 
Pacifica’s four other stations.

Ten of WBAI’s 12 employees were laid off, according to John Vernile, 
Pacifica’s interim executive director.

Employees and volunteer hosts at the station said they were blindsided 
by Pacifica’s decision. “We are in disbelief,” said Alexander J. 
Urbelis, a host of “Off the Hook,” a weekly show about computer hacking. 
“Nobody was given any notice of this or any opportunity to be heard.”

Berthold Reimers, WBAI’s general manager, told producers in an email on 
Monday morning: “There is a show on the air now that I do not recognize. 
This means your shows are no longer on WBAI.” Mr. Reimers declined to 
comment.

Pacifica leaders said that the decision to shut down WBAI’s operations 
in New York had been in the works for months, and that it was an 
essential step to save the larger foundation from ruin.

In an interview, Mr. Vernile said WBAI — which, like the network’s other 
stations, is listener supported — had fallen short of its fund-raising 
goals in recent years. He added that the station was unable to make 
payroll and other expenses, forcing the larger Pacifica Foundation 
network to bail it out.

“Listeners in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and Washington, D.C., 
have been supporting the efforts in New York,” Mr. Vernile said. “It has 
gotten to a point where we can no longer do that.”

WBAI’s ratings are minimal, but its shows can have an impact. On Monday, 
Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, wrote on Twitter: “This 
is deeply disappointing and I hope this station is relaunched.”

WBAI and Pacifica had been under strain for years. Pacifica has not 
released any financial statements since 2017, when its auditor cited 
doubts that the organization could continue as a going concern.

The foundation faced possible bankruptcy after a New York State court 
ordered it in 2017 to pay $1.8 million in rent and other fees to a trust 
affiliated with the Empire State Building, where WBAI transmitted its 
signal.

Last year, Pacifica settled with the trust after obtaining a loan from 
FJC, a nonprofit lender. Mr. Vernile said Pacifica had been meeting its 
obligations under the loan agreement. Sam Marks, the chief executive of 
FJC, declined to comment.

WBAI, founded in 1960, was a leader in the free-form radio movement, and 
has had a history of extraordinary moments in broadcasting. Bob Dylan 
made early appearances on the station, and in the 1970s WBAI was cited 
by the Federal Communications Commission for indecency for running 
George Carlin’s routine on seven “filthy words,” a decision upheld by 
the Supreme Court.

As WBAI’s audience has dwindled, its finances have grown shaky. In 2013, 
after nearly a decade of losses, the station laid off 19 employees. At 
times, it has seemed crippled by factionalism, as board meetings 
descended into name-calling and bickering over parliamentary rules.

The station’s most valuable asset may be its license to operate a 
coveted spot on the dial, at 99.5 FM, but Mr. Vernile said Pacifica was 
determined not to sell that prime piece of radio real estate. Pacifica, 
he said, wants to “rebuild” WBAI at some point, although he did not 
offer a clear target date.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said, “but this puts us in a place 
where we have a shot at bringing everything back in full.”



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