Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WBAI's less for more market...



How often have we heard WBAI's product pitchers refer to premiums as "thank you gifts"? Countless times, I'm sure. but it's a meaningless term to describe something  that one is being charged for... especially when the price is exorbitant.

As we all know, this is more a scam than anything else. Berthold Reimers, his immediate predecessors, and their abettors need to keep WBAI on the air. Not because the station is significant and vital to the New York area, but because it is all some of them have standing between them and the unemployment line.

Times have changed, trends have come and gone, technology has altered the landscape, but there is still a serious need for intellectual stimulation of the kind WBAI and Pacifica once represented. 

We half-jokingly refer to Reimers, Mitchel Cohen, and the rest of the station's small inner circle as the gang in the bunker, but the tag is not without merit. There is indeed a bunker mentality surrounding the small group of people who, with increasing desperation, attempt to reverse what they and others have done to the station and its parent organization. They know that the damage can not be repaired, only covered up, which is what they are doing by any means they deem necessary. 

As we all know, these fund drives are now more a scam than anything else. Berthold Reimers came in on a vow to double WBAI's income in a not so realistic short order. He had a plan that would straighten everything out, he said. So, what did he do? He spent his first year as interim GM in the premium room, where unfulfilled orders formed a major part of the clutter left behind by the previous regimes.

When he re-emerged, a year later, this self-professed financial expert (see Linkedin resumé) assured us all that the problem was almost solved, the backlog of product handling and shipment cut down to a negligible size. Sighs of relief were heard, but this turned out to be the tip of the iGM's iceberg of twisted truths, downright lies, and delusions. Even the Sandy blast, which was devastating, did not exonerate Reimers—he was collecting a $100,000,00 annual salary based on the smoke and mirrors that Frank Lefever and a WBAI  committee of selection failed to detect. It has been downhill since then and the deeper the station sank, the bigger and more frequent the lies became. Now it has reached a point where just about anything goes, so the fundraising attempts are more dominant and increasingly irresponsible. The listeners? Well, most of them wisely evacuated themselves and those who remain seem comfortable with shameless political indoctrination. 

No thinking person expects WBAI to revert to Mozart in the morning, but a thought-inspiring schedule of multi-ingredient brain food remained obtainable in spite of changing times and life styles. In its earlier years, WBAI not only survived changing trends, it often helped to shape them, doing so in a seamless, open manner. The listener's mind was ever nourished, never forced into a mold.  These days, technology has—more than ever before—been difficult to keep up with; it has widened generation gaps and, as always happens, left  some people out.

Back in the days when few people owned computers and the new internet was referred to as a "super highway," I recall seeing an elderly black woman interviewed on Public TV by the more respectable of Adam Clayton Powell's sons. His description of this new electronic "highway" produced from her a lengthy pause, followed by a question: "Will it run through Harlem?"

My point, though clumsily expressed, is that some things never change, quest for knowledge being among the perennials. Delivery methods evolve, but there will always be a serious need for intellectual stimulation of the kind WBAI and Pacifica once represented. 

We half-jokingly refer to Reimers, Mitchel Cohen, and the rest of the station's small inner circle as the gang in the bunker, but the tag has merit. There is, indeed a bunker mentality surrounding these people who, with increasing desperation, attempt to reverse the damage they have inflicted on the station and parent organization. They know that their vandalism can not be repaired, so they focus on covering it up, but only succeed in doing so partially.

They lie by rote—and, almost a la Occupy-ers, in chorus—to the few remaining listeners as well as to themselves and each other. With Gary Null cast as Popeil the station's morally bankrupt amateur hucksters have long since abandoned efforts to raise funds for the Hill concept that made Pacifica stations so special. That was only possible when principles of good programming and communication were observed. Now the aim is to keep their own little "shows" and designer politics on the air, even if it calls for embroidering or downright eliminating the truth that once fueled Pacifica stations.

Sunday night/Monday morning, I listened as Tony Ryan played soul music from his own earlier years and offered a premium comprising a children's novel, Indigo Blue, and equally unrelated CD-resident MP3s from "my own collection." As listeners reported problems with their calls to the phone center, Mr. Ryan (Yes, that sledgehammer- toting management member) told them to just ask and pay for the book... he would personally and separately send out the CDs. In fact, he impulsively decided to throw in one or two extra ones. These are obviously discs that he burns, so you know there are no licenses or royalties involved. Copyright infringements do not matter to these people as long as money comes in.

Off the Hook is one of the station's good programs. Its producers have never minced words when it came to voicing their disgust with the way things are handled by Reimers. His cavalier attitude toward them is all the more inappropriate when one considers that their premiums are always relevant and made by them at no cost to the station. When it turned out that many of the show's paid-for premiums were collecting dust in a corner at Atlantic Avenue, and calls to the station went unanswered. OTH spoke up and received Reimers' assurance that all would be taken care of. That promise was empty, so now OTH has again commented on the destructive Bunker game played against the show. You can read it here. The matter was brought up at the WBAI LSB Finance Committee last week and here's what the Treasurer had to say about it: 




UPDATE:
The Finance Committee must have been persuasive, because Berthold Reimers came to his senses long enough to let the Off The Hook team back in last night. I doubt that Reimers realizes what a colossal ass he is and how grateful he should be that WBAI has such good, forgiving volunteer producers. Here's what they had to say about their return: 


Quite a contrast to the misplaced WBAI inmates, who lie by rote to the few remaining listeners and, I think, to each other. With Gary Null cast as Popeil the station's morally bankrupt amateur hucksters have long since abandoned efforts to raise funds for the Hill concept that made Pacifica stations so special. Now the aim is to keep their own little "shows" on the air, even if it calls for embroidering the truth that used to fuel the station—and embroider they do.

If anyone believes Gary Null to be the great benefactor he portrays himself as, I have this bridge... More so than before, endless re-airing of his many self-serving pitches have turned the current drive into a Null show. Is his generosity overflowing, or does he find all that free air time irresistible? Listen to him as he inadvertently tells it like it is...



On one of his misinfomercials—his generosity almost bursting—Null announces in true commercial style that his offer includes "Not one, not two, but THREE bottles!" Then he explains why that is important. Reimers, he says, voiced a concern over the station not being equipped to replenish the customers' supply of monthly bottles. No problem, Null assures the listeners, adding that he is prepared to handle such needs. Of course he is... I have always thought that re-orders is what this is all about, anyway—get them hooked and feed the new need. 

I heard several other good examples of bad radio in the past couple of days, but the WBAI site's archive is so messed up as to be unlistenable


I have previously spoken of that Natalie woman's lies regarding availability of Gwen Scott's  health package. In fact, I have brought it to the attention of Reimers apologists and tried to get it to the mismanager himself, but nothing was ever done about editing out the falsehoods. We are talking about a couple of hour-long misinfomercials that have the two women pitching a 3 discs and a book package in a phone hook-up that dates back to WBAI's Wall Street days. Reimers must love this commercial, for he has scheduled it beyond death. I was able to capture one from last week (they run about 3 or 4 times a day) and extract from it several false claims of WBAI exclusivity, which I strung together for your listening displeasure.

Here is "Dr." Scott's own website where the exact same set can be purchased for $39.99 (+$6.99 for USPS Priority Shipping), as opposed to the $150 WBAI is asking for. A pretty good markup, I would say. I bet the chance of actually receiving this product is far better if ordered from the Scott website.

And here is my string of Natalie's lies. Note that Scott is on the phone throughout and that she never attempts to correct the false exclusivity claim. If you think of it, why on earth would a seller give exclusivity to a failed station in a single market? It makes as little sense as everything else.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pacifica reaches new depths...


I think a more appropriate question would be, is Pacifica salvageable? Here's an informative article by Matthew Lasar. It was published in The Nation, deals with Pacifica's decay, and is, as far as I can tell, mostly accurate. 

Be careful what you click on...


This blog's original mission was to publish WBAI-related documents and information in hopes that a deeper knowledge of its inner workings might persuade loyal listeners to stick around and discourage the opportunistic abusers whose vandalism has reduced listenership to its lowest number ever. 

By pointing out the current management's ongoing ineptitude and the steady lowering of program standards, I naïvely imagined that we might hear improvements in content as well as technical quality, and that the worst offenders would be replaced by producers and hosts who possess the spirit and talent that once made WBAI such a significant, pioneering radio station.

A parade of PDs, some barely lasting a week, have been hired for a job that years of ineptitude and moral bankruptcy essentially rendered mission impossible. A major flaw in recent years has been the hiring and inexplicable retention of Berthold Reimers, conceivably the worst GM WBAI has had in decades, and it has become obvious to me that disease that's eating away at WBAI is the Pacifica Foundation itself.

Are there good people on the National Board? I believe so, but they are outnumbered by incompetent, misdirected people whose colossal blunders are not always, I suspect, accidental.

Take, for example, yesterday's allegedly accidental posting of five names that were meant to be kept secret. They are men who want to be the next Executive Director of Pacifica. Not finding any valid reason for not identifying these wannabes, I made an inquiry on the Pacifica Radiowaves list, where a Board member posted their names (as well as his own preference). One would think that I had sent out poisoned Valentines! Nailing, the keeper of that list, a person I had respect for, accused me of running a gossip-mongering blog (this one) and likened me to Rupert Murdoch!

The fact is that I had not yet posted those names here, wanting to first hear why they were secret. Later, fueled by all that hypocritical indignity, I changed my mind.  If candidates need to keep their Pacifica aspirations secret, I wonder what further aspirations they might want to hide once (and if) a small group of the PNB hires them.

Today, Tracy Rosenberg brought this up in her Pacifica in Exile news release:
(The orange highlights are mine --Chris)

Berkeley-Just when it seemed the process to fill the vacant executive director position at Pacifica Radio couldn't get more any troubled, another shoe dropped when board vice-chair Tony Norman, a DC attorney employed by the federal government, inexplicably carbon-copied his ballot indicating his choice for the position to a public Pacifica discussion list-serv with about 100 subscribers.

Pacifica has been trying to fill the position with no success for almost a year, after ousting the last executive director in March of 2014. The current chair of the board, Margy Wilkinson, a retired clerical worker, has been doing the job for most of the year on a part-time basis. She was briefly interrupted by former KPFK manager Bernard Duncan, who submitted a letter of resignation soon after taking the job citing a pre-existing plan to relocate to his native New Zealand. When the board finally selected a new executive director in January of 2015, the candidate, now identified as labor writer Bill Fletcher Jr, declined the position.
Instead of then turning to the second place candidate, who received strong support from many members of the board, the board of directors embarked on a brand new election, apparenty unwilling to abide by the results of the first. Norman's error, as he characterized it five hours later, was attributed to using his smartphone, although ballots were not due until February 18th. It isn't clear why Norman was handling confidential attached files on a smartphone on a federal holiday days before the deadline. 

Norman's actions appeared to set off some panic at Pacifica's national office, where there were reports of lawyers being consulted for advice about what to do. One of the receipients of the email, former WBAI GM Chris Albertson, who maintains a WBAI-focused blog website, went ahead and published the names of the candidates in the final pool on his site at WBAI now and then. Pacifica In Exile, also a direct recipient of Norman's email, will not do so, but is providing the email's time, date and senders and recipients for verification purposes here.  While we are less than comfortable withholding information released into the public domain, any member of the press or Pacifica member with legitimate reasons to want to confirm the full document may make a private request. Pacifica in Exile has no control over the actions of the other 100 recipients of Norman's email.
What Norman's ballot reveals is that he, a card-carrying member of the 2014 board majority, supports the candidate who ranked in the runner-up position in the process the board completed a mere 20 days ago. This suggests the latest maneuver of  "redoing" the ranking process to avoid offering the job to the second-ranked candidate, may have backfired on the board, by defrauding a candidate with significant support on both sides of the aisle, robbing Pacifica of qualified leadership. and potentally torpedoing the entire hiring process. This opens the question of whether the board of directors as currently constituted is capable of performing the functions of a nonprofit board or if things have deteriorated beyond that point.
Pacifica in Exile readers may write to the board at pnb@pacifica.org. They may want to suggest a year without an executive director is enough and it is time to make a legitimate job offer to a candidate who has now  been through three hiring processes between 2013 and 2015 and cease the shenanigans.
In other news, Pacifica's large pile of documents is due to the Attorney General of California in the correspondence audit launched by the Registry of Charitable Trusts on December 17, 2014. Among those documents will not be the long-delayed audit of the year ended 9-30-2013, which remains undone after 17 months. Auditor Armanino has declined to sign an engagement letter with Pacifica for the next fiscal year, which ended on 9-30-2014.
The board of directors may lose their liability (D&O) insurance on March 10, 2015 after an emergency extension last fall, unless the completed independent audit for the year ending 9-30-2013 is filed with the insurance provider. Under certain circumstances, lack of directors and officers insurance can allow directors to be personally liable for employment and derivative legal actions should Pacifica become insolvent and no longer able to indemnify board members with the nonprofit's revenues.
Pacifica's IED Wilkinson and CFO Salvador informed the board of directors that financial pressures on Pacifica's national office have increased due to the discovery of an unpaid legal bill for $90,000. The bill that was discovered later turned out to be the bill for Pacifica's defense against former WBAI program director Bernard White's 2011 lawsuit for racial discrimination after his 2009 termination. White's lawsuit was summarily dismissed in 2012. The characterization of the bill as "discovered" is odd as Wilkinson received a full legal expenses summary listing all expenses by case and firm and the balances due on them,  as a member of the board in December of 2013, which she appears to have failed to review at the time or in the year following. The assertion the bill was "unknown", which was repeated numerous times, continues the pattern of providing distorted information to members of the board of directors, who in many cases, have not been on the board for very long.
Financial statements, which presumably are being sent to the Attorney General, contain omissions including missing broadcast tower utilities and rents at three out of the five stations, missing major donations, loans unrecorded in the books, and public statements that continue to be demonstrably inaccurate, including the CFO asserting one of Pacifa's largest vendor contracts ended in September of 2013 instead of September of 2012, 6 months after being provided with the original contract with the 2012 date. This audio clip from a finance committee meeting provides a snapshot in a sustained Q+A between the CFO and committee member Bill Crosier, a PNB member from 2010-2012 who recently volunteered to take over as the local treasurer in Texas. 
The tower cost confusion is most acute in the case of NY's WBAI whose situation vs a vs their 15-year lease at the Empire State Building (till 2020) is affected by negotiations that appear to defer more than $2 million dollars in remaining liability on the lease to unknown dates on uncertain terms. Texas station KPFT continues to have unresolved broadcast issues. KPFT is now in the middle of their sixth stay to operate at half power and unable to have the broadcast license formally renewed until they are able to broadcast at full power. Discussions about what to do have included a suggestion from PNB treasurer Brian Edwards-Tiekert that KPFT take out a mortgage on their building, discussion of a national on-air fundraising effort by all five stations, and suggestions of a possible permanent power downgrade, although that reduces the value of the station license by millions of dollars over a $165,000 equipment replacement need.
Winter fund drives underway or recently completed at all of the stations were disappointing, with KPFT reporting $207,000 on a $280,000 goal and KPFA reporting $542,000 on a $630,000. Partway through their fund drives, the other three stations were reporting 10-30% shortfalls to date. The shortfalls will exacerbate the cash crunch of the past fall when $500,000 in expense reductions were mandated for the network's two large California stations, KPFK and KPFA, both of which are now fundraising from dawn to dusk for more than 90 days per year or 25% of their total daytime airtime.
The national board's February 11th meeting was largely taken up by a ponderous multi-hour process of appointing board members to 2015 officer positions and commitees. As usual, the contested positions focus on the board's finance committee which develops annual budgets for all 7 units of the nonprofit.  For the board chairmanship, and the interim executive director position if the board never makes a permanent hire, George Reiter and Margy Wilkinson will once again oppose each other in a repeat of the 2014 tied election Wilkinson she claims she won on the basis of a mismarked ballot that gave her a "fifth place ranking" when there were only two candidates. KPFK listener representative Lydia Brazon and affiliate director Janis Lane-Ewart are candidates for the vice-chair position. Lane-Ewart was executive director at the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) in 2013.
In other business, the 2015 board finally passed the DC station budget the 2014 board neglected, leaving the budgetary process for the year that began 10-1-2014 finally completed 131 days into the new fiscal year. The board also approved a casual extension of the $156,000 loan to NY station WBAI (indemnified by the 501c3 Pacifica Foundation) from board member Lydia Brazon's employer after Pacifica defaulted on the first installment payment due in October of 2014. The new agreement, which also contains no terms for late or missed payments from Pacifica nor an arbitration clause, pushes the payments into six installments rather than five and slates them to now start in September of 2015.