Thursday, December 20, 2012

In the beginning...

Thanks to Kevin White for pointing to this piece from the December 19, 1959 issue of The New Yorker on the occasion of WBAI's rebirth as a Pacifica station. Let's hope that it's not too late for another one.
A Response received December 24, 2012..
Uncle Happy (Sidney Smith) chimes in - January 26, 2013

Please click on image to make it a readable size



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Can you pass the GM test?

If you have been listening to WBAI for a few years, you may have noticed that it is now a very different station from the one that originally attracted your attention. The programming has changed, and that is to be expected, but it has also deteriorated, and that should not be happening. WBAI used to operate on a high intellectual level, whether it was broadcasting music, commentary, drama, documentaries, comedy, or discussion. The people who worked there were dedicated to their job and excited by the very concept of voluntary support from listeners replacing commercial sponsors. This gave Pacifica stations the freedom to broadcast the truth, regardless of how controversial it might be. One could tune in to WBAI and hear intelligent, authoritative discussions on subjects that no other station dared to broach. There were unique performances of experimental music and drama, readings of poetry and monumental novels, and children's programs that left romper room far behind. You could move your dial across the FM band and you did not need a station break to tell you when it hit 99.5—even the announcers sounded human.

WBAI had about 25 salaried employees in the 1960s, when I worked there. You could make more money elsewhere—as I had, at WNEW—but only at the two other Pacifica stations (KPFA and KPFK) would you find such freedom of expression. Not everybody could get a job at WBAI—you had to be on the right wavelength, as it were. That has obviously changed, and when I listen to the station today, I hear much that never would have made it on the air in bygone years. To management and many of the station's hosts/producers, the listener is only important when the station needs to solicit contributions. No longer does the manager sit down and have a talk with the people who pay his salary—the weekly Report to the Listener was an important live program that gave the head of the station an opportunity to tell the sponsors what was happening at WBAI, who was working on a new program, what changes there would be in the schedule, how we were doing financially, etc. Perhaps more important was the fact that the manager had a golden opportunity to hear what the listener-sponsors had to say, what they liked or didn't like, what they would want to hear us do, etc. We were, after all, in the business of communication, but one would never know that today when phone calls and e-mail go unanswered, and the microphone is commandeered by tenured self righteous, mediocre producer/hosts who know that no other station will have them, so they hang on to WBAI for dear life. 

You may not know how bad it has become, because you may be among the large majority of listeners who have gone elsewhere for intellectual stimulation and edification. Yes, WBAI is no longer alone in that respect, but instead of staying ahead of the game Pacifica invented, the station has been turned into a shelter for the stagnated and the opportunistic. 

Kathy Davis and her pseudo feel-good vibes and Barbie doll philosophy would never have been allowed on WBAI's air when it was a principled Pacifica outlet. Ditto that embarrassing numerologist, the loosely wrapped fear mongers, the make-believe "anchorman," Robert Knight—who does not even come up to the standards of Fox News and the NY Post—the phony "doctors," the wannabe disc jockeys, the dusky dawn diva, et al. These are people who cannot see the station for the me me me's, but none of them would be loose to crawl around the station were it not for the spectacularly mis-cast and inept people in the front office. Berthold Reimers is as ineffective a general manager as anyone could dream up, and Chris Hatzis, the PD who was hired a half year ago, appears to be cut from the same mold—nothing at WBAI is going to change as long these clowns are in charge, even the downward trajectory is assured.

It's almost funny that a GM Evaluation Ad Hoc Committee has been trying to hold a meeting for a couple of months, but it keeps getting postponed. Today's notice read: 

"Unfortunately, tonight's GM Evaluation Ad Hoc Committee meeting is cancelled due to security concerns and apparent lack of quorum."  

Security concerns? Hmmm, I didn't know it had grown that bad. Be that as it may, our astute contributor, The Pacifica Maven, submitted the following quiz today. I thought you might find it interesting—which answers would you choose?



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The mother of invention?


The following was originally written by me in response to a post in the BlueBoard forum, but the moderator has set up an awkward block by which any mention of a banned poster automatically subjects one's post to pre-approval. The rationale is that banned people cannot post in their own defense. Well, whatever they did to be barred from the forum ought to have earned them that handicap. Anyway, I think that system of censorship in the name of justice needs to be re-thought.

To get around it, and because I really want to respond to "T Wacker", I have posted as my response a link to this post. Having to go this circuitous route is a nuisance, but I'm afraid WBAI fosters that kind of nonsense these days.

Here, then—followed by my reply—is "T Wacker's" post re my questioning Cerene Roberts' having to attend a LSB candidates broadcast via Skype, because she is barred from entering WBAI's premises.

Have you read the comic strip Nancy? Her pal Sluggo and Cerene are twins.
By:T Wacker (static-72-89-27-43.nycmny.fios.verizon.net)
Date: Wednesday, 28 November 2012, at 6:30 am
In Response To: Be frank, but don't be Frank...Know what I mean? (Chris Albertson)
And not just by image but by actions.
When I first walked int WBAI a few dozen years ago, I was told there was one rule - NO VIOLENCE! Violation was supposed to incur a lifetime ban from the station (although I can recall several instances where new management lifted bans for political reasons). Clayton Riley was let back in because he was an enforcer who enjoyed intimidating people. Metzger only bounced Simon's head into the wall - not sure he was even punished, but it left an indentation in the wall!

Then dear sweet Cerene smacked board member Andrea Fishman upside the head. She had previously pulled other passive-aggressive shit, like kicking Carolyn Birden's purse and claiming she was hit by it, and hitting people up for their lunch money - just lookin' for that case quarter! Once stole Howard Stern's pants, I hear.

But smacking a board member was the last straw. Good F'ing riddance to a major piece of excrement. Sadly the dumb-ass bylaws have been interpreted to allow a fired ex-PD to run for office, even while he's suing the station, no less, and also interpreted to say that any anus who pays the $25 by the deadline is allowed to run, even if they are banned from the station. Welcome to democratic Pacifica.


My not-ready-for-BB-posting response:


What you tell me, if true, certainly is food for thought. When I question the veracity, it is more or less pro forma and only because today's WBAI is so riddled (infested) with personal agendas, innuendos, and animosity that few things can be taken at face value. I appreciate that you at least responded to my question rather than going the idiotic LeFever route with it.

Yes, I am inclined to believe that there is fire behind your smoke, but look at all the deadweight, unprincipled, unscrupulous chronic liars who get pet treatment from the front office or, indeed, are a part of that office.

As long as people like Kathy Davis, Robert Knight and Reimers are paid a salary, allowed to roam freely, insult/defraud the listener-sponsors, and violate the station's alleged principles, any derogatory assessments of Ms. Roberts, Bernard White, Clayton Riley, et al—true or not—will have hollow rings

I could respect your views and assertions if you delivered them in the open (i.e. not from behind a handle) and had not allowed yourself to be a seamless part of the station's wallpaper for a few dozen years. Anyone who stays in that unhealthy, venomous environment without protest becomes a part of the problem. 


Saturday, November 24, 2012

And the truth is...


Cerene Roberts has been an active participant in WBAI's confusing, destructive system of governance for many years. If you have ever attended any of the board meetings—in person or via a YouTube video post—you know how frustrating that must be. It is no wonder that the station is in such a mess, for these assemblies are battlefield where egos clash and reason gets buried. This is a far cry from the civilized board meetings I used to attend once a month.

At WBAI, there is an unfortunate tendency to blame the failures of management on someone or something else, and—not to break with tradition— the current mismanagement team was quick to place the blame for the most recent fundraising disaster on a storm. Yes, "Sandy did it," they said. Cerene Roberts isn't buying it, nor—I imagine—is anyone else with a brain. Lately, with the LSB election pending, I have read much about Ms. Roberts, who is being attacked by all the right people. That is to say, that she can regard the insults and accusations against her as compliments. The following is a piece written by Cerene Roberts regarding the ludicrous on-the-air talking point that yet another fundraising ordeal is coming and Sandy is to blame! I don't know where this text first appeared, but it was reposted on the BlueBoard by Nalini and it makes a whole lot of sense. Berthold Reimers and sycophants like Davis, Haskins, LeFever and Knight will not like it, but I think it's right on the money—as it were.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Making the Kool-Aid...

The following is TPM's response to my recently revisited 2010 review of a WBAI 50th anniversary special. Discouraged by the obvious shift in focus that this broadcast revealed, I felt compelled to look back at the station that I first  knew, a fresh voice that eloquently informed and attracted some of the  most creative forces of the day. TPM chooses to look at the dreary present and beyond. It's not a pretty picture.

You will find my 2010 review following TPM's comments.

To enlarge, please click on image.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A backward glance: Triumph and termites



It was almost three years ago that I decided to see what was happening at WBAI. The station was about to turn 50 as a Pacifica outlet, and I had been a part of the 25th Anniversary celebration in 1985, but I no longer tuned in, because it had become a painful experience. WBAI's programming was already showing signs of abuse in '85—breaches of principles and good taste that I had seen coming in the late 1960s—but it was still what Nat Hentoff once called "the only game in town." I don't remember details of the extended 25th year celebration, so I assume that nothing shocked me, as it did when I tuned in 25 years later.

I had my jazz blog up and running then, and—although I knew most of its visitors would not have heard of WBAI—I decided to go parochial, because what I heard this time at 99.5 was truly disturbing.

Let's fast-forward to the recent Sandy disaster, the Pacifica Archives gave WBAI listeners a wonderful taste of the kind of intellectual and worldly quality the station once exemplified. Michael G. Haskins and others seized the opportunity to raise money, giving the archive programs as examples of what WBAI has to offer, and of the station's uniqueness. It never ceases to amaze me how these people so shamelessly try to sell listeners on WBAI's past while they at the same time seem determined to bury it.  

I know that some of this blog's visitors have taken a peek of the WBAI-related posts on my jazz blog, so you may already have seen this review of the 50th anniversary, but it belongs here and I think it reflects the unhealthy attitude that keeps pushing WBAI farther away from Lewis Hill's concept.

WBAI's 50th Anniversary Program
Sunday, January 10, 2010

Aside from the bland stuff that takes up so much of the station’s precious airtime these days, one glaring difference that distinguishes the old WBAI from the current one is the absence of documentary productions. Much of Pacifica’s strength used to lie in the extraordinary work of its producers, mostly volunteers, who worked late into the night and created amazing programs with inadequate equipment and little or no money. In today’s 10-hour tribute to itself, there was hardly any evidence of that. This would have been a golden opportunity for the station to create a comprehensive documentary of its first fifty years, and really demonstrate what it is that made Pacifica stations so special. Instead they gave us a lot of giggling and inanities as groups of elderly white staffers swapped painfully shallow compliments interspersed by sound bites that could have been retrieved from last week’s air checks, except for the dated references.

The anniversary "celebration" began at 11 AM with a lady named Janet Coleman (I think she has a show there) telling the listeners about Louis Schweitzer, the remarkable man who in 1959 gave the station to Pacifica and continued to support it even when some staffers (including Steve Post and Larry Josephson) falsely accused him of censorship while others, who knew it to be untrue, shamefully remained silent. Sad to say, censorship was soon to be implemented at WBAI, but, ironically, by some of the finger pointers themselves. I won’t go into the details here, but it was a mess and I have a rather large file that tells the story.
They still had the right idea in 1985. (click to enlarge)

Getting back to yesterdays on-the-air "celebration," Ms. Coleman’s review of Lou Schweitzer’s background and the circumstances that led to his making that generous gift could have been quite interesting if the facts had been straight, but she had it mostly wrong. I was amazed when, later on, Bob Fass—who has been at the station for almost all of its 50 years—compounded the misinformation re Schweitzer. Whatever smattering of renown this residue of WBAI cling-ons has managed to attain is owed to Lou, but most of them have lost sight of that and the few who seem not to care as they play their game of survival. They got Julius Lester on the phone and paid him empty compliments. He was among the first African-Americans to have a regular program on the station (after Charles Hobson and A. B. Spellman), but he often showed an intolerance that wasn’t exactly in keeping with the Pacifica norm. I recall having to enter the control room one evening to set up a tape for the next show. He was on the air and obviously bothered by a call from a listener, so he modulated into his street mode and declared, “I’m tired of talkin’ to white people—I ain’t takin’ no more calls from white people.” His microphone was off as I opened the door to leave, so I turned around and asked, “What will you do if your wife calls?” Julius never spoke to me again. Not long after that, something said on his program was deemed antisemitic and sparked a very serious situation. Julius has since converted to Judaism and done very well for himself far from New York. 

To be fair, there are still excellent voices on BAI’s air today, but—except for Earl Caldwell and Ibrahim Gonzales, they were not heard from during the back-patting celebration. There also was no mention of many extraordinary people who breathed life into WBAI during its formative Pacifica years—they are the forgotten foundation upon which the station built its reputation and without whose early input this group of celebrants might well be pushing pencils or flipping burgers.

For a brief moment, the old-timers stopped talking about themselves and turned to race and ethnicity. When somebody wrongly claimed to have been BAI’s first black audio engineer, no one corrected him—that distinction actually goes to Tom Tracy, whom I brought over from WNEW around 1965, They also forgot Joanne Grant, a black lady who became the first female News Director, and the wonderful  Taña De Gamez a Spanish lady of great intellect who authored many books and whose weekly program, Latin American World, on more than one occasion brought a call from a network asking for permission to use something Taña had uncovered. Taña's program was eventually censored and when she complained, they fired her on the ludicrous grounds that her Spanish accent was "difficult for listeners to understand"! There also was no mention of WBAI’s superb children’s programs, which were unlike anything else offered on New York's air, or of the fact that we had amazing expertise on the air in so many fields. Andrew Sarris was our film critic, John Corigliano was our Music Director, Yoko Ono was one of his volunteer file clerks, Gunther Schuller had a regular program, as did Ayn Rand and Marian McPartland. Jazz programs were conducted by the likes of John Coltrane, Jimmy Rushing, Eddie Condon and Toshiko Aliyoshi, to mention but a few. America’s top jazz writers were also regulars. We adapted and produced great plays, challenged convention by taking up tabu subjects and excelled when it came to documentaries. “This Little Light”, for example, was an extraordinary series of reports from the heart of the Civil Rights struggle. We received an unsolicited $10,000 grant earmarked for civil rights coverage. fIt came from something called the Taconic Foundation with instructions not to credit them. That’s not a lot of money today, but we used it well back in the Sixties and I invested some of it in wireless microphones. That was a pioneering move, and a necessary one, for it allowed our reporters to covertly tape conversations with bigoted officials who otherwise would have refused interviews. Neither was there mention of Dale Minor's amazing shoestring budget reportage from Vietnam—great journalism that arrived in well-worn manila envelopes by way of a WBAI- friendly Pan-Am stewardess and scooped the network coverage. There also was no mention yesterday of Marcia Tompkins, a wonderful, brave staffer who went home to Tuscaloosa Alabama one Christmas and secretly recorded an outdoor KKK meeting as well as discussions of race that took place in her family living room. Marsha’s father was the local Chief of Police, which made it all the more interesting. We received requests for permission to air her programs from the BBC, Danish Radio, and a little old lady in Detroit whose husband had given her an FM station for their anniversary. 

This is the sort of thing they should have been talking about as they celebrated the first 50 years, not themselves. They also should have played excerpts from some of these great programs and invited alumni like Marcia and Dale to share their recollections, That would have shown the right spirit, but this was not really about celebrating WBAI. This was a vacuous meeting of the self-absorbed.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Two Observations: November 15, 2012

These comments pertain to WBAI's current predicament and the awkward attempts that are being made to keep the station afloat. As I have remarked before, the fumbling practitioners of artificial resuscitation are mostly the same people who brought the station to the edge of oblivion. Please feel free to comment on what you read here. —Chris


Saturday, November 10, 2012

To sell or not exist...


Sent from Steve Brown to Max Blanchet in July 2012:


But it is my sad experience (as I suspect it is also yours) that Pacifica can’t take effective steps to promote its welfare and survival. The reason is that no one at Pacifica has the slightest idea of how to take those steps -- aside from the obvious (but debilitating and ultimately self-defeating) recourse of cutting more and more staff positions. Which may certainly be necessary in the short term, but is no recipe for long-term survival, let alone prosperity.
Pacifica’s leaders often promise to consult experts about the best way to run the network. But they seldom do. And when they do, theyusually ignore the advice, because they cannot agree. And they cannot agreebecause it is part of Pacifica’s ingrained cultural predisposition – deeply embedded in its DNA -- to value equally the opinions of the expert and the idiot, in the mistaken assumption that this is somehow “democratic.”
There are other problems at Pacifica, of course, such as egomania (always a much bigger problem on the Left than on the Right), ideological Manichaeanism (if you don’t agree with me, you are not merely wrong but Evil), and identity politics (my voice or my group or my ethnic minority is more deserving of air-time, paid staff positions, and use of station resources than your voice or your group or your ethnic minority). These problems, in turn, give rise to a destructive factionalism at both the local and national levels, resulting in the formation of angry political alliances that quickly identify and then vilify their “enemies.” 
The result is that those who share the same values -- and in a sane world would be uniting to achieve common goals – are often foolishly drawn (or cynically manipulated) into antagonistic personal conflicts that distort priorities, and make the adoption or rejection of policies and programming proposals dependent, not on their merits, but on which person or faction has made the proposals. We are now and have long been in destructive gridlock, where self-serving factional agendas are cloaked in the garb of high moral principle, and good ideas cannot be considered, much less implemented, if they come from a Bad Source – i.e., the “other” group, side, faction, or ideological cohort.
Most station managers – as well as most executive directors of Pacifica – have always been fearful of losing their jobs. They, no less than anyone else, must pay rent, put their children through school, and make sure there is food on the table. So they are constantly looking over their shoulders or putting up a finger to see which way the factional wind is blowing. Too often I have heard executive directors say that they would not do something they knew was in Pacifica’s best interests, because “the board would not support me” – meaning he (or she) feared that a powerful faction on the board would try to fire him if he flouted its wishes or thwarted its agenda.
Pacifica broadcasts to the five largest metropolitan media centers in the country; its stations can reach nearly 200 million radio listeners with, in many cases, the most powerful transmitters in their respective areas. Thus the fact that, after 50 years of continuous operation, Pacifica has only a paltry 73,000 members nationwide, is not only a disgrace but a testimony to how inept Pacifica has been at everything -- except at rejecting the ideas of those who might turn the network into the progressive powerhouse that America needs, and for which Pacifica has every necessary qualification, except political will and unity of purpose.
There is still time (though it is fast running out) toturn Pacifica around. By which I do not mean merely surviving, whereby the network would limp pathetically into thefuture, year after year, with quivering legs and a quavering voice, affecting almost no one and achieving almost nothing.
No, I mean a Pacifica that can prosper and grow and become a force in the world -- instead of a farce. It can do this by testing some of the many  provenproposals it has received in the last 10 years (they are all on file or in the computers of those who proposed them). Some of these proposals would have been able to increase Pacifica membership and revenue by as much as threefold in 16 months. The irony of these proposals (though this is not widely known) is that most of them were actually approved and accepted for implementation by individual stations as well as by the national board. Some of the ideas were even tested, and succeeded, but were suddenly abandoned, either because of factional pressures, lack of managerial will, poor administrative practices, misunderstanding of priorities, or a combination thereof.
And with that abandonment was also abandoned the hope for a stronger Pacifica.
Pacifica is basically a small and uncomplicated organization with a budget of less than $15 million a year. It is so small and so uncomplicated that it could successfully be managed by a few skilled professionals, virtually in their sleep, without compromising the Pacifica mission one bit, as long as they were allowed to put the needs of the foundation and its listeners above the private agendas of the various factions whose destructive competition has been sucking the air from Pacifica’s lungs, and the life from its body.
But I do not think this will happen. I think that Pacifica will continue to hire the wrong people -- who will continue to do the wrongthings -- for what they claim are the right reasons. That is too bad, for as we all know, America needs what Pacifica stands for – or claims it stands for.
For although Pacifica’s financials show that the patient is still breathing, its pulse is fading and its will to live declining. Pacifica’s five station licenses used to be valued at anywhere from $300-$600 million, but that was before the internet, when radio was, if not still king, at least part of the royal media household. Yet although Pacifica’s licenses may have declined in value, they may be still worth as much as $150-$250 million. So if Pacifica is unable to rouse itself from the gridlock of its own creation, perhaps the best contribution that it can make towards fulfilling its founding “mission” would be [now I am going to commit heresy] to sell all five of its licenses while they still have value. After which, Pacifica can then do one (or both) of the following with the $150-$250 million sale proceeds:
1. Pacifica could recreate itself as an internet radio network, using the $150-$250 million sale proceeds from its five radio licenses. It would not only create the most powerful and compelling progressive website in the world, but would also publicize itself and its programs in a way that Pacifica should have – but never did -- publicize itself and its programs for the last 50 years.
After all, the internet is where the progressive world has gone -- not to mention the rest of the world as well. And on the internet, broadcasting entities don’t need FCC licenses – so it makes sense for Pacifica to convert its now-unnecessary, but still valuable, FCC licenses into a $150-$250 million bank account, and use it to spread its wings and really fly.
Just look at the Progressive Radio Network (PRN), created by Gary Null only a few years ago. It has a full program grid filled with many of the most distinctive and influential voices in their fields (all of whomshould have been on Pacifica stations, and would have, if Pacifica had beendoing its job.) PRN went from zero to over a million listeners in just a year and a half. And each month it adds 70-80,000 new and unique names to its listening audience. (That’s right, it grows by as many new listeners in just one month – every month -- as the entire size of the complete Pacifica membership.) And its rate of growth is actually increasing, whereas Pacifica’s audience hasn’t increased at all, and is actually in decline. Moreover, PRN’s internet audience is so enthusiastic, and so loyal, that only a few hours of fundraising a month are all it takes to be self-supporting, whereas some Pacifica stations (WBAI, for example) need to spend over 100 days a year in fundraising mode, yet are still not self-supporting. 
But you might object. You might say: “Pacifica is a radio network.” But you would be wrong. Pacifica was never a “radio” network; it was simply a way to distribute important information to the largest possible audience -- and for nearly 50 years, radio was the best way of doing that. But radio is no longer the best way. The internet is the best way, and it is the way of the future. Pacifica Radio can use its $150-$250 million sale proceeds to transform itself into …Pacifica Radio Online,potentially a bigger, more powerful, and more influential voice for peace and justice than it ever was in all of its 50-year existence. And it can have as many internet channels or stations as it needs, so all of our producers canbring all of their unique programs and listening audiences with them to the new internet entity, with the prospect of gaining many thousands of new listeners as the reach and reputation of WBAI Radio Online spread.
Pacifica cannot lose, but only gain from such a transformation. It would still have offices, studios, and performance spaces – just as it has now. Except that, with its huge new bank account, it can afford to buy its next home or homes, and equip them with the best broadcasting equipment that money can buy. Ultimately, what Pacifica could gain from an internet re-creation, and what its listeners could gain, would far surpass even the wildest dreams and most visionary hopes of Lou Hill.
But, on the other hand, if Pacifica management lacked the will or desire to continue as a broadcast entity …
2. Pacifica could donate its $150-$250 million sales proceeds to organizations that are better equipped to carry the progressive banner forward into the future, both proudly and more successfully than Pacific has currently shown itself able to do. Which means that, if Pacifica finally does pass away, as seems ever more possible, then let it do so with a whoop instead of a whimper. If Pacifica’s voluntary dismantlement and license sale could result in a $150-$250 million shot-in-the-arm donation to the progressive movement, then History would truly be able to say of Pacifica, as Malcolm said of the Thane of Cawdor, that “Nothing became his life like the leaving it.”
Steve Brown
Member of the WBAI Local Station Board
(speaking only for himself)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The ongoing Pacifica turf struggle...


This is a Counterpunch article that deals with Pacifica mis-governance. It is written by Dan Siegel, an attorney about whom I only know that he was pointed out by some as the dastardly culprit who advocated the sale of WBAI a few months back. Realizing how well false accusations thrive in the Pacifica community, I thought it prudent to reproduce it here (attempts to provide a link having failed). If you wish to see the article in its original context, go to the counterpunch site (www.counterpunch.org). Whether you read Mr. Siegel's piece here or there, please avail yourself of the "comment" option (below) and share your thoughts.  —Chris

Time Remove an Inept and Sectarian Leadership

The Battle for Pacifica

by DAN SIEGEL
Ballots are being mailed for elections to the Local Station Boards at the Pacifica Foundation’s five radio stations across the nation. The result of these elections could determine whether Pacifica survives or continues its slide into bankruptcy.
First a bit of background. Each of Pacifica’s five stations – KPFA in Berkeley, KPFK in Los Angeles, KPFT in Houston, WPFW in Washington, D.C., and WBAI in New York – has a 22 member Local Station Board (LSB). Half of the seats are up for election this year. Each LSB sends four of its members to the Pacifica National Board (PNB), which wields absolute control over the network, including hiring national staff, approving national and local station budgets, and setting programming priorities.
Pacifica has always been fractious, back to when KPFA was founded as its first station in 1946. Its current bylaws were adopted 10 years ago, following a mass uprising and several lawsuits directed at a leadership group that attempted to create a self-perpetuating PNB. The new bylaws have brought democracy to the network, but they need revision to create a more streamlined and efficient structure that absorbs less of the organization’s time and money. But that is a conversation for another day.
The current majority has controlled the PNB since January 2009. When it took control it fired the Foundation’s long-time Chief Financial Officer, Lonnie Hicks, and replaced him with  former KPFA LSB member LaVarn Williams. In the absence of an Executive Director, PNB chair Grace Aaron, a Los Angeles peace activist and veteran of Scientology’s  internal wars, assumed political and organizational leadership.
Since 2009, the PNB’s inept and politically sectarian leadership has brought the Foundation to its knees. It has spent down all its reserves, incurring cumulative deficits of $5.7 million in the last four fiscal years, according to its 2012 audit report. The National Office, which receives 20 percent of each station’s on-air fundraising, has fallen far behind on its bills, including payments for Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!, Free Speech Radio News, and legal costs. But for its creditors’ patience, Pacifica would be in bankruptcy already. The audit reports raises doubts about Pacifica’s ability to continue as a “going concern.”
The reasons for Pacifica’s financial decline are complex, including both the world wide financial crisis that has impacted almost all nonprofits and the aging of Pacifica’s core listenership. But rather than responding to these challenges, Pacifica’s leadership has accentuated them. Before his termination, Hicks had for years warned of the financial decline and urged Pacifica to develop new fundraising strategies instead of relying on more and longer on-air fund drives that frustrate and alienate listeners. Almost nothing has been accomplished to improve fundraising at either the local or national level since 2009.
Pacifica’s annual budget is about $14 million. The budgets of the member stations vary widely: In the year ending September 30, 2011, KPFA raised $3.3 million, KPFK $3.7 million, WBAI $3.2 million, WPFW $1.6 million, and KPFT $1.3 million. While the other four stations have been able to meet their expenses and pay their share of the National Office expenses, WBAI has not been able to do so for several years.
The PNB has refused to address WBAI’s financial crisis, which has required an annual subsidy of $500,000 to $1.0 million. Most of WBAI’s shortfall is due to the $720,000 it pays annually for its Wall Street office and Empire State Building broadcast tower. The PNB has failed to insist that WBAI find cheaper facilities, at least in part because its PNB members are a critical part of the current board majority. Instead, WBAI’s financial problems have threatened the stability of the entire network.
For Pacifica to survive, its leadership must address its financial problems, particularly the WBAI situation, diversify its fundraising, and develop a strategy for developing Pacifica’s Internet presence and digital media. Pacifica is far behind most mainstream media outlets and free-standing web sites in presenting its content to the growing part of the population that relies less and less on traditional radio broadcasting.  Comparing Pacifica’s web presence with that of Democracy Now! proves this point.
Instead of focusing on the critical big picture issues, the PNB has developed a new strategy of intervening in local station affairs. KPFA has born the brunt of the PNB’s attacks, perhaps because three of its four PNB members, who are members of the Save KPFA caucus, oppose the direction of the Board majority. Last year the PNB rejected the station budget developed by the KPFA staff and LSB, even though it was realistic and balanced, including required payments to the National Office. The PNB also backed now former Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt in her unprecedented rejection of all three candidates proposed by the KPFA LSB to serve as KPFA’s station manager. The PNB recently intervened in the selection process for the selection of KPFK’s program director. A PNB committee has proposed a new “code of conduct” that would allow the expulsion of people from membership in the Foundation for bad mouthing or attempting to undermine the PNB’s decisions. Remember that Pacifica calls itself “Free Speech Radio!”
In the interests of full disclosure, you may conclude that I have an axe or two to grind here. I was the Foundation’s general counsel from April 2006 through January 2009, when I resigned over the Hicks firing. When I took office as an LSB member at the beginning of 2010, I was greeted at my second meeting with a libel lawsuit filed by Grace Aaron, LaVarn Williams, and a few others. We had that case dismissed and recovered $20,000 in sanctions. A few months later, some of our opponents filed a new case against me and three other KPFA LSB members for the offense of raising $68,000 in pledges to keep KPFA’s Morning Show on the air after it was removed due to the machinations of Engelhardt and Tracy Rosenberg, the sole KPFA PNB delegate who is not a member of Save KPFA. (Needless to say, the removal of the Morning Show was a catastrophe for KPFA fundraising, a concern that has yet to be fully remedied two years later.) That case remains pending. The final part of the litigation tri-fecta came about when the PNB voted to expel me because I was a “political appointee” as the volunteer legal advisor to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. The superior court ordered that I be reinstated, which finally occurred when the judge threatened to hold the PNB chair and secretary in contempt. The PNB voted to appeal the decision, although the term from which I had been expelled ended a year ago, which coincides with my resignation from my post as the mayor’s legal advisor over disputes concerning her handling of Occupy Oakland.
Sorry for the digression. The bottom line here is that we need to create a new PNB majority by winning a minimum of two to three more seats than we now have. Practically, that means keeping the three current KPFA seats and adding a few more reasonable delegates from the other stations, particularly increasing the number from KPFK from one to two or three.
A new PNB majority will take the focus off petty politics and instead address (1) Foundation finances; (2) Digital media and the Internet; and (3) national programming. It will also have the responsibility early next years to hire a new Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer for the Foundation. The new CFO should focus on fundraising rather than bookkeeping. The PNB should limit its activity to setting policy, rejecting the temptation to meddle in staff and local station decisions.
Finally, I want to address what I view as a few of the false issues that have been injected into the campaign for the KPFA LSB. First is the claim that members of Save KPFA are simply stooges for the Democratic Party. In truth, several of my friends in Save KPFA are active in the Wellstone Democratic Club, which probably represents the most progressive wing of that party. Some Save KPFA members, including me, are extremely alienated from the Democratic Party and support the Greens, Peace and Freedom, etc. Period.
A second canard is that we are also stooges for KPFA’s paid staff and want to eliminate volunteers from the airways. That is another canard. What Save KPFA wants is good programming, presented by paid and volunteer staff, that will attract new people to our station. We want Pacifica to grow itself and contribute to the development of a powerful progressive movement in this country. If anyone thinks that is a crime, please do not vote for us.
Dan Siegel is an attorney in Oakland.

A REBUTTAL FROM TRACY ROSENBERG
published in the November 9 - 11 -12 Weekend Edition of Counterpunch

Snow in Central Park

Photo by Chris Albertson ©2012

This has nothing to do with WBAI or Pacifica (were they only as peaceful), but it is what my bedroom window revealed this morning, so I thought I'd share it. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This open letter was written by filmmaker/author Michael Moore and posted on his site following the 2012 presidential election. Please click on it to enlarge.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

WBAI: Some Thoughts



Here are some of my own thoughts followed by an e-mail letter TPM wrote to Gary Null's Progressive Radio Network.


The mismanagement team seems to be stirring a bit, having hitherto been in hiding or hibernation. What has put them in motion? I think that their unusual burst of energy is, more than anything else, fueled by a need to keep those salary cheques coming to the select few. If it reflected a desire to keep WBAI on the air for the sake of the remaining listener-supporters, the focus would be different and the awakening would have come much sooner. 

As long as WBAI is under the direction of people who, either purposely or through ignorance, are loath to raise the station's programing to past standards, there is no hope for recovery. What we are seeing is a coterie of opportunists who will sink to any depth in order to keep their turf at WBAI. If that means defrauding the listener-sponsors, so be it, but as more listeners  abandon the morally corrupt station, the abusers find it increasingly difficult to maintain even the flawed status quo—the jig is up and everybody loses, perhaps most notably, the listeners.

WBAI would probably not be on the air during the present Sandy crisis were it not for Gary Null, who has made his PRN online facilities available to WBAI. A generous helping hand, but—as I have stated previously, and he himself will acknowledge—Mr. Null is not totally selfless. He is a business man who reaps great benefits from the air time WBAI afford him, but he is also someone who has sound ideas and is not afraid to criticize the station's management for its ineptitude and poor taste.

I have been critical of Gary Null, whose slick presentations often seem out of place on WBAI, and I think we can attribute to his success the station's lopsided emphasis on amateur health care, but the truth is that Mr. Null has impressive knowledge of holistic medicine and practices, he know his way around business, and he is an excellent, articulate communicator.



This is a refreshing contrast to the station's current management team, which stays out of touch and treats listener-supporters as were they afflicted with leprosy.

Last Friday, Mr. Null devoted a part of his program to the present situation and offered rational, do-able suggestions for a solution. Will they listen? I doubt it, but—in terms of helping WBAI—the value of Mr. Null's business advice could easily exceed and certainly outlive the temporary benefits reaped from his successful on-the-air fund-raising efforts. The problem, of course, is that those who currently make the decisions at WBAI are shortsighted, unimaginative people. They all need to be replaced by competent management that can take good advice without giving away the store.

Finally, there is a problem called Pacifica. Over the years, it, too, has been corrupted by opportunists and obsessive radicals. Ironically, to a point where it may well prove to be the entity that ultimately sounds the death knell for Lewis Hill's extraordinary creation

—Chris Albertson


TPM's letter to The Progressive Radio Network

2 November 2012 e-mail to PRN

Dear PRN:

Recently I hooked up my computer to my Bose wave radio so I could listen to your outstanding programs without being attached to my computer and my headphones.

I have turned to PRN because of the demise of the station I used to listen to for five or six hours a day, WBAI. WBAI has succumbed to nepotism, cronyism, obscurantist programming, and governance by mob rule. It has been crippled by parasites who milk the station –which is bankrupt, for $1.5 million dollars in salaries awarded to the most corrupt and inept of the people at the station.

I am disappointed that PRN lent its support to WBAI during the recent crisis caused by the mega-storm. I would prefer to let WBAI self-destruct so that something better might emerge from its ashes.

Respectfully,
TPM




Friday, November 2, 2012

When I recently added an e-mail address for contacting me privately, I failed to link it. That problem has now been corrected and you can reach me at:

downheartedblues@mac.com

Monday, October 29, 2012

Delusion all?

BF from NJ is among the many formerly loyal WBAI listener-supporters whose hope for the station's restoration has dissipated. Here is what she said in a recent comment, and the response this has brought us from another regular visitor. What do you think?

"Well Chris, It seems the same personalities are trying to solve the same problems. Hopeless. I think people should give up on this station, as I have, and take your money and support elsewhere. —BFNJ


If you wish to send me a private message and would like a private response, please send e-mail to me at: downheartedblues@mac.com (your e-mail address will never be published, unless you request that it is.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Is the Stagnation permanent?


It is no secret that WBAI is stuck in a groove and that it continues to suffer under gross mismanagement. Several decades ago, when that mismanagement was a mescaline-head appointed by then Pacifica President, Hallock Hoffman, it did not take long for the opportunists to avail themselves of the power vacuum. The result was that Steve Post and Larry Josephson simply took over WBAI and used it to feed their own egos. That was done at the expense of loyal listener-supporters and the principles upon which Lewis Hill founded Pacifica. It was also a slap in the face of Louis Schweitzer, a highly principled man with an abiding belief in free speech, the furtherance of cultural exchange, and the importance of having an informed public. Louis, who it was my great privilege to know and regard as a friend, embraced Mr. Hill's concept of alternate radio, so he made Pacifica a gift of his ideally located commercial station, WBAI.

Louis felt betrayed when Millspaugh, Post, Koch, Josephson, and others began to abuse WBAI. I shudder to think how he would have suffered seeing the station in its present stage of deterioration. Louis loved to follow technological advances. He used to carry the weekly Chicago Symphony concerts live on WBAI and he was the first to have high fidelity transmission done over such a distance. His WBAI was also among the very first stations to experiment with stereo broadcasting. I bring this up, because I know Lou Schweitzer would have loved the Internet, iPods, iPads, etc., and he would have urged Pacifica to join the technical revolution. It was Lou who suggested to me that we apply for increased power and permission to move our transmitter to the top of the Empire State Building. He also lent us the money needed to purchase a new transmitter. It made a huge difference in our coverage and generated a substantial increase in listener membership. In his shamefully self-serving book, Steve Post, with typical vindictiveness and dishonesty, ascribed the membership rise to my leaving WBAI.

Today, the majority of WBAI's subscribers have abandoned the station, some—but only a small percentage—have been replaced by people who send in money for the wrong reason—they are not so much interested in supporting the station as they are in acquiring the products being offered as "premiums." When those overpriced "gifts" turn out to have been falsely pitched, even the gullible tune out. Here is what a lady posted on the BlueBoard recently:
I pledge for shows I like and—I hate to admit it—in recent years as bai has really been pushing premiums-for when there's a premium that really appeals to me.Initially I didn't like the whole premium thing [I liked having a Folio and being able to vote for board members] as it was overiding the initial reason for pledging and became more and more a cottage industry in itself.But I admit I got "corrupted" and have pledged when a show was offering a desired premium.
The greed and seeming inability of current management to recognize its own failures continues to diminish the ranks of listeners. You may have seen a recent comment here from BF from NJ:
Well Chris, It seems the same personalities are trying to solve the same problems. Hopeless. I think people should give up on this station, as I have, and take your money and support elsewhere.
It does not take ESP to conclude that the line between the former and present mis-leadership is barely visible, and one of the common denominators that should be clear to any regular listener is the rampant dishonesty. We do not see the internal dagger eyes or that baseball bat in the corner, we get but glimpses of the discontent that has staff morale at a low. We do, however, hear loud and clear the lies and detect the hypocrisy.

WBAI can be run honestly, but not with the present crew in place—not as long as people feel obliged to feed the invisible GM, or chatty Kathy, the blabbering heart of mindlessness, or the hateful, attention-seeking drama queen who would be a King, or the perpetually pondering PD, a man who came aboard to fix, but didn't even try.


Just today, Sidney Smith had an experience at the station that proves Berthold Reimers' complicity in the abuse of WBAI. Sidney posted about it here.