Thursday, April 19, 2012

WBAI's decline begins...

I haven't yet located the first sheet of this 1965 observation, nor do I recall what it contained, but those of you who have read my numerous references to WBAI's downward slide in the snake pit known as the "bleepin' blue board" will find the following to have a familiar ring to it. This is my impression of WBAI almost fifty years ago, when I tuned in after having been away for a while. I blew my whistle in the ears of Hallock Hoffman, then Pacifica's President, Robert Hurwich, and other Board members. I knew that Frank Millspaugh's lack of direction was going to open the door to the station's opportunists, but this was happening quicker than anyone could have predicted, and it really disturbed me. Hallock asked me to put it in writing, which resulted in what you see here. I think it will explain why I to this day attribute WBAI's moral and intellectual decline to a handful of opportunists. I'm sorry about the missing page, which I will post as soon as I find it.  Remember to click on the images for a more readable size.

I hope you will take the time to comment. Perhaps we could get a discussion going here, where the snake pit trolls don't roam free. That is not to say that they can't add their comments, but I will not publish the hare-brained nonsense that characterizes them on that blue board..


  1. I trace Pacifica's moral and intellectual decline to the substitution of the organization's educational Mission with a dissident political consensus now loosely termed "progressive." In the context of the unjust foreign war and domestic cultural oppression in the 1970's, it was natural for Pacifica to host voices of sanity exposing the fundamental contradictions of American society. Pacifica's mistake was in surrendering its own standards and principles in subservience to this new conglomeration of critiques. The provocative alternatives were valued for being provocative and alternative rather than for being honest or accurate. Despite continuing infiltration in the Arts and Public Affairs departments, Pacifica's news departments tended to hold out for traditionally high ethical standards in broadcast journalism; but as other departments welcomed the political zealots and unstable personalities rejected by mass media and the academy, the groupthink infection relentlessly spread. Now, during fund drives, each Pacifica station proudly declares itself to be in service to a set of philosophies and ideals quite different than those articulated by the organization's founders. Those within the organization campaigning for a return to the original Pacifica Mission are, sadly, a disempowered minority.

    1. You make interesting points, Terry. I believe the elimination of department heads and placing everything in the hands of one or two people made possible the situation you describe. When the door to "celebrity" hosting was opened by ego-driven opportunists (Post, Josephson, et al), ethics went out the window and a different set of opportunists moved in—these being more, but not entirely, fueled by political agendas. Inevitably, it all got out of hand, factions were formed, idealists and self-serving individuals clashed and clawed for power. Sadly, as you suggest, those of us who seek a return to the original principles (not the past formats) are a disempowered minority. I think a re-emergence from the morass can only be brought about with the help of the listeners—if they can be located—and a thorough cleansing. It is not likely to happen, but neither is it an impossibility. If WBAI keeps going along the downward path, I see it eventually being sold to a commercial concern. THen everybody loses.

  2. A decade ago I made two related points about Josephson and Post, by name, in Jesse Walker's 2001 book.

    1) The "free-form radio" label was used, intentionally and spuriously, to bracket Josephson and Post, who were trivial, with Fass and Adler, who were not.

    2) What Larry and Steve were up to was a mildly countercultural reworking of WOR-AM's approach to radio.

    On Josephson as opportunist: He still has a role at BAI, as producer of the annual Bloomsday reading ( I presume he avoids telling the folks at BAI that, circa 2004, he was on the media advisory committee at Heritage Foundation -- which I'd classify as a much nastier outfit than, say, Cato Institute.

    The book cited: Jesse Walker, Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America. New York University Press, 2001. Walker himself is a right-wing liberartian once fascinated by BAI's trajectory ( He contributed frequently to web discussions of Pacifica in the late 1990s.

    1. Thanks, Paul.

      I am glad that Jesse Walker spoke to you. Unfortunately, his book is marred by sloppy research and reliance on decidedly unreliable sources, such as Steve Post and Frank Millspaugh, both of whom sold him a bill of self-serving goods.

      I did not know that Larry Josephson had been associated with the Heritage Foundation, but it somehow does not surprise me.