Saturday, July 7, 2012

I don't know the real identity of  "Harmony", but his/her following response to a disingenuous question posed on the Blue Board by Frank LeFever impresses me. It contains an insightful appraisal of WBAI past and present, one that will not sit well with people like LeFever, Kathy Davis and Reimers, but should interest and give Chris Hatzis, the new Program Director, something to think about. Will he see it? Probably, because Uncle Sidney (Smith) one of WBAI's neglected talents has copied and distributed Harmony's words to the current management.  

LeFever's question was: 
Is WBAI doing more harm than good or more good than harm?

Not surprisingly, it was more or less laughed off as yet another LeFever cry for attention. Keeping count, he saw that as a sign of forum-wide cowardice, and remarked:

> Interesting. So far, 37 people have read my question, but only
> one has actually risked an answer -- and that answer not quite
> explicit.

To which Harmony replied:

More harm than good.

I don't have to think hard about this question - it's been my view for a very long time. A long, long time ago, this was a radio station that was relevant and occasionally revelatory. It allowed expression of unusual and sometimes very extreme views but those views were not the rantings of hatred of others so often heard in more recent epochs. Most of the people producing the shows were bright and were aiming to educate or entertain, rather than to rant and bully. There was some degree of professionalism in the organization of the programs. The technical aspects were not so carefully handled, but people looking for novel ideas would have a good chance of finding some on those airwaves.

Back then, there was a striving for excellence. Intelligent and articulate people were the rule rather than the exception, as seems now to be the case. If you listened, you could be exposed to many different points of view. Sometimes you would be entertained and sometimes the station would leave you better informed about the world. There were also some meandering shows that were not very interesting and which depended on serendipity for their better moments, but even the bad shows were not spewing hatred or racism.

Over the years, the informative, entertaining shows got fewer and fewer. Some of the ones considered 'best' now are really pretty mediocre by my old-timey standards. I have no particular allegiance to listening to the station just because it has a particular political bent. I like to hear many points of view and honest debate. The only show in recent years that impressed me was MORC done by Bill Weinberg and sometimes by Ann Marie Hendrickson.

Now on the rare occasion I tune in to the station, it's dominated by inarticulate people. Some on soapboxes, some meandering about. The political ones are not making compelling arguments for their positions that would reach out to people who had different backgrounds or beliefs. Instead, they are preaching to the choir, and only the choir would sit through radio shows which are so poorly organized, repetitive, and amateurish in the worst sense of that word.

Even the news is not worth listening to. The few news broadcasts I've heard seemed to specialize in excessively long interviews with protesters, litigants, advocates, partisans, etc. where the interviewer would lob softball questions. They seemed more like PR pieces for the interviewee than interviews done from an independent viewpoint.

And this is just the non-promotional programming. I don't need to go into the disgust I have in the snake-oil premiums being offered to the ill and the compilations of conspiracy theory or fiction masked as history or science that are being offered to those who are overly credulous and willing to pay top dollar for dubious information that is either freely available or more cheaply obtained through other channels.

The best and the brightest now are disseminating information on the internet. Blogs, vlogs, and podcasts are all filling a good part of the information needs that formerly were filled by radio. When I can easily get a good audio book or a fascinating podcast to listen to, why on earth would i put up with a mediocre radio station that fund raises so much of the time? It's jvery easy to find alternative entertainment and information source nowadays - I'm not sure who still listens to this radio station and I don't know why they listen, either. No computer? Force of habit? Tuner on radio stuck on one frequency? Except for people who work there or have a friend who is on the air, I just don't see what audience it would appeal to.

I'm even more baffled trying to figure why anyone contributes to support the existence of this station. Not only were much of the premiums terrible pseudoscience,sleazy conspiracy stuff and some very boring lectures, the station didn't even have the respect for it's listeners to fulfill the premiums that were bought by listeners. Someone I know made what was for them a fairly sizable contribution for one of the less-skeevy premiums, and they never got the promised premium. That was many years back, but that was the last contribution that he will ever make. Burn your contributors once, and many of them will not donate again. Personally, I think that's another piece of evidence as to why the *

Bottom line: If a radio station can only raise funds by shilling for snake oil and b.s. conspiracy theories, then it probably doesn't deserve to survive.

* The rest of this sentence is missing from the original

Monday July 9 2012
Today, the poster, "Harmony," shared a second set of thoughts on the BlueBoard, giving a remarkable insight to the problems at WBAI, and a system that became useless through mismanagement and seemingly indiscriminate granting of microphone access to people who had neither the intention nor the talent to move on.  

Harmony writes:
I have one more thought to share here. I realize it will not be very popular with the people currently working at the station.

During the time that wbai was a reliable source of interesting radio and intelligent ideas, the station had very few paid staff, and most of them were not paid specifically to produce content. Few people stayed there long-term. A lot of talented people used the radio station as a place to gain skills. They did interesting radio for a few years and then they moved on. The ones who had high interest in radio and commensurately high skills often went on to other radio venues like National Public Radio. Those who had other passions often went on to make their living in some other field of endeavor. There weren't many long-term employees even when the station had the funds to support a larger paid staff. Of course, there were always some paid staff to handled the mundane aspects of running a radio station. In general, you have to pay engineers and bookkeepers and such, because there's not much appeal in doing that for free.

But the good programmers moved on and other people took their place and learned the skills and got good and then they moved on as well. And that was a continual cycle. The most talented programmers who wanted a career in radio did not linger at wbai for decades. They were hired for jobs at other radio stations or in other media outlets.

This was not seen as a bad thing back in the day and a side 
effect of this was that it opened up slots for new programs, new 
people, new ideas. New is not always better but most people 
aren't bottomless founts of creativity. Having programmers move on to new outlets was probably good for both them and the station.

As I said in my previous post, I don't listen much to the station now, but what little I hear often has a half-hearted, and worn out quality. I'm not sure how much of that is due to the low listenership. A miniscule audience has to be dispiriting for the programmers. You can't attract the best talent by offering them an audience almost too small to be measured in a performance medium. But same-old, same-old doesn't generally generate buzz or attract listeners, so this may be a cycle that is impossible to break. Way back when, the volunteer programmers usually had something in particular they wanted to share. It might be a political viewpoint, it might be news they felt was not being heard in mainstream media, or it might be music they had a passion for that they wanted to share. When a radio station has very few listeners people may feel no one is listening.

To put it bluntly, one of the qualifications for many of the current programmers is that they are not good enough to be hired or given airtime by any other radio station or network. I am not saying this in relation to any specific person and I am sorry if it sounds mean-spirited but I think it is a fact. People may say it is an act of sacrifice or devotion to stay there for many years, but in truth, most of the people involved have no other option if they want to be involved in radio. The current dynamic is not attracting many people who are good enough to get radio gigs elsewhere and this has been true for many years. It isn't just because of their politics, as much as they might want to think that is the case, it's because they are not good at producing interesting or exciting radio.

At this point, the station has gotten so far off track that I don't have any suggestions for fixing it. I am just pointing out some contrasts I see with the station now, and the station as it was during a period when it was interesting and relevant. When the station was doing radio well, it had a contributor base that was willing to donate money specifically because they got value from the programs. Most of the contributions now seem to be sent in for premiums of dubious merit, some which are just horrid. The fact that people donate to buy them speaks poorly of the quality of the current listenership.

In this era you can get your ideas across to more people by having a popular youtube channel or blog, so it's hard to see why someone talented and sane would want to jump through hoops to try to get a program onto this dysfunctional, washed-up radio station. Aside from the lack of listeners, the internal politics sound like they are downright poisonous.

I am sorry for the offense this post may cause, but the first 
step in improving any situation is to understand where you are 
and how you got there. Considering some of the better times this 
station has seen, I think the current situation is mighty sad. 
Truly, the station been various types of mediocre and miserable 
for a very, very long time.


  1. Hooray for "Harmony"!
    In the spirit of Frank's question, I would like to offer my own list of FAQs and answers. Much of this material originally appeared on the Blue Board before I was denied access.

    WBAI FAQs and Answers:

    1. How does one apply for a job at WBAI?

    WBAI hires exclusively through its own employment agency, EVER IDIOSYNCRATIC, EVER IDEALISTIC OVER-ACHIEVERS.
    EIEIO specializes in providing members of different communities for positions in which they are under-represented, and for years has supplied the business community with blind pilots, illiterate editors, bigoted civil rights activists, announcers with strong accents and speech impediments, technology challenged engineers, nepotistic administrators with no social skills, and deaf musicians.

    2. How can one obtain financial information about the station such as income statements, balance sheets, and a list of salaries?

    Easy. Send a letter to WBAI, 120 Wall Street, 10th floor, New York, NY 10005–Attention, General Manager of the Month.
    Include your name and address, your reasons for wanting the information, and a check for $500.00 payable to “Cash”.

    3. To whom can I mail my questions or comments about programming?

    You can write to the same address as in 2 above, Attention-- General Manager, Interim Program Director, Program Council, or Public Affairs Director. Just don’t expect a response.

    4. What rules govern Local Station Board meetings?

    The JUC Modified Robert’s Rules of Order.
    To obtain a copy, see 2 above.

    5. Why does WBAI need to run fund raising marathons so often?

    WBAI has many expenses, among which are:

    1. Buying premiums for the marathons.
    2. More than $1.5 payroll for such indispensable positions as:
    1. General manager of the month and his five assistants.
    2. Interim program director
    3. Chief announcer.
    4. Public affairs director
    5. Producer of Wake-Up Call.
    6. Host of Wake-Up Call.
    7. Bimbo announcer/engineer of Wake-Up Call.
    8. Host of Talk Back.
    9. Host of Five O’Clock Shadow.
    10. Premium coordinator.
    3. Buying food for volunteers who help raise money during fund-raising marathons.
    4. Hip-hop takeovers.
    5. Fees for consultant–Flower of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, Hezbollah, Andrea Dworkin, David Gann & Dr.Shiu-Yin Lo, among others.
    6. Attorney fees for law suits for sexual harassment suits against interim program directors.

    6. What does WBAI stand for?
    Where Black Apartheid Izzat.

    The Pacifica Maven

  2. Hello again,

    Harmony's view points are excellent. Chris, I am the NJ black female who is very disappointed with radio WBAI. I've turned away. I missed the independent voices it used to have. Now, the station is filled with empty ideas . I get better programs when I download from itunes, mostly PBS and NPR programs. I am a moderate on most issues but do care a lot about working-class issues. I am angry how some producers on that go after our black president. I know those grey hair comes from a man who cares. The republicans wanted to destroy any meaningful legacy he earns. I want fairness from WBAI, not foolish rantings.

    Good luck to you Chris, but will not support that station.

    1. Thank you for this comment. I am not any longer a staunch Barack Obama supporter, but he will get my vote. I agree with you that it serves no positive purpose to arbitrarily attack the President, as Robert Knight has made a habit of doing. Why don't they understand that words against Obama are words for Romney. It does not take much imagination to picture what life will be for the disadvantaged if Romney gets the vote.

      Your decision to not support WBAI is understandable, but let's hope that someone comes along and pulls Lew Hill's portrait out of the trash can. The new PD could prove to be a step in that direction.