Friday, July 13, 2012

Station for sale?

I just picked this up from Nalini's Pacifica Radiowaves list. It's dèjá vu all over again (going back as far as the mid-Sixties) but, given the present financial situation, it can't be laughed off. I agree with Mitchel that it must be nipped in the bud, and I think it should serve as an extra incentive to clean house at WBAI and get the station back into gear. What do you think?


Former Pacifica counsel Dan Siegel, now on the KPFA (Berkeley) Local Station Board, has called for WBAI to be temporarily shut down, moved to Queens or New Jersey, and sold to some high roller.

In response to the alert I sent out about his proposal to sell WBAI, Siegel wrote: "I have never suggested that Pacifica sell WBAI."

Siegel, the lawyer, is playing word-games. Here are his words, verbatim, from the July 7, 2012 KPFA Local Board meeting. Keep in mind, please, that this was the second recent meeting at which Siegel advocated the selling of WBAI.
"I don’t know if it’s true or not anymore, but a few years ago at least it was possible there were actual people who would buy WBAI for enormous amounts of money, and that part of the deal in exchange is that WBAI would get a new spot on the dial – admittedly, a less attractive one in the eyes of the person who wanted to buy it. Now we’ve always been extremely resistant about even thinking about ideas like that but given 1) the urgency of the situation, and 2) the fact that BAI really has a tiny number of committed listeners, making that change doesn’t seem as radical as it might be anymore."

Siegel is using the words "exchange for money" (and spot on the dial) instead of the word "sell". Nice one!

For those who might be snookered and think this to be a reasonable-sounding proposal, please be forewarned that one is not able to "trade" (for money, or for anything else) the current 50,000 effective watt antenna we're now licensed to use for one of similar power. Any "exchange" or "sale" would entail losing our call numbers and, more importantly, our strong signal. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the FCC would approve a new spot-on-the-dial for the former WBAI. What would ensue from Siegel's proposal would be tragic. We would likely lose WBAI forever.

I would hope that all WBAI listeners and staff would stand united -- all factions together -- and oppose any sale of the station. While we all know that Pacifica is in trouble economically (as is WBAI), Siegel's slash-and-burn proposal is precisely the wrong way to go about making the improvements needed.

Mitchel Cohen
Chair, WBAI Local Station Board*

*For ID only. These are my own comments and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Local Station Board.


  1. A Preliminary Response to the New Program Director’s Preliminary Report:

    1. Who is Chris Hatzis? What qualifies him to be the Program Director of WBAI? Who hired him?

    2. "Wake Up Call", "Five O’ Clock Shadow", and "Talkback" are not the spine of WBAI. I could suggest another body part located at the base of the spine as a metaphor.

    These programs need more than fine tuning. "Wake Up Call" needs a thorough housecleaning and a rethinking of what a morning drive time program should be, and who should host it. If I never heard Esther, Ifé, or Felipe again, it would be too soon.

    Hugh Hamilton is a gentlemen and methodical, hardworking producer; however, I don’t like the talk-back format which is too similar to A.M. radio format. The show is too heavy on topics concerned with the black community. And I’d like to hear alternate hosts who are not Howard Jordon.

    3. I couldn’t care less about such matters as “cross-pollination”, “cross promotion”, or “collegiality”.

    The problem with WBAI is that many of its programs are insultingly stupid, poorly produced, and hosted by the inept and the feeble-minded.

    WBAI’s Program Director should not be concerned with making friends or assuring us that the staff feels good about themselves. He should have a vision for the station, should demand quality and preparation from the producers, and should not be afraid of firing people who are hurting the station and driving off listeners.

    Esther Armah, Ifé Dancy, Felipe Luciano, Samori Benjamin, Kathy Double Helix Davis, the producers of "Artsy-Fartsy", and "Astrology Numerology Now" should be humanely destroyed. Robert Knight should be counseled about recycling old news and encouraged to do real journalism–which he is demonstrably capable of doing.

    Gary Null could use some direction if he’s not too damned arrogant to accept it. He talks too much and doesn’t leave enough time for many of the very interesting guests who appear on his program. I’d appreciate his show more if he did less self-promotion.

    I’d like to be more welcoming to Mr. Hatzis and more optimistic about the future of the station. But I’ve heard this kind of “let’s feel good about ourselves and all work together to improve the station” clap-trap before, and it just doesn’t go down with me anymore. And every goddamned new GM and PD talks to Bob Fass when he or she first arrives at the station, and then promptly forgets about him forever. He is revered and ignored. And unlike Tony Riddle, Bernard White, Valerie Van Isler, and many other less lights, he is unprovided for: no salary, no pension–nothing to show for his almost fifty years of serving the station. Thanks a lot WBAI and Pacifica.

    1. The above comment is by The Pacifica Maven. Thank you for the fair and insightful comments.

      I won't remark on Chris Hatzis' background, etc., which I think has been published. Frank LeFever claims to have had a hand in selecting him for the position, so I guess it was some sort of committee decision. Anyway, I'll wait before I deem it right or wrong.
      Here are my comments on your points:

      2. I totally agree that the three cited programs are not the station's "spine." I also think—as you do—that they all need serious work. "Wake Up Call" is an abomination that does not do WBAI or its listeners a service. Yes, it needs a serious enema. Knight's program belies the measure of professionalism and talent I hear people associate with his name. He needs to stop venting his bias on the air, filling air time with downloaded material, recycling his own cut&paste pieces and pretending to be something he wishes he could be. As it stands, that program is a waste of money and air time, and—given Knight's colossal case of narcissism—I seriously doubt that a fix is possible.

      Hugh Hamilton's affected manner of speaking does bother me, but his professionalism and knowledge of current events makes up for that. I think you are absolutely right to bemoan his focus on black-related topics. He has recently suggested that he move about and broadcast in a town meeting mode. That might work, but not as well as you alternate hosts suggestion. I think there is a danger in giving any one host such dominance as Armah, Knight, Null and Hamilton enjoy.

      The exit door needs to be held open long enough for several people to use it. WBAI really needs a major makeover and you are so right when you suggest that the PD needs to avoid the kind of favoritism that results from personal "friendship." He needs to resist the inevitable pandering efforts of the opportunists and to win respected, not love.

      One last observation. Nobody mentions Berthold Reimers, the nominal boss. Why is he even there and on the payroll? Why has there not been a re-evaluation of his performance? Having once been in his shoes at WBAI, I don't see how he can be of any use to the station when he operates incognito. My guess, therefore, is that he is inoperative and, thus, a drain.


    2. Hello again Chris,

      Black female from NJ again. Let me say this: I've been in a committed relationship with a white male for 11 years. If I believe half the political stuff radio WBAI promotes, my friend and I would not be together for these years. His father is a small business owner and has kept his family and employees together for a long time. His father watches FOX news, but finds Barack Obama as a reasonable man. This station is out of touch with lives of people outside their political ideology. I am a reasonable person, most people on that radio station who get paid would be fired. PERIOD!!!

      Sadly Chris, the station is over. I don't like the limited view points. I do miss movie reviews(Why does Joseph Hurley have 5 or 7 minute when he used to have more time.) I can't listen to Mike Sargent's show "NightShift", because it's too late. Art programs would do well on weekends. Local, public affairs should be during the weekdays. I do not want to hear music during the day.

      Chris, I starting reading your website when you posed the question "What Hell Happened to Wbai"? you're right. What happened?

    3. Thank you for your latest comments. I wish I could disagree with your pessimism, but even if the new PD manages to do half of the job ahead of him, I think the station is too infested with people who only have their own personal interest at heart. In too many cases, that interest is a continued effort to hold onto a job for which they are not suited. Some people equate free form listener sponsored radio with the kind of amateurism and lack of intellect that characterizes today's WBAI. Of course, they do so because it does not demand imagination and talent.

      The more I see of prevailing attitudes, the dimmer that ray of hope becomes. We can live without WBAI—although that would not be our choice—but these people, who abuse it in their own interest, have nothing else to move on to, they know that this is the last stop for them, as far as a career in broadcasting is concerned. When the end comes, they will wonder what happened and refuse to acknowledge that the answer to that can bee seen in any mirror.


  2. Hello again,

    Black female from NJ again. Please forgive my spelling and grammar errors, but I have to rush because of my work. Maybe the people at the station should read President Obama's text about race again (He gave a speech about the topic before he got elected). There's a lot of anger and resentment. White folks feel betrayed. I think it's better to understand this issue, rather than race-bait and play Malcolm X speeches for fundraising. If WBAI station would hire more informed people who can discuss important issues, maybe it will have a chance to survive. Sadly, people still perfer to live in the past.

  3. BF from NJ: Hi, good sister.
    I understand why you and many other Obama supporters of all hues bristle at the outrageous attacks on him from the rabid right wing, but I must express my disillusionment with our first black president.

    He has not closed Guantanamo, nor prosecuted Bush administration torturers, nor brought an end to imperial wars all over the world. He has expanded the hideous Patriot Act, asserts his right to murder people with drones with no due process, and has passed a hideous law, the AHA, which will perpetuate the power of parasitic insurance companies to make money by denying us healthcare. He never tried to implement The Employee Free Choice Act nor a single payer insurance plan.

    If you can find the time, I encourage you to read a speech about Obama’s early career by Robert Fitch:

    Mr. Albertson-- regarding WBAI’s less than useless General Manager, Berthold Reimers: The man is a damn fool, an incompetent, and a scoundrel. He failed to discipline Tony Bates for making sexually inappropriate remarks to Prairie Miller, and instead castigated the producers and engineers that brought the incident to his attention. He has consistently defended the despicable Bates.

    He appeared at the BAM showing of Radio Unnameable during the QA period with the film-makers. He did not bother see the film, but twice interrupted the interaction between the film makers and the audience by soliciting funds for WBAI. The second time, he was reprimanded by another member of the audience.

    Later, he asked Jessica Wolfson, one of the film-makers, how he could make WBAI more attractive to young people.

    Well, he could make Jessica the General Manager of WBAI. I have the privilege of knowing both film makers, Jessica Wolfson and Paul Lovelace. Either one, or the two together, could run the station exponentially better than the last 10 General Managers
    Pacifica has hired.

    In fact, I have no doubt that Ms. BF of New Jersey could do a capable job of running the station, but must admit to being biased as I am also from NJ. And, as a former science teacher, and ex-English teacher, I assure her that her grammar is fine--as are her thought processes.

    The Pacifica Maven

  4. Well are we coming or going,..I'm dying to know. Is WBAI being sold or not. I'm confused by this latest static. Everyone I ask gives a different story. The only one who would know is the Chairperson of the Foundation. Has anyone thought to get a truthful answer from her?

    Uncle Sidney

  5. For pity's sake, this is a center of media and finance. First, approach a investor or group, whether we're talking a Soros or a Black Rock, pitch them you think you can assemble a team to make BAI matter, and if you can't they can make a killing. Work a package where the deal is they'll back you with, say $10m and three years to turn the show around by demonstrating positive cash flow as per Hill's original notion, and if you fail they have the license to sell, splitting the profit between Pacifica and themselves. Then, with the package in place and with your core handful of key folks quietly selected, you approach Pacifica with the deal. The trivial details are all easily worked so package is tight when you approach a desperate Pacifica. Something along this line was possible at least as far back as the Church, for pity's sake... this isn't rocket science, it's an easy package, and it says to Pacifica, fuck you, we can make this work, you can't, get out of the way or die slowly in public humiliation and squalor as you are at present. The cliché put up or shut up comes to mind.