Sunday, October 14, 2012
Bracing for a refurbished LSB
Yesterday morning, I spent several hours listening to my Mac as it read to me all the posted statements and questionnaire responses submitted by people who currently seek a position on the LSB.
What I heard, basically boils down to is two very different approaches with amazingly few variations within each faction. This is something I had already surmised, but hearing individual intentions and opinions in detail brought the picture into sharper focus for me. I also found helpful that it added names and confirmed some impressions I had already formed by reading the blue board and other forums, as well as listening to the station across the board. Yes, there definitely is a faction that advocates the status quo, and when you find yourself in a deep hole, that should be the last thing you wish for. Sure, even the complacent ones want to see some changes, but they are mostly cosmetic and generally so obviously needed that to leave them out would raise an even bigger flag to draw attention to their cluelessness. Recently, in a very rare and typically insignificant appearance on the air, GM Berthold Reimers said that the station was “alive and well.” That merely underscored how out of touch or insincere this all-but-invisible station head is, and yet he has his supporter in the SQ camp.
As for the other camp in this unfortunate Pacifica battle, I do not agree with everything the Justice and Unity Campaign group wishes to see in place, but its candidates appear to be more realistic and on track. They had their moment in the sun and blew it with disastrous decisions and inequities, most of which can be traced to Bernard White and his cronies. The wounds they inflicted were of an political/racial nature as they rebelled against decades of cultural lopsidedness at WBAI and sometimes used that as an excuse for a power grab. The latter motive is, of course, antithetical to WBAI’s principles and interest, but righting wrongs of the past is not. In fact, I find that urge to be understandable, but hostility on both sides cancelled out any positive result, and WBAI itself took the blow.
The result, as we are seeing, is an injury from which the station may never recover, but this is what happens when the main objective is personal gain. Lost in WBAI’s internal mêlée, is any consideration for a Pacifica station’s most important component: the listener sponsor. Listeners could always be counted on to help WBAI through hard times, and in the early years they did not need to be enticed with products disguised as “premiums.” The needed only to hear that there would be no WBAI unless the bills were paid—program hosts knew that while we all were dispensable, the station was not.
We were also all keenly aware of WBAI’s importance to Pacifica. This was New York, a city where great ideas thrived and found a way to change our lives, and WBAI was a most extraordinary stage in this very happening metropolis—a platform unencumbered by commercial interests and obligations, an outlet that beckoned new voices to speak up and inspire. There was a steady flow of fresh thought and we, who worked there, tried to contribute to it, knowing that an important part of our role was to solicit and facilitate creative thought and imagination from the outside.
Sad to say, not everybody found that role appealing. Some staffers developed an attitude of superiority over the listener-supporters and staked a claim to what they increasingly considered as their personal turf. New voices were discouraged if they in any way threatened to interfere with personal agendas, and when Pacifica hired Frank Millspaugh as the station Manager things quickly began to deteriorate. The new manager was not only new to broadcasting, he was new to the city, he had no contacts that might help him raise funds, and he was intimidated by Steve Post and Larry Josephson, who saw in his weakness an opportunity for personal advancement. Within a very short time, Post and Josephson became the dominant voices of WBAI, giving the station something it had neither had nor wanted: “celebrity” banter. They caught on with a young crowd, because WBAI’s non-commercial nature gave them a freedom of speech other stations did not enjoy, so it did not matter that their blather was sophomoric, as long as it pushed the envelope of good taste. This, as I observed it, marked the beginning of the end as far as Lewis Hill’s concept was concerned. It set WBAI on a new course that, little by little, saw it cast aside its original principles.
Today’s WBAI mirrors but faintly the concept Pacifica’s founders had in mind. For many years, it managed to coast on a dissipating reputation, but a parallel disintegration and moral bankruptcy on the Foundation level saw the organizational structure change and opened doors to mercenaries.
In the early years of its ownership by Pacifica, WBAI’s local board was appointed by members of the National Board, who more or less appointed each other. There were no elections, but it worked because board members were professionals who did not seem to have hidden personal agendas (that has obviously changed). I dealt with the National as well as the local board, not encountering any problems with the former. The local board also didn’t get in the way, for its members seemed to be there pro forma—they never listened to the station and their chairman, Dr. Harold Taylor, only made himself visible to me if he saw in it a photo/press opportunity. Today’s system, a laudable attempt to involve WBAI listeners in its governance, clearly isn’t working. Have you ever watched YouTube posts of the station’s board meetings? If not, take a look at this one from 2009 and fast-forward to the middle...
So now we are about to see another election for LSB membership. The candidates are listed here, on WBAI’s site, and I recommend that you read what they have to say and draw your own conclusions. I came away with the thought that we are in for more of the same: two factions, both eager to serve either themselves or WBAI, some well-meaning, few truly independent. Frankly, I don’t think it is possible to make any inroads as an LSB member unless one goes with the flow and aligns oneself with one side or the other. Among the JUCs, there are three candidates who seem to grasp the Lew Hill concept and thus see through the status quo charade played by LeFever and co.: Reggie Johnson, Vajre Kilgour and John Riley. The rest appear to be straddling the divide.
Of the SQs, who seem to be more loosely organized and haphazardly aligned with Frank LeFever, my impression is that only Manijeh M. Saba is likely to want real change. The rest appear to be content with absentee GM Reimers and hopeful that PD Hatzis will eventually stop pondering and tweeting, and begin to do something constructive about the station’s program. I know enough about Frank LeFever from his postings on the BlueBoard to see him as a useless lackey of Reimers or, indeed, anyone else in a position of power at WBAI.
The JUCs are a tighter group and seems to be rallying around Luis Barrios, an Episcopalian priest whose credentials are impressive and more in tune with Pacifica’s raison d’etre than LeFever’s. The JUC candidates have obviously undergone some indoctrination and they have a disreputable past to overcome. That said, I should point out that Ithe SQ’s, Berhold’s angels, while quick to point out outrages committed by the JUCs under Bernard White’s regime, have proven to be no better. The recently ousted “interim” PD, Tony Bates, is a case in point. He did not waste any time lowering staff and volunteer morale when Pacifica sent him to WBAI, but Reimers kept him on for a couple of years and it took 55 signatures on a complaint to get rid of him. Last June, Bates was replaced by a permanent PD, Chris Hatzis, who came in full of plans and promise, but, almost four months later, has not made any significant change except to bring the morale back up, and that was done by default and may be an eroding improvement. The ousted hosts are still off the air or condemned to off-hours, the Bates cronies are still on the air, Kathy Davis and others are still pushing highly questionable products to gullible listeners, and the wiser ones are still tuning out.
As I said, the JUC faction has a more realistic outlook, but I wish they could see the folly in advocating for a greater emphasis on black and Latino programing. The New York tri-state area is where the station should look for new listeners, not in specific neighborhoods, and ethnic origin ought not be a criterium. As it is—despite what Bernard White has insisted—WBAI has already become predominantly black, the problem, however, is that it has also become deficient in intellectual content, as if intellect and ethnic origin were mutually incompatible. That is insulting and exemplified by such programs as Jeannie Hopper’s Liquid Sound Lounge, Tony Ryan’s Soul Central Station, Kathy Davis’ Heart of Mind and Z. Starman’s Astrology Numerology Now, which don’t belong on any Pacifica station. Programs like Geoff Brady’s In Other News, Armand DiMele’s Positive Mind and the five and a half hours taken up by Robert Knight’s bigotry and pretense each week are intellectually dishonest and insulting.
If you see heightened hope for improvement at WBAI, please tell me about it, because I only see more of the same on the horizon.