Monday, March 18, 2013
The following letter, dated March 18, 2013, was sent to the Federal Communications Commission and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by former WBAI supporter TPM. It would surprise me if this is the first complaint against the current WBAI received by the FCC.
Dear Sir or Madam:
WBAI in New York City, 99.5 FM, is registered as a non-profit, listener sponsored radio station. It used to raise money by offering membership to its listeners and by soliciting donations in addition to membership fees. For many years, this formula worked.
In recent years, because of changes in management and programming, the station’s tactics for fund-raising has changed. With a payroll that has swollen to approximately $1.500,000, “marathons” now last over a month and are held every three months. Sometimes they are held more often and for longer periods.
In what I believe is a violation of the station’s non-profit status, WBAI raises money by selling books, CDs, and DVDs at greatly inflated prices. Among the items for sale are often materials produced by employees of the station like Gary Null, Natalie Thandiwe, and Kathy Davis. To quote former WBAI GM, Chris Albertson:
The station has become a convenient, free advertising outlet for a number of commercial ventures, including the alternative medicine crowd. I also have to wonder what the arrangement is with these "premiums". Does the station get all the money? Are the DVDs legal? Last night a guy named Tony Ryan was offering a $100 package of DVDs. He started with 4 major films ("Cabin in the Sky," "Island in the Sun," "Porgy and Bess," and "Stormy Weather"), then—seemingly on a whim—decided to throw in "A Raisin in the Sun." He referred to these DVDs as "copies" and that made me question the validity of this offer.
As a recovering cancer patient, I am offended by the hawking of materials that offer outlandish “alternative” cures for cancer. Curing cancer by diet, and special programs that the government and medical establishment repress is the theme of many of the station’s premiums along with the theme of secret Jewish control of the money system.
I am especially offended by one set of premiums that deal with magic water, or as Kathy Davis and former Program Director Tony Bates describe it, “double-helix water. I have a recording of the pitching of this ludicrous product if anyone is interested.
Among the dubious claims made for this offshoot of Chinese medicine and homeopathy (so claim the “discoverers of this magic potion) are that it is a veritable panacea for people as well as for pets. One of the promoters of this magical elixir can be heard on tape telling an anecdote of how someone with pancreatic cancer was cured by using this product.
Another big premium is a DVD called Thrive. I cannot do it justice in three or four sentences. You’ll have to go to the Thrive website. Seeing is believing (or disbelieving).
In addition, WBAI has fallen into the hands of racist black radicals. Almost 100% of the station’s paid employees are now black. Morning and afternoon drive time programs are black hosted and themes of these programs are black oriented. Almost all engineers and announcers are black, as well as management.
Much of the programming is offensive and repetitive. Endless replaying of M.L. King and Malcolm X speeches, interviews with John Henry Clark or Dr. Joy Degruy Leary, and interviews with self-hating white, Tim Wise, who has gotten rich by writing books about white privilege. The morning host, Esther Armah, has even done a show on the psychology of white males.
WBAI’s non-profit status should be taken away. And the station should be sanctioned for its unethical, perhaps illegal, premium chicanery.
CPB should not be spending taxpayer money on WBAI.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
They say that you reap what you sow, and, in that respect, Berthold Reimers faces a major harvest these days, but it's nothing to brag about. Yes, giving WBAI the final shove into the mud is in and of itself a major dis-accomplishment, but the details and side-effects of this road to ruin are only beginning to emerge and be felt. Because WBAI has played an important part in my life and I still believe Lew Hill and his associates started something extraordinary over six decades ago, I derive no satisfaction from saying "I told you so," but I did point out early on that this man, Reimers, is a bumbling incompetent who not only lacks the qualifications for the job he was hired to do, but also has managed to make a bad situation much worse.
Even when the evidence of mismanagement and unprincipled behavior was made abundantly clear, some people continued to not only look the other way, but actually produced strenuously contrived excuses for Reimers and his cronies. We have seen this time and again in the Blue Board posts of Frank LeFever and, to a lesser extent, Jim Dingeman, but we have also had anonymous messages and snide remarks from some whose vested interest is to keep their job—host/producers who know that they cannot qualify for air time elsewhere.
This morning, on his show, Any Saturday, David Rothenberg raised some serious questions regarding the so-called Transmitter Fund drive.
He pointed out discrepancies between announced need and announced intake. Doing the math and applying logic, David ascertained with reasonable assumption that neither on-air people nor listeners are being told the truth.
Part of the problem is—on the surface—technical. With the station faced with what probably is the worst financial situation in its 53-year history, a fundraising effort has never before been more essential. Yet, weeks go by and there is no working telephone system. Eleven thousand dollars (plus a per call fee) is being paid to an outside company for taking pledge calls, but these people are not monitored by WBAI, although someone apparently gives them instructions. One such instruction has been costly and is, I believe, directly traceable to Pacifica's interim ED, Summer Reese.
When Ms. Reese visited various shows and did her initial Transmitter Fund pitches, she repeatedly emphasized the "we are beginning with $100 donations." That struck me as an idiotic, counterproductive rule to lay down and, sure enough—as David mentioned on the air—this call center for hire was actually turning down any pledges under a hundred dollars!
Incredulous prospective contributors complained about that to people at the station, so a counter order was eventually given, but how much money did WBAI lose over this? We will never know, and I bet some callers took it as a sign of WBAI having exaggerated the urgency.
Actually, to reach that conclusion, all one had to do was tune in to the station and hear Ifé, Tony Ryan, et al gobbling up hour after hour of precious air time with innocuous party music and self-serving promotions.
David also mentioned that he knew of three potential major donors and other well established people who wanted to help produce fundraising event for the station, but could not find out where to go or whom to see. As David pointed out, people who are thinking of making a major contribution, do not do so without first ascertaining that their money will be used for the intended purpose. They need facts and figures, none of which they were able to get.
Add all this up and you have a deplorable, unprofessional, highly questionable and thoroughly disorganized mess that leads directly to Berthold Reimers and, quite possibly Pacifica's Interim Executive Director. If nothing else, Ms. Reese ought to have seen for herself how incompetent Reimers is, and done something about it.
David Rothenberg also talked about direct accountability by station management to the listeners. He has been around long enough to remember the weekly Report to the Listener programs, where the manager and program heads gathered in a studio for live contact with the listener-sponsors.
I have often posted about this here, stressing the importance of management and staff communicating with those who pay to keep the station going, and citing my own experience as proof of such a show's usefulness. In the three years Reimers has been manager, only two such programs were aired and rather than hosting them, as he should have, Reimers made silly cameo appearances, one of which had him declare that WBAI is "doing very well." A deliberate deception.
David is demanding that a real Report to the Listener be aired, one on which Reimers lays it out and tells the truth, gives the figures, explains the discrepancies. I suggest that he also take calls from listeners and that even those who have tough questions be given ample time to get an answer. I further believe that such a report be heard throughout the week, in varied time slots. If there is new information, an update should be given.
Honesty is a dirty word at today's WBAI, but I think there is an urgent need for it to be reintroduced. —Chris Albertson
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Two current members of the WBAI Local Station Board sent a request to the elusive Berthold Reimers. They wanted to know what the money situation really is and where WBAI stands as the deadline nears. Here is their request and Reimers' answer. It doesn't look good, which is probably why the request for facts did not come from Frank LeFever or another of his apologists.
Following are some questions from Sharonne Salaam and me about the station's operations and fiscal condition to which we would like written responses before or at tomorrow's Local Station Board meeting:
1. For each day since the targeted transmitter fund has been set up, how much had been pledged and contributed online, by phone and by mail to the transmitter fund and how much to premiums, favorite show, and other? Overall, how close is the station toward its transmitter goal?
2. Has the restricted transmitter bank account been set up? If so, as of what date and at what institution? Who has access to the account? In what way and how frequently will the LSB be kept informed of income to and spending from that account?
Yes. The iED did set it up but I have not had the information I need. The LSB will have to manage the account because as I said, it is too much work and it did not make any sense for me to set up another account.
3. Pacifica’s Interim Executive Director Summer Reese said on the air that $500K must be raised by the end of the month. What specific expenses are included in the $240K that has been added to the known transmitter arrears of $200K, $10K as 1 of 5 installments for March rent, plus the $50K in April rent that is being advertised as necessary by March 31, 2013?
November to April antenna - $300,000.00; $50,000.00 Silverstein; $100,000.00 payroll by March 31, 2013. + miscellaneous
4. How far short did the February pledge drive fall from its goal (prior to its extension and the inauguration of the Transmitter Fund)?
$408,411.15 instead of $850,000.00
5. Aside from the Empire State rent, what are the current monthly costs of payroll, City College rent, phones, and other operating expenses?
Payroll $100,000.00 per month; City College $5,000.00 per month; phones? ??
6. Where does WBAI currently stand in income/expenses as per the adopted budget for this fiscal year?
No time to do that analysis yet. National Office is working on cleaning up the general ledger so they can generate and help us generate reports.
7. What is the required payment schedule for rent at Empire State for the rest of this year? When does the next rent increase take effect and how much will it be?
$250,0000.00 by March 31, 2013 and $50,000.00 timely for the next 6 months (As you were told at last meeting, contract not yet finalized)
8. How much is owed in back rent to Silverstein for the former studio at 120 Wall Street, and what is the required schedule for repayment?
9. As of February 28, how much does WBAI owe to its other creditors?
No idea now. Since hurricane Sandy we have not kept up payments of our bills. However, I do not think it is more than $200,000.00. We have paid most of the Premiums we acquired. We have some outstanding premiums because of our situation.
10. How much is WBAI paying for the Call Center to take listener pledges/payments? Is this a union operation? Do any members of WBAI staff or LSB or their relatives have ownership or control of this business?
We paid $11,000.00 for the drive and we will have to pay per the minutes of calls. Yes, as we mentioned before, it is a union shop.
11, Broken down by fiscal year, what is currently owed to the Pacifica National Office? Be sure to include all amounts even if payment was not required in the recent budgets.
Not available yet. See previous response.
12. When will management provide the LSB with the long-requested balance sheets which would show financial position as of each statement date?
When management has a general ledger cleaned up – see response above.
13. Why has Verizon been unable to redirect calls made to the 212-209-XXXX administrative phone numbers or even set up a message that advises callers that there is a problem with the line and offers an alternative number?
I am copying my interim Operation Director
14. Why has management not arranged for on-air notices to listeners of the 347 number for members without email access to make contact about premiums, payments or change of addresses, etc.?
Because management is busting its derriere and has no time to think of and process every little detail that LSB members look for to make a point
15. What are the plans to raise money off air?
Management is looking forward to hear the ideas from LSB and producers that have been presented lately.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
On December 17, 2012 I sent the following e-mail to Bertold Reimers asking why WBAI doesn't hold a benefit concert the way WFUV does? The following e-mail isn't rude or disrespectful. I think it makes very valid points that a benefit concert, run by a professional concert promoter, not only would attract WBAI listeners but more importantly, it would attract people who've never heard of WBAI. I'd imagine that a such a concert could inject WBAI with anywhere from $50,000 or more in one go. Plus, who knows how many new memberships the station might get in the lobby of the auditorium or how many tee-shirts the station could sell? How many recording artists got their start on WBAI? We can start with Bob Dylan. And how many actors and writers got their first radio interviews on WBAI and could help emcee a benefit concert and draw even more people to buy tickets! WBAI is sitting on its heritage like an elephant sitting on its butt. I have contacted WFUV and I have the contact name and e-mail address of the person who produces their concerts and I was given that contact info by someone in the upper ranks of the station, so it doesn't sound like even WFUV is against it. For goodness sakes, what does it take to make this radio station work? —anonymous listener
Dear Mr. Reimers:
Over the years I have been a member of WBAI-FM in accordance with my personal finances.
Approximately two years ago I called in and got on the air during the listener feedback portion of a “Report to the Listener” program. The main topic during that program was the station’s finances. I took the opportunity to make a fundraising suggestion.
I mentioned that during its history, WBAI-FM has played a valuable role in fostering the early careers of many of today’s music performers and theatrical players, as well as the stars of Hollywood and television and authors and artists of all description. I then suggested that WBAI consider holding a benefit concert at a place like Carnegie Hall or Town Hall because those venues have held benefit concerts for many years. I also suggested that WBAI make contact with the fundraising staff at non-commercial radio station WFUV, which has had a very long and successful history of holding fundraising concerts at Town Hall and the Beacon Theatre. I was thanked for my suggestion and the call ended.
Since then, whenever WBAI has gone through a fundraising period, I would think about that call and wonder why the suggestion had never been acted upon. However, a few days ago I was quite literally shocked to hear over WBAI’s own airwaves, a recorded announcement asking listeners to buy tickets for an fundraising event being held at the Beacon Theatre in support of Native American activist Leonard Peltier. The announcement for the benefit concert featured the likes of Harry Belafonte, Pete Seeger, Jackson Browne, Bruce Cockburn, and filmmaker Michael Moore.
When I heard this, the first thing I thought was, “I just don’t understand how WBAI operates!” Please don’t misunderstand me, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with helping the Native American community and Mr. Peltier himself by announcing that concert. However, WBAI could easily hold a concert like this each and every year. Now I realize that the word “easily” might sound like something that’s easy to say, but difficult to accomplish. Still, I’m sure your airwave neighbors at WFUV wouldn’t mind putting your staff in touch with the concert professionals who help create WFUV’s shows. So it could be a lot easier to do such a concert if you asked them for concert industry contacts and technical help; and why wouldn’t WFUV help. I’m sure if they called you asking for the names and telephone numbers of technical people in the radio business, that you’d share your Rolodex with them. Why wouldn’t you, or they, for that matter?
Further, please think about this for a moment: Even with your station’s new “WBAI Buddy” campaign, the message itself mostly goes out to current WBAI listeners who are asked to either make monthly donations to the station, or to recruit friends to become donors. However, if you think about the benefits of holding a fundraising concert you suddenly open yourself up to several important financial opportunities:
1. Word of the concert will instantly filter out to the public by way of (a) TicketMaster, (b) the concert venue’s own advertising, (c) the concert listings featured in the Village Voice, Time Out New York, local newspapers and various New York/nightlife-themed websites.
Not only does that mean that such a concert would stand a very good chance of raising funds for WBAI, but just as equally, many New Yorkers who may be presently unaware of WBAI will learn about it. In-between musical acts you could have well known persons (like Michael Moore) come out and tell the audience about WBAI’s on-air mission. Audience members might just tune-in and then become members during the next fundraising period.
2. Famously, Bob Fass was one of the first radio hosts in New York to introduce and expose Bob Dylan which immensely helped Dylan. While Bob Dylan is still going strong and touring, now’s the time to contact his representatives and ask for his participation. It’s also important to remember that an artist like Bob Dylan might not necessarily need a full backing band and could conceivably come on stage solo with just a guitar. That would dramatically lowers the muss, fuss, and wherewithal involved in signing a performer like him to such an event.
3. Since WBAI would be producing the event, as part of the arrangement with the venue you would ask that WBAI staffers and volunteers be allowed to man tables where literature about the station would be handed out. These tables would also give the attendees the opportunity to make a simple cash donation to the station, or to take out a one-year membership on the spot.
4. Think of the additional revenues that could come from such an event: (a) the sale of concert tee-shirts and programs, and (b) if the concert were recorded then the CD or DVD could be used as an on-air premium. And (c), those CDs and DVDs could be sold via the WBAI website to people worldwide who couldn’t attend the concert.
I would like to ask you to please think about my suggestions and share your thoughts with me on them.
The above was posted to the BlueBoard Sunday morning, March 10, 2013. My response was: I assume that you never received a reply. Reimers' indifference is as baffling to me as it is consistent. I hope you don't mind if I post the above on my blog. The listener answered promptly:
I should also add that I sent private messages via e-mail to approximately ten WBAI hosts and producers asking them to raise this fundraising concept with station management, however, I haven't heard back from even one host or producer. So I'm more than baffled because with this extra effort that I pursued, to have not even one person get back to me makes me seriously wonder if everyone's waiting for someone else to make the first move?
Feel free to re-post my e-mail to Mr. Reimers, or this entire posting on your blog as well as elsewhere.
Meanwhile, may I just add that on February 16th I made a $35 donation to WBAI and yesterday I made a $100 donation to the transmitter fund and I specifically said to the volunteer o the other end of the telephone line, "No premium, please." At my level of income, I feel that I've done as much as I can. So it's not like I'm not doing my fair share. Still, I'll say it again, just one benefit concert could raise tens of thousands of dollars. "WBAI -- what's wrong with this picture?"
"Sister from another Planet" is apparently on another planet. She played records of black pop music, mumbled a lot to herself in her usual confused manner, mentioned in passing that a fund drive was on, adding, "this time it's real." Huh? Then she went on and on about the importance of her show and the "Saturday night lineup" of important music.
At 11PM, when she went off, a lengthy segue of nice but not at all remarkable '60s-'70s pop music came on, and continued on, and on for 40 minutes. Up to that point, there was no introduction to the "show," no talk of a financial crisis, no plugs, nothing that you are not likely to hear on any other black station on a Saturday night.
When he finally spoke, Tony Ryan named the artists heard, said
something about money being needed, but that he didn't feel like
talking about that right now. Then he encouraged listeners to text
him or access his Facebook site with their musical requests, giving out phone numbers for both. There was not a single mention of the Transmitter Fund phone number! "I want to
He finally gave out the transmitter fund phone number, but it was an hour into the program, and then almost apologetically. Within a minute, he added, "this is not really a fund raising program, we just need the money—I want to get back to the music—and that's what he did, starting another segue segment.
If I were one of the WBAI producer/hosts who have true concern for the station's integrity and welfare, I would demand some immediate firings, starting with Reimers.
This is really pitiful. We know that Reimers does not listen to WBAI, but I thought Summer Reese—if she's still in town—might be. If so, I guess she also regards the impending and very possible shut-down of WBAI as a joke. Will they refund money to listeners who donated in good faith? Listeners should demand that.
At midnight, Ryan interrupted the Temps singing "Just My Imagination" to announce that he had just been texted by Berthold Reimers. So he was listening, after all, but what did he text? Did he tell Tony Ryan to pitch? Yes, but only jokingly. According to Ryan, Reimers said that the Temptations' recording was just his kind of song and that he should ask someone to donate a million dollars.
About ten minutes later, Ryan did make a half-assed pitch, offering a pair of tickets to one of his outside events for $100. He also mentioned that WBAI has a backup plan in case the transmitter is lost.
The backup plan? Streaming. Can you believe it?
Saturday, March 2, 2013
We know that there are several reasons why the current fundraiser is not working. The major one being that bad programming and attitudes have scared off most of the listeners and bad handling of fraudulent premiums has contributed to the station losing its credibility. These are serious damages that could have been repaired were it not for warped, short-sighted priorities, but they were—if anything made worse.
One very damaging aspect that comes to the fore in the current drive will undoubtedly be attributed to the fact that February is the designated Black
History Month. That’s fine and it should by no means be ignored, but neither should it be exploited to further the personal agendas of misguided staffers who want WBAI to be a voice for a select group of people in this area. They have various ways of justifying such limitation, but it boils down to a narrowing of listener interest—as we are already seeing. Here’s what I am talking about.
Today I heard Hugh Hamilton tell the listener(s) that every immigrant to this country ought to be given a copy of the 3-hour 2003 series: “Race: The Power of an Illusion.”
Every immigrant? Hamilton is obviously addressing the so-called “black and brown” people who—in the narrow minds of WBAI's current elite—make up the “community.”
If you listen carefully to Kathy Davis, Michael Haskins, Hamilton, Esther Armah, and others who currently dominate WBAI’s air, it becomes clear that they either already regard the station as a black outlet or are working towards that goal.
Needless to say, this is not just a racist, small-minded approach, it severely limits the scope of any on-the-air fundraising drive Does Reimers not see that, or is he in on this destructive game? He has not raised any complaints or lifted a finger to change direction. That is very telling.
Another negative factor is that the offered premiums (products sold) are overwhelmingly aimed at black people and, more often than not, of an adversarial nature (as I have previously pointed out).
If not emphasizing the negative aspects of America’s race experience, “premiums” tend to be health scams, such as Kathy Davis’ ignominious, shallow kitchen table “advice,” and the iphones-can-kill-you scares raised by the fear-mongering woman sent here from the Coast. The numerology/astrology scammer, who promotes his own business and Reimers seems proud of, also contributes to limiting listener interest in the station's financial woes, but also dragging it further down to an even deeper sub-level.
All of this could and should have been done away with years ago, but Reimers lives in a fog of ignorance and petty concerns, and he is surrounded by equally ineffective, masturbatory cronies.
Why only a few even sense the urgency continues to alarm me. Frank LeFever struts around behind his fellow board occupants, echoing their views and posting them to his FB site, which he once boasted of having brought him thousands of "friends." Instead of throwing to the wind his little leaflets promoting a barely listenable program schedule, he ought to have been gathering signatures to protest abuse and mismanagement. However, that would be antithetical to his self-appointed role as a supporter and promoter of ineptitude.
Jim Dingeman's case is different. He does see what is wrong and he does get very upset about it. He also is not afraid to upset management...well, not to the needed extent. He will bare truths that aren't complimentary to Reimers, et al, but his personal contact with these people holds him back, somewhat. His ambivalence is not uncommon and I can to a certain degree understand it, but WBAI would not be in quite as big a hole today if those who roam its corridors and return the smiles of its opportunistic occupants could divorce themselves from the social aspects of their association with the station and really get down to the business of rescuing it.
When I mention rescue, I don't just mean raise the immediately needed funds, I mean return WBAI to its principles, give it back its brain and intellect, and offer the kind of programs that will entice lost listener-supporters to return.
A final thought: One thing that really puzzles me is this polarization. Listen to the JUC haters and you get the impression that boogeyman Bernard White was basically despised
for turning WBAI onto a one-way track to Harlem, and doing so with a good dose of racial animosity. That is a valid complaint considering the mandate Pacifica stations were given, to bring people together in peace, but pay close attention to the mindset that Michael G. Haskins, Kathy Davis, Esther Armah, Byrd, Hamilton, O'Brien and Reimers have. When they give the hard sell to books and DVDs containing the ugliest side of America's history of race relations, they are not trying to educate young people of color (as they claim), they are trying to sell them products at inflated prices so that they can keep their salary checks coming and preserve their air time. They know that tabloids would rot on checkout counter racks if the stories they contained were nice and positive—violence sells and it does not matter to them that it is more likely to stir up anger and retaliatory action than to promote racial unity.
Were they really interested in promoting "peace and unity," as they so disingenuously claim when raising money, they would be more interested in having the children and grandchildren of racists hear unvarnished accounts of America's shameful past. People of color don't need to be told about discrimination, they still experience it regularly, albeit mostly in a more subtle form.
These days, WBAI's greatest threat continues to come from within. The self-proclaimed good guys are often anything but that, and the line between these "acceptable" players and the hated JUCs is often very thin and sometimes invisible.