Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A no nonsense list of suggestions

Today, when BlueBoard administrator R. Paul Martin, expressed his displeasure with my critique of WBAI's mismanagement, I responded by pointing out what I see as having led up to the present crisis. I didn't say anything that he hasn't read in my BlueBoard posts, but I admit that I took advantage of an opportunity to speak freely. Unlike the BlueBoard, Nalini's Pacifica Radiowaves list-serv allows one to do that. Anyway, my response to R. Paul brought the following from Kevin White, a man who owes his education to Houston's Pacifica station, KPFT (well, a good chunk of it) and is a long-time uninhibited critic of Pacifica in its present form. 

Chris, I feel exactly the same way as you do. What's so frustrating about the hole Pacifica is in is that its problems are so easy to fix. Houston's Leo Gold emailed me that "All Pacifica's problems could be solved by a second year MBA student. "Number 11 is my favorite. Pacifica managers are the laziest I've ever encountered.  —Kevin White, KPFT - Houston

What do you think? Please leave a comment—and speak freely! (Click on text to enlarge it.)


  1. I don't think some of the current producer/hosts would be allowed near even a college radio station in North Dakota. I'm thinking specifically of Christine Blosdale, Kathy Davis and Esther Amrah, among others.

    As a woman, I hate to say this: With hosts like those, WBAI is playing into the worst stereotypes about women who are minorities and/or the left.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Though the three hosts you name are very different in mindset and approach, I agree that they have in common a severe deficiency that no well-managed radio station will find acceptable.

    2. Here is their common deficiency: They think their own issues are everyone's issues.

      On top of that, Blosdale sounds like a starry-eyed teenaged girl and Gary Null is her favorite rock star. Could she make it more obvious that she wants to sleep with him?

      Davis sounds like a hippy-dippy chick. And few things are more unconvincing than Esther Amrah talking about oppression and racism. Her skin is black, but she has nothing else in common with 99 percent of African-Americans or with most blacks from the Caribbean. She cannot, in any real sense, understand American racism.

  2. I have listened from about the time BAI moved into the former church on 62nd street. I always thought that it was a big mistake to give up that building. Now I've recently heard that the other non-profits that were hit with tax bills at that time won their lawsuit - so in the end BAI would not have had to pay anything. Now, the station, the quality of which has severely degenerated, is force to fined rental accommodations instead of owning a prime piece of real estate. One thing about the programming though, I think that even if it was better and if the quacks and mystics were shown the door I still think that the station would be hard pressed financially. At the present time most organizations are just scrapping by and have a lot of difficulty raising funds.

    1. Yes, inept management did not begin with Bernard and Berthold. It is reasonable to theorize that WBAI's plight is symptomatic of today's economy and the change our lifestyles have undergone since we all became battery powered. Still, I believe the station could have survived had it been operated intelligently by dedicated people who focused on it rather than themselves.

      As for losing the property on 62nd Street, the history of Pacifica shows—ironically—that there has been no reluctance by staff to sue the Foundation or its stations.

      Your comments are greatly appreciated.

  3. As for the Church at the time of ‘The Crisis’, which was arguably the Great Divide:

    Kosof was brought in, parachuted in as it were, with the explicit directive and mandate to impose ‘radical change’ (pun intended) on the station, at all levels, and in all ways. She was, both in private conversation and in public presentation at the least non-explicit and, also arguably, deliberately ambiguous and evasive as to what (even in fairly broad terms) this ‘change’ was to be. Guzman was to be the principal architect and enforcer of that ‘change’.

    Though the mantra invoked by Guzman in particular was one of thinly-velied contempt for previous programming practices and the repeated claim that he was determined that the station be one of ‘professional revolutionaries’, there was deep suspicion – very deep suspicion – amongst staff, particularly when he presented new programming structures which were overwhelmingly mainstream commercial in character, that his actual agenda was to advance his career from that of ‘revolutionary’ to a viable and lucrative personal career in mainstream media with ‘street cred’ as part of his personal legend.

    I won’t walk through the intricacies of the struggles and ultimately catastrophic failures that followed in the course of ‘unionization’ and ‘occupation’ – though I will throw in as a footnote that the experience of the one professional real world union organizer who was a staff member (and who did first-rate radio work) was utterly ignored as ‘union’ meetings in Margot’s living room largely consisted of dysfunctional ramblings, gropings in the dark, and lengthy and irrelevant presentations of personal angst.

    Personal angst may at times be a powerful motivator and catalyst but in and of itself is rarely an effective organizational or strategic approach.

    Certainly in this instance it wasn’t.

    WBAI has always been paranoid. To varying degrees at varying times. At this time – and this is the reason I’ve rambled through this bit of background (well, that’s a rationalization for the ramble, anyway ;) ) – there was enormous speculation on the part of staff, particularly full-timers and those longest with the station, that there was an agenda to either see BAI absorbed by certain politically-connected interests with members on the board as the non-commercial complement to their considerable commercial media interests, or to see it fail and be sold to those same interests.

    Therefore, the later sole of the Church may, if one is sufficiently paranoid or Machiavellian or simply sufficiently cynical, be seen as suggestive of this interpretation.

    Note a single fact: There was no meaningful exploration of the obvious possibility of tying the sale of the Church to developers with the station to occupy some space in the new construction as a non-profit entity in return for zoning consideration allowing an extra floor or two, and with concomitant long-term low-cost leashold for the station – hardly an unprecedented compromise and strategem in the world of Manhattan real estate development.

    – Thus spake Indigo Pirate

    1. It is great to see you resurface, Indigo, and I am delighted that you did so here. As usual, your post is most enlightening and clearly made from a caring insider's perspective. It is amazing how a scrutinizer's backward glance can bring a fuzzy picture into focus. I hope you don't mind if I place a link to your comments in the turquoise tar pit.

      As for Guzman, our paths crossed a few decades ago, as he was climbing and taking full advantage of mainstream media's PC guilt eradication program. It was pretty obvious that he was playing the game and busting the moves that opened the door for so many secondary talents.

      Hope you visit again and impart with more of your well-rooted insights.

    2. I don't know enough of the historical context to really understand everything in this post, but it sounds like this Church sale happened at least 30 years ago, right? That would seem to suggest that if there was a conspiracy to "see BAI absorbed by certain politically-connected interests with members on the board as the non-commercial complement to their considerable commercial media interests, or to see it fail and be sold to those same interests," then that conspiracy either failed or was veerrrrryy long-term.

      I'm interested in the repetition of dysfunction and failure over the decades, with whole new casts of characters each time. I wonder if it's a failure of a persistently rotten institution (WBAI), or something about leftists in New York repeating the same patterns, or what.

    3. Chris: Thanks for your too-kind words :)

      Solomon: To attempt to clarify a bit: I wasn’t a member of the board, so I have no way of knowing if there was a ‘conspiracy’. In my experience ‘conspiracies’ are rarely explicit, and what are often referred to as conspiracies are more often than not certain confluences of interest which often in a litigious society remain unspoken by those whose interests are confluent. The composition of the board at the time of the transition/inflection/whatever to which I’m referring certainly clearly suggested such possibilities, given the players on the board, and I’m noting that staff – certainly full-timers – were well aware of them and inclined to speculate along such lines given Kosof and Guzman and their apparent agendas.

      I’d note as an incidental that some ‘histories’ of this period seem to suggest that the idea of ‘union’ was an early factor in the unfolding of events during late 1976–early 1977. That was not the case. It was, rather, as anyone in attendance at the massive meetings at Margot’s (150+) can attest if their memories are clear and unamended, very much a last-minute desperation move, seized upon as a drowning person might strike out for a frail and distant bit of driftwood. It was very much ad-hoc to put it politely, a desperate speculative reach that it might prove helpful as the group dynamic perceived at some semi-conscious level its inability to formulate anything fairly solid as a strategy.

      We all know the saying apocryphally attributed to Sun-Tzu, right? ‘Strategy without tactics is the longest path to victory – tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.’

      There may or may not have been a spoken or unspoken ‘conspiracy’ at that particular moment in time. I could speculate. We can all speculate. In a sense, I think we might agree that it doesn’t, in and of itself, matter very much, that the important question is the one you pose as to the character of these persistent, chronic dysfunctions and failures not only at BAI but of the Left/Progressive movements and impulses in general.

      There are any number of books and dissertation to be written on that subject, as there doubtless have been and will be, but, here too, I think that matters little: What matters is the fact of dysfunction after dysfunction, and failure after failure.

      We see them now not only as BAI is in a death-struggle, but as the nation is itself in a similar plight as its power ebbs and it lashes out both at externalities and turns upon itself in factions.

      None of which is new to history, of course, and certainly not new to the history of Left/Liberal/Progressive/Populist movements.

      ~ Indigo Pirate

  4. Gold's suggestions seem reasonable on the surface, but the implications are that management should be trusted to make major programming and structural changes without any checks and balances from staff or listeners. If WBAI had great management, that would be a great idea. If WBAI had pretty good management, that would be an OK idea. If WBAI had barely competent management, that might not be a horrible idea. But WBAI has the persistently worst management in the history of radio. Why entrust such brazen, deranged idiots with unchecked power and influence?

    The current byzantine power-sharing structure isn't going well, to put it mildly, but at least, like our dysfunctional Congress, it is so dysfunctional that it can't get very much done, which is a sort of buffer to the worst impulses of the worst people. I think an unchecked Berthold Reimers might be even worse than the status quo, if that is imaginable.

    1. First a correction: the suggestions were authored by Kevin White, inspired by a remark Gold made. I misread Kevin's e-mail, so it is my fault, but since corrected.

      That out of the way, I agree with your first paragraph. The problem clearly traces back to Pacifica's hiring practices—without a competent, dedicated manager and program director who know the mission charted by Pacifica's founders, the whole thing falls apart, as we have seen. The key is to stay on track, give the station top priority and not to regard any staff member, producer or host as indispensable. Filling the schedule with "untouchables" defeats the purpose of having a station that adheres to the original concept of serving as a platform for diverse thought and artistic expression.

      I also agree that the current system of governance is dysfunctional. The LSB should function more as an advisory panel and comprise members who are well connected in the community and have WBAI's interest at heart. Yes, the GM should be subject to overseeing, but free to make reasoned decisions. The overseer should be the Pacifica Board, which ought never to include any station staff member.

  5. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that of all recent WBAI personnel I can now only relate well to my friend of 47 years, Bob Fass, his dedicated helper Bill Propp and Sidney Smith a remarkable talent living an incredibly difficult life.

    But notwithstanding my love for Bob, the area in which he and I have disagreed for decades is the governance model of the station.

    Forty years ago I left WBAI to pursue a PhD in London and I was fortunate to be hired as an original producer/presenter at Capital Radio. There is much on the web about the early days of Capital and hard times in the early years, including some stuff about my own involvement there:


    After three years in London I returned to WBAI and soon encountered the full-blown unionized "collective" approach to management that has prevailed for four decades. This approach is one that, in general terms (as opposed to the role of specific individuals) is the model about which Bob and I feel differently.

    Having witnessed at Capital how another radio station navigated itself through troubling times under the firm direction of managers willing to put their professional expertise toward assuring the organization's survival above that of the individual staff members' often less-than-expert opinions about these matters, I reflected about my own experiences under the management of Albertson and Millspaugh when, to be frank, WBAI was in its ascendancy and firm control was not always needed nor, for many of the incredibly talented free-spirits there, wanted. That approach worked then. But it can reasonably be argued that this model of "democratic" governance of a complex organization like a non-profit radio station dependent on listener contributions and, therefore, some reasonable listener base, has clearly failed in the here-and-now.

    All this is an attempt to say that Kevin White's list is, in my opinion, highly valuable as a blueprint for what needs to be done.

    I just hope it's not too late.

    1. Thank you, Robbie, it's good to hear from you. I share your thoughts on the so-called "democratization" of Pacifica—not only is it not working, it is fatal. Sad to say, I think it is indeed too late to save WBAI. You are among the few here who felt first-hand the spirit that once reigned at the station—the staff voted down joining a union, because there was already a far better union in place, a union of purpose and that wonderful vision of Lew Hill's.

  6. I'll keep it simple - as I see it the WORST mistake in BAI's history (and that's saying alot given the current state of the station) was ditching the 62nd street location. Whoever was responsible for this should never be forgiven!

  7. I’d agree – particularly if you look at it in the perspective of the overall dynamic at that point – a general clusterfuck if ever there were one:

    The board, for whatever reasons, conspiracy-theory-worthy-or-not, chose to capriciously and suddenly impose a completely top-down management model which was intended to be commercial in feel and aesthetic while at the same time imposing management which was clueless, incompetent, out of tune, out of touch, and concerned principally with the station as a stepping stone.

    This brief interregnum of pseudo-revolutionaries was followed shortly thereafter by the debacle of Samori, who, as delusional revolutionary-leader-hero-in-his-own-mind clearly anticipated the day when statues of himself as Revolutionary Leader and Hero would be erected in Liberia and West Africa in particular, Africa and the Caribbean generally (his eyes would gaze mistily as he cast his memory back to the date (whatever it was, he always mentioned it) he had left Africa, seemingly expecting it one day to be celebrated by adoring throngs). The level of delusion was fairly spectacular and grotesque, even for Pacifica/WBAI.

    He, as much as anyone, was an example of extremists’ and fanatics’ disposition to assume they are competent and capable simply by virtue of their all-important ‘positions’ being correct – at least in the small world of their own minds and their small circle of friends.

    The world is run (or at least influenced), as a rule, by people determined, pragmatic, capable and competent, whether they are ‘idealistic’ or not.

    Idealism, to my mind, is not synonymous with empty self-regard and simple naiveté – yet all too often, and certainly in the case of WBAI, it all too often has been.

    The Church occupied a critical nexus both physically for its practical advantages – excellent studios, edits and edit bays (Edit B in particular, of course), ability to hold and broadcast large gatherings with solid acoustics and flexible mic-ing ability in C, the entire basement for any number of editing and support functions.

    The key failure in my opinion, as I’ve argued previously, was the shift to an emphasis on ‘political correctness’ as the principal criterion for air time – prior to these transitions the emphasis (however imperfectly) was always ‘did she/he do good radio?’ Once the shift was to ‘Does he/she have a “correct” political perspective?’ two great ills were loosed: 1) Political correctness is easy, requiring neither intelligence, nor talent, nor skill, and will therefore as principal criterion tend to self-select against intelligence, talent, and skill; 2) An emphasis on political correctness is essentially an emphasis on mindless homogeneity and conformity, however ‘diverse’ other considerations may appear to be.

    Mindless conformity and homogeneity from a bunch of ‘politically correct’ folks, however diverse, is of, shall we say, exceedingly limited appeal – and ultimately irrelevant, inconsequent, and unworthy of support.

    These shifts. then, tore away, so far as I can tell, any coherent purpose or indeed raison d’être from the place, leaving it adrift.

    Capable people moved on (feel free to plug in your preferred list of talented alumni who have made their mark in the world – it’s a fucking long list).

    With mindless conformity to mere political correctness and the loss of the Church the station simply no longer had the appeal to actual talents it had once had.

    So they didn’t arrive in droves.

    Yes, there are a very few exceptions, if you’re one of them or a fan of one of them take no offense – but if you are, you’ll know that you’re an exception.

    So, yes, one may well argue the loss of the Church (for no good reason, really) was a critical failure – one of many that began in that period.

    It mattered in and of itself, for practical reasons, and it also represented the catastrophic choices and decisions that led to its loss and, indeed, arguably the final loss of everything that mattered most.

    ~ Indigo Pirate

    1. Words fail me, Indigo. As always, your mirror is highly polished. Thank you.

  8. excellent commentary, Indigo. His analysis of Samori is spot on. Samori was despised by many producers during that time, contrary to the views of his so-called supporters. One producer hatred Samori so much that they said if Samori had a heart attack, they would "cut the phone lines and lock the door behind them". Harsh and mean, but true. This is an example of how Samori treated producers who did not agree with his Marxist "worldview". WBAI has suffered ever since because of his political stench.

  9. I wish I had something profound, and witty to say. However having been in the cesspool I really feel like I'm trapped in the tumble dryer with six badgers on crack, and whiskey.

    ...will someone 'please' turn this damned thing off.

  10. Kevin's list is on the money. Simple direct, and 'obvious'. A question the few "Radio Heads" always ask is how do we always end up with such uninspired management.

    Such managements that then spread the profound lack of imagination throughout the system.

    As I posted on the Blue Board the folks that know, and love the art of radio never aspire to management because by nature we cannot function in the traditional mendacity of those circles.

    That may have been a mistake. Maybe we should have if only to prevent the rouges gallery of incompetents thieves fanatics, and oblivious salary collector from clogging up the works.

    Btw though we're all fucked, tossed out on to the street. That, and the beloved WBAI shredded abused assaulted robbed, and yes raped.

    Despite that Redemption is actually still possible.

    Somebody probably that Gandhi guy said, "...there are a thousand doors that lead out of Hell...you only have to choose one."

  11. Ah, but the classic lesson of Greek tragedy is that you have no chance of learning until you learn that everything you know is wrong – and you're destroyed.

    A less optimistic view than Gandhi's.

    On another note: Does anyone know, has anyone actually researched, the process of the sale of the Church? There were many rumors at the time as to what was in fact going on, and considerable suspicion as to Sutton/Dinkins/Inner City Broadcasting, etc (yes, I remember them well enough from at least one certain party immediately preceding the unfolding of 'The Crisis') – does anyone actually know the financial story here? Has anyone ever gone through real estate records and any paper trail?

    It’s only an historic footnote at this point, but, still, it might be interesting to know.

    ~ Indigo, Your (Occasionally) Friendly Neighborhood Pirate

    1. I submit that one could assemble such footnotes into a fairly sizable volume. It would indeed be interesting to know the details of the church deal, not to mention the hiring practices that brought the station a long, motley succession of mis-managers. The bizarre hiring of Frank Millspaugh—whose background and personality sent up more red flags than ever waved in Stalin's face—gave me the first inkling that something was terribly wrong. That's a footnote the details of which I personally would love to brought to light.