Friday, August 30, 2013
The premium problem: tip of the iceberg
The plea for help that a listener posted on WBAI's FaceBook page brought attention back to the highly controversial fundraising approach, specifically the premium offers that increasingly sound like infomercials and—only recently—have begun airing repeatedly in pre-recorded form. There are those who feel that WBAI is, in fact, selling merchandise to its listeners.
Compounding the sin is the callous way in which it is done, with claims that completely disregard the truth and prices that are multiples of those asked for the same products elsewhere on the web. Furthermore, some claims are exaggerated beyond reason, presented by the manufacturers themselves, and often never delivered to the buyer whose money has been collected.
For a long time, insiders at WBAI, eager to keep their shows on the air and—in some cases—collect a paycheck, have ignored complaints, often passing them off as excusable oversight. Berthold Reimers was hired for the General Manager's position three years ago and given the mandate to straighten out the station's jumbled finances. He had no radio experience, but his resumé's focus was on accounting skills and experience in the health insurance business.
According to Frank LeFevre, Jim Dingeman, and others who profess to have Reimer's confidence, the new GM spent his first year at the station deeply immersed in sorting out the premium clutter. It was said that he almost straightened it out, but that was clearly not the case. The truth was that some of the advertised and paid-for products were not even in the station's possession, often because the station had not paid the vendor.
While Reimers was allegedly buried in the premium room, his staff—the people he was hired to manage—was engaged in free-form radio. No, not the kind Bob Fass so remarkably established, the kind that unbridled opportunists engage in when left to their own devices. Programs suffered mission creep or simply died on the air, hosts found new ways in which to promote their own products, events or interests, Pacifica principles were ignored or abused, and a faction with a fixation did its best to give the designation, "community,"a narrow ethnic definition.
The station's intellectual level and morals had already been lowered considerably before they pulled Reimers in, but it stayed on tits downhill path and, some felt, at an accelerated pace. None of this escaped the attention of WBAI's audience, which underwent a predictable dumbing down as it dwindled to an all-time low number.
Calls for Reimers' dismissal came mostly from the outside, and were routinely ignored. He, himself had almost been invisible for three years, his phone calls and mail unanswered as other dilettantes took the wheel—most notably, Kathryn Davis, a woman who felt vibes and seemed to take directions from homeless angels and extinct tribesmen. In the midst of all this, Pacifica conjured up Tony Bates, an obnoxious individual who was hired to try something he had never before done: working as Program Director. A very bad schedule became worse, the marathon pitches became more outrageous and unacceptable, both legally and morally, and there was at least one incident of sexual harassment. Mr. Bates would probably still be stirring up problems at the station were it not for some 100 insiders who signed a petition to have him dismissed. Reimers and his cronies did not like that at all, but the choice was no longer theirs.
There's much more. WBAI underwent a geographical split, it turned out that vital bills had been allowed to pile up, fundraising went into full gear, but there were few people out there to listen, and fewer still when encore marathons ran on and on and a snake oil saleslady was imported from KPFK.
Oddly enough, the only relief came in the form of layoffs. Some of the station's most odious hosts had been collecting sizable paycheck, so they had to go and the silence that resulted therefrom was golden.
Sad to say, good people were also let go, including the entire news department, which had been a small beacon of light. Next, as the water reached chin level, the interim Executive Director, Summer Reese, hired a former WBAI PD (and KPFA GM), Andrew Phillips, to take over. No, they did not replace Berthold Reimers, which circumstances loudly called for, but Mr. Phillips has at least been allowed to affect some changes in the schedule, and he continues to work tirelessly on that. There is also a new location, in Brooklyn, but it is still make-shift and, they say, being turned into a broadcasting facility. We shall see—WBAI's chief engineer did not, as we say where I came from, invent hot water. The audio is probably the worst it has ever been,
Personally, I have given up hope of again hearing an intelligent station at 99.5 on the dial. Mr. Phillips is working against the odds, one of which is Berthold Reimers. The bills are piling up, there is still no sign of leadership, and one does not win back an audience overnight.
Getting back to the plea posted by Ms. Bathe (reproduced below), it has triggered a call for an investigation by the authorities, That may or may not happen, but you might be interested in reading the following post from a self-named "insider" that appeared on the infamous BlueBoard earlier today.
We can only hope that WBAI has not become so insignificant in the eyes of regulatory officials that they will look the other way. —Chris Albertson