Tuesday, October 15, 2013

As Lew and Lou spin 6 feet under...

There is now serious talk of Pacifica having decided to lease to un-named parties WBAI's license. Something like that was becoming increasingly predictable as Management exercised its gross incompetence and Pacifica did nothing to stop it. They made a good show of seemingly attempting to save the station, but it was obviously Pacifica's last WBAI show.

I feel sympathy for Andrew Phillips, who was used by Pacifica to fix something they obviously had no intention of fixing. This latest development has begun to hit the outside media, including the NY Daily News, but I expect there will be much more, and the truth will eventually get thrown  into the mix.

Here are posts that appeared in Public forums late yesterday. The posters are Mitchel Cohen, who tried to do something, but ran into the Berthold Reimers block, and Steve Brown, who has a slightly different view, but is basically in agreement. 

The opportunists at WBAI still live in their dream world, dteadfastly refusing to acknowledge that it was they, and not Sandy or those damned listener-supporters who killed the station. Some of them still believe that it will all come back—but it won't. The real WBAI hasn't been at 99.5 in many years, and
would have been totally forgotten were it not for the few hones, devoted producer/hosts who held out. Let's hope that they get back on somebody's air. As for the abusers and narcissists, their disappearance is the only good thing to come out of this.

Before you read the Mitchel and Steve exchange, here is an interesting notice posted yesterday by Thomas William Hamilton, a disenchanted supporter of WBAI who is also reacting to the lease rumors:

Should this plan go through, I will cease my $1000 contribution at each fundraiser, and remove WBAI as the chief beneficiary of my will, which, since I am less than three months from turning 75, may be sooner than I would like. 
Mr. Hamilton is an accomplished man. Check out this link, and this one, and this one.

Here is what Mitchel Cohen had to say:

There would be no need at all for any leasing of WBAI and this end-run around the admittedly imperfect but democratic bylaws if management had done the pretty basic things that many of us have been proposing. Note: Management STILL could do these things!

These fairly simple and yet essential managing basics that any organization needs to employ (whether a radio station, an environmental advocacy not-for-profit, or a private company) must be done first, before any Leasing agreement is considered—let alone signed.

What Pacifica's motion—that apparently passed in executive session last week—means, to me, is that Pacifica management has given up on trying to appoint competent management at WBAI and is looking for a way out of meeting its responsibilities.

What I imagine, here, is that a leasing proposal will be accepted from a private person or agency that is as close a match to Pacifica's Mission as possible, but which 

a) Does away with the bylaws and listener-and-staff governance of Pacifica; 
b) Agrees to put in a few million dollars in the form of guaranteeing ongoing payments to cover WBAI's expenses; 
c) Agrees to return WBAI to Pacifica in five years (we'll see how that works out in reality!); 
d) Does not answer to anyone;
e) Has private access to all of WBAI's database and website for any purpose;
and a lot more that I'd be speculating about without actual knowledge, but which is pro forma for these matters.

We'd be agreeing to give WBAI away, for five years (ahem!), to a private individual or company. This would be arranged only because the individual or company has some money to guarantee payment on WBAI's debts. So they'll be allowed to legally buy the "rights" to running WBAI for just a few million dollars -- chickenfeed, actually!, given the value of WBAI (politically and artistically, as well as economically) -- that would allow them to play around with our station as they please, regardless of what they promise in any leasing agreement. By doing so, Pacifica is, in my opinion, abandoning its responsibility to appoint a management team at WBAI who would take pretty basic measures to raise the funds needed to make WBAI sustainable fiscally over the next few years.

Those measures would include (and all of these have been proposed repeatedly by members from all factions, but never implemented):

1) A concerted campaign to publicize the station's existence to the 17.5 million people in our potential listening area who never heard of us, and expanding the membership base by 100 percent;

2) Systematically contacting the artists and wealthy individuals who appear regularly on WBAI's airwaves, creating a "sustainers fund" for the station;

3) Sending out mass fund-raising letters to the entire database -- something that has not been done for at least 3 years under current management;

4) Implementing measures to recoup the $800,000 per year in funds already pledged but for one reason or another never received by the station;

5) Re-Negotiating WBAI/Pacifica's $50,000/month (and rising) contract with the Empire State Building (or similarly placed antennas), and bringing political weight, if necessary, to achieve a greatly reduced not-for-profit rate;

6) Communicating regularly with and involving listeners and staff in all aspects of WBAI's situation (that is, EXPANDING democratic control of WBAI, and not setting up listener and staff governance as a strawman and then setting it on fire!);

7) Re-Negotiating WBAI's and Pacifica's current debts (as is done by all for-profit corporations);

8) Re-conceptualizing and expanding WBAI's media footprint and revenue via the internet, and parallel radio stations on WBAI's website; 

9) Accrue revenue from WBAI's current leasing of its secondary carrier signals (today all revenue accrues directly to Pacifica and is not applied to WBAI's payments to Pacifica);

and more.

Those bullet-points should be part of a comprehensive plan. But the construction of such has apparently eluded WBAI's management for a decade, past as well as current management.

Any competent management at Pacifica and WBAI would have ensured that such a recovery plan be written, circulated, implemented, and monitored -- and it should have been doneyesterday. WBAI's membership should have been sent (two years ago, at least) management's comprehensive plan, which would include all of those items. And management should have provided regular updates on mobilizing the listeners and staff to achieve implementation of such a plan.

Any competent organizer knows that management must do all of the things (and more) listed above -- anyone knows this except, apparently, WBAI's management, which has neverproduced such a plan, let alone submitted it for review to the Local Station Board. Why is it that the National office cannot properly supervise the management that it has appointed to ensure these basic things are done, and done properly? 

I strongly oppose the proposed RFP (Request for Proposals) for Public Service Operating Agreements for WBAI-FM (99.5 FM - NY), leasing arrangements, orany deal that privatizes WBAI and its management -- even for a relatively short period. I urge WBAI's directors to the Pacifica National Board and all others to do the same.
Mitchel Cohen
former Chair, WBAI Local Station Board (2008-2012), and
current Secretary, WBAI Local Board


I agree with everything you say (below) about how to save WBAI. But so what? Yes, WBAI was always easy to rescue, and many of us knew how to do it. But management – local and national – refused to take the necessary and obvious steps.
 But now it is too late. Even if the necessary steps are taken tomorrow, it would be too late. Time has run out, because the money has run out. In order to implement the steps necessary to save WBAI, the station would have to continue operating for at least another year.
But there is no money to keep WBAI operating for another few months – let alone for another year -- except at the risk of capsizing the entire foundation. For Pacifica has been taking money from the other stations to prop up WBAI (in the foolish hope, I might add, that WBAI could rescue itself by continuing to do the same stupid things that caused its problems in the first place).
So why did management so badly fail WBAI and Pacifica? Why didn’t management – local and national – take the necessary steps to save WBAI (and the rest of our stations, which are headed down the same path as WBAI)? It is not as if those steps were impossibly difficult, or prohibitively expensive. On the contrary, they were easy to implement and cost little or nothing (and are standard practice at virtually every other non-profit organization in the country).
The reasons for management’s failure are three. The first, and most obvious, is incompetence, at both the local and national level. But that would not have been so bad, if management had sought the advice and assistance of those who were competent. But they did not – partly because of the second reason – arrogance -- which prevented them from acknowledging that they needed help. The third reason is cowardice – personal cowardice, or the fear of losing their jobs – which turned them into little more than deferential hostages to the various warring factions within the foundation, whose conflicting ideologies, private agendas, self interest, and petty spites have long poisoned our internal debates, shredded our collegiality, and crippled the administrative functioning of the network.
 Incompetence, arrogance, and cowardice. Aren’t these the same reasons (though with deadlier consequences) that cause world leaders to so badly fail the human race? All world leaders secretly know (even as many of them publicly deny) that continuing dependence on dirty, non-renewable oil, coal, and nuclear power is poisoning the environment, and will doom the planet through global warming. Yet they continue on the same path – even when they know that they should be leading a transition to clean, renewable energy from wind power, hydro-power, and solar power, before it is too late (as it may already be). They know what to do, but – as at Pacifica -- because of conflicting ideologies, private agendas, self interest, and petty spites, they will not do it.
 The stupid and the bad within Pacifica – like the stupid and the bad within the US Congress – may not have the power to get everything they want, but they do have enough power to veto what everyone else wants. Either give them their way, they announce, or they will shut down the Government, as the Tea Party has shut down the American Government – or, in this case, as our own Pacifica “Tea Parties” are shutting down WBAI.  

No comments:

Post a Comment