Friday, October 18, 2013

Stop this progress!!!

To cast a brighter light on the Pacifica Board’s (Summers?) decision, here is a letter to the WBAI staff from iPD Andrew Phillips. It is dated October 5, 2013, and I understand that it lifted the morale of producer/hosts and other insiders who saw it as a sign of WBAI’s programming finally having been placed in capable hands. Changes were sorely needed, and Phillips was making them. Of course, this was not good news ro those who were stagnant and snug—the opportunists I often speak of—but it was promising.

Apparently, Summer Reese, Reimers, and other Pacifica bozos, were not happy. About a week later, they threw a big cog in the wheel and ordered a reversion to the very type of programming WBAI needed to shed. Building up a listenership is not done in one week, month—it is a slow process, but Andrew Phillips never had a chance to see the results he strove to obtain—he had been used by people whose goal seems to be to get in some quick bucks and sell out.   


  1. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote that a masterful teller of tales can induce a "willful suspension of disbelief" in his or her readers.

    A reader must be so willing if he or she is to believe what I saw on the "WBAI Issues" yesterday:

    I wrote a comment in response. I didn't save it, but in case they don't publish it, here's the gist of it:

    Mr. Phillips did not resign because "he was not willing to be as flexible, cooperative and supportive as is needed during these difficult times", It seems to me that he resigned because he learned of negotiations to sell or lease the station from an article in The Daily News rather than from a station or Pacifica board member. In other words, he left because his efforts, professionalism and personal dignity were disrespected. If I were in his shoes, I'd quit, too.

  2. Seems from Phillips' words that left because he was pissed he wasn't informed.
    If that's the case it underlines the ineptitude and arrogance of Reese etc.
    Not that Andrew was perfect when it came to keeping producers aware of upcoming changes, but I had hoped his above letter reflected an attitude adjustment.
    Ironically I think Reese may have been correct that it was time for WNULL. Andrew's changes could not have produced results in time, Null brings in $ and was going to handle the premium processing himself. Andrew's proposed changes should have been announced and promoted as the new future awaiting if the station survives, with the lease as the consequence of a failed fundraiser.
    Would Andrew have agreed if he were brought on board or would he have left anyway? I have no idea, but it would then have been a matter of differing vision rather than mismanagement.

    Looks like it's back to the 'ol "pretend nothing's wrong" strategy.
    I read Berthold's Oct newsletter, the Facebook page is purged of questions or negative comments and I doubt the Chinese have an interest in knocking out the "Blue Board".

    1. I am sure that being kept out of the loop contributed greatly to Andrew Phillips' frustrations, but Reese—with Reimers tagging behind—directly interfered with his work, pushing it back towards square one. That, and having to read the newspaper to find out what Pacifica is doing surely was the last straw. The concept of delegating authority is basic procedure, but when you have agenda-driven amateurs who are blind to their own, considerable, limitations, you end up with the mess we are witnessing.

  3. Chris,

    Yours is the most informative blog on BAI issues. I had several questions I asked Null, which he refused to answer. First question, if Gary Null and Amy Goodman have built multi-million dollar enterprises, and they stand to lose the most revenue, if Pacifica collapses, why aren't they rescuing WBAI as they should, with Democracy Now! holding most of the WBAI's debt? And secondly, why hasn't WBAI/Pacifica banished Democracy Now! since the show was born and grown at the WBAI studios and only exists thanks to the Pacifica audience. I would have charged Goodman for airing her content and giving her exposure!
    My second question that Null didn't answer is, how is it that black nationalists took over the station and why did Pacifica give in to them? And if the black panthers members and Bernard White were intimidating and harassing their opponents, why did someone bring call the police and file formal criminal charges?
    Third question is, how is it that nobody at Pacifica had enough wherewithal to hire professional management/strategy consultants, such as KPMG or McKinsey and Co, to develop a sustainable model to make Pacifica stations economically viable?
    Who is Summer Reese and what is her background in Pacifica? Is she an independently wealthy philanthropist? Something else?
    Funny, how WBAI never became a left wing media outlet and instead degenerated into an outlet for the left wing lunatic fringe, sort of a liberal counterpart to Rush Limbaugh.

    1. Thank you for the compliment. As I enter this reply, I am listening to Haskins and Caldwell ranting on about the "community," which obviously does not include Asians, whites, and any number of other ethnic groups. Michael Haskins is a lightweight, disingenuous toady and Caldwell—a journalist who once had my respect—has become a doddering old fool. They are painful to listen to as they huckster revisionist history, stating highly questionable, undocumented events as facts. This is the sort of thing one expects to hear on street corners, not on WBAI.

      They accept Gary Null, because he brings money in, and he accepts the low grade black nationalism, because he is equally unprincipled and WBAI is a good source of income. Many people argue that Null donates the premiums to the station, and he never forgets to mention that himself, but that is a part of doing business in the world Null inhabits. Sell them a bottle, box (or whatever) of "Green Stuff," or "Heavenly Shampoo" at an inflated price (the hype is free, sort of), and include in your shipment an offer for a less expensive refill. That's where the Null cash register wakes up. It's elementary, but Null is such a slick salesman that one easily envisions a halo over his head.

      I strongly suspect (as do others) that marketer Steve Brown is working with Null, and I have just learned that Summer Reese has a past working association with him.

      Your questions regarding DN! and Amy Goodman's odd arrangement with Pacifica is an interesting one, as is the point you raise about Pacifica's extraordinary tolerance. What we have is several factions and individuals at each other's throat, and none of them will have a victory to celebrate as WBAI goes into the sunset.

    2. Steve Brown seems to always have "helpful" marketing suggestions for WBAI, but each one, including:
      Hiring Berthold Reimers (who has zero broadcast or not for profit ops experience)
      Hiring Andrea for her "three" jobs
      Hiring Andrea's brother for his tinkertoy-level "webmaster" skills
      Hiring the (rather failed) auction site
      Hiring the off-site pledge call center

      So to hear that Summer Reese is also a Steve Brown idea proves what poison he's continuing to contribute to the situation. Nothing good will happen for WBAI until the money-sucking, control-clutching LSB is dissolved, and everyone they've put in place "managing" the station is fired for their lack of experience and ineptitude.

      BTW, WBAI pays an annual syndication fee to run "Democracy Now." That's how successful programming works. Amy managed to produce something of quality, and find other ways of funding it. Yes--her original audience came from WBAI, but she's grown beyond its audience boundaries. WBAI doesn't even know how many listeners are left, but with 25 straight on-air fundraising, you'd better believe they've turned that dial by now.

    3. Sorry--meant to complete that first thought, but was cut off by Blogger.
      Meant to remark upon the irony that Steve Brown was "responsible" for all these hiring ironies, and never failed to realize some benefit to himself. Why no one sees through that (again, an old and out-of-touch LSB who cannot organize a Board meeting, let alone muster any real "advocacy" on behalf of WBAI, is certainly to blame).

      Ask yourself how the LSB can spend tens of thousands of dollars on "elections" each year, complete with political parties, and conduct painful, monthly Board meetings (which resemble a preschool lunchroom, really), and not be held responsible for any sort of fundraising, promotion or sound advocacy on behalf of WBAI. They merely come up with more people and services WBAI needs to shoulder from its ops budget. This is how we have what we have today: a community radio station (for a very limited community) that refers to its programming as "wartime." Oy.

    4. You add interesting new questions to a tangled story that is already full of them. Yes, Steve Brown is definitely someone to watch. Add some cheap production effects (Sargent?) and this whole thing could one day become a conspiracy premium.

  4. Replies
    1. Phil Schaap's incessant nonsense makes me cringe, but WKCR plays great music of all kinds, and has a better African host than any on WBAI. I also find myself listening to WNYC, more than before, but the programming is spotty as far as my taste is concerned. Still, these stations, and WFMU, probably attract many disgusted WBAI listeners who fled.

  5. "Stop this Progress"

    A line from a powerful reactionary in the classic film "The Shape of things to Come".

    1. I hadn't recalled that, Sydney. Guess the line was embedded in the nooks and crannies of a very old memory :) "Things to Come" remains among my favorite sci-fi pictures—I must have seen it a dozen times, but not in quite a few years. Thanks for the reminder, and—while I'm at it—for the wonderful recollections you read on the air this morning. WBAI will never fully recover, I fear, but if it does, the miracle ought to be compounded by your return in a decent time slot.

  6. I think that Andrew was on the right track as iPD at WBAI, although I do disagree with several of his decisions. But his overall concept was sound.

    And I really can't blame him for being piqued when Pacifica -- not just Summer Reese, but the Pacifica National Board -- decided to release the RFP right smack in the middle of the most important fund drive that WBAI has ever had, completely demoralizing everyone here in New York.

    Was that intentional? If not, why the rush to do so in the middle of this drive?

    Andrew expressed his confusion and disappointment on the air. He didn't want to lie to the listeners, or be set up as the "fall guy". Noble attributes.

    However, Andrew should have ridden with the changes being made, temporarily, for two weeks until the fund drive is over, after which the programming would revert back to what Andrew had in mind. I guess people's nerves are raw from all the stress we're all under.

    Bonnie Faulkner aired today a truly great program, produced by Andrew Phillips in 1988, on Jim Garrison and the Kennedy Assassination. Wow!

    I urge Andrew to come back to WBAI and at least see us through this fund drive as iPD, and then make decisions about whether or not to continue here. I am very critical of some of his decisions, as I stated earlier, but I also think he was overall doing a very good job under terrible circumstances, made worse by the timing of decisions by the national board.

    What really ails WBAI is that there has been absolutely no effort made to advertise the station and its programs beyond the dwindling listenership that already exists. That spells death for the station no matter what great programs are aired.

    I urge the PNB to consider that, and to allocate some funds from our hopefully successful fund drive so that we can reach the other 17.8 million people in our listening area who do not even know of our existence and so haven't had the opportunity to listen to WBAI and to slam their radio in disgust. :-)

    Mitchel Cohen
    Secretary, WBAI Local Station Board*

    *My comments are solely my own, obviously, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WBAI or others on the Board.

    1. On the facts available, I disagree:

      Phillips clearly indicated that though he was (Interim) Program Director he had not been made privy to the fact that some or all future programming was going to be peddled to an outside entity. The fact that he learned of this only through a piece in the Daily News added insult to the injury, but there is no reason to believe the fact of that insult was the basis for his resignation. He also indicated that though he was (Interim) Program Director, detailed changes in programming were being dictated to him from on high at the last moment, that he had no say in those decisions, and that they were decisions with which he strongly disagreed.

      If you’re put ‘in charge’ of a task, but haven’t the actual authority to carry out the task – if that nominal and titular authority is capriciously overridden, ignored, and made meaningless, if you strongly disagree with the decisions being foisted upon you from on high – yet you’re to be held publicly ‘responsible’, the right thing to do is resign.

      Clearly some would prefer that he have played the role of martyr/sacrificial lamb for the good and the glory of WBAI and Pacifica.

      [frank language alert]

      Fuck that.

      Phillips did the right thing. It isn’t complicated. It’s too his credit.

      I wish him well.

      ~ Indigo Pirate

    2. You make a good point, Mitchel, when you say that Andrew should have paused and gone along for the Summer detour, but I can't blame him for throwing in the towel. Summer and the Pacificans should not have waited and rushed in from the wings in the middle of the headlining act.

      Surely, they knew that even with the inclusion of Stokeley Carmichael, Angela Davis, et al, that costly memory stick was not going to fly off the shelves and into the eager hands of a hip-hop crowd. A succession of bad management and the dross that comes with it has seriously beaten a circuitous path around Lew Hill's mission. What remains is a skeletal, nomadic audience that cannot be replaced overnight, but must be replaced if the station is to survive.

      Instead of reverting to a program that is wanting in intellect, ethics, and substance, the Pacifica Board should have put away its internal differences and united to raise—off air—enough money to keep WBAI going while Andrew worked on giving it back its brain. Their keeping Berthold Reimers around was, to me, a clear indication of either gross ignorance or questionable intent on the part of Summer Reese. I lean towards the latter.

    3. From what I hear, Andrew did not first find out about the RFP from the NY Daily News. He was kept apprised and was involved in meetings with both Summer and Berthold. Why he resigned was not over the RFP but because he was asked to put Gary Null on at 7 a.m., supplanting political programming he'd had in mind -- all of which, let me add (though it's tangential here), involved reports on Democrats and Republicans but not on any of the 3rd party candidates or projects, neither Green, Socialist, Conservative, Libertarian or other parties in NY an NJ. That political shut-out was going on for weeks already and it was simply wrong for WBAI (as it is elsewhere).

      OK, back to the main point: He was asked to replace that program for the next few weeks with Gary Null talk and premiums, which are turning out to be doing exceptionally well, finance-wise. We've had 3 days straight of $30,000+ fundraising days since Andrew left, around double of what had been coming in.

      I agree with those who say that it's only looking at the next 2 weeks, and Andrew was planning for the next few years. But WBAI has to survive these next two weeks. That dilemma would not have been so bad a few years ago when Pacifica (and that means the other stations) had enough money to pay for WBAI's short-falls; but now it doesn't have those funds, and so the crunch is on.

      There are those in Berkeley who want to sell WBAI outright; that is what we're up against. The LMA is seen as a compromise, to save WBAI from those privatizers. I think we could save the station by rallying together for the next few weeks, and then give Andrew's programming acumen a chance. Andrew, come on back! Apologize for over-reacting and pitch in, again!


    4. Think it through: Do you *really* think there’s any likelihood that Phillips simply threw a hissy fit because he couldn’t accept Null for two weeks?

      Does he strike you as a short-tempered petulant child?

      Or does it seem infinitely more probable, even with the ‘inside scoop’ of various rumors, that he’d had more than enough, and could see where things were, in fact, heading, and that the reportage of the PSOA/LMA was simply the last straw?

      Is it possible that, though angered, it was a cold, hard, objective assessment and judgement as to the situation and the main line probabilities as to what would follow next?

      Is it possible, on the other hand, that you have far too much emotionally invested, that you cannot but have ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ that the terminal patient may yet be miraculously ‘saved’ if only this, and only that…?

      ~ Indigo Pirate

  7. Tracy Rosenberg responded (I'm forwarding her letter to me):

    Hi Mitch,

    As you may or may not know, it wasn't the PNB's decision on the timing of the RFP - hands were forced by the release of the names of the two unsolicited proposals received to date in Chris Albertson's blog. I would mention that the names of the bidders should not have been leaked by any PNB member, and folks who were in receipt of leaked information should have desisted from publishing right before WBAI's fund drive. That was not an action taken to be supportive to WBAI.

    But people do what they do for whatever reasons they have.

    As always, you are right on to identify the issue of promotion and the lack thereof, as well as the unwillingness of almost everyone involved to re-allocate funds to prioritize outreach, but it has never been an easy idea to get people to entertain. Spending money on one thing usually means spending less money on something else and that is where the problems come in.

    It is great that WBAI's fund drive numbers have improved so dramatically in the past three days. If they stay improved, that is an encouraging sign of where we can go from here.



    1. It’s patently absurd to attempt to justify that the (Interim) Program Director was kept in the dark as to plans, intent, and the specifics of the RFP on the basis of the notion that rumors as to ‘unsolicited’ proposals were reported by ‘unsupportive’ leakers.

      The fact is that on the basis of available information the Pacifica National Board had taken a decision to farm out some or all of WBAI’s air time, and chose to keep that decision from the (Interim) Program Director they had parachuted into place in a desperate situation.

      The fact is that they preferred to have the (Interim) Program Director in the dark, as well as those pitching, as well as the audience, as well as potential and actual contributors.

      The fact is that on available evidence the Pacifica National Board preferred to maximize revenues during this period by presenting the claim that they intended to maintain WBAI in essentially its present structure albeit with a radically revised programming structure when in fact they intended to do no such thing.

      Their actual intent still unclear, still mysterious…

      Yet one is to trust them…

      On the basis of… what…?

      Let’s see now… your argument, then, is that it’s appropriate to trust Command, not to question, to be kept in the dark, to be used to mislead the audience and donors…

      Salute the Flag of Pacifica, say Yes Sir/Yes Ma’am, and Just Follow Orders…

      Prepared to take the blame for decisions forced upon you by Command Authority...

      Of course, that’s the right and honorable thing… that’s what True Progressivism is all about…


      ~ Indigo Pirate

  8. Anyone who pitches for WBAI now is participating in fraud.

  9. Andrew had a long history with Null - they worked closely in the 90's with Virtual Radio until Null fired him. Phillips is a mixed bag - he should have seen the light a long time ago, but he was blind - Pacifica always eats its young and wounded. Hopefully, he will find a good woman.