Monday, February 10, 2014

Is it a coup?


Reliable sources report that the Pacifica Chief Financial Officer, who was dismissed by the Pacifica Board for incompetence, has today been rehired by the new Board, causing several of its Directors to resign in protest.

It's all quite vague right now, but underhanded maneuvers are being described and we should know more within the next 24 hours.


  1. It also seems to be unclear as to who the new PNB chair is, as there was a tie vote, then a dustup over procedures for resolving tie votes.

    On the whole (a very few exceptions), I don't think these people can find their way home at the end of the day, let alone run anything – anything at all.

    The screaming irony, as it's long been, is that these folks want to tell the world how it should be run, and can't run a small organization; they want to tell the world to cooperate, and they can't cooperate well enough to manage to get through an agenda that a typical high school prom committee could manage.

    These are very, very, very sad people [shrugs].

    Outrage and fury are appropriate for the squandered opportunities these frequencies and the original foundational principles represent, but... what's the point?

    ~ 'Indigo, Pirate'

  2. I read some of Matthew Lazar's writings about Pacifica on his Radio Survivor BLOG. Not really organized, but interesting claims: There was a rivalry between the Berkley and the DC station going back to the beginning. Berkley derided the DC for not playing any public affairs programming and DC derided Berkley as "that other white station". A lot of the original BAI staffers moved on to the NYC network, which bested Pacifica. In the late 1980's Pacifica National Board undertook to replace the paid staffers, unionized labor, with unpaid self-marketing non-union "entrepreneurial volunteers". Samori Marksman was a paid employee of the gov't of Grenada and he brought on board the new core of Afro-Caribbean Marxists and intellectuals, the apparent C in the BAI's community. In the latest move, Pacifica has dismissed Free Speech Radio News with Feature Story News (FSRN with FSN) a deliberate bait and switch? Finally, Lazar described the process, wherein local activists climb on board the Pacifica National Board from their local station board, knowing nothing about the national organization and practically none of them could name the call letters of three of the five Pacifica radio stations. Is it any wonder that the internal politics of Pacifica are those of the radical left or that we get the unsurprising result, typical of Marxism and the left wing?

    1. You’re quite right that in the late 1970s many if not indeed the vast majority of talent moved to WNYC and elsewhere. It’s a long list, and includes both on-air talent and operational and technical talent. A large part of the reason they had come to WBAI in the first place was because it was a place that valued good radio – indeed, the internal culture was one in which the chief criterion for access to air, equipment, etc, was whether or not you did good radio (or showed promise and dedication to learning to do good radio).

      This changed sharply with the board’s move circa 1976–1977 to shift the station to one in which what mattered was ‘progressive’ political correctness in all forms. I would argue that the place never recovered, and the listenership, I would argue, confirms that point.

      As for Samori, he was a minor leftist hack who saw himself in delusional fashion as a great political leader for whom there would one day be parades and statues – I kid you not, mad though that sounds.

      In the early part of the twentieth century progressives and the left posed a threat to the established order. That was a very long time ago. For many decades now, I would argue, the ‘progressive’ left has needed no help at all in rendering itself loathsome, dysfunctional, and irrelevant.

      ~ indigopirate

    2. Some of them know, deep inside, that they are on the wrong track, but to admit it would be to have to turn in their keys. Others delude themselves into thinking that what they are foisting on the listener is what WBAI should be foisting on the listener—that the listeners have been driven away is something they cannot admit, but they will allude to it when they need to pitch for money. The money they ask for is needed to keep them on the air in their own time slot—preservation of what they regard as their personal turf is the only motivating factor.

      During this hopelessly failed fund drive, Robert Hennelly sounds like a broken record as he repeatedly emphasizes one of his dumb slogans: "The premium is the program." This by no means an innovative approach, although he takes credit for it, just a variation of our original marathon raison d'etre. We saw and pitched WBAI as the compelling reason for support —fund-raising was a collective effort in behalf of the one thing we most obviously had in common: a unique, intelligent radio station rising out of the vast wasteland FCC Commissioner Newton Minow described broadcasting to be. Individual programs were expendable—the show would go on without them, perhaps even improve—but WBAI itself was not replaceable. The listeners agreed and sent us their subscription fee. When we spoke on the air about the station's uniqueness, we addressed the listener who was discovering us—our regular audience did not need to be told that we offered a different, richer experience, because they could hear that for themselves, so we only needed to give them a reminder.

      Hennelly and the desperate cling-ons who dominate the station's air these days, have to take a backward glance at WBAI in order to come up with their selling points. You will hear him refer to the station as a "platform" from which young newcomers can obtain the training and experience that will open wider doors to their future in broadcasting. Yes, that is how it once was and should have remained, but we have to go back several decades to find that principle carried out.

      To put it bluntly, Hennessy is an opportunist who saw a chance to elbow his way into WBAI, and did so in a remarkably short time. He is a failure from square one, and I think he is smart enough to have come to that realization. When the station finally dies, killed by the likes of Hennelly, he will try to emerge as someone who did his best to save it from bad management, Sandy, etc. If you listen carefully to what he is saying as his "revolutionary" fund drive dissipates,, you will note that he is already in a vindication mode.

      As for the few deserving broadcasters who know their craft, have something new to say, and hang in there, surrounded by the self-serving and incompetent, I wish them well and suggest that we who value good radio do whatever we can to encourage their hiring elsewhere.

      I love the WBAI that I came across in 1960, but I will not mourn the demise of the current, downgraded version.

  3. Indigo,

    how did this 1976-1977 shift to total political correctness came about? Did Samory Marksman come on the scene as a result of this shift? Was the flight of the talent to NYC as a result of this shift, and was the talent pushed aside by the politically correct set? If so, how did they come to power? BAI was already pretty progressive, if you consider that Lew Hill was a jailed conscientious objector in WW2. Did the shift of 1976-1977 have to do with the Afro-Caribbean set taking over, or were they invited on the scene after some shift in Pacifica itself?

    With regards to the historic threat from the left, it was born and sustained out of socio-historic necessity. One can argue that USSR has lasted as long as it did, because it had constituency among the world's nations. Keep in mind that Lyndon Johnson's Great Society was a direct response to the need for moral supremacy in the Cold War: Americans were fighting the colonial war for the French in Indochina, everyone in the world knew about the racist practices in the South and the rural poverty. Something had to be done to bring the democratic US on the same footing as workers and peasants paradise, the friend to the oppressed all over the world. For that matter, the Bolsheviks would not have survived the so-called Western Intervention (essentially a peace-keeping coalition of 16 countries), had it not been for the dock workers in major harbors all over the world, who refused to load cargo ships bound for Soviet Russia, in solidarity with the Reds. Furthermore, Everyone knows about the Spanish civil war, but there was also a civil war in France during the occupation, there was the myth of the French resistance, and there was the lkess known mortal struggle of the French communist Maquisand against the German puppet French "Milice", and the "nationalist resistance" with De Gaul as the puppet leader, which was almost non-existent. That, and the hidden civil war in the Nazi occupied USSR. Point here is that Marxism in 20th century was the result of the prevailing conditions at the time, just as the rise of totalitarianism, fascism, the collapse of the Empires and end of Colonialism.

  4. I have to at least attempt to be brief, so please forgive me if I seem curt in my response:

    Please bear in mind, too, that I make no claim to omniscience, I can only offer my observations and my perspective:

    I think that the shift marked fairly clearly by the inflection point of ‘the crisis’ of 1976–1977 came about from the confluence of a number of factors: Listenership was drifting downward from its peak of the late-1960s and early 1970s. The society generally was evolving along ‘me-generation’ individualistic and narcissistic lines which lent themselves to self-referential social self-ghettoization. Josephson had attempted to take the station along principally aesthetic and intellectual lines, and this attempt on his part had been fiercely resisted by the more politically and identity-politics members of staff, and that failed attempt left a vacuum.

    There was without question a fair amount of drift, and a lack of any reasonably clear sense of identity and purpose, I think, despite the mantra of ‘free speech radio’. There was still some very good stuff on air, no question. Not simply news and public affairs, but radio drama, music, author interviews, etc – well produced, which is very labor-intensive (standard rule-of-thumb in this time of still working with physical tape and razor blades was that a fully-produced interview would need an hour of editing per hour of air time. A decently produced, but not fully-produced, interview could take less, but the ideal was to do fully-produce work if at all possible.

    What exactly went on with the board, prior to the shutdown, isn’t objectively clear. We know that Ralph Engelman was chair, and he always seemed to me a typical bush-league academic, but that’s only my perspective, and not based on any extensive observation or interaction. One thing we do know is that at this time Percy Sutton’s political machine and Inner City Broadcasting were very much on the rise, and a very significant factor with respect to the board – there was much suspicion amongst staff on this count, particularly when the plan was announced, as if out of nowhere, that WBAI was to become a salsa station.

    As for your question as to when the migration to places like WNYC and NPR began, it preceded the 1976–1977 by a bit, and extended a bit beyond it. It had always been the case that people often moved on to bigger things if they were talented – Paul Fischer, for example, moved on to CBS long before ‘the crisis’. There was definitely a sense, though, that WBAI was headed downhill as ‘the crisis’ neared. A colleague asked me to drop off his résumé and a reel at WNYC, for example, only a couple of months before the shit hit the fan in early February 1977. That process continued, for some, a bit beyond February 1977. Lopate, for example, had only come to WBAI a wee bit before the crisis, from WKCR, and moved on only a fair bit afterward.

    I’d say that was the overall pattern, and it applied to the capable tech people as well, though their moves were of course less noticeable to listeners.

    People could see, to invoke the cliché, that the handwriting was on the wall.

    When a place is headed downhill the capable people move on – and talented people who are looking for a place to learn and to break in, stop coming, and look elsewhere.

    You asked specifically about Samori Marksman. His arrival was very definitely a result of both the ‘we’re progressive radio’ political correctness shift, and also, I would argue, the whole racialization of the station, both of which have continued, of course, ever since.

    The particular shift to Afro-Caribbean seems, I think, to have been secondary to and derivative of the shift to progressive-minority-and-other-aggrieved-people’s radio.

    ~ ‘indigopirate’

  5. Thank you, Indigo, for the comprehensive answer. It makes sense. Too bad the National Board did not see the trends, and given its performance in the past, the present lack of results is not surprising. It seems that Pacifica today is making the same mistake that George Busch Jr did - they aim their broadcasting and fund-raising at a target audience that they no longer have, OR they broadcast at one audience and depend on financial support from another, which they no longer have. At one time, they were opportunistically reaching out to the Occupy Wall Street and to student activists, and it seems to me that those did not repay the debt with volunteer work to at least raise funds. One other thing I am wondering about is the Clayton Riley - Amy Goodman/Robert Knight exchange. It seems to me that Riley was raging at Goodman, because she was overstepping her boundaries, as Riley saw them. Was it because Riley knew that she was upward and outward bound OR, Goodman was pushing her own ambitious agenda AND if that was the case (Goodman's ambition), was Goodman getting pull from above from Pacifica National Board or do you think that Riley's rage was isolated from any such context?