Saturday, February 15, 2014
Null: Asset or liability?
The following is my response to posts entered in defense of Gary Null on the PacificaRadiowaves list after Stephen Cohen cited him as a problem rather than an asset.
Thank you, Stephen D. Cohen, for reminding Pacifica’s decision makers of the hypocrisy inherent in their embrace of charlatans like Gary Null. I believe Lew Hill wanted truth to be one of KPFA’s distinguishing factors, but it has over the years become quite acceptable to ignore it. Now it is money that points the way and determines what is ethical and what is not—if it brings in funds, it matters not that it goes against the direction and conduct outlined in the original Pacifica mission statement.
Gary Null is a case in point, but he is by no means the sole abuser; he is often singled out because he is a smooth operator whose persuasive sales talk has brought Pacifica stations like WBAI a significant amount of money, and thus garnered him willing participants on management levels. His recent, abrupt departure from WBAI was a business decision he was forced to make when that station’s hopelessly inept management so botched up shipment of his products that it was impairing his image. Null knows the value of a wholesome image—it is something he has pursued diligently as he built up his business.
Null needs WBAI, but the station needs him even more, and that is only because it has allowed itself to become dependent on him. Null knows that, and so the game is played. This time, persuading Null to make another u-turn might take a successful effort to fire Berthold Reimers—Summer Reese was unable to make it stick in the first round, but I am sure she hasn’t given up, and Null is just the dangling carrot to give her the needed energy, as it were.
It is not difficult to find good deeds for which Gary Null has been responsible. He is clever enough to have added a few real ones to the imagined that make up much of his sales spiel, but that is more a sign of cunning than of beneficence. Does our government’s aid to so-called “third class” countries justify the murderous drone attacks on innocent civilians?
All the shock I hear expressed over the possibility of introducing corporate underwriting to Pacifica’s air is rather laughable when one considers the fact that such advertisement has been employed by WBAI hosts and producers for many decades. When they give out their personal business numbers and other contact information, they are not promoting WBAI. Quacks and numerologists are using the station’s air to solicit customers and purveyors of popular music use it to advertise commercial entertainment events. A veritable parade of unethical entrepreneurs find Pacifica stations to be a free, effective tool for their own business ventures.
Supporters of these infringements upon Pacifica’s stated principles sometimes argue that the audience is too small to even entertain the notion of commercial advantage, but the abusers of Hill’s open microphone concept obviously don’t agree. Having said that, I should point out that the well may finally be running dry for the opportunists as well as those who enable them. WBAI is experiencing the lowest listenership in its 54-year history and, according to Nielsen, is now registering at the very bottom in a survey of New York area FM stations. That is almost one for the books when one considers that WBAI has a transmitter sending its powerful 50,000-watts signal out over the area’s most advantageous antenna, atop the Empire State Building.
As WBAI’s manager, I made the decision to move it there almost fifty years ago, and the positive results were immediate. When the current station and Foundation management complains over the high rent charged by the ESB, they fail to understand that a transmitting facility is only as good as the content of its signal. When the present arrangement was implemented, WBAI was a the area’s most important source of enlightenment, an innovative, creative station with broad, unsegregated appeal to the intelligence.
I do not recall how much it cost us to have this facility in place—certainly much less than today's $50,000 monthly rent—but it was a big expense for a small FM station to have in 1966. It was also a rewarding venture, because it brought to an expanding audience the very best that radio had to offer. A look at today’s on-air fare at WBAI is a look at beauty disfigured. Those who maintain that the transmitter rent is too high should look for a solution in the form of improved programming—the answer is not to move or lessen the power, the answer is to justify it through quality programming, which can only be achieved after all the opportunistic entrepreneurs and agenda-driven dilettantes have been shown the door and dedicated, skillful management let in.
I wish it wasn’t too late for that, but I am afraid that it is, so the best that can happen to WBAI at this point is placement in competent, caring hands. It will never again be the station Lewis Hill and his associates had in mind, but there is still the possibility to save the station from becoming an outlet for light entertainment or another kind of destructive propaganda.
Null is not by any means the only culprit, but it can be argued that he was a Pied Piper who took the rats in the wrong direction and led them in.
—Chris Albertson, Feb. 15, 2014