Thursday, February 27, 2014
Stephen Brown defends Gary Null
I am not quite sure what their association is based upon, but Stephen M. Brown and Gary Null seem to be joined at the hip. Both are shrewd and successful marketeers, and both have a more than casual interest in WBAI. Mr. Brown has served as a member of the dysfunctional WBAI LSB and Null, as we all know is the man whose persuasive rhetoric, books, DVDs and long line of products give him generous access to the station's microphone, and brings in money as it limps from cheque to cheque.
Mr. Null has devoted followers as well as detractors, many of whom have become more vocal recently, as the station becomes increasingly dependent on Null for its existence. Mr. Brown, who had advocated that Pacifica sell all its stations, is thought by many to be maneuvering for a takeover that would include Null. Both men are said to be multi-millionaires with solid "connections."
As you may know, I regard the intimate tie between Null and WBAI/Pacifica to be unhealthy (pun intended) and have expressed my opinions here and elsewhere for the past couple of years. I had not had a response from either gentleman—nor did I ever seek one—but yesterday there was a lengthy post on Nalini's PacificaRadiowaves list from a defensive Steve Brown, addressed to me and Kevin White, another outspoken Null critic.
Kevin will probably have his own response, but here is my post as it appeared on PacificaRadiowaves early this morning.
Stephen M. Brown wrote:
Setting aside loaded words such as “ilk” – your use of which is a favorite tactic of dishonest debaters who seek to prejudice their audiences in the absence of a real argument – you have turned common sense on its head. Gary Null’s show is far and away the most popular show ever aired on WBAI. Its audience is the largest in WBAI history (more than 50% of all tune-ins), and has been the largest for all of Gary Null’s 37 years on the station.
Listening to Gary Null on WBAI’s air is the best argument for what I am saying. I do not doubt its popularity, but neither do I see that as a measure of its suitability on a Pacifica station, nor—for that matter—as a mark of quality.
So if you say that WBAI’s management lacks integrity and intelligence for putting Gary Null on the air, then you are also saying that WBAI’s listeners lack integrity and intelligence for listening to him, and for regarding his show as the most interesting and empowering on the station.
That is precicely what I am saying, “integrity and intelligence” referring to management’s grasp of (or willingness to abide by) the principles set forth in Pacifica’s original mission statement. And, yes, I am also suggesting that years of pedestrian, doctrinaire programming—stagnant banalities—has gradually replaced an audience that sought intellectual stimulation and cultural awareness with one whose needs are less demanding. In short, a steady diet of self-serving, bland blather, myopia and empty rhetoric has changed the demographic of WBAI’s listenership to one of low expectations.
A sprinkling of good radio continues to act as reminders of the station that once was, but most of the hold-outs—listeners who continued their support—have now joined the mass exodus. Listeners used to support WBAI because it offered them an eclectic choice of programs from which much knowledge and enjoyment could be derived. Their intellect was nourished rather than insulted.
Intelligence is insulted every day on WBAI, whether it is through outrageous, baseless claims made in the field of health by self-appointed “authorities,” stories of "homeless angels” escorting gay couples down the street, reptilians from outer space stealing innocent people’s auras, or just convenient remolding of fact. You may think otherwise, but I see such dishonesty as reflecting a disrespect for the listener.
That the audience, even a majority of it, regards Gary Null’s show as “the most interesting and empowering on the station” is not disputed by me, but I do see it as a sad group portrait of what the WBAI audience has become. As I pointed out (and you mocked), Mr. Null’s program would not have made it to WBAI's air in the days when we strove to fulfill Lew Hill’s mission and provide an incisive alternative to what the rest of the dial had to offer. Content over popularity, if you will. In the latter category, we find the likes of Aimee Semple McPherson, Limbaugh, Tammy Fay and Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, or Justin Beiber. Allvery popular in their time, and with proven ability to generate income, but would you feel comfortable hearing them at do their thing on WBAI?
Oh, I forgot. You also claimed that putting Gary Null on the air not only showed that WBAI management lacked integrity and intelligence, but also lacked “respect for its audience.” Funny that you should say that, because I remember reading -- in one of your own blogs -- that (and I paraphrase from memory): “The greatest respect a radio station can show to its listeners ... is to listen to what they want.” Isn’t that why WBAI management has been airing Gary Null for the last 37 years?
I was talking about the need to reinstate the regular airing of a live "Report to the Listener,” which I—as WBAI’s manager—found to be essential in our efforts to maintain a dialogue with our listener-sponsors. It gave me and program producers a valuable opportunity to listen to the people for whom we kept the station going. Their program suggestions and criticisms were excellent guidelines as we evolved. We also read all incoming listener mail, often on the air. These weekly reports also served well to keep listeners informed of our activities and plans.
Once again, Chris, your allegation, like a rant from Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, is empty of evidence, but full of snide and prejudicial insults, such as “cunning opportunist.” Perhaps you are right -- maybe Gary Null really is a “cunning opportunist.” But the only way you can prove that allegation is to read his mind. Can you read Gary Null’s mind? No? Then let’s look at your allegations that are at least possible to prove – for example, that Gary Null delivers “lies.”
I do, indeed, see Gary Null as a cunning opportunist with an often blatant disregard for the facts. If it is true that he has issued the pharmaceutical industry, Act Up!, the AMA, etc. an open invitation to join him in broadcast debates, I am not surprised to hear that the response has been negative—Mr. Null’s intentions may well be regarded with skepticism. He is, after all, a cunning entrepreneur.
As for his opportunism, it does not take an industry pro or any special cleverness to see that WBAI affords Gary Null advertising of incalculable value. He may not make any money directly when his products are sold by the station, but you, as a marketer know the purpose and value of giving out free samples. I have never looked inside a shipment of Null premiums, but I would be very surprised if each box did not contain at least one offer for replenishment and/or another “life-giving” Null product. It is common practice and I’m sure one batch of green or red stuff leads to another and that even “Heavenly” shampoo does not last for life.
When I pointed out that Gary Null, after his most recent return to WBAI’s air, attributed a further drop in listenership to his absence, your response was:
You write, Chris, as if these things were not measurable, or as if you think that no one will notice that your statements have no basis in reality. Gary Null has been raising 33% to 50% of all WBAI fund-drive revenue for the last 37 years (up to 75% for the last 3 years), according to the station’s own records. He has also been raising a similar percentage of KPFK fund-drive revenue (at least during the last two years, for which I have seen the station records). When Gary Null went off WBAI’s air for 7 days, a few weeks ago (he is now back), not only did WBAI’s fund-drive revenue plunge dramatically, but so did its listenership, as clearly evidenced by the sudden upward spike in the number of listeners who immediately began tuning into Gary Null’s show on his Progressive Radio Network (PRN), both online and by phone. (These online and phone call-in results are precisely measurable. And to nail the point: Gary Null’s PRN phone listeners alone now exceed 60,000 listeners per day in the US and 123 counties throughout the world.
Let me first remind you that WBAI’s listenership has been in steady decline for the past few years and there is no way of measuring it from one week to the next. One thing we have to bear in mind is the aforementioned change (I call it dumbing down) in audience makeup. What we have today is a listenership whose size is determined more by the products offered than by the scheduled daily programs. These tend to be shoppers rather than people seeking intellectual enlightenment. They come to the station to purchase items that are presented to them in infomercials, and when the sales stop, they generally don’t hang around. As a listener-sponsored station, WBAI cannot expect to subsist on that basis, which is why fundraising marathons dominate the annual schedule. When the programming was substantive and ever fresh, one fundraising marathon a year was sufficient—it usually lasted less the two weeks and offered only the station itself as an incentive. We did not profess to have power to cure cancer, autism or other diseases, but we tried our best to combat ignorance with enlightenment.
If Gary Null has as many listeners on the phone as you claim, and if he is as concerned about WBAI as you say he is, please explain why he hasn’t used his obvious influence on the station’s management to eliminate the obvious quacks and fearmongers? Could it be because he is one of them? He becomes incensed (and rightly so) when the station fails to ship his products to the purchaser, but WBAI’s management does not hear a raised voice from him when they sell theirsustaining memberships in raffle style yet neither deliver nor acquire the prize objects—that is another form of fraud that Mr. Null apparently is not bothered by As you must know, I am by no means alone in my negative assessment of Gary Null as a smooth operator who justifies his abuse of the station by being very good at raising money. I’ll grant you that he is that, but I ask you to look at the station today… it is paying the price, and so are we who are concerned over its
Nobody is waiting in the wings, ready to mount a white steed and set things straight—the loyal listeners have made the most powerful statement by tuningout. Some of us have tried to prevent the now inevitable not so dignified death of WBAI as a significant component of a noble concept. This has never been an attack on Gary Null alone, but he is a dominant factor and he has set the tone and charted the path leading to the dead end ahead. One might say that we who dared to find fault with the so-called “new” Pacifica came too late and found the infestation to be too advanced.