Thursday, February 20, 2014
The dream that became a nightmare...
Today, Tessa Stuart of the Village Voice did a follow-up online article regarding the circa $225,000 in severance pay owed to 19 former WBAI employees. Six months have passed since the due date and if the new March deadline is not met, costly lawsuits are inevitable. Read that article here. Here, too, are a couple of comments on the situation (courtesy of Indigo).
As all of us who occasionally tune in to 99.5 probably have observed and most of us can acknowledge, WBAI's exterior can no longer obscure the decay that in recent years has made the station largely unknown.
There was a time when the commercial media recognized WBAI's value and responded accordingly. Their reporters listened, often marveled, and frequently gave us support. That has changed. Oh, WBAI still gets mentioned in the press, but only when things are going wrong—as they now seem to be from day to day. Terribly wrong. Fatally wrong.
One expects a station like WBAI to move with the times, if not stay slightly ahead of it, but WBAI ceased progressing many years ago. It once inspired much interesting conversation and changed lives, but it is now barely worth mentioning, except for its creative and intellectual decay, which still has many people baffled. How could it have happened?, they ask, for the dumbing down process was slow, almost seamless. I noticed it over forty years ago, but mainly because I had such a close association, and even then, the extent to which the abuse would go was beyond my imagination. The truly sad fact is that even people who saw the cracks in the wall failed to do anything about them, and somewhere along the line, the fall became systematic; The Pacifica Foundation, owner and ruling entity, let go of the reins as it, too, fell into the hands of incompetent opportunists.
WBAI has limped along, managing to stay on the air despite perennial infighting, coups and agenda-driven vandalism. One subtle but defining change was WBAI's attitude towards its listeners, who—although that is often forgotten—also are its
sponsors. As inept management increasingly shirked its responsibility, many of the station's hosts and producers took advantage of the situation and pushed the envelope further. Pacifica stations were created to push the envelope of authoritarian acceptability, creating programs that took thought and artistry in new directions, but now a staff of salaried and volunteer workers saw their chance to use WBAI for their own benefit, so they pushed the envelope to spots that best served themselves. In the process, the listener-sponsor's participation and importance was overlooked—except, of course, when more funds were needed.
Putting aside our program schedule to conduct the first fundraising marathon was not an easy decision to make. We announced how much we needed in order to stay on the air and we honored our own pledge to resume normal broadcasting the minute our goal was reached.
Our listeners sensed and shared the urgency, so the fund drive was over in s few days and the money received exceeded the pledges made. There were no premiums offered, nobody was invited to buy an expensive meal with a "star" or offered a miracle cure. The only scare tactic was a very real one: the prospect of losing New York's voice in the wilderness: WBAI-FM.
Today, it is all about gimmicks. "The Program is the Premium" sounds great, but it becomes meaningless when most of the programs are substandard by any measure. WBAI's audience, already drastically reduced, realized that, so the February fund drive hit an all-time low, another interim Program Director was disposed of and the station was again turned over to Gary Null's business ventures.
Apart from the deplorable quality of its stagnant programming, WBAI has lost all respect as the paint peeled off and the true nature of management, Foundation, and board-seated cronies formed a sharp, ugly picture.
It is just a matter of time before this house of cards collapses. We should all hope that all parties responsible disappear and that the new ownership at least gives the reborn station a semblance of the dignity many good people tried hard to maintain.