Wednesday, February 5, 2014

There's more than one way to skin/sell a station...

Let me begin by emphasizing that I am not anti-union, I just think it goes against the grain Lew Hill sowed to turn a Pacifica radio station into a voice for a select few. WBAI is there to fill a void in the New York City area ether—not to serve any particular segment of the population. Robert Hennelly obviously disagrees. Like so many who come to stay at WBAI, he has a personal agenda. The following is my take on it:

Robert Hennelly entered scheming. Today he not only announced (more than once) that he had revisited his old (former?) employer at DC37, but that he had "discussed business" that resulted in a $2,000 donation. In other words, the guy is still selling air time to union locals. Of course, he also once again mentioned the previous union "donations," one by one. I may have it wrong, but my personal reading of what is happening goes as follows:

WWRL-AM was the station labor unions could rely upon for propaganda, but that ended when it switched to a Spanish-language format. Opportunist that he is, Robert Hennelly elbowed his way into WBAI (a station with which he   had previously been involved (Bernard White) and took advantage of the station's disarray, its desperate dishrag of a "manager", etc. He quickly found a lemming (Haskins) doing the morning show, so he wasted no time maneuvering into a position where reeling Reese in was child's play.

Haskins and Hennelly aren't bringing in the money, but the latter has come up with an idea: turn WBAI into the area's Voice of Labor (to cite just one of the many meaningless slogans he has come up with) and offer the area's labor unions WBAI as an even more powerful (albeit FM) replacement for WWRL, then sell them air time veiled as "donations." So far, the scheme appears to be working, but we have to wait and see how much these unions are willing to pay for a new propaganda outlet. In his pitch to the unions this morning, Hennelly emphasized the 50,000-watt transmitting power (never mind that a recent Nielsen survey ranks it at the very bottom of the NYC FM listenership rating).

The way he has set up the current fund drive, Hennelly himself makes an appearance on every program, which allows him to do his labor routine all over the schedule. When this drive is over, I'm sure he has plans to keep those plugs coming—after all, they are paid for. In the meantime, it's to hell with everybody else out there. Not that there are many listeners left, but I don't see their ranks growing as long as this approach is maintained.

That raises the question: How long?

...and what about that pesky union-dictated severance pay the station keeps ignoring?

I wonder if the new sponsors (Null seems to be history) realize that they are throwing their membership's dues into a very leaky bucket.     —Chris Albertson 


  1. Speaking of the laid-off staffers: Andrea Sears has started her own news service, New Left Voices. As you can imagine, it's not bringing in a whole lot of money. She's also applied for all of the jobs that even remotely match her skills. However, her 20+ years at BAI and MFA in Conceptual Art--not to mention her age (62) seem to be opening any doors for her.

    Ms. Sears' unemployment insurance benefits run out in two weeks, and she has no job on the horizon. She could retire now, but her Social Security payments would be about 30 percent less than they would be if she waited until "normal' retirement age. And she has a lot of medical bills--and no severance check from BAI/Pacifica.

    If anyone wants to help her, here's a link:

    1. Thank you. Justine, for the link. I hope they somehow come through with the owed severance pay, but it doesn't look good, nor does it seem to have been given any kind of priority.

  2. I, for one, would welcome good solid labor coverage on BAI - as opposed to the nonsense that now passes for labor coverage their. If somebody, anybody can get the quacks and kooks off the air and get decent labor coverage on then I'm for that. We know that their is an audience for quack medicine and conspiracy lunacy but I hope that the station can survive without having to appeal to THAT audience. If the membership is not their yet to fund an alternative then I say let the unions do it and, hopefully, a sane audience will slowly return.

  3. Chris .... your comments on the station typically range from "spot on" to terribly bigoted and like a train wreck, I seem to keep wandering back to see your latest observation. Agree with some of your comments but I do not understand the smarmy attack against Bob Hennelly and his labor ties. True, it is not really working but initially labor/working man issues seemed like it would have a home at a Pacifica station. As we now know, the labor-WBAI pact has sort of wandered into a blurry patch. I don't know if the unions are happy but I daresay with $2000 on average from MLK day and yesterday, the station is grateful but disappointed. As you know, the February pledge drive is very crucial in the fight against the PSOA. I started out rooting for Bob Hennelly and I appreciate his efforts at overhauling the oddly disjointed, cheesy pledge drives -- BUT --- feel that as innovative as this all is (did you listen to Kimberly Massengal's Adipose Show) it was a bit premature and maybe even foolhardy when the count is 3/2. BAI has not laid the ground work for the audience staff and hosts are pitching to and hence as we read in your blog (and I have learned from folks at the station) after four days we may be close to 10K. To those who are new like myself, note that the station makes nearly twice that in ONE day in a normal pledge. Chris you cringe at the spectre of Pacifica/Summer rolling out Gary Null, Christine Blosedale and the plethora of premiums to save this drive. However you can't deny that a tasteful mix of programming and premiums with solid producing would go a long way to bring in the kind of money needed to stave off a lease management agreement. I would certainly support that.

    1. Hennelly's labor ties do not bother me, it's his use of them that I find very wrong and damaging to WBAI.

      Almost from the start, he gave the station a union label, creating various meaningless slogans and strenuously bringing the subject of labor into the chatter whenever he could. I had already pegged him as having an agenda with all of this when he began paying visits to various labor officials in New Jersey (he is from there) and raising generous sums of money from them.

      Bear in mind that WBAI has been around for decades without the unions paying much attention to it, except when it came to demanding money when members (performers) volunteered to appear gratis. They were downright nasty back in my day when they sought to kill a major tribute to Lorraine Hansberry, and it was only when we took the case to the media that they partially gave in and allowed WBAI listeners to hear the program. Hennelly does not mention that and he is quick to dismiss callers who question the alleged "family" relationship he claims to exist.

      When I "attack" Hennelly, as you point out, it is because I see another opportunist pushing his way into the station and attempting to change its course to an even wronger direction. I feel the same way when I see vacuous "radicals"
      try to turn the station into a narrow "community" (i,e, street corner black) outlet.

      WBAI should serve the intellect, regardless of its origin or leanings—it defeats the original purpose to have it focus on just one or two groups. Consider the fact that WBAI's transmitting power and coverage is enviable while its audience has abandoned it in such numbers as to make it the NYC station with the smallest listenership.

      I am sure that Hennelly has pitched WBAI as the labor movement's answer to WWRL's format change, and his union contacts are probably quite pleased these days, but they cannot continue to underwrite/purchase this source of advertisement, so there will come a time—soon, I predict—when they realize that they have been had. This might even happen before WBAI sinks altogether, which I believe to be inevitable.

      At the rate they're going, with almost all the warts still in place, and no detectable vision among the drivers, the fight against the PSOA is a sad joke.

      Yes, I do cringe at the thought of Null, Blosdale and outrageous products coming back into play. I also see no other way for WBAI to continue past March, but the fat is that these people and products can only be a temporary measure, and they have really run their course.

      WBAI can only have a meaningful future if it is shut down for a few months, the slate is wiped clean of all that accumulated dirt, and people are hired who know what needs to be done and are not afraid of doing it.

      Were it possible to divorce Pacifica, that should be done. Of course, this is all mere fantasy on my part, but I have vivid recollections of a time when WBAI had a noble purpose and it was pursued intelligently. As it turned out, there were a couple of rotten apples in the bunch, even then, but they could have been dealt with. We are way past the point of no return right now.

  4. Spot on 100%, Chris. Here I was a few days ago, listening to FSN and Counterspin! on BAI, thinking that I will have to eat my words, both these shows originate out of DC, but Pacifica or its DC radio station did not produce either of these shows. These programs are syndicated over Pacifica and were produced by two journalistic organizations, based in DC for obvious reasons of access, which baffles me even more, since Pacifica National Board for all its crass soviet-style centralization, did nothing to develop the news department of its DC station since the 1990's, when Pacifica started exerting its control in the name of increasing its listening audience.

    I was also looking on the Internet for any information on the current falling out between Gary Null and Pacifica. It seems that they keep firing him and then bringing him back, when they need his listeners' money. Doesn't he have any pride? Doesn't he have his own Internet radio (PRN)? And he still needs Pacifica listeners? That should be an indicator of how much of a set-back it will be for Pacifica to get rid of its stations and go wholly Internet.

    Anyway, I came across a DC station affiliate discussion thread and found out that Reese has moved its DC station affiliate to the facilities owned by the Clear Channel Communications. by signing a lease deal with them. There was something wrong with the deal, because Reese later claimed that she did not know what she was signing. The DEC station listeners-supporters were opposed to Clear Channel for ideological reasons. I don't have THOSE issues, since Thom Hartmann is being syndicated by a Clear Channel subsidiary, Air America, and if Summer Reese wants to take the whole Pacifica broadcasting into the Clear Channel fold, because they can afford all the licensing fees and can broadcast more cheaply and efficiently, albeit very commercially, why wouldn't she be honest and just say as she believes? Could she and the Pacifica NB possibly stand to make any money personally, if what was left of Pacifica Content was syndicated over Clear Channel and its affiliates? My "Voice of Reason" Anonymous commenter was holding back, and is therefore disingenuous, when he told us that the DC case was about to be thrown out of Court, but failed to disclose that Clear Channel was part of the controversy.