Monday, March 24, 2014

Ian Masters interview re Pacifica travesty

We have all heard WBAI identified, repeatedly, as "community radio"—it sounds good, but it just happens not to be the truth. Of course, there are different takes as to what constitutes "community" in New York. In the early years, we at WBAI regarded as our community the entire listening population, but we never felt a need to lump them into any particular category. Community was a generic term that embraced people of widely disparate origin, belief, and taste—in our case, we liked to assume that they all had in common a hunger for intelligent, honest enlightenment, and that is what we strove to offer at 99.5.

More recently, the station has been manned by people whose horizon is not so wide, people with narrow, self-serving agendas that they push without giving any thought to what such narrowcasting will do to the excluded listenership or, indeed, WBAI itself.

Ian Masters
Whether the aim was to become the voice for organized labor, a political belief, or one particular ethnic community, the result was inevitably damaging to the station. Listeners are WBAI's sponsors, but most of them found themselves   routinely ignored, even disdained, except when their money was needed. The majority had a simple, logical solution: they gave up on the station. Intelligent management would have noticed that early on, realized that what goes out over the air is what garners support; the logical conclusion would have been that the product is flawed, and the logical solution would have been to fix it.

Instead, station management, ensconced opportunists and  narcissists decided that WBAI had become the victim of everything from Obama, Sandy and Wall Street to ignorant listeners. Their answer was not to improve the flawed product but rather to immerse the station deeper and deeper into highly questionable, often downright fraudulent, and dishonest marketing. Several weeks out of every year were devoted to hour-long infomercials that gave free advertising and income to outside hucksters and sometimes brought in enough to pay WBAI's immediate bills.

This did not bring the audience back—it reduced it further. Those who took the bait and purchased over-priced junk were more or less passers-by who had little or no interest in keeping the station alive.

What makes all this worse is the fact that it is not a local attitude, but rather one that goes all the way to the top of the Pacifica Foundation. That pacifica has become a misnomer comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the organizations fall from grace in recent years—the internal conflicts have a way of making it to the air from time to time, sometimes sending producers into obscure middle-of-the-night time slots, sometimes simply disappearing them. Over the years, there has been drama of the kind that no radio station wants on its air, police have been called in, a sledgehammer brought to a local board meeting, personal threats voiced, etc. Against such a background, desperate cronies will take to the air and talk about the "WBAI family." This one does not pray together, but it does not mind begging together.

There was a coup a few years back that got rather ugly, took the station off the air for several days, and might have resulted in its demise, but with so many of the participants focused on keeping a job no other station would give them, a semblance of unity was thrown together.

Now, as WBAI teeters on the precipice of extinction more precariously than ever, there is serious talk among battling Foundation members of either selling the station outright or swapping its highly desirable frequency for a weaker one.   This has fueled a nasty Foundation-level battle that threatens to take it all down. Whether that will be the end result, or not, the Pacifica Foundation has been forever stained.

Among the victims of all this are the real community stations—yes, they exist all over the country, and they aren't armed against each other. As a matter of fact, they have a country-wide alliance, The National Federation of Community Broadcasters, that looks after their interests. You will hear more about that in an interview Ian Master's had with NFCB's President and CEO, Sally Kane, last Wednesday. I hope you lend it an ear, and I thank one of our regulars, Brooser Bear, for bringing it to my attention.  


  1. An *excellent* interview.

    ~ 'indigopirate'

  2. This is the Ian Masters that programming geniuses - Reese and Reimers - removed from WBAI. He is the best current affairs producer in the network - actual news you can use - to the right of most at Pacifica - to the left of NPR (Hennely's slogan but apparently Hennely dumped Masters too). WBAI might have gradually rebuilt audience with the programs I brought in from California because essentially there is no talent at WBAI. Nor was there before the axing of 19 staffers. The place has been in disarray for years. When a grown up came in to do something the children threw a tantrum. Jesus this NYC - not freaking Podunk!

    1. Always good to see you here. Andrew.

      Reese and Reimers belong in broadcasting as much as I belong in the field of nuclear physics.