Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sow's ear and pearl on a Sunday morning . . .


The difference in quality and content that separates the new "High Praize" program and "Through the Opera Glass" has never been more glaring than this morning.

Daulton Anderson's program—his third for WBAI—was another adulterated mixture of pseudo gospel music and the kind that makes people consider heathenism. Among the non-gospel fare this morning, he threw into the mix Edward Hawkins' unfortunate version of Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" and George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord". We were led to believe that this program would take us to church, literally, and feature weekly live remotes of wonderful choirs and soloists. That, as it turned out, was but a sales pitch from Berthold Reimers, and it isn't the first time he has colored the truth to hide his own inadequacies.

"Through the Opera Glass" has been on WBAI's air for over a decade and is hosted by several people, all of whom love the music and don't have to read liner notes and internet blurbs when telling us about it. This morning, the host was Manya LaBruja and the three-hour program was truly worthy of Pacifica's air. Ms. LaBruja presented a delightful portrait of mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, based upon her interview with the singer and produced with a professional flair that has become rare at WBAI. This is the caliber of programming that the station needed to return to, and it would have made a great premium.

A stark contrast between two programs. I recommend that you visit the WBAI archive and listen for yourself. I also suggest that Mr. Anderson's program (which is also heard in a similar version on WHCR) be replaced by a real quality presentation of gospel music.   

13 comments:

  1. The station is on its desired course, considering who is at the helm of the BAI, and what their agenda is. They have convinced themselves, and Pacifica, that they can raise more money as a black radio station appealing to the black audience. It's all consistent, if you view the promised junket trips to BAI staff to South Africa and High Praize expanding its musical offerings to appeal to a wider audience. As the great John Rockefeller has once said - There is a Good reason and a Real reason, why anyone does anything.

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    1. The questions are: who desires this course, and why. I know that Berthold Reimers is trying to save his own ass and I suspect that many of his dumb decisions are spurred by smarter people with their own agendas, but money has to be involved somewhere along the line. Unlike Knight, I don't think Reimers suffers an inflated ego. Does he want the station turned blacker? Absolutely, but I think that desire is driven more by the immediate, unending need for money. He obviously thinks that black = green. Notice how he constantly embroiders tally totals and refuses to face fiscal reality.

      Then we have the DCOC (Dingeman/Cohen Optimist's Club). They will eventually have to wake up and face the music. This could easily lead to some nasty finger-pointing and name-calling, but that is de rigueur at Pacifica. I
      wonder what these players will do when the ship actually goes down. I don't think any of them will go quietly into the woods for contemplation. Haskins may get back on the bus and Kathy Davis may invest in a glass ball, a Tarot deck, plastic roses, incense, and a front room with a street-level window.

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  2. Tracy RosenbergSunday, April 20, 2014

    You may not like what I'm going to say here Chris, but I'm going to say it anyway. These kinds of programming quality/philosophy concerns, which are endemic all over the network, HAVE to be quantified and HAVE to be subject to some kind of criteria and some kind of decision-making forum, In other words, Pacifica cannot continue to program via arbitrary management systems nor can it continue to program by angry blog rants. Both of these are pathetic. Parts of the answer have been obvious for years: do regular program evaluation with consistent criteria, put programs on contracts for a certain time not indefinitely, engage in regular program rotation so listeners can always encounter something new and no one owns anything, and define what the goals are so programs can be measure according to something specific. And provide training and feedback and support so the system isn't a gotcha. It's a way to make the programming genuinely better.

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    1. I have no problem with the thrust of your message—in fact, I mostly agree. Where we differ is your contention that blog-based criticism (you called it "angry blog rants") is "pathetic"

      When you have management and decision-makers who deliberately ignore phone calls and e-mail, very rarely open a dialogue with the listener supporters on the air, and generally have a like it or lump it attitude, one has to resort to other means of communication.

      In my own case, I tried to make direct contact with Berthold Reimers two or three years ago. I did so at the suggestion of an LSB member who said he would make sure my advice reached the GM. That was the last I heard on that, I did not even receive an acknowledgement from a lackey.

      It just so happens that music is my field of expertise (especially the black American genre), so my criticism—although it only skimmed the surface—was brief and to the point. Do you think I should have kept quiet and not at least tried to point out what I—and others, I might add—saw as a damaging program decision? I have never shied away from commenting on WBAI's programs, whether praising or panning—why should I? Why should anyone who is genuinely concerned?

      While I don't totally agree with your comments, Tracy, I appreciate that you made them. We need more dialogue and I don't mind if it gets angry, as long as it is honest. .

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  3. @ Tracy - Subculture often imitates the practices of the mainstream, which marginalizes it. How easy is it for someone from the street to step into a job in mainstream media today? There is your answer for the arbitrary management practices at BAI and Pacifica. Putting programs on temporary contracts is an excellent idea, so why has Democracy Now been exempt from cost cutting, that got rid of the FSRN? And why is there zero mention of the post-Pacifica FSRN in the Reese faction discourse? Reimers actually has a criterion based evaluation system - based on how much money each program can make during fund-raising. It is a horrible way to develop programming for a value-driven educational radio station, but he has backing of the Pacifica, doesn't he? You have been a Pacifica treasurer a number of years ago, Reese has been a chairman of the PNB for at least two years, and Reese's predecessor has been the Executive director for a number of years since. Why hasn't anyone evaluated the Democracy Now! Contract or implemented any of these good measures in all of this time? And for that matter, why hasn't Pacifica National Board been able to alter any of the programming at the five stations over the years to increase and widen the listening audience?

    @ Chris - I think that the powers currently running the BAI are under the impression, that if BAI will turn into anything other than a black station, they will lose their control over BAI, so they are trying to expand its black listenership, to increase the funding and to remain in power.

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    1. That is a valid point, BB. If the station is somehow able to replace the sub par programming with substantive, intelligent and significant offerings, many whites will have to go, but even more blacks—the hiphop DJs, the "mystics", the agenda-driven street corner activists, etc. The other day, when a caller suggested that 50% of existing programming needed to be replaced, he was being kind, but nothing of the sort will happen as long as people like Reimers can call the shots.

      I still don't see any chance of WBAI surviving in its present hands—the sooner these people realize that they have reached a dead end, the less all this is going to cost, and I do believe that there will be a hefty price to pay, regardless of how the end comes. I hope that those responsible don't get off scot free.

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    2. Booser. If I could have gotten out of the DN contract, I would have. Whatever it's merits in 2003, it's been clear that since 2007 at least, that the contract is not beneficial to Pacifica. I suppose by not paying for the contract for much of the last 2-3 years, Pacifica has to some degree "gotten out of it", but in the informal way. FSRN is specifically an allocation of NPPAG grant money from the CPB, so when those funds were held back, they were not available for FSRN. Since essentially the NPPAG grants were a pass-through to FSRN, the decision was not discretionary. DN is not tagged to CPB funds in the same way. I did try to implement program evaluation and program contracts at KPFA. Spent 5 long years facilitating the program council at KPFA I ever stepped foot into the governance structure. Got told evaluation and contracts for programs were a violation of the union contract, a plot against the paid programmers and an ideological purge. The usual. Program directors in Pacifica don't make program changes. Program directors in Pacifica (and GM's as well), try to make program changes and then they get fired. By angry programmers who rile up the listeners and rile up the LSB's and PNB's to wreak revenge. Like it or not, that is the system you've got. And it needs improvement.

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    3. Thanks, Tracy. It makes sense, that FSRN dried up after its funding dried up. Speaking of DN, how did such a disadvantageous to Pacifica DN contract get signed in the first place? It is sad, that Pacifica and its governance structure has turned into an example of a failed experiment in anarchism, where each program's producer, paid and unpaid, gets to agitate for his or her own show, is protected by a union contract, making any programming change almost impossible. It seems that the only way that the Pacifica National Foundation could have survived, was by controlling the purse strings, which means, that the Pacifica National Board should have been securing grant money and seeking funds to finance the foundation. Why has there been so little grant writing at Pacifica? Reese talked about not having an HR manager on Pacifica staff, but what about grant writers. Why hasn't the board ever hired an NGO Public Administration type as an executive director to oversee the financing? I can see that at the local level the marketing of merchandise as "premiums" would be a logical response to the economic pressure, but why hasn't Pacifica at the national level come up with any funding initiatives to counteract the pitching of premiums?

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  4. The only way a change will happen at BAI, is that if there will be a substantial influx of money into the station, and if those with the money will outmaneuver those running BAI today. Berthold Reimers as much as said, that if you can cough up 50 thousand dollars during a fund raiser, you are worthy of a one hour show during a good time slot. You give him 400 grand, you can program the entire day. He named his price. If those with money will be able to outmaneuver him, the way settlers did the Native Americans, there will be significant change at BAI.

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    1. Making air time contingent upon one's ability to raise money goes against the principles of Lew Hill's Pacifica in a very big way. Adherence to those principles is not important to people like Reimers—they are playing a survival game and will only invoke the mission if it might bring in money. Notice that the moral high ground is only brought up during pitches—and they are empty words.

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  5. That's why I been saying all along, that BAI is really a commercial radio station, a left wing equivalent of WABC with all its right wing talk show hosts.

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  6. I could do a Gospel program, and in the past offered to do one. However I'm one of WBAI's un-persons like some other neat folks around here so that's that.

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    1. You certainly could deliver the real thing, Sidney—complete with stories. I used to go to the Apollo's Gospel Caravan and it will not surprise you that about half of the acts did their encores at The Silver Rail (later AndrĂ©'s). The showw Berthold Reimer borrowed from down the hall is a bad joke.

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