Monday, June 1, 2015
Final resting place?
Viewed from across the street, the 3-story building on the right is 388 Atlantic Avenue, WBAI's most recent temporary location. They will tell you that this is the station's new permanent home, but when was the last time you believed anything they said? The stay at CCNY's WHCR was, they told us, to last one or two months. The honeymoon didn't last long and the eviction order came a couple of years later, as rent bills piled up in Berthold Reimers' circular file. All this time, the rest of WBAI was at the Atlantic Avenue address and here, too, the rent was in serious arrears, so the neighborhood talk now has it that WBAI has come to Brooklyn to die.
This is in many ways a convenient stop on the once proud station's nomadic death march—Just three doors down, non-Nullified herbs can be had at reasonable prices, and Reimers is rumored to be ready for enrollment at The Mathnasium, which is but two doors away and where math is taught at his level.
Of course, the big attraction these days is the much talked about new studio. Three years in the planning, this unique audio closet can accommodate a host and two guests if you remove the card table and some of the empty premium shipping boxes. They have just thrown in a clock and a turntable, which gives it a nice radio feel; a pair of working headphones has been promised, as well as a cough button. Insiders tell us that Chief Operations Manager Tony Ryan is seeking a patent on his innovative silent construction method, a noise muffler that avoids having to coordinate the hammering and sawing with the broadcast signal's natural drop-outs. "It was a waiting game," mused Theodiphus Geldwasser (not his real name), an octogenarian volunteer whose job it was to count the minutes between dropouts and give the signal to proceed. "I lost that assignment," he added, "but I'm grateful to Shaneekah for coming up with the wig idea." Mr. Geldwasser (they call him "Double Helix") has been donating his services to WBAI since 1970. "Oh boy," he says, "this was some station—we didn't even have to bring our own toilet paper."
It was another volunteer, Shaneeka Mgudu (not her real name), who actually "invented" the Ryan muffler, and it happened by pure accident when extraneous noises made listening to a John Henrik Clarke fantasy difficult. Her simple solution: wrap three vintage afro wigs around the head of Ryan's sledgehammer.
As it stumbles toward the end of its long, twisted road, word has it that WBAI is quietly under investigation by higher powers. That is "the new Jim Crow," according to Michael Haskins, a consummate unprofessional who reigns over "Drive-Time in Dakar" (aka the Morning Show) and makes sure that it maintains its ebbing intellectual level. Nobody takes responsibility for having created a black radio station bereft of significance, but soiled fingers are pointed in every direction as the trampling sound of exiting supporters rumbles off into the distance. Meanwhile, the latest bandwagon to beckon the Mumianistas is revving up to head down Reparations Road and the "new uncle toms" are hopping on it like Addis Ababa commuters.
If anyone deserves reparations, it is probably the handful of good, honest host/producers who continued their good work despite the odds, and the listener supporter who paid undeserved salaries and kept WBAI on the air while an opportunistic management and his cling-ons steadily took it into the gutter.
Like everything else at WBAI, nobody makes a sensible move until it's too late—if at all.