|L to R: Linda Perry, Sally O'Brien, Proffitt, Fran Luck, |
Janet Coleman, Shawn Rhodes at 388 Atlantic.
Friday, July 17, 2015
And so it goes.... sad to say.
These days, if they have heard of it at all, very few people give any thought to WBAI, but, in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, it came as close to being a cultural salon as any extrasolar gathering could. In a broadcast communications wasteland where Madison Avenue and D.C. lobbyists called the shots, WBAI and its two West Coast sister stations offered an intelligent, unfettered alternative, an outlet for vision, substance, and a focused backward glance. This concept was new to America's fast-growing electronic media and it could only be realized with independent support: listener sponsorship.
It was an extraordinary experiment that got off to a slow start, but worked as it began to attract some of the 20th century's most creative and visionary individuals. Pacifica stations were oases where the accomplished and aspiring sought intellectual sustenance.
Sad to say, the stations also eventually began to attract people of less noble needs—opportunists who saw in Pacifica's open microphones a chance to pursue personal interests. The metamorphosis was slow and almost seamless, but it spread beyond on-air narcissists and exploiters to local management and, indeed, the National Board itself. You will get an idea of how far the abuse went when you read the observations by "Indigopirate" that follow this piece.
If you are reading this, you probably have some familiarity with today's Pacifica and, perhaps specifically, WBAI, a station to which I came as a volunteer in 1961 and left as General Manager in 1967. It is a very different station today—not only in terms of reflecting a changed culture, which was to be expected, but, regrettably, in terms of intellectual level, broadcast quality and attitude—all of which have been lowered. A few producers are still in place, but their programs have become aberrations.
For the past five years, WBAI's General Manager has been Berthold Reimers, a man who has shown neither intelligent judgement nor devotion to duty. In fact, he has barely shown himself during all this time, a period in which the station's financial and intellectual status has maintained a steady decline. This has not gone unnoticed by the listenership, which today is at an all-time low. WBAI's programming is stagnant, locked into a racist black ghetto mentality groove of limited appeal that no longer is a viable source of revenue. The solution, as management sees it, lies not in improved programming and a return to broader focus, but in extended, often fraud-based fundraising that has taken on the form of hour-long infomercials of which a handful is repeated ad nauseum.
To some of us, whose only vested interest in Pacifica is to see it and its stations restored to their former significance—the recent hiring of John Proffitt as Executive Director brought hope.
Here was a man with broadcast management experience, a man whose history with the Foundation was an association with KPFT, the least misdirected Pacifica-owned station. We did not hear him speak at great length, but what little he had an opportunity to say publicly made sense and gave the impression that he was as appalled by the Board and station-level incompetence as one might expect a professional administrator to be.
Admittedly, some of us found it odd to see a person of Proffitt's experience and apparent levelheadedness accept a mission impossible, but maybe he knew something we didn't, so why not wait and see. It was already rumored that he would fire Berthold Reimers on this trip to the East, so that would open the door to recovery—albeit ajar.
Proffitt came to town Wednesday and immediately attracted opportunists like Frank Lefever (the man has no shame), who characteristically intruded himself as Reimers conducted an ass kissing tour of the Atlantic Avenue premises and arranged a meeting with a select group of the station's producers. With a lump of sugar in their midst, the flies wasted no time.
We are hearing desperation that could have been avoided under proper management. From what we heard at this week's Pacifica Finance Committee meeting, thousands of dollars are unaccounted for and important questions regarding Reimers' activities are begging for answers, so we could still see that long overdue pink slip handed to a do-nothing GM. —Chris A.
The following comment was submitted by the astute observer known as 'Indigopirate', who is no stranger to WBAI and its past.
The truism is that a fish rots from the head. I’m not personally knowledgeable as to the internal dynamics of the Pacifica National Board and its internal politics at the time of the mid-1970’s, but I am personally familiar with their putting in place a WBAI Local Board dominated by Percy Sutton cronies in the late 1970’s who had a very personal agenda of pushing a ‘minority’ ‘community’ line to transform WBAI into a part of their Inner City Broadcasting empire. These were politically connected folks, and at that point in their lives and careers they were cashing in, in a very big way. White liberal guilt-tripping along Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers lines and anti-semitic accusations were significant if not indeed the principal elements involved in that process.
The first fruits of that effort were Anna Kosof as station manager and Pablo ‘Yoruba’ Guzman as program director, and the move to reformat the station as a Salsa station as part of Inner City Broadcasting. The ensuing staff rebellion and occupation of ‘The Church’ at 359 East 62nd Street temporarily derailed the PNB sanctioned and Local Board directed attempt to redefine the Pacifica and WBAI missions as ‘progressive’ ‘community’ political advocacy primarily along ‘minority’/‘community’ lines in place of the original ideals which had led to the station’s and the network’s rise to cultural significance and indeed for a time some prominence.
When that first effort failed the subsequent effort saw Guzman move on, then Kosof in turn, and the rise of the self-proclaimed revolutionary Samori Marksman. This second effort proved enduring, as the overwhelming majority of the remaining talented staff had either previously seen or now saw there was no interest in the sort of radio that had led WBAI and Pacifica to cultural prominence, and that its replacement, thinly veiled leftist political advocacy and conformity, with all other remaining programming tolerated only at the margins only as what the program director referred to as ‘bourgeois nonsense’ intended to draw contributions from the dwindling remains of the previous WBAI audience (and who were frequently privately stereotyped and characterized by Marksman in explicitly antisemitic dismissive terms of contempt).
The rot, then, historically, began at the head, and continued, and continues still.
The remarkable thing is that the slow disintegration of the fish has been such a slow process. I suppose that’s a simple reflection of having had a signal which reaches a metropolitan area of 20,000,000 or so population. In that sense it isn’t remarkable at all.
How could one not, with such an enormous potential audience, not find enough to sustain oneself?