It was exactly fifty years ago that we worked on the realization of what I still regard as my most important contribution as manager: upgrading WBAI's power and coverage. It made a huge difference by improving the quality of our signal and increasing our coverage. Now we were easily received by people who lived out of range or in places that required a roof antenna for reception of our signal. At 99.5 they found a radio station that did not underestimate their intelligence, a spot in the middle of the FM dial that was refreshingly different from anything they could find to its left or right.
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Sadly, that no longer holds true—not because the monthly rent and hookup fee have gone up considerably, but because the station no longer offers a radio experience that merits the wide coverage. WBAI has gone from being a source of extraordinary artistic and academic expression for all seeking intellectual nourishment to a stagnant voice for one small segment of New York's population.
Programs aimed at educating the young and enlightening their elders have over the years been replaced by deliberate disinformation, bland music, a racist agenda, and sub-par, meaningless drivel. When funds are solicited, the original Pacifica objective is touted but at all other times it is contravened. With very few exceptions, WBAI's air time is wasted on doctrinaire reshaping of African-American history, vanity blather and hour-long infomercials offering bogus medical "cures" and poorly produced, one-sided "documentaries." The listener response has, in the main, been abandonment, which brings me back to the transmitter and its greatly diminished usefulness.
$55,000 a month is a high price to pay for transmission when hardly anyone is listening. That being the case, it would seem logical if efforts were made to bring the product (WBAI's on-air offerings) back to a level and substance that attracts financial contributions. Why should anyone pay a red cent to hear hateful disinformation, audio selfies, or shoddy presentations of inferior music?
The ESB came close to pulling the plug on WBAI's transmitter, but ended up agreeing to a lower monthly payment. This was hyped by Station Manager Berthold Reimers as an accomplishment, but he failed to tell the listeners that only the monthly payment had been lowered, not the actual rent. In other words, the debt grows every month, to a point where is is now reaching a million dollars. Reimers is the head-in-the-sand ostrich, but the day of reckoning is nigh. Fixing the obvious damage (bad programming, worse management) might have prolonged the life of WBAI, but no such thing was done. Yes, there ere some program changes, but almost all were for the worse. This is a tangle of abuse and neglect that can no longer be unravelled, and if you wonder why the Pacifica National Board has not stepped in, just look at the mess those bozos have created.
I deserve no credit for predicting that 2016 will be WBAI's last year. It has long teetered on the brink of obliteration. The dregs of the PNB are doing some shady maneuvers to sell it, the listeners are gone, the spirit ignited by Pacifica founder Lew Hill in 1949 dissipated decades ago.
So, the next time you hear someone blame the perilous state of WBAI on the economy, technical advances, or a storm called Sandy, just say "Arf," cause it ain't so.
How ironic that the very upgrade that helped WBAI blossom in the Sixties has been made the bane of its existence in the teens of the following millennium. We once were the little station that could... the mouse that roared... once, a long, long time ago.