Thursday night, a "Special" telephonic meeting of the PNB was held to address the precarious situation WBAI is in. It is no secret that an overwhelming majority of its listeners have left, discouraged by a laundry list of legitimate complaints that includes violations of virtually all principles upon which Pacifica Radio was founded almost seven decades ago. Program content has long since ceased to meet artistic and ethical standards established during the Foundation's early years—virtues that offered a distinct and welcomed departure from American broadcasting norms—and an open microphone approach that encouraged opinions and creative expression from sources not likely to meet with approval in a field of communication dominated by commercial and government interests.
While nobody can pinpoint with absolute certainty what steered Pacifica off its noble path, theories abound, but one fact is indisputable: the utopian vision conjured up by Mr. Hill and his fellow pacifists has gradually been extinguished, having now reached an inevitable flickering finale.
Arguably, there is reason to place much of the blame on the adoption of Robert's Rules, a system of governance that Pacifica saw as a democratic path to true community radio. Ironically, it has had the opposite effect, excluding all but a chosen few from microphone access while opening wide the door to an invasion of opportunists. For the sake of appearance, this group of self-serving misfits "tolerates" the continued on-air presence of host/producers who adhere to the original Pacifica "mission", but—to take WBAI as an example—as corruption spread to the Foundation level, local management has been emboldened to stray further afield.
As mentioned, WBAI's listener-supporters have gradually but steadily tuned out as failed management lowered the intellectual and quality levels of the station's offerings and—rather than evaluate and correct the problem—turned an escalating number of days over to on-air fundraising.
Such fundraising was not new to WBAI. As the station's Manager, I had initiated it in 1964, when my predecessor left us in urgent need of $25,000. We knew that our programs and unconventional concept provided the incentive for listeners to pay a $12.50 annual membership fee, so we simply laid it on the line: donate what you can and we will return to our regular program schedule the minute pledges reach the needed amount. The phones started ringing, the tally grew fast, and we were back to normal, painlessly and honestly.
As any regular WBAI listener knows, the fundraising marathon became regular practice and increasingly fraudulent. Adding insult to injury, pledged money was expeditiously deducted from credit cards, but—going back several years—thousands of listener-supporters never received their "thank you gifts." Today, the backlog is staggering and the station does not respond to inquiries as manager Berthold Reimers concentrates on launching yet another lengthy fund drive, starting in a week. What did last month's drive bring in? Nobody knows for sure, but it is a figure dwarfed by the goal. There is every reason to believe that this October drive will run into November and fail to an even greater extent.
With that almost certain, bills continuing to pile up, further dwindling of the listenership, and an increasingly narrow focus on a small segment of the NYC area population, Berthold Reimers gave a report to the PNB last Thursday that makes one wonder if delusion has turned to dementia.
Here, extracted from the close to three-hour meeting is how Reimers sees the future for WBAI. He is not worried about the enormous, growing amount owed the Empire State Building, but he does not want the public (make that, paying public) to know why he does not see it as a problem.
A major area of contention is WBAI's future and the possibility of seeking an LMA (Local Marketing Agreement) partner. There have been a couple of interested parties in recent years, but this is not a popular option, because it essentially hands programming over to the other group and—although meant as a temporary solution to get the station back on it feet—it can also be a first step towards an outright sale. There are people within Pacifica who would like to sell WBAI and make one or both of the California stations solvent.
The reality is that an LMA deal is likely to create serious new problems. It seems clear to me that years of gross incompetence, greed and self-interest has damaged Lew Hill's organization beyond repair. The idealism and spirit that once fueled the organization is long gone, leaving pathetic remnants that bear only slight and occasional resemblance to the original concept of alternative radio.
To listen to Reimers' rambling, incoherent and decidedly disingenuous "prediction" in the above excerpt prepares us for that fast-approaching time when one of the frequent moments of dead air at 99.5 turns out to be permanent.
Our good friend and contributor, 'indigopirate', patiently and, I surmise, painfully listened to it all. Here is his insightful comment:
A couple of thoughts and impressions re this most recent meeting: