Friday, August 30, 2013

The premium problem: tip of the iceberg

The plea for help that a listener posted on WBAI's FaceBook page brought attention back to the highly controversial fundraising approach, specifically the premium offers that increasingly sound like infomercials and—only recently—have begun airing repeatedly in pre-recorded form. There are those who feel that WBAI is, in fact, selling merchandise to its listeners. 

Compounding the sin is the callous way in which it is done, with claims that completely disregard the truth and prices that are multiples of those asked for the same products elsewhere on the web. Furthermore, some claims are exaggerated beyond reason, presented by the manufacturers themselves, and often never delivered to the buyer whose money has been collected. 

For a long time, insiders at WBAI, eager to keep their shows on the air and—in some cases—collect a paycheck, have ignored complaints, often passing them off as excusable oversight. Berthold Reimers was hired for the General Manager's position three years ago and given the mandate to straighten out the station's jumbled finances. He had no radio experience, but his resumĂ©'s focus was on accounting skills and experience in the health insurance business.

According to Frank LeFevre, Jim Dingeman, and others who profess to have Reimer's confidence, the new GM spent his first year at the station deeply immersed in sorting out the premium clutter. It was said that he almost straightened it out, but that was clearly not the case. The truth was that some of the advertised and paid-for products were not even in the station's possession, often because the station had not paid the vendor.

While Reimers was allegedly buried in the premium room, his staff—the people he was hired to manage—was engaged in free-form radio. No, not the kind Bob Fass so remarkably established, the kind that unbridled opportunists engage in when left to their own devices. Programs suffered mission creep or simply died on the air, hosts found new ways in which to promote their own products, events or interests, Pacifica principles were ignored or abused, and a faction with a fixation did its best to give the designation, "community,"a narrow ethnic definition.

The station's intellectual level and morals had already been lowered considerably before they pulled Reimers in, but it stayed on tits downhill path and, some felt, at an accelerated pace. None of this escaped the attention of WBAI's audience, which underwent a predictable dumbing down as it dwindled to an all-time low number.

Calls for Reimers' dismissal came mostly from the outside, and were routinely ignored. He, himself had almost been invisible for three years, his phone calls and mail unanswered as other dilettantes took the wheel—most notably, Kathryn Davis, a woman who felt vibes and seemed to take directions from homeless angels and extinct tribesmen. In the midst of all this, Pacifica conjured up Tony Bates, an obnoxious individual who was hired to try something he had never before done: working as Program Director. A very bad schedule became worse, the marathon pitches became more outrageous and unacceptable, both legally and morally, and there was at least one incident of sexual harassment. Mr. Bates would probably still be stirring up problems at the station were it not for some 100 insiders who signed a petition to have him dismissed. Reimers and his cronies did not like that at all, but the choice was no longer theirs.

There's much more. WBAI underwent a geographical split, it turned out that vital bills had been allowed to pile up, fundraising went into full gear, but there were few people out there to listen, and fewer still when encore marathons ran on and on and a snake oil saleslady was imported from KPFK.

Oddly enough, the only relief came in the form of layoffs. Some of the station's most odious hosts had been collecting sizable paycheck, so they had to go and the silence that resulted therefrom was golden.

Sad to say, good people were also let go, including the entire news department, which had been a small beacon of light. Next, as the water reached chin level, the interim Executive Director, Summer Reese, hired a former WBAI PD (and KPFA GM), Andrew Phillips, to take over. No, they did not replace Berthold Reimers, which circumstances loudly called for, but Mr. Phillips has at least been allowed to affect some changes in the schedule, and he continues to work tirelessly on that. There is also a new location, in Brooklyn, but it is still make-shift and, they say, being turned into a broadcasting facility. We shall see—WBAI's chief engineer did not, as we say where I came from, invent hot water. The audio is probably the worst it has ever been,

Personally, I have given up hope of again hearing an intelligent station at 99.5 on the dial. Mr. Phillips is working against the odds, one of which is Berthold Reimers. The bills are piling up, there is still no sign of leadership, and one does not win back an audience overnight.

Getting back to the plea posted by Ms. Bathe (reproduced below), it has triggered a call for an investigation by the authorities, That may or may not happen, but you might be interested in reading the following post from a self-named "insider" that appeared on the infamous BlueBoard earlier today.

We can only hope that WBAI has not become so insignificant in the eyes of regulatory officials that they will look the other way.  Chris Albertson 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A voice from WBAI's past is stilled

I imagine that few here will associate Marian McPartland with WBAI, but this is where she started what became a long and illustrious radio career. She was already known throughout the world as an extraordinary pianist, but radio gave her talent a new dimension. When I suggested to her that she do a weekly show, Marian replied, "I don't think I would be very good at it."

Marian passed away in her sleep just before midnight last night—at her home in Port Washington, Long Island. She was, I am told, surrounded by people with whom she shared love.

I don't know if any of Marian's WBAI tapes have survived, but she left a wealth of recordings, and even some of her later radio shows (NPR) were released on CDs. I hope someone at WBAI produces a fitting tribute to yet another significant voice from its early years. 

There's a meetin' here tonight...

They had another LSB meeting—no fights broke out, nobody made the Hitler salute, and we understand that there even were moments of creeping consensus. 

But nobody's talking...

Well, except the NY Times.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A second look at Andrew Phillips

While I haven't completely given up hope that Andrew Phillips can perform a u-turn from his new driver's seat, I have to say that the prospect for recovery dims each time I hear him speak on the air. Wednesday morning, he was on with Ifé, who actually performed quite well. I have always regarded her as having a talent for broadcasting, I just don't think her strictly commercial hip hop trips ought to be taken at 99.5, and her Jet-cum-Reader's Digest "inspirational" quotes are decidedly for the simple minded.

Apropos undemanding listeners, I was startled and dismayed to hear Phillips defend WBAI's numerology program this morning. A listener called with four valid programming complaints. which the interim PD should have welcomed, but didn't. In fact, he immediately went into a defensive mode, especially when the caller likened Z. Starman to a ball-gazing fortune teller and said the best thing about his show is that it's on when hardly anybody is listening. Now I know why Starman said he had a feeling that only his time slot would change—Phillips seemed to suggest that the popularity of astrology was sufficient reason to schedule such a program. I wonder if he knows that the host tales his scam beyond the studio by inviting private "consultation." 

That same caller also pointed out that many WBAI programs drift off the intended subject, citing "Equal Time for Freethought" as an example. It was meant to give voice to the Atheist/agnostic point of view, but has become a rudderless trek into whatever comes to the host's mind. Knight was guilty of that with his "Earthwatch," which became focused on whatever ambulance he chased that week, usually online. I think Phillips demonstrated how blurred his vision of a healed WBAI really is. I used to think the housecleaning that last week rid the station of Armah, Knight, Davis and Hamilton was not entirely a money-saving move, but I am now afraid that I overestimated Andrew Phillips' good judgement. I now see that some of his "reasoned" changes were, in fact, done by default.

I should have known better. I should have seen that gigantic red flag he and Summer Reese hoisted when Berthold Reimers was allowed to keep a job that he has so thoroughly botched for the past three years. More flags went up this morning when he allowed Michael Haskins to take over the hour and inject his racist notion of "community." 

WBAI needs management with brain and spine intact.  I don't think it has found that in Andrew Phillips, but I would love to be proven wrong. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Dear Andrew Phillips...

Below, you will find a letter written to Louis Bedrock, a long-time faithful listener-supporter who—like countless others—finally had enough. Now, like some of us, he sees the new Interim Program Director, Andrew Phillips, make a serious attempt to bring the station back to its feet.

We have had three years of Berhold Reimers, arguably the worst GM WBAI was ever saddled with by Pacifica. That is saying something, considering the long line of hopelessly inept, self-serving amateurss who have held that position. Reimers has not only been useless, he has advanced the decay he allegedly came to reverse, and he remained all but invisible as the station fell apart, outrageously high bills piled up, listeners continued to drop out, and staff morale came to an all-time low.

Now, it has at long last dawned upon Pacifica that WBAI is not self-healing, so they have brought in an alumnus who served as WBAI's PD many years ago and was just recently put on "administrative leave" at KPFA, where he was GM. Mr. Phillips has only had a few days in his new position, but we can already hear significant changes, such as the elimination of Hugh Hamilton, Robert Knight and Esther Armah—three audio scarecrows. Ostensibly let go in order to reduce payroll costs, the savings are but a minor reason to celebrate.

Louis Bedrock has ceased to help pay for WBAI's stagnant programs and a clueless GM's salary (reputedly $100,000 annually), but he has heard enough improvement in the past two days to give Mr. Phillips the benefit of a doubt as he faces the daunting task of turning this sow's ear into a purse, and pass it around for collection.

I have his permission to publish here the letter he sent to Andrew Phillips and I encouage other concerned people to follow his example. Tell him what you like or dislike, and submit your  own suggestions. Berthold Reimers approved of the station pitching fraudulent products to the listener, but when any of us made an effort to communicate with him or the station, he routinely ignored us—Mr. Phillips, on the other hand, encourages contact.

You can reach him at WBAI-FM, 388 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217 or via e-mail at

Sunday, August 11, 2013

When WBAI mattered...

WBAI is on the precipice of oblivion and there is barely a mention of it in the mainstream media. It wasn't always so—not only was the media interested, it was also known to help us make it. The clippings you see below show how attitudes towards the station have changed. Abusers, misfits and opportunists made WBAI run out of esteem. 
Click on the image to make it readable.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Attracting the wrong kind of attention

WBAI is finally getting the publicity it wanted, but it's not the right kind. Check out this article from Politics in the Zeros.

I also recommend to you Indigo Pirate's comment on the Reese Report.

Random thoughts:The Summer report

The big news is that Pacifica IED, Summer Reese, gave a live Report to the Listener this Friday afternoon, and she had at least one surprise announcement: There is a new Program Director and it is Andrew W. Phillips, who held the same position a few years back. He was with her in the studio and rather than go into details regarding the program, I will attach at the end a piece posted elsewhere by Matthew Lasar. It will give you the gist. I will mention the good news that some of the overpaid dross has been dropped—including Robert Knight, Hugh Hamilton, and Esther Armah. The bad and inexplicable news is that Berthold Reimers was not fired, but the WBAI News Team is no more. The official reason given for these changes is  a drastic budget cut, but I think programming judgement is a big part of it, too. Making that judgement henceforth will be left to Andrew Phillips, if the invisible GM doesn't interfere.

The Report got off to a dramatic start with tears from Ms. Reese. Some posters on the BlueBoard doubted that they were genuine, but I think they were. My impression of Summer Reese changed somewhat as the program progressed and she got into discussing the Pacifica rules and board structure, which are hopelessly awkward and require expensive elections while never producing positive results. Then, too, Pacifica has a history of being sued by the opportunists it attracts—they have been settling out of court, and the price has been high.

A BlueBoard poster felt that some members of that forum would be disappointed if the station were saved, and he is probably right, but that board attracts some rather uncaring, infantile elements. The fact is that it is also frequented by people with genuine concern. My personal feeling is that everything should be done to save it, but only if it is thoroughly cleaned up in the process. I'd actually rather see it go down than continue as a last (or only) resort for an inventory of broadcasting hacks. If Pacifica can somehow manage to pay the bills long enough for the station to grow the brain it once had, I feel it is worth a try.

Mr. Phillips sounds like he is on the right track, but I worry when he defends Berthold Reimers. I hope that's just him playing politics, for I cannot see any reason why Reimers was hired—much less why he has lasted so long. There has to be some explanation for that. They also must. must, must free WBAI of Kathy Davis, and either abolish or render powerless the LSB.

Pacifica IED Summer Reese in
studio w. Michael Haskins and
an unidentified standee. 8-9-13
Frankly, I don't see how the station can be saved; it is too deeply in debt, the bills are going to keep coming, and if the audience hasn't lost all faith in the station, it will take a long time to win back its trust. 

I have a special interest in the transmitter and its location, because that change took place on my watch. I borrowed $20,000.00 for the equipment from Lou Schweitzer (interest free), and the Empire State Building paid for the move, being anxious to hook up as many stations as possible to their new universal antenna. It was a lot of money back then, but doable. The result of having increased power and height quickly paid for the extra expense.

I bring this up, because I hear people suggesting that WBAI should find a 
more affordable location for the transmitter. Yes, $50,000 is a lot of rent to pay each month, but it only sounds truly unreasonable because it is not commensurate with the station's income. This, in turn, is due to WBAI not having much to offer on the air. The solution is not to lower the power or find cheaper transmitter facilities—the solution is to create a better station, one that will attract more listeners and, ergo, more donors. This and previous managements have a way of coming up with disturbingly half-assed solutions to problems that they themselves created but cannot admit to.

I hope LSB member and Reimers apologist Frank LeFever is no longer trying to promote the station's bad programs, and that Reimers allows Phillips to do what he deems necessary. I think we learned from the Chris Hatzis experience that this miscast manager feels threatened by a PD who has the experience he himself so sorely lacks. 

Here—to give you an idea of costs 47 years ago— is the loan agreement I signed with Lou.

And here is Mathew Lasar's piece on the live broadcast:

Pacifica radio: “vast majority” of daytime WBAI paid programming to go next week

WBAIA sobbing Executive Director of the Pacifica foundation disclosed on Friday that union negotiations at Pacifica station WBAI have concluded and across-the-board layoffs are very near.

“It is with great sadness that I have to tell the WBAI listening audience that many of the voices that you have been listening to for many years will no longer be on the air as of next week,” Pacifica interim Executive Director Summer Reese announced over WBAI’s airwaves. “We will be laying off virtually everyone whose voice you recognize who is a paid programmer. This includes the vast majority of paid programming in the day time.”

It will also include the WBAI news broadcast, Reese noted, “which I know from feedback from the public is very important to the New York City audience.” Reese said that payments due to WBAI’s $50k-a-month transmitter will be used instead just to make the next payroll. “Most of your familiar hosts in the daytime whose shows you value will not even have the opportunity to say goodbye to you, for which I am deeply sorry.”

About “75 percent of the staff” will be laid off Reese reiterated. “We are only retaining those staff critically necessary to operational functions at the station.” Much of the programming WBAI listeners will hear in the coming months will be prerecorded, Reese disclosed. The station has moved all of its administration operations a new headquarters in Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue, “and we are beginning to settle in there.” But the signal is still broadcasting from facilities at the City College of New York.

What I found most surprising about this impromptu press conference was that Reese announced that she has tapped into former interim KPFA general manager Andrew Leslie Phillips as WBAI’s new interim Program Director. Last we checked, the Pacifica National Office had put Phillips under “paid administrative leave” at Pacifica station KPFA pending an investigation of complaints against him.According to Phillips, the probe involved charges of racism at the Berkeley signal.

Apparently all is forgiven, or at least forgotten. Reese praised Phillips as “someone who has a deep understanding of who we are politically and culturally at WBAI in particular” in the Pacifica network. Phillips was Program Director at WBAI for nearly four years.

Phillips was in the studios as Reese made the announcement. He told WBAI listeners that he had “mixed feelings,” but “it’s a new day. We have to move forward. I don’t have to tell you why: NSA, Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, drones flying overhead, scaring the hell out of people in Pakistan and around the world . . . you all know what I’m talking about. You all know that other stations don’t carry these stories the way that Pacifica carries them.”

“There will be a lot of changes this coming Monday,” Phillips added. “They won’t be seamless,” but “you will hear a lot of new voices [on WBAI]. Many of them will be Pacifica voices from other stations.”

The rest of the announcement focused on Pacifica’s financial troubles. “I currently have four out of seven units which do not have payroll for next week,” Reese disclosed. “I’m looking to find $100,000 by Monday . . . that is where we are at.”

“Pacifica,” she added, “is at a critical juncture in its history as to whether each individual station survives and whether the network as a whole continues to exist, at all.”

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Latest marathon pledge figures...

Here are the marathon pledge figures for July 29 - August 6. It's getting worse, as one might expect, but—as Brian pointed out on the BB—the daily goals were unrealistic to begin with. After years of doing all this, the WBAI people continue to be novices. Remarkable.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Payrolls Beyond Recall

With all the talk about the salaries Berthold Reimers and others at WBAI are/were receiving, and not earning,  the question of old payrolls came up. Here are a couple of examples.  (Click on images to enlarge them)

KPFK 1966

 WBAI 1967

Dog ate my phone...

Posted to the BlueBoard by Solomon - August 5, 2013:

This is what a staff member posted this morning in the Facebook group "Pissed Off WBAI Workers."

"So its Monday, August 5, 5 days since we might be laid off. No word from anyone about anything. Can't reach the gm - something about broken or stolen phone. Guess we should grateful the fucks keep paying us but this feels like construction work, you work today, but not tomorrow. Fuck them and their fucking in competence. The head honcho is in town, no explanation for canceling the meeting Friday, not a dicky bird, and thinks the Union is just there for her schedule, ass, so unknown about the follow up meeting. All of this is just goddamn abusive to staff, and the head honcho wants to keep that dick wad gm still on - that makes her look insane. All politicians eventually have to make a choice between their careers and their strange friends. Her time is coming. But will there even be a station left by then?"

I, Solomon, am disgusted by Berthold's ploy of pretending to have lost his phone for a week or more. That wouldn't be believable from a 13-year-old, much less a grown-ass man who supposedly manages a multi-million-dollar nonprofit and is in the midst of a major management crisis that requires significant communication. If he's going to take the low road (as he obviously is), at least man up and own it. Just say, "sorry, I have decided to institute a communications blackout. Good luck with that whole layoff thing." Don't insult people by pretending your decisions are attributable to fate or bad luck or some bullshit. Unbelievable.

I just hope that his behavior is documented online so that when he is fired (as he will inevitably be), the first thing future potential employers will find in a Google search will be candid descriptions of his management performance.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Dumb it down, power it down...

Please click on text below to enlarge it.

It makes sense—after all the abuse WBAI has suffered over the years, including serious brain damage, what else can they do. Of course, they are just as dumb and inept as they were before, so they will probably not make any changes. To destroy the new, low-powered WBAI, all they have to do is keep Reimers aboard, as Sidney suggests they might do. He will keep the schedule intact, Frank LeFever will keep promoting the mediocrity, and the bad WBAI should be good for another decade, or so. They will have everything back, except the audience.

It will be interesting to see what their next blunders are.

The way these blogs and forums are designed, posts tend to move down and out of sight in very short order, so please allow me to give you a direct link to an exchange of comments that is taking place further down. I hope you will add your own comments, as well.