Thursday, July 25, 2013

WBAI in Crisis

By Reginald Johnson

Progressive radio station WBAI in New York is in dire financial straits, and sweeping layoffs are planned.

A majority of the 28-member staff at the station have received layoff notices from the Pacifica Foundation, which owns WBAI and four other listener-supported, non-commercial outlets around the country. Layoffs were supposed to go through July 15, but were delayed until Wednesday, July 31.

Details on what program cutbacks would take place as a result of the layoffs and what the future holds for WBAI is unclear as neither Pacifica officials, station management, Local Station Board members or the union representing staff, could be reached for comment.

WBAI has been struggling in recent years with high rental costs and major damage to the station from Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, fundraising drives have fallen short of their goal.

At certain times this year staff has gone without pay and the station came close to losing its 50,000 watt antenna on the Empire State Building due to unpaid rent.

An article in, a website about public media news on July 1 quoted Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese as saying that the station’s difficulties in meeting payroll go back years. Pacifica’s national office has been subsidizing WBAI to cover its shortfalls.

“We have stripped every resource available (at the national office) rather than deal with the situation,” Reese was quoted as saying.

The cuts to WBAI’s staff would save $900,000, the article indicated.

Reese also said the station’s programming would have to be evaluated. “We wouldn’t be in this state if the programming were reaching a wider audience,” she said.

That comment is in line with many critics who claim that programming at WBAI is not diverse or dynamic enough to attract a larger audience. Presently WBAI has 15,000 paid subscribers, a number that many feel should be much higher given the power of the station’s signal and the population of the New York City area.

Berthold Reimers, general manager of WBAI indicated in a July newsletter to listeners that the station’s financial woes mean a downsizing of operations.

“WBAI as it exists right now will not be preserved because it cannot survive under the current financial model. However, WBAI will continue to exist as a local NY metropolitan area radio station,” he said.

WBAI - 99.5 FM has been one of the most important progressive media outlets in the country for over 50 years. The Pacifica Radio Network’s flagship show, “Democracy Now,” began at WBAI. Other shows on the station, many of which are picked up by other stations are “Law and Disorder,” “The Gary Null Show,” “Where We Live,” “Economic Update,” and the “Radio Unnameable,” with Bob Fass.

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