Pacifica in crisis: WBAI on the brink

wbaigraphicThis week, Pacifica management laid off two-thirds of the staff at KPFA’s sister station WBAI in New York. The station will no longer have a local newscast; it’s unclear whether it will have any paid programmers at all. Pacifica’s interim executive director Summer Reese broke the news over WBAI’s airwaves, reports the Pacifica Evening News (2 min audio).

WBAI has long suffered from poor management, severe deficits, and the high costs of operating in New York City, as shown in Pacifica’s latest audits (to find out how this is connected with KPFA, read the last story in this newsletter).

Former WBAI and current KPFA programmer Doug Henwood delved into WBAI’s history for the New York Observer. Radio historian Matthew Lasar gave his perspective in Radio Survivor. Other coverage included Democracy Now!, the New York Times,  the Village Voice and Fishbowl NY.

Last fall, Superstorm Sandy flooded WBAI’s studios. KPFA’s staff spearheaded a network-wide emergency day of fundraising for the station — clocking over $185,000 in one day — enough to help WBAI move to temporary studios, but not to pull it out of its downward spiral. WBAI slipped further behind on the $50,000-per-month rent payments for its transmitter site on the Empire State Building, and in May began missing payrolls for its workers.

KPFA’s “on leave” interim manager transferred to WBAI 

wbai

Reese has transferred KPFA’s interim general manager Andrew Phillips to WBAI as its new program director, and both spoke for 2 hours on WBAI’s airwaves last Friday, saying the majority of WBAI’s daytime lineup would be replaced by pre-recorded programs. Reese said WBAI was one of four financial units within Pacifica that don’t have the money on hand to make their next payroll. Over the past year, Pacifica has borrowed money from KPFA several times to pay expenses elsewhere in the network.

Appointing Phillips to program WBAI is a turnabout for Reese. In April, she placed Phillips on leave over the objections of KPFA’s local board and staff, pending the outcome of an investigation into unspecified allegations. His new position seems to indicate that either Phillips has been vindicated, or Reese never cared about the allegations in the first place — she just wanted him out of KPFA.

In a revealing interview after Reese removed him, Phillips indicated KPFA should return a Morning Show-like two-hour program — that’s something that would not go over well with Reese’s supporters on Pacifica’s board, like Tracy Rosenberg, the architect the of decision to cut the Morning Show in the first place.

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