WBAI tower gets eviction notice, FSRN on the brink

Unfortunately, the situation elsewhere in the 5-station Pacifica network isn’t so bright. Days before the Pacifica National Board convened in New York City on February 22, news broke that sister station WBAI’s transmitting tower was about to be evicted from its roost on the Empire State Building, which allows the station to reach up to 75 miles in all directions, into four states.

Rent for the tower was $200,000 in arrears, and the landlord had begun eviction proceedings. In an emergency appeal, WBAI extended its winter fund drive by four weeks, while Pacifica set up a special transmitter fund. Those moves allowed WBAI to pay three months’ back rent, but $110,000 more will be due April 1. WBAI had been knocked off the air when Superstorm Sandy hit last October, but it got a reprieve after KPFA and the other stations raised over $180,000 for WBAI on a single day in November. WBAI has been racking up serious deficits for years, a casualty of high fixed costs and mismanagement at both the national and local levels.

More bad news hit the network on March 4, as Free Speech Radio News (FSRN) issued layoff notices to its entire staff, saying it would go off the air by March 15 if emergency fundraising efforts failed. FSRN is a worker-run newscast broadcast daily on Pacifica stations. Although it’s an independent nonprofit, the majority of its funding comes from Pacifica. To pay FSRN, Pacifica witholds a portion of its stations’ Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants — but lately, Pacifica has been missing payments, forcing FSRN to the brink.

At the March 9 meeting of KPFA’s Local Station Board (audio here: part 1 | part 2 | part 3) interim general manager Andrew Phillips announced that KPFA had advanced FSRN $35,000, which KPFA will deduct from its future payments to Pacifica. Thanks to that, plus grassroots support from hundreds of small donors, FSRN has raised enough to stay on the air while it looks for a permanent solution. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! has issued an urgent call to support FSRN. You can help by donating to this valuable news service.

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