An article on WBAI?(this one you might want to print out because its pretty long?)
What follows is what I?d call a thinking-out-loud draft of the beginning of a book about WBAI and my relationship to it?going on 40 years now. Don?t expect any lawyer-like linear case to be laid out here, or even a planned piece of art. It?s just basically me getting warmed up to a very large subject?
First? Every time I hear, see, or read, some declaration by an expert or commentator? Every time I listen to a speech by a politician, or comment by a ?concerned citizen? at a public meeting, I always want to know about their background; i.e., what qualifies them to be speaking about the subject.
Now, I?m artist enough, and populist enough, not to require any particular qualifications or expertise?pure opinion often being just as valuable and useful as any expert?s opinion on many matters of policy or philosophy. But if its purely opinion I?m hearing, all I ask is that I?m aware of that fact before the ?information? starts to flow. I just want to know that the speaker/writer isn?t necessarily relying on evidence, but simply is offering their own private perception. Just truth in packaging, that?s all I want.
I guess a parallel to that wish is that, if someone has an axe to grind, or even so much as a small penknife to sharpen, that I am also made aware of that to begin with?helps me figure out how to interpret what I hear/see/read?
These days, with almost all media whipped into a blended fudge of dumbed-down sound-bytes and fake morality, it has become almost impossible to know real from unreal, fact from opinion?Just look at the recent scandal of ?journalist? Armstrong Williams, who was bought and paid for by the Bush Administration?actually given $240,000 dollars out of the US Treasury (as Frank Rich pointed out in The Times) to push Bush/Cheney programs and positions?all the while pretending to be an objective, crusading ?journalist.?
When I do my radio shows, or write essays, I am always careful to lay out exactly what I know (and, more often, don?t know) as far as actual facts? So the listener/reader can judge my comments accordingly. Its something akin (but far more honest and entertaining, I hope) to those drug commercials where a kindly, authoritative-looking man in a white coat and stethoscope says: ?I?m not a doctor, I just play one on TV?? Then you can at least begin to judge for yourself the real worth of his claims about the new wonder drug, Floxinal or Ribuplixin, (or whatever it is) before the FDA discovers?to its shock and awe?that its been killing 50,000 people a year?
So, based on the above, and as in most things that I?ve ever offered up for public consumption, you should understand that the following remarks on WBAI are based primarily on my OPINION. The things I actually claim are factual are things that I?ve either heard and seen myself or gotten from the direct testimony of people I trust to be objective and honest. More than that, I don?t claim?
In the end, the ?truth?, of what I?m saying here is up to the reader/listener). If what I say seems to ring true in your gut or in your own personal experience of WBAI, well then?
Second qualification? No matter what I have to say about the current WBAI, and it is, unfortunately, pretty dismal at this point, there are still many, many good programs on the air and a few decent, honest people who still work at the station.
WBAI still has shows that never could appear anywhere else on the radio, even on NPR or other non-commercial stations. There is still great talent, wonderful information, and, occasionally, a very good music show to be had. But these shows/hosts/personalities are dwindling fast and not generally being replaced because of the deep rot at the heart of WBAI.
(I should also add that I haven?t listened to very many of the overnight shows on WBAI for many years, so I exempt them from my general critique).
The majority of the newer programs and hosts (and I?ve heard a great many of them) that have turned up in the last several years are, generally, beneath comment. Essentially, brains and talent are not being recruited any more at WBAI?only knee-jerk political party-liners and lackeys of the management need apply?talent not a consideration. (For the sake of fairness, there are two fairly new shows that I’ve heard that feature some good programming and programmers– Rise Up Radio and J. Smooth).
Anyway, whatever I say about WBAI, there are still remnants of what made it great.
Without including all the good programs?and apologizing to those I leave out?I can still recommend programs and programmers such as Chris Whent, Shelton Walden, Sidney Smith, Michio Kaku, Asia Pacific Forum, Mario Murillo, Ibrahim Gonzales, Janet Coleman, Bob Fass, J. Smooth, Rise-Up Radio, Robert Knight, Tom Wisker, The Opera Show, The Computer Show and a few others?
As for staff (and management), there are still some people struggling to preserve intelligence, competence and honesty at the station. I won?t mention their names here, but they, and most of the rest of us in the WBAI community know who they are. Unfortunately, they won?t last that long in their jobs? rampant bigotry, stupidity and corrupt behavior will drive them out eventually?
As for as my own ?bona fides? to criticize/speak about WBAI, I?m approaching this analysis from the perspective of someone who has been a listener (until recently) to the station for close to forty years; a volunteer and long-time contributor/subscriber; a former assistant program director, former assistant manager, and then, finally, a 24 year on-air producer-host. I have, in addition to doing my own program, filled in, both on regular slots and fund-raising slots, for many other producers over the years, as well recording prose and poetry readings and serving as an engineer from time-to-time for other hosts.
I have participated in numerous appearances at private parties, boat-rides, performances and book-signing events to raise money for the station.
Between these events, and the approximately 75 on-air drives I have taken part in, I have raised approximately $300,000 dollars for WBAI?And this is not taking into account the intangible element of what I may have been worth to the station?that is, whatever my continuing presence on the air was worth when it came to getting someone to re-subscribe or contribute any extra funds.
I have been, over the decades, present at?and a participant in?dozens of local and national board meetings, committee meetings, sub-committee working groups, union meetings and program council meetings. I have also had dozens of personal meetings with several different managers and local board members to discuss general programming and personnel issues. I have also met privately with several different program directors who asked my advice on programming and programmers?and this included meeting?several times?with Samori Marksman?the last intelligent and talented (if sometimes grossly misdirected) Program Director that WBAI had.
And, as I mentioned at the top of this piece? What I wasn?t present to see and hear, I have heard about from the people who founded WBAI and were at the core of its once great standing and status in radio and the larger world. A lot of the ?old? WBAI types?the ones that put it on the map?are my friends and acquaintances, and I have talked to them for countless hours about what life at the station used to be like?
I have written articles about WBAI for various magazines and sections of two books I have written concerned my experiences at WBAI.
Aside from my long career at WBAI, I have also done radio shows on WEVD and Sirius Satellite Radio.
Finally, and, certainly, most important?I have listened to WBAI from June of 1966 up until a few months ago? I think thirty-eight years of listening is enough to qualify me in making som
e value judgments about the content and style of WBAI?
No matter what I?ve done for WBAI?and it has not been inconsiderable in terms of time, effort and money, I would never say WBAI owes me anything. Whatever I gave?absent whatever standard neurosis or selfishness draws one to any endeavor?I gave out of love, respect and gratitude. Far from WBAI owing me anything, I?d say I owe WBAI?more than I could ever repay.
On the most prosaic and material level… As a direct result of being on the air at WBAI I have had two books published, done hundreds of live performances, was hired to write a screen treatment and have gotten two other (paying) jobs on radio. And last, and most important, it was through WBAI that I met my wife?the love of my life.
But the real deal here? my true qualification and reason for talking in depth about WBAI, is my great, long-time (and now, sadly, former) love for the station. WBAI has been one of the great influences on my life?for almost four decades. When I first heard WBAI (Bob Fass?s show), it was love at first hearing?and the station remained at the center of my life for almost 38 years after that.
So, it?s a love story?but one with a sad ending? certainly for me?and, I believe, for hundreds of other former producers, management, and tens of thousands of former listeners and subscribers? Sad because, for quite some time now, I?again, like countless thousands of others?can?t bring myself to listen to WBAI?even to the several terrific programs still on the air (some of them done by very close friends and long-time colleagues).
Even to tune in to one particular program starts a chain reaction of regret, despair and anger in me?because, inevitably, I remember what the station was once like compared to what it has become?
I just can?t bring myself to listen to something that meant so much to me, that informed so much of my intellectual, political and artistic life; that even, I believe, saved my life a few times. And the reason I can?t listen is because, for the most part, the humanity and intelligence, wit and open-mindedness; the humor and artistic elegance that once distinguished WBAI? The qualities that once drew people to listen to WBAI devotedly and support it in decades past?has all but disappeared.
Now what we have at WBAI, growing like ugly out-of-control weeds in a once wonderful garden, are aggressive ignorance, relentless bigotry, pure stupidity and rank cronyism?all of which is universally accompanied by a precipitous drop in basic radio talent.
The current WBAI makes the intelligent brain recoil and the good heart weep.
Radio station WBAI, the WBAI that was famous for its humanity, intelligence, wit and art, is now lying on its deathbed?you can ?smell? the incipient decay over the air. And the cause of this imminent and seemingly unavoidable death was not some dread conspiracy, not a planned attack by outside forces; in fact, it was not a murder at all? But much more like an inevitable suicide.
Obviously the question must be: How did this sad thing happen? How did WBAI fall utterly into the hands of bigots, morally corrupt and shameless opportunists, and inarticulate nitwits that should never have been let near a microphone?
Well, not to cop out here, but that would literally take a fifty page essay on its own to lay out clearly and definitively? So I will save that for a later effort. This time around the best I can do is summarize some things in the a broad way and give a few details and examples of what we have now vs. what we once had? Naturally, how it all came about is inextricably connected to the whole current problem, but, as I said, that would take a greater, longer and deeper analysis, so I will limit myself to simple comparisons and current descriptions?
Now, I don?t want to be accused of sloshing some rosy-eyed ?Good-Old-Days? sentimentalism on you here?
WBAI was never a ?normal?, or, even, necessarily a routinely ?happy? environment in which to work. It always had its incompetents, outright lunatics and liars. There were tyrants, politically correct bores and even-over the years?a small handful of bigots. But the great?the very great?difference between ?then? and ?now? was that these types of people were in the minority. They never had any lasting or pervasive power at the station and were rarely allowed on the air?not even as announcer-engineers.
And when these fringe types (even the fringe has its fringe) were given programs it was because, despite their obnoxious personal qualities and, very often, lack of radio talent, they were experts in some area or other.
A perfect example of how everything has now been completely flipped on its head at the current WBAI is the case of the current producer of a regular show on labor and worker?s issues. This producer was always tolerated? though she was (and is) a world-class bore and a would-be dictator?because her expertise and passion on the subject of rights for workers was recognized and valued; And so she was given a show?and did a good job at what she was given to do.
But, believe me when I tell you that, in the time when intelligence, art and humor informed the hallways and offices and studios of WBAI, no one of any consequence at the station ever took this person seriously?beyond her specific, narrow expertise?and, for sure, no one in those days would ever have been foolish or deranged enough to give her any power over anything.
As a gauge of how low poor WBAI has sunk, this person is now one of the prime movers at WBAI and influences a lot of its internal structure and politics?including personally manipulating and virtually controlling its unpaid producers union. And, even worse, like some out-of-control wild boar, she has managed to consume great, regular chunks of air time; driving away God knows how many thousands of former listeners and contributors with her monotonous, ranting voice and her narrow-minded, predictable, political views.
Sad to say, this example is the rule, rather than the exception, now at WBAI. People that were tolerated because of their competence in one small area, or simply regarded (aside from their expertise in one thing or another) as foolish, irritating, offensive or dishonest? these once-marginal types are now running the finances and political structure of WBAI, and appearing for endless hours on prime-time air.
Is it any wonder that most of the intelligent, decent and talented staff and management have been driven away over the last few years? Or that on-air talent?real talent, is disparaged and dismissed by the Program Director and his grossly untalented flunkeys?
The best of WBAI has been and is still continually?driven off the air and out of the station by harassment (even physical harassment), arbitrary pre-emptions, and outright cancellations of programs. The latest victim of this rank thuggery is Robert Knight. Robert is one of the few intelligent, informed, and talented journalist left at WBAI. But he has not toed the current management?s clot-witted racist line, so he is constantly threatened with dismissal, has his shows pre-empted or is even physically abused and threatened.
Recently, the best reporter in the WBAI newsroom, Ginger Otis, quit the station, disgusted finally by the abuse and idiocy that has surrounded her for years?What we have in her place is a recently acquired part-time news reporter, a friend of management?s, who is an out-and-out racist and anti-Semite and once actually tried to choke a member of our local board!
(I know this sounds like some fairy-tale I?m making up. But, unfortunately it?s all true).
Of course the greatest shame and misfortune is that tens of thousands of intelligent listeners and contributors have been, essentially, ?fired??driven away?probably forever, by the current people that run and program WBAI.
The bad will always try to drive out the good. It?s one of the principles of existence. Often the good fight
s back and by luck, will and hard work prevails against the bad. Sadly, at WBAI, the good has not prevailed. Out of weakness, fear and delusion?or from simply fighting in a vacuum without support?the good influences at WBAI have faded almost to nothing and the bad has completely taken over.
As the I Ching says in one of its hexagrams, (and I paraphrase): ?Inferior people are on the rise?. Well, they?re more than on the rise at WBAI, friends and neighbors, they are firmly in charge of everything, from engineering to dealing with premiums, to ?outreach?, to management, to local board affairs, and straight into major air-time? And their toxic influence, propagated by the use of threats, violence, dishonesty and disregard of the general rules of democracy and simple human consideration for other people, is spreading through the entire network like an auto-immune virus.
As I?m writing this, the robotic ?diversity? (read anti-White and anti-Jewish) zealots, political-correctness commissars and militant bigots who control WBAI are actually mounting a serious attempt to take over the National Board of Pacifica.
If the current trend continues, all of Pacifica will, in a couple of years, become as incompetent, dishonest, untalented, and, ultimately, marginalized, as WBAI has become.
As far as the air goes? In the old days, one could hate WBAI and be outraged or offended by it (God knows, I was often enough), but this outrage was always combined with grudging admiration for, and acknowledgment of, the passion and often intelligence that went into the programs. The people you listened to?no matter how flaming their rhetoric and rigid their viewpoints, were, in general, amazingly informed, smart and talented. Further, they were all doing what they were doing?from the techies to the ?stars??out of belief in the principle of art for art?s sake and politics for politic’s sake.
This is far from being the case now. When you listen to a lot of the current WBAI programming, you can still hear plenty of offensive, outrageous stuff, but what?s missing now is the intelligence and righteous passion that used to inform it. What remains is just dumb belligerence and gratuitous bigotry.
As far as jobs (on and off the air), no one ever used to make what?s generally called ?a decent living? by working at WBAI. They got paid enough to get by?only just?but it was sure as hell never a place to build up your mutual fund portfolio or even put money in a bank account.
Well, that was partly a reflection of the times?the late, great, much maligned Sixties. And please be sure that I?m not advocating that one must be poor to be honest or genuine. WBAI was so idealistic that it often ignored the basics of economic reality and fair compensation. Anyway, one thing you knew?or learned real quick after you got there?was that one didn?t come to WBAI (or remain there) just for a job, or benefits, or for the money. You came (and stayed) because you had a passion and an ideal and you were willing to make sacrifices.
When a lot of the original, young crowd got older, got married, had families, etc., they went out and got second jobs to pay for the privilege of staying at WBAI and practicing their art or preaching their message. They made sacrifices, or in the end, when that couldn?t be maintained, they moved on to better paying jobs in the media or elsewhere.
NPR and other notable non-commercial stations?even commercial TV and radio have hired hundreds of ex-WBAI-ers from the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties (and a couple from the early to mid Nineties).
The crowd we have now at WBAI wouldn?t dream of working outside the station?they can barely do the jobs they are paid to do inside the station. Furthermore, the people that live off the station now (and, perforce, off the listeners who contribute)? This crowd is made up of people who are probably unqualified to get any other sort of gainful employment. They, generally?as I said before?don?t have the brains, the ability or the energy to do that.
That?s who?s in charge of the station now, and, in the main, who we have on the air day and night.
Once upon a time?I?d say even until the early nineties or so?despite the hardships and the lack of sufficient money?the spirit of volunteerism and art-for-art?s-sake; the basic concept of doing radio to help and inform and entertain people just for the sake of doing it, was ingrained in everyone at WBAI.
Rarely did one see the kind of blatant money-gouging, rank cronyism merely for the purpose of gaining and preserving jobs and benefits, and the corrupt granting of patronage that is now business-as-usual at WBAI.
And throw into this noxious mix the outright ?diversion? -?I leave it to you to come up with a more accurate word? of actual cash? And the shameless spending of station funds on goods and equipment for personal entertainment and even monetary gain.
(*One of our regular, paid engineers at the station used to charge people to teach them how to make and record cartes?announcements for their shows. This same person?again, already making a regular salary?also charged the station exorbitant amounts of money to produce and reproduce recorded premiums to be used during fundraisers. )
Another one of the most prominent people at the station?on and off the air?is so lazy and incompetent that he was personally responsible for submarining two major remote broadcasts, both of which were potentially hugely profitable fundraising events for WBAI. One was the annual Labor Day Parade live remote broadcast from Brooklyn?An event that had become a landmark program for WBAI?and that brought in tens of thousands of dollars in contributions. When this person, a co-host of the morning show, was given the responsibility of handling this major event, it disappeared?right off the map? Never even materialized! And all because he didn?t have the dedication or the competence to set up a simple phone line.
Most of the people I?m talking about here, and there are close to a dozen of them I could mention that infest WBAI now? no matter what project they ruin by their incompetence and lack of interest?always manage to come away with some personal benefit.
The kind of people who hold sway at WBAI now are the same kind of people, who, in my opinion, would steal from a church.
?No one, when I was assistant manager in the late Seventies, and in charge of the money, would have dreamed of coming to me to ask for cash simply to buy lunch, or to take some dubious trip to some foreign country to report on some gratuitous festival or event, or buy some unnecessary and expensive extra equipment for their personal projects.
No one would have asked for a penny that wasn?t completely for station use or the good of the station. It was simply a question of knowing better?knowing better as in having been brought up to know the difference between right and wrong.
When I was on the staff?and later in the management?at WBAI; when we went to lunch, we paid for it ourselves. And it wasn?t because people had special advantages?most of the people at the station lived on ridiculously low salaries?even by current non-commercial radio standards?
The reason people would never consider using station money for their own benefit, or charging the station for personal things was?Let?s say it altogether now: BECAUSE IT WAS WRONG!
If we needed equipment or tape or records for a show or series of shows, it stayed in the station when we were done using it?so that other people could use it. We understood that the station?s benefit and welfare came before ours and the listeners were not contributing money to us directly for our own use, but to the station.
That is not the common understanding at WBAI now? Quite the opposite, in fact. The station operates much like certain portions of the Civil Service?People are time-servers and worse?and the higher calling and decency I talked about is nothing but a cultural mystery to the current ga
ng?or merely a ?quaint? historical occurrence?much the way Alberto Gonzales views The Geneva Conventions.
I won?t go over the facts in detail?they have been documented elsewhere in great depth; but many of the people in power positions at WBAI now are merely in it for money, jobs, benefits and pure self-aggrandizement. Doing good work for the entire listening community; doing intelligent, articulate radio for a universal audience is now, at best, a low priority, if not actually, merely an irritating necessity.
The current manager of our station, though he was hired with the obvious understanding that he would do a full-time job, has only worked part-time. And he does a poor job even when he is there. There are many people at WBAI who are of the opinion that this man, who, otherwise, appears to be a decent sort of fellow, only took the job for the money and the benefits, and then, maybe, as an afterthought, for the sake of running an important, decent radio station?something, again, in my opinion, he has never even seriously managed to do.
The current manager of WBAI has presided over the ?diversion? of money from a public fundraiser (and I?m talking about a ?diversion? engineered by station personnel which amounted to many thousands of dollars). Although many people at the station know exactly who ?diverted? the money or why it was ?diverted?, the manager still refuses to take any action. Why he does nothing about this gross abuse of public trust, no one knows.
This manager, to all effects and purposes–by his resolute INaction, excuses outright violence at the station and permits the worst sort of bigoted trash to flow constantly over WBAI?s airwaves without even seriously disciplining anyone who commits such offenses.
The only thing I?ve ever seen him actually do to remediate anything at the station is to issue some boilerplate politically-correct memo. He is worse than useless because he permits all sorts of abuse to go on and does nothing. (Recently, as I mentioned before, Robert Knight?s desk was searched, he was cursed at and physically threatened by one of the thugs that live at WBAI?and when he asked the manager to do something about it, his request was ignored. This kind of thing has happened again and again at WBAI in the last couple of years).
An honorable person who has behaved as this manager has would quit in shame.
The current Program Director, who is primarily responsible for the sewage that often spews out over WBAI?s airwaves, had, for too long, two paying jobs at the station?two paychecks at a time when most people there lived in doubt as to whether they would even get their next single paycheck.
He was paid to be the Program Director and was also paid to be the on-air host of one of the major shows on the air (on which he does a continuously inadequate job).
He was, essentially, hogging air-time and money? a good chunk of which could have gone to other, more deserving individuals.
He?s still hogging two major jobs (and continuing to do both poorly), even though now he is only being paid to do one. This state of affairs (receiving only one paycheck) came only after a great deal of shaming, persuasion and arm-twisting by other people.
I remember an incident that occurred in September 2003? The Chief Financial Officer of Pacifica came to town and told all of us at a general staff meeting that the station was on the very brink of bankruptcy (and volunteered the opinion that it was, quite probably, our dismal programming that was at fault: ?I?d have to say,? he told us, ?that the public is just not buying your product.?).
Shortly afterward, the manager took a voluntary salary cut (which only made him fall more in line with his part-time status). Still, this gesture was decent enough. However, at the time all this dire information came to light, the Program Director never even considered taking a cut. He didn?t care that there was a real possibility that other, hard-working people at the station faced the prospect of being laid-off. Without comment or apology, this shameless man hung on to his two jobs and his regular salary. That?s the kind of person that runs WBAI now.
The current Program Director is also, in my opinion, primarily responsible for facilitating the atmosphere of physical intimidation and thuggery at the station (something I experienced personally from the man himself) and, also, for propagating the relentless on-air anti-white racism and anti-Semitism at WBAI that has driven away thousands of listeners and millions of dollars in funds.
I have personally heard him insult whites and Jews; and, as far as I know, he has never been cautioned, disciplined or suspended for it. He has placed flaming bigots and inarticulate fools on the air (for instance, his co-host on the morning show who recently was discussing the ?Island?(!) of Panama and casually ventured the opinion one morning that ?White people invented cannibalism?).
The current Program Director has helped to create a WBAI that is about 50 IQ points and several degrees of moral responsibility lower than anything the station has ever known before.
This current sad excuse for a Program Director is attempting to lumber in the footsteps of the late Samori Marksman?may he rest in peace.
A word about Samori Marksman? He was intelligent, educated, articulate and passionate. He created many important shows and developed several major WBAI talents?not to mention dramatically raising the level of contributions to the station. But he was also responsible for laying the groundwork for a great deal of what?s wrong with WBAI now. He had little use for spiritual programming, Gay programming, Jewish programming, or programming for seniors, the disabled, or even women?s programming? all of which WBAI had been famous for before his influence became so pervasive. And as far as programming for Latinos, it was more or less ignored during Samori?s tenure.
In fact, Samori had little use for arts and music programming in general, considering it more or less a bourgeois waste of airtime, no matter how entertaining or worthwhile. But, more about his influence at a later time.
Suffice it to say that current Program Director is merely stumbling around in Samori?s footsteps, but doesn?t have the talent or smarts to live up to Samori?s larger vision and ability to program good radio (no matter how flawed his vision may have been in some ways.)
The current Program Director is, in my opinion, the prime and continuing cause of most that is wrong with WBAI, on and off the air.
When his blatant neglect and abuse of most of what was (and still, in part, is) worthwhile at WBAI is pointed out, he responds like all petty tyrants:
He pre-empts and suspends the programs of his critics; even goes so far as to permanently cancel the programs of people who point out his gross abuses. Only recently, he canceled Gary Null?s program?because Gary had the nerve, on and off the air, to spell out the details of the Program Director?s manifold lies and transgressions. This cancellation, aside from being petty and bigoted, was also amazingly self-destructive; the station depended on Gary Null?s program for almost a quarter of its income and for a great deal of its regular listeners?income and listeners that the station can ill afford to lose.
The Program Director responds to even the slightest criticism with intimidation and totally unfounded, paranoid accusations of ?racism??with which deluded ramblings he occupies and pollutes otherwise useful and precious air-time.
He knows it?s not racism or some ?White plot??that has almost killed WBAI. That?s merely a cynical way of labeling and destroying perceived enemies and real opponents. He and his gang rant on about ?White conspiracies? at the drop of a hat. Such ?conspiracies? are pure delusion. The kind of white people that, essentially, founded, built, and still support WBAI are the last people in this country who would engage in racism.
Such a ?conspiracy? has never existed at WBAI. All that is happening here is a projection of the current gang?s own hallucinatory and conspiratorial racist perceptions and behavior.
At this point, it may be more accurate to say that the Program Director used to know better than to believe this ?racism? nonsense. It may be that absolute power has completely overthrown what sense of proportion he once had; and now he has gone from being a cynical opportunist to being truly deranged by his own fantasies.
Like all petty dictators, he has surrounded himself with no-talent lackeys and servile yes-men and women who essentially exist to reflect his dim glory back to him. This sadly lost man (who, ironically is not stupid and does have some radio talent) has WBAI in his grasp as surely as any corrupt and oppressive political boss ever held any political party or government hostage?
Another outrageous and sad example of what WBAI has become in recent years?
We had, up until fairly recently, a certain woman serving on our local board. She was also a delegate to and member of the National Board of Pacifica (and a close advisor to our Program Director). As part of her duties as an official, she became a member of the Manager Search Committee?at a time, just after the ?re-taking? of the station in 2002, when WBAI needed to hire a new manager. (*Some truth in packaging here: I was one of the applicants for that job back then).
Anyway, this woman, in the midst of ongoing committee deliberations about who might be the next manager, said, in public, ?There will be a white manager of WBAI over my dead body!? Sounds like something that belongs in Ripley?s Believe-It-or-Not, right? But, unfortunately, in this case, you can believe it, because she said it?and many people heard her say it.
This woman was immediately removed from the Search Committee by our then National Board chair who then found it necessary to bring in a professional consultant to teach the Search Committee members the basic laws about discrimination in the United States?this at the ?People?s? Radio Station!
So, you ask: What was the punishment for this woman?s blatant racist behavior? Nothing. Not one damn thing. She continued as a member of the local board and kept her position on the national board of The Pacifica Foundation?the organization founded on the principles of expanding understanding, tolerance and sympathy between all races and nationalities! Not only that, this blatant bigot?who is also not possessed of very much in the way of knowledge or talent?is still a regularly featured guest on a WBAI weekend program?and still a friend of the current power structure at WBAI!
We have ?consultants? hidden in the ?books? at WBAI?basically crony jobs given to friends of management. These people, who are only dimly qualified for their positions, are not even listed clearly on the station?s books, so that the legally elected Local Station Board can?t see who gets paid for doing what at the station. When demands are made for the manager to produce accurate figures, he whines and complains and talks about mythical racial oppression and never produces a single real figure or amount. In the real world, at even another non-commercial radio station, this man would be fired immediately for fiscal non-compliance.
Well, enough of this for now. Just recounting it (and I?m only describing the tip of the iceberg) is depressing me.
Clearly, WBAI is as bad off as it could possibly be without actually being laid in the ground and covered with dirt.
We used to have people like Steve Post, Larry Josephson, Julius Lester (even Clayton Riley before he seemed to lose his senses a couple of years ago and became uncontrollably abusive) ?and many other personalities of great intelligence and superb artistry. The requirements for major air-time on WBAI were, at the very least: wit, humor, and ability to speak the English Language in a clear and entertaining manner. (I always thought that Clayton Riley was one of best radio talents I ever heard).
We had music, drama, news, and free-form programming that was better than anything ever put on the radio before?presented by people who not only were experts in their fields, but who were also brilliant at performing on the air (Imagine Sara Fishko and James Irsay.)
Our programming and many of our programmers were once so imitated by other radio stations that a great deal of modern radio, in my opinion, is founded on innovations that came from WBAI (which is certainly not to blame for any subsequent dumbing down of the media?even at the current WBAI).
The station, because of its humanity, intelligence and artistry (all of which were the ideals of the founder of Pacifica, Lew Hill), had deep and wide influence on the arts, on politics and on American culture in general.
WBAI was a central part of the revolutions of the Sixties; Women?s rights, Gay Liberation, Black Liberation and civil rights, etc. etc. As I said, the station played a significant part in changing our basic culture? not to mention actually helping to stop a war.
There are still some people on the air that carry on the traditions and standards of the ?old? WBAI, but there are fewer and fewer of them all the time.
Compare the original WBAI personalities and our programming of the 60?s, 70?s and 80?s to what we have now. Compare the station?s influence then to its influence now. It?s pitiful to even think about.
?So, the inevitable and final question is: Can this once great institution be saved? Can it be reborn into something resembling what it once was?
Unfortunately, I?d say the prognosis was poor, given the lengths and depths to which the diseases of racism, immorality and pea-brained political correctness-without-redeeming-virtue have pervaded the studios, offices and airways of the station.
But there is always hope.
In another essay, I will lay out what I think can be done to save WBAI and Pacifica. As for now, I think a good deal of what used to be good about WBAI?is available right now on Air America and NPR?or the Internet (where, for instance, Gary Null?s show is being broadcast).
(I don?t think that Air America would even exist if WBAI had been doing the job it used to do. WBAI?s current bankrupt state of morals and talent has created a vacuum?an empty space where certain kinds of important and good radio programming used to be ?Thus, Air America and a good deal of the new stuff on NPR).
To me, its a great shame and, really, a sin, that, at a time when our country is under the greatest internal threat to democracy it has ever faced, WBAI has barely shown up?has virtually no real influence any more because it has fallen into a swamp of petty personal concerns, narrow-minded racism and an almost complete absence of talented, charismatic air personalities. Democracy Now, the most influential remaining current WBAI program, only exists and thrives, in part, because it deliberately divorced itself from WBAI (and Pacifica).
Amy Goodman is no fool. She understood that remaining at WBAI and continuing to be daily associated with Bernard White and the morning Wake Up Call show was a no-win proposition.
And, though I never thought I?d ever hear myself say this about WBAI, I would urge people to seriously consider NOT donating money to WBAI as it exists now. That is one of the reasons I left after all my years with the station.
I quit just one day before a fund-raising drive last January because I couldn?t any longer, in good faith, ask people to send money to such degraded institution.
Money sent to WBAI now will almost inevitably be wasted, if not actually ?diverted? for gratuitous schemes and foolish projects, or used in some purely personal, non-radio manner. Much needed new equipment will NOT be bought with your contributions, and deserving staff and talent will NOT be hired with your money?no matter what you may hear to the contrary on the air.
t may be best to starve out the rats that are running the ship now. Once they jump overboard because it doesn?t PAY to work at WBAI anymore, then maybe we can start all over again and get it right? with decent, intelligent people who comprehend the real reasons for working at and being on the air at WBAI.
Though I supported the station for decades, I would never send them money now (a course of action already being followed by tens of thousands of former listeners and subscribers? followed to the point that the WBAI is on the verge of pulling the entire Pacifica Foundation under because of its rapidly falling ratings and lack of funds to pay its basic bills).
I can?t imagine giving my hard-earned money to bigots, bullies and fools?who can?t even manage to turn out good radio more than a few hours each day. (I also hate to say this is because some of my friends still work at WBAI)
I?d advise everyone who still cares about what WBAI once was, or could be again, to carefully consider how to change the place. There is a democratic process in place?you can vote for the Local Station Board. This process is now riddled with incompetence and treated with contempt by the current gang at WBAI?people who regard Democracy as something foolish and weak. Never the less, the process, at least for the moment, is still in place. So find out more about it (www.pacifica.org) and see if you want to effect change that way.
And, of course, there is always the possibility of protest and street action; of mounting campaigns for change such as the one that successfully ?re-claimed? the station a couple of years back (sad joke that turned out to be, even if there were truly important reasons to do it at the time).
Right now, what I choose to do personally is to try to influence people through my radio shows, my writing and my website; and, meanwhile, feel the sorrow and pain of not being able to tune into WBAI?the place that once was my lifeline and inspiration.
More?s the pity.
– Mike Feder (New York City – February 2, 2005)