2019-10-08 04:06:00 UTC
New York-based WBAI radio abruptly shuts down
By Richard Morgan
October 7, 2019 | 1:56pm
WBAI FM 99.5, a listener-supported radio station in New York City that has been on the air since 1955, abruptly announced on Monday it is shutting down.
The station’s California-based nonprofit parent, Pacifica Foundation, blamed “ongoing and continued projections of further financial losses” for the abrupt shuttering of WBAI.
“We realize this news will come as a deep and painful shock, but we can no longer jeopardize the survival of the entire network,” said Pacifica, which also owns radio stations in Berkeley, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
Recent local programming has included “Democracy Now!” with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, as well as regular broadcasts by Leonard Lopate, who got a second chance at WBAI after he was fired from WNYC over allegations of inappropriate behavior with staffers.
The news surprised public relations executive Jeff Simmons, a volunteer host of two weekly WBAI shows.
Simmons said in a phone interview that he had just listened to the 6-to-7 a.m. Monday replay of his Sunday evening program before learning that WBAI’s employees had been fired.
“The note from the general manager came in about 9:40,” Simmons said. That’s when local programming ceased, he said, and “national programming got plugged in.”
In the ’60s and ’70s, the station had been a platform for the counterculture, broadcasting everything from Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” to George Carlin’s “Filthy Words.”
More recently, it hit financial turbulence, laying off nearly two-thirds of its staff in August 2013. In November of that year, musicians including Pete Seeger staged a benefit concert for WBAI at the Cutting Room.
In March 2014, after falling $1.8 million behind on rent in the Empire State Building, the station received an emergency loan to prevent the building’s holding company from seizing its assets. It then relocated to 4 Times Square.
Pacifica said Monday it would relaunch WBAI once it’s able to create “a sustainable financial structure for the station.” Until then, it said WBAI’s signal would carry “a network source called Pacifica Across America.”
The station still had about a half-dozen core staffers along with several paid and volunteer hosts, according to Simmons.
Station manager Berthold Reimers and program director Linda Perry Barr were among WBAI staffers dismissed on Monday.
Community radio station WBAI shuts down amid financial woes
By Leonard Greene
New York Daily News |
Oct 07, 2019 | 3:06 PM
Community radio station WBAI radio, a non-profit outlet known for its cutting-edge commentary, abruptly shut down Monday with managers citing financial woes.
“Due to ongoing and continued projections of further financial losses at WBAI, local station operations are being discontinued as of October 7, 2019,” said a morning memo to staffers. “We realize this news will come as a deep and painful shock, but we can no longer jeopardize the survival of the entire network.”
Its California-based nonprofit parent, The Pacifica Foundation, made the announcement to employees with no apparent warning, workers said. The move meant immediate layoffs across the board. The station had been struggling to make payroll and health insurance payments.
The station, on the FM dial at 99.5, will continue to provide programming via live feeds from Pacifica.
Gone are hosts such as Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of “Democracy Now!” and Leonard Lopate, who was making a comeback on WBAI after WNYC fired him over allegations of inappropriate behavior with staffers.
Among those caught off-guard was public relations executive Jeff Simmons, a volunteer host of two weekly WBAI shows.
Simmons said he had just listened to morning replay of his Sunday evening program when the word went out that WBAI’s employees had been fired.
“I did not see this decision coming,” Simmons said.“Even being in the studio last night there was no clue this was happening this morning."
Simmons said the station had just launched a fundraising drive.
WBAI first hit the airwaves in 1960, championing leftist causes from the gay rights movement to anti-war protests during America’s involvement in Vietnam.
“The closing of WBAI is a huge loss for New York City and local news coverage we all depend on,” state Attorney General Letitia James said in a tweet. “This is deeply disappointing and I hope this station is relaunched.”
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The network assured listeners that they had not heard the last of WBAI in New York.
“We will relaunch WBAI once we are able to create a sustainable financial structure for the station,” officials said in a statement.” We will be airing a network source called Pacifica Across America until then.”
WBAI Radio Station Abruptly Shuts Down
The Pacifica Foundation suddenly shuttered the community radio station after decades on the air.
By Noah Manskar, Patch Staff
Oct 7, 2019 12:27 pm ET |
Updated Oct 7, 2019 4:55 pm ET
NEW YORK — Financial woes forced the community radio station WBAI to abruptly shut down Monday morning after decades on the air in the latest loss to New York City's local news industry.
The Pacifica Foundation, WBAI's California-based nonprofit parent, announced the move to staffers in a letter and blamed the station's demise on "ongoing and continued projections of further financial losses."
"We realize this news will come as a deep and painful shock, but we can no longer jeopardize the survival of the entire network," Pacifica said in the message.
After ending WBAI's local programming and laying off its Brooklyn-based staff, the foundation said in a press release that the station had been "re-born" as the "flagship" of Pacifica Across America, a new service that will broadcast programs from the four remaining Pacifica stations.
The shutdown came as a shock to Jeff Simmons, a public relations executive and former journalist who was a volunteer host of two weekly WBAI shows.
Simmons said he had just listened to the Monday morning replay of his Sunday evening program a few hours before learning that WBAI's employees had been fired. The station had about half a dozen core staffers along with several paid and volunteer hosts, he said.
The commercial-free network's end is a loss not just for its workers but also the listeners who were its primary source of financial support, Simmons said.
"I think that we had such a good group of listeners who really needed a platform where they could weigh in on what often were progressive issues," the 55-year-old Jackson Heights resident said in a phone interview. "The phone lines would light up because they wanted to be able to offer their opinions, and to me that's the biggest loss is not having this platform for people to be able to reach out to."
WBAI started broadcasting under its current name in 1955 and joined Pacifica's nationwide network of nonprofit radio stations five years later. It served as a crucial platform for Vietnam War protesters, feminists and other countercultural voices during the turbulent 1960s and '70s, according to Simmons.
The station's current roster included dozens of programs with hosts such as Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now!" and Leonard Lopate, who was given a second chance on WBAI after WNYC fired him over allegations that he behaved inappropriately with staffers.
Pacifica shuttered WBAI less than a week after the Oct. 1 start of its new fiscal year. The station had launched a fall fundraising drive that day and raised several thousand dollars in the following week, Simmons said.
WBAI had repeatedly asked other Pacifica stations to help cover its costs as it grappled with longstanding financial problems, according to foundation board member Jan Goodman. Pacficia pledged in its letter to resurrect WBAI once it creates a "sustainable financial structure for the station," but it is unclear when that may happen.
"We can no longer keep taking money for essential services from our stations in LA, (San Francisco) Bay, Houston and DC communities to cover WBAI's continued shortfalls," Goodman said in a statement. "This endangers the entire Foundation — and ultimately WBAI itself."
WBAI's end follows the gutting of several local news outlets in the five boroughs. The Village Voice alt-weekly and the news website DNAinfo have shut down in the past two years, and the New York Daily News's editorial staff was cut in half last summer.
"It's a sad day," Simmons said.
'A Complete Shock:' Long-Running Freeform Radio Station WBAI Abruptly Shut Down
By Jake Offenhartz
Oct. 7, 2019 1:50 p.m.
• 34 Comments
WBAI, a pioneering left-leaning radio station based in Brooklyn, has ceased operations, more than six decades after first hitting the airwaves. The news was announced on Monday by the Pacifica Foundation, a Berkley-based nonprofit that has owned the station since 1960.
"Due to ongoing and continue projections of further financial losses at WBAI, local station operations are being discontinued as of October 7, 2019," the company said in a statement. "We realize this news will come as a deep and painful shock, but we can no longer jeopardize the survival of the entire network."
The statement left open the possibility of WBAI returning to air "once we are able to create a sustainable financial structure for the station." Pacifica's network includes four other listener-supported stations across the country.
The station's small staff and larger pool of volunteers were notified of the abrupt closure on Monday morning. "It's a complete shock," said Jeff Simmons, who hosts the WBAI shows Driving Forces and City Watch. "I was at the studio last night live on my show and no one seemed to have an inkling. It was a complete surprise."
Simmons added that the company was in the process of building a new studio, and had kicked off a fundraising drive less than a week ago that he said raised tens of thousands of dollars.
Others were less shocked, pointing to WBAI's ongoing financial problems, which had led to the termination of most staff members back in 2013.
The station's current programming includes Amy Goodman's Democracy Now, as well as a mix of cultural and news shows such as Max & Murphy, Black Seinfeld, and Bike Snob. "It's a sad day for New York City given WBAI's place in the civic discourse and news world for many years," said Ben Max, the co-host of Max & Murphy, who also runs Gotham Gazette. He said Max & Murphy would return in its original format as a podcast.
A trailblazer in experimental FM radio, WBAI's hosts were once central voices of the city's countercultural movement, anchored in large part by Bob Fass and his enduring free-form program "Radio Unnameable." The progressive-minded show developed a cult following in the 1960s, and featured frequent appearances by Bob Dylan and the first-ever performance of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant."
In recent years, the station has been marked by management turnover, internecine fighting over its governance structure, and a shrinking audience. Back in 2013, WBAI's interim director announced that it was laying off 19 of 29 employees, including the entire news department, in order to cover basic expenses. The company also lost a court case in 2017 regarding backpay owned to keep its transmitter in the Empire State Building
Last year, WBAI found itself the subject of controversy after hiring Leonard Lopate, the longtime WNYC host who was fired for "inappropriate conduct." While other WBAI hosts and producers were unpaid, both Lopate and his producers were reportedly compensated. Jay Smooth, who hosted the long running hip-hop show The Underground Railroad, resigned in protest.
In a statement on Monday, New York Attorney General Tish James said the station's shuttering was "a huge loss for New York City and local news coverage we all depend on."
"This is deeply disappointing and I hope this station is relaunched," she added.
Inquiries to both Pacifica Foundation and WBAI's management were not returned. We'll update if we hear back.
Additional reporting by Lydia McMullen-Laird.
Layoffs and Canceled Shows at WBAI-FM, a New York Radio Original
By Ben Sisario
Oct. 7, 2019
For decades, WBAI-FM has remained a proudly scrappy alternative in New York’s radio market, a bastion of left-wing political commentary and community voices rarely heard elsewhere on the dial.
That identity was cast into doubt on Monday when the station’s owner, the nonprofit Pacifica Foundation, abruptly laid off most of WBAI’s staff and replaced its local programming with shows drawn from Pacifica’s four other stations.
Ten of WBAI’s 12 employees were laid off, according to John Vernile, Pacifica’s interim executive director.
Employees and volunteer hosts at the station said they were blindsided by Pacifica’s decision. “We are in disbelief,” said Alexander J. Urbelis, a host of “Off the Hook,” a weekly show about computer hacking. “Nobody was given any notice of this or any opportunity to be heard.”
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Berthold Reimers, WBAI’s general manager, told producers in an email on Monday morning: “There is a show on the air now that I do not recognize. This means your shows are no longer on WBAI.” Mr. Reimers declined to comment.
Pacifica leaders said that the decision to shut down WBAI’s operations in New York had been in the works for months, and that it was an essential step to save the larger foundation from ruin.
In an interview, Mr. Vernile said WBAI — which, like the network’s other stations, is listener supported — had fallen short of its fund-raising goals in recent years. He added that the station was unable to make payroll and other expenses, forcing the larger Pacifica Foundation network to bail it out.
“Listeners in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and Washington, D.C., have been supporting the efforts in New York,” Mr. Vernile said. “It has gotten to a point where we can no longer do that.”
WBAI’s ratings are minimal, but its shows can have an impact. On Monday, Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, wrote on Twitter: “This is deeply disappointing and I hope this station is relaunched.”
WBAI and Pacifica had been under strain for years. Pacifica has not released any financial statements since 2017, when its auditor cited doubts that the organization could continue as a going concern.
The foundation faced possible bankruptcy after a New York State court ordered it in 2017 to pay $1.8 million in rent and other fees to a trust affiliated with the Empire State Building, where WBAI transmitted its signal.
Last year, Pacifica settled with the trust after obtaining a loan from FJC, a nonprofit lender. Mr. Vernile said Pacifica had been meeting its obligations under the loan agreement. Sam Marks, the chief executive of FJC, declined to comment.
WBAI, founded in 1960, was a leader in the free-form radio movement, and has had a history of extraordinary moments in broadcasting. Bob Dylan made early appearances on the station, and in the 1970s WBAI was cited by the Federal Communications Commission for indecency for running George Carlin’s routine on seven “filthy words,” a decision upheld by the Supreme Court.
As WBAI’s audience has dwindled, its finances have grown shaky. In 2013, after nearly a decade of losses, the station laid off 19 employees. At times, it has seemed crippled by factionalism, as board meetings descended into name-calling and bickering over parliamentary rules.
The station’s most valuable asset may be its license to operate a coveted spot on the dial, at 99.5 FM, but Mr. Vernile said Pacifica was determined not to sell that prime piece of radio real estate. Pacifica, he said, wants to “rebuild” WBAI at some point, although he did not offer a clear target date.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said, “but this puts us in a place where we have a shot at bringing everything back in full.”