WBAI is a community radio station located at 99.5 MHz on the FM dial. Currently, it is also being Webcast, as well. WBAI serves a listening area that includes New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but the signal has been known to reach much farther. I used to have a regular listener on Block Island, Rhode Island, and there are those who listen regularly in Pennsylvania, and much farther north in New York State than anyone ever thought our signal could get. Officially, there are about 13½ million people in the WBAI listening area.
I've been at WBAI for more than 37 years now, and it's become very much a part of my life.
I produce a live radio program called Back of the Book at WBAI. This program began airing in September 1986. Click here to learn more about Back of the Book .
When I first came to WBAI in late 1981, I was one of several producers of Gay Rap,
The weekly program for and about the gay male community. I was Coordinator of the Gay Men's Collective from 1982, until 1984, twenty five hectic months. I was Executive Producer of a couple of the day long Gay Day Specials at WBAI, and I was Executive Producer for the successor to Gay Rap which was called Gay New York. I was Co-Executive Producer of the first WBAI AIDS Special in September 1985, a day long set of programs that talked about the reality of the AIDS crisis in a time when public ignorance of the disease was widespread.
Gay New York was another manifestation of Program Director brilliancy at WBAI in that it was aired from 4:00 PM to 4:45 PM on Thursday afternoons. (I took advantage of this to produce the Gay New York After School Special once, in order to serve the audience that was actually able to listen to us.) When the equally brilliantly crafted 15 minute program that followed Gay New York disintegrated we sort of expanded to cover the 4:00 to 5:00 PM hour.
Eventually a new program was set up and that was named The Gay Show. It aired on Wednesday nights, and I contributed to it. When it was moved to alternating Sunday nights, the same alternating Sunday nights that Back of the Book was on, I was unable to really participate anymore.
Owing to my long term connection to the gay/lesbian/bisexual liberation movement, and the radio skills I've accumulated over my years at WBAI, for more than a decade I was the one who recorded the annual Pride Rally.
For some years I used to sit all alone under the stage with a cassette recorder in my lap and a couple of very long cables reaching up to the output of the sound console, the only WBAI presence at the event. After a while, WBAI covered the event live and I sat at a table with the adults, all of whom were younger than I.
In the past we ran my edited cuts of the rally on the day of the march; in 1997, the new gay/lesbian collective prepared all of the air for coverage of the June 29th, march. In 1998, it was back to the future with me being the only person from WBAI taping the rally all alone. But this time the Heritage of Pride people had provided a little table and an almost-tent for the electronic press. Unfortunately, they decided that the press was unworthy of getting a doughnut from their pile of food for everyone they valued, including pals of their volunteers who got plates passed to them over the fence. The Heritage of Pride folks didn't even let the press have water! Luckily, Pickles of the North gave me a half gallon of water that got me through that hot, sunny, June afternoon.
In 1999, Heritage of Pride sat WBAI people at a table outside the fenced off area and managed to go one worse than they did in 1998, by even denying us shade! The worst thing, however, was that they couldn't get us a usable sound feed for a while and we were unable to make a broadcast quality recording of the first 50 minutes of the rally. Everybody loses because of that. I don't know what the problem was that the people in charge of Heritage of Pride had with WBAI, but whatever it is I no longer have to worry about it.
In 1999, the rally was on June 20th, at Bryant Park on 42nd St. & 6th Ave., and the march (I do not call this a
parade because I remember when the march was opposed by the police, politicians and others!) was on June 27th.
In 1999, my program Back of the Book again aired on the night of the march. So I'd been marching with my straight girlfriend earlier that day, and as usual this program was an exercise in endurance. I told about what I'd observed from the tiny Bisexual Contingent, and made note of the fact that I marched with many ghosts. I aired Marga Gomez' comedy routine which I'd recorded at the rally, and on the next program I aired the very heavy speech about anti-gay violence by Claudia Brenner, who had been shot by an anti-lesbian bigot who had also murdered her lover. So these programs on the pride march are a mixture of smiles and tears, smiles and tears.
In the year 2000, the gay collective at WBAI didn't cover the rally, so I didn't do my usual service in this area. Maybe Heritage of Pride and the WBAI gay collective are still on the outs with each other. I don't really know.
One again in the year 2000, Back of the Book aired on the night of the march. So, as usual, I marched and then told all about it on that program.
In 2001, the WBAI gay collective and Heritage of Pride again didn't connect, and so I didn't record that rally either. Of course I marched and I talked about it on the program that night.
I don't know what anybody at WBAI did about the 2002, and subsequent events. I don't record the rally anymore, but I do march. The program was not on the same night as the march in 2002, so I reported on it a week later.
In the years since Back of the Book has not aired on the night of the march, so I've marched and covered the event on the program a week or two later.
In 1998, WBAI moved to new studios on Wall St., and it was a typical half-assed adventure. WBAI stayed there for more than 15 years.
A lot of things never worked at the station. WBAI also couldn't afford the rent, as I predicted would be the case. WBAI was assisted in moving out of 120 Wall St. by Superstorm Sandy which struck lower Manhattan on the night of October 29, 2012, and flooded the bottom two floors of 120 Wall St. After that the station was split into two locations.
For a time WBAI was broadcasting from the facilities of WKCR, the college radio station of the City College of New York (CCNY) a part of the City University of New York (CUNY). Meanwhile WBAI's offices were temporarily located at 4 World Trade Center. It was a difficult time.
Before leaving 120 Wall St. WBAI had to pack up everything that we had there. This involved a lot of volunteers and eventually almost everything was packed off to a storage facility. Unfortunately, WBAI General Manager Berthold Reimers at some point just stopped paying the rental fees on the storage spaces and just about everything that had been put in storage was lost. Not only was a lot of very expensive equipment lost because of the failure to pay the storage fees, but the enormous amount of work that the many volunteers had put into carefully packing and shipping the radio and office equipment, among other things, ended up wasted.
WBAI was in two places at once, the basement studios of WKCR at CCNY for broadcasting and 4 World Trade Center for the offices. This arrangement for the offices lasted from mid-February 2013, to mid-June of 2013. The broadcast facility operated out of the CCNY studios from mid-February 2013, to May 1, 2015.
During this period WBAI had bigger than usual problems with paying the rent at the Empire State Building, and we had to pitch like mad to make that rent up. Once we got even with the rent we promptly fell behind again.
While the station was in two places at once WBAI also laid off about 75% of the paid Staff, going from a skeleton crew to a fraction of a skeleton crew. WBAI General Manager Berthold Reimers also took the opportunity to exercise some of what seems to me to be his anti-gay attitudes by firing our friend, fellow WBAI producer and
Saddle Pal Uncle Sidney Smith. General Manager Berthold Reimers had someone else tell Uncle Sidney that he had been banned from WBAI for life! The General Manager will not say why. He won't even tell Sidney why he's banned! This is grossly unfair to Sidney and constitutes abuse of Staff. There's a posting here about it. You need to supply the following information to view that Web page username: poster and password: enternow.
All WBAI operations are currently located at 388 Atlantic Ave. in downtown Brooklyn, NY. The original idea was that WBAI and/or Pacifica would pony up the money to actually buy the building at 388 Atlantic Ave. That plan did not work out and WBAI now rents space in the building.
The station has been broadcasting out of a studio that was slapped together and which only has two walls that go up to the ceiling, meaning that anything going on in the hallway can go right on the air. Management has been constructing a new master Control studio in the front room of the third floor. The new broadcast studio was supposed to have been completed soon after WBAI began broadcasting from Brooklyn in 2015. In 2018, WBAI Management announced that the new broadcast studio would be operational by the Fall of 2018. As of the Summer of 2019, it appears to be nearing completion.
In the time that WBAI was at 388 Atlantic Ave. The Empire State Building rent arrears reached a crisis. I have more about that here.
As of May 31, 2018, WBAI switched to a new transmitter and antenna facility at 4 Times Square.
In the hurly burly of life some folks think of WBAI as a halcyon island of peace and tranquility floating high in the clouds, immune to the discomfitures caused by petty human avarice. Of course nothing could be further from the truth.
There used to be a Union at WBAI that represented everybody. Former General Manager Valerie Van Isler got it busted, however. Former interim General Manager Utrice Leid then dealt our Union a death blow and now AFTRA is the Union representing some of the Staff. For more details about it look at the WBAI Union Page. Be prepared for an education.
A large portion of my life gets eaten up by my involvement with WBAI because of my production of regular programming and the general craziness that's going on these days. Since early 2004, I've been a member of WBAI's Local Station Board, about which you can read more here.
Some WBAI Staff members have Web pages.
There is an
official WBAI Web page. It had originally been built and maintained by people who were members of the WBAI Collective Bargaining Unit. For about two years it had been taken over by Pacifica and, as a sort of coup de Web, was placed in the hands of some pals of Pat Scott, former Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation. In January 1999, it came under the control of the WBAI Director of Technical Operations, a Management position. This was a temporary position and for a while the site just languished. After a while, former WBAI General Manager Valerie Van Isler hired a secret Webmaster for the site and it was sometimes updated.
After the Midnight Coup of December 2000, there was an amusing period of time when the fired Van Isler had her faction using the site to promote their positions. It was then taken over by the faction that formed around Interim General Manager Utrice Leid and it became pretty damned dull and uninformative. Van Isler's faction retook WBAI in January 2002, and the WBAI Web site was pretty much back the way it used to be during Van Isler's first reign of terror. In the Autumn of 2007, a new Web master was hired and he's actually doing a good job! So things don't always have to get worse at WBAI.
Unfortunately, the former Web site mirror, which couldn't be touched by Pacifica or WBAI Management, has simply gone away and I've taken down my links to it.
One of the WBAI Listeners' Groups
Coalition for a democratic Pacifica - New York, formerly
Save Our Station, has their own Web site. If you visit it keep in mind that the Web site has not been updated for years.
Of course there are other colleagues of mine from WBAI who have independent Web pages as well. Check 'em out!
Jim Freund who does Hour of the Wolf.
Max Schmid who does The Golden Age of Radio and Mass Backwards.
Ken Gale used to do 'Nuff Said! the comic book show; now he does an environmental program named Eco-Logic.
Our own Uncle Sidney Smith, who alternates with us in the same time slot, does a radio program called Carrier Wave and he also has an entire series of blogs on line now.
I think it may be relevant for me to post a link to the Pacifica Foundation's non-discrimination policy right about here.
Back to my home page.
On to the Back of the Book page
Back to the New Pacifica Page.