WBAI is a community radio station located at 99.5 MHz on the FM dial. Currently, it is also struggling with 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 28 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 39+ year 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 is that the people in charge of Heritage of Pride have with WBAI, but I wish they'd get over 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 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.
In 2000, Back of the Book also 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, events. I didn't tape the rally, again, but I marched. The program was not on the same night as the march this time, 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 later.
In 1998, WBAI moved to new studios on Wall St., and it was a typical half-assed adventure. More than nine years later a lot of things still don't work at the station. We also can't afford the rent, as I predicted would be the case. WBAI will need to move out of 120 Wall St. at some point, but I'm sure that will be yet another point of controversy and possibly another disaster.
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 Ganager 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.
And 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. Go visit it for more news from their perspective and information on how you can participate in the struggle to keep WBAI from being completely destroyed by the faction currently in charge.
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