Some Perspectives On The Current Situation

For some producers the current programming changes and the attendant brouhaha are new. But I've been through this before, the station goes through these sorts of upheavals pretty much regularly.

In 1985, Stephen Erickson was Program Director. He wanted to change what he heard on WBAI. So ALL programs, except for the news, were cancelled and for the month of February the air was taken up with tapes, most of which featured some sort of highfalutin audio characteristics. In March a new grid came on. Within months almost all of the cancelled programs were back on the air.

A year or two later John Scagliotti was Program Director. He completely reorganized the grid and put the station into a "magazine" format. After some months most of the programs got back on the air and into regular spots.

I see a pattern here.

We also all need to understand that WBAI has to survive in the real world. The station has been unable to support itself for at least the past 7 years.

Pacifica is illiquid, bordering on insolvent.

In 19 months WPFW must have a place to move to, and Pacifica is going to need to pay for the moving expenses of WPFW. WPFW is not currently self sustaining. If WBAI is not able to extend its current lease for at least 2 or 3 years past the end of 2012, and/or if Pacifica can't fund WPFW's move, then there is the possibility that Pacifica will go bankrupt and lose licenses or possibly fold up all together.

The overwhelming revenue generator for WBAI is the on-air fund raisers, which now account for around 78% of WBAI's total revenue. And what those on-air fund raisers are generating is not enough.

The programming is what attracts listeners and, we hope, motivates them to support the station financially.

WBAI is in serious financial trouble, finishing FY10 around $500,000 in the red, and we are not raising enough money through on-air fund raising to get us out of that trouble. The clock is ticking away those 19 months.

The need for WBAI to make some sort of change to the programming is obvious. It's been obvious for quite a few years. It's certainly been obvious for the past year and a half.

The interim Program Director really ought to have been working on this for the past year and a half. Producers should have been talked to ahead of time, consultations with producers should have been going on, producers' opinions and proposals should have been solicited.

I am now hearing that the interim Program Director is meeting with some producers who are affected by the sudden program changes and that some of what should have gone on before the changes were announced is going on now. So maybe the hard edge of this round of program changes is getting softened and maybe things will work out, although the programming still needs to be changed so that the station can survive.

WBAI and Pacifica are in dire financial straits. Something must be done. Management can probably be described as pretty desperate to find a way out of this mess. In this desperate situation they are throwing things at the wall to see what will stick. Mistakes are made.

Telling Management that they may not affect changes to programming is an exercise in magical thinking. We cannot be sure what effect any of the changes will have on the station. We can be absolutely sure, however, that doing nothing will doom WBAI, and possibly all of Pacifica.

I hope that all of us who are in WBAI, and Pacifica, can somehow save our sinking ship. I hope that in the process we can keep from damaging each other too much.

Back to the page for the November 1, 2010, program.