R. Paul Martin's Personal Comments on the Current WBAI Crisis

Of course everyone knows that there is a crisis at WBAI going on right now.

My comments on this state of affairs are mine alone, and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone else or of any group.

In my opinion WBAI is in the midst of a civil war. Pacifica Management had been backing one faction for quite a while, but in late November 2000, Pacifica switched sides. Pacifica ousted Valerie Van Isler's faction and placed the Utrice Leid faction into Management at the station.

I'm not a member of either faction. I am, however, a long time producer at the station, and I see a real danger on the horizon, that of Pacifica Management and the Pacifica National Board.

A lot of the aspects of how Utrice Leid got installed as General Manager are not savory. I say that the Paid Staff person who was fired without cause must be reinstated and the bannings must be reversed. The new “restricted access” policy must be rescinded and the “guards” or gang members or “friends” who are currently hanging out at WBAI night and day must be removed from the station. The WBAI Union is working to realize these goals. However, Utrice Leid is General Manager now, and that is not going to be reversed. In my opinion, the people in the ousted faction need to find a way to seek a negotiated settlement.

Realistically speaking, Valerie Van Isler is permanently gone. But others could be brought back. Unfortunately, some of the comments by leading members of the ousted faction seem to have burned all bridges. As time goes by a negotiated settlement is less and less likely. I wish people would drop the unrealistic demand that Valerie Van Isler be given the General Manager job back and get on with trying to accomplish something that's actually possible.

Given the history of Pacifica Management regarding the stations and station personnel, I consider it a fifty fifty chance that Pacifica Management is playing Utrice Leid. That is, they may be using her to do some dirty work after which they will dump her like a hot potato and move on to whatever is next on their agenda.

One of my big concerns is that the current factionalism, having been brought to the listeners, is using up what I guess we could call “listener activist capital.” We're going to need this listener activist capital when Pacifica Management really comes to get us. If the listeners' activism is all used up by this factional civil war they are not going to be around when the station needs them for its very survival.

Right now there are a set of lawsuits pending against the Pacifica National Board, who are the real enemies. If these lawsuits are lost, then, in my opinion, so is WBAI. Pacifica Management will have a totally free hand to do what it pleases with the station, possibly even selling it. If the lawsuits are won, then things will be a lot better. But these lawsuits will take time to go through the courts and we are going to need listener sponsors' help to survive during that time while the litigation is pending.

One of the awful scenarios I've thought of is that Pacifica Management is manipulating this crisis to deliberately stir up and alienate WBAI's listener sponsor base. Due to the current crisis we did not have a January fund raising drive. We did have a fund raiser in February. WBAI Management is saying that it was successful and raised over $800,000 in pledges. Did it? This civil war has gotten a lot of people to not contribute to the station. Some of those pledges that did come in are protest pledges and/or conditional pledges. It is possible that a lot of those pledges will not be fulfilled, in protest. This would effectively defund the station, which is hand to mouth in the best of times. Where will money come from to run the place? If we can't raise money Pacifica may step in after a few months and declare that WBAI is too much of a liability and just sell the place, as has been proposed by Pacifica National Board members in the past.

Civil wars are always terrible. I just hope that this one doesn't weaken WBAI so much that we can't withstand the real assault from Pacifica Management. WBAI, for all its flaws, wackiness, factionalism and other rough edges is a gem. In my opinion it is something that's important, not just for the listeners in the tri-state listening area, but for the world. I think it would be a great tragedy if WBAI were to be destroyed or turned into some shadow of its former self.

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