fasstrack

WBAI FM----Moribund and unwell in NYC

78 posts in this topic

For fellow New Yorkers I don't have to tell you about WBAI's (at 95.5 FM and owned and licensed by the Pacifica Foundation) history as an important, if dysfunctional voice for progressives, the civil, women's, and gay rights movements, and the generally voiceless.The news department did really important investigative work during the Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. Also free-form radio cut its baby teeth there, and it has done truly outstanding arts programming through the years. (Those outside of range may listen online at www.wbai.org)

Because WBAI sits in the middle of the FM dial it it is prime real estate---and as such has always been fought over by various slightly more than zealous inner factions. This power struggle---and other pressures within and without--- contributed to the notorious management lockouts of staff in 1977 and 2000. But the station survived.

In recent years the splintering, mis-management, an ill-advised move to 120 Wall Street (b/c of the expense of the studios), and saddest of all, poor quality of its air has caught up with WBAI. Listenership is but a sliver (with little outreach to younger potential listeners reared on the Web), and fundraising for this listener-sponsored station has been so poor that BAI was evicted from 120 Wall St. and now is 'couch surfing' at City College. The Empire State Building management is waiting to evict them from the transmitter room any day also b/c of rent arrears. Fundraising---traditionally 3X a year---is now relentless (and seemingly ineffective). Premiums offered for donations as high as $125 strain credulity in content (9-11 conspiracy theories). Scheduling changes drove good programmers away (case in point: left economic analyst Doug Henwood).The old lefties accuse BAI of selling out (the health guru Gary Null---widely viewed by them as a rainmaker and capitalist was recently put back on the air). Others (and I tend to agree) poo-poo excuses like Hurricane Sandy for BAIs current 'crisis'----when it was a long time coming.

The faction wars used to be fun. Now they're sad. I truly feel for the on-air personalities still doing good radio (IMO Simon Loeckle, Ibrahim Gonzalez, Max Schmid, Sidney Smith and others) having to float in the river Styx. And I don't see how the station can last much longer. Or can it? Would it be better off left to die and perhaps rise again in a viable form? Any thoughts?

Edited by fasstrack

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As you probably know, I have plenty of thoughts on that subject, Joel. The situation is indeed grave and there is in my estimation not much hope for WBAI's survival as a listener-sponsored station.

My WBAI blog will give you a good idea of where I stand and what is happening within the station. There are forces within who are trying to convert WBAI into a black/latino outlet and—sad to say—they are aiming low, intellectually.

Here's a link to my blog.

So, Joel, except for "the faction wars used to be fun," I agree entirely with your last paragraph.

BTW, jazz was well represented on WBAI when I was the General Manager, many moons ago. This Village Voice ad is from 1965:

WBAIJazzadVV122365.jpg

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It's been moribund and unwell for at least 25 years. Joel & Chris, have you seen the Radio Unnameable documentary? Excellent.

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It's been moribund and unwell for at least 25 years. Joel & Chris, have you seen the Radio Unnameable documentary? Excellent.

It's been moribund and unwell for at least 25 years. Joel & Chris, have you seen the Radio Unnameable documentary? Excellent.

Longer than that. It started to decline in the late Sixties, when Larry Josephson and Steve Post deluded themselves into believing that they were celebrities. That changed the direction and put the station on a steady downward path. This is, I believe a great station in its death throes after a very long illness.

I have been invited to see the "Radio Unnameable" film, but I'll wait until they send me a DVD, which they said they would. I am told that it is quite good and that I have a walk-on in it. To show you how misdirected the station's management is, they don't even give Bob Fass gas money. He has been doing the show for over fifty years. My predecessor fired him, but I hired him back and put him on the payroll. There are people on the payroll currently whose only talent is derriere-licking.

Has anybody here seen the film?

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Chris, the film is very good, and yes, you appear in it. I have to admit, as a teenager I was a Steve Post addict.

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Chris, the film is very good, and yes, you appear in it. I have to admit, as a teenager I was a Steve Post addict.

I was too, and I thought Fass was an old bore. Where is Post today?

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Chris, the film is very good, and yes, you appear in it. I have to admit, as a teenager I was a Steve Post addict.

I was too, and I thought Fass was an old bore. Where is Post today? Post was on WNYC for years. His last show was called the No Show. I think he is unwell. As a teen I was addicted to his BAI show The Outside.

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I have met many undesirable people in my 81 years, but far more good people. As to the former, I am hard put to think of anyone who is as big a slime bag as Steve Post. WNYC dumped him and I don't think anyone is likely to pick him up.

Steve-Postangstorparanoia.jpg

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I have met many undesirable people in my 81 years, but far more good people. As to the former, I am hard put to think of anyone who is as big a slime bag as Steve Post. WNYC dumped him and I don't think anyone is likely to pick him up.

Steve-Postangstorparanoia.jpg

He may be a slime bag (I never met him). But he does good radio.

I wonder what happened to the No Show at NYC. I assumed his health took a nose dive.

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From what I understand, it wasn't so much that his health took a nosedive as it was management waking up. Clawing his way to a top that he never reached, Post hurt a lot of people with his self-serving lies.

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From what I understand, it wasn't so much that his health took a nosedive as it was management waking up. Clawing his way to a top that he never reached, Post hurt a lot of people with his self-serving lies.

Care to elaborate on the self-serving lies?

It's been moribund and unwell for at least 25 years. Joel & Chris, have you seen the Radio Unnameable documentary? Excellent.

I wouldn't say it's been moribund for 25 years. There was still great radio produced in the '80s and '90s. It was when Bernard White and crew got their hooks in it that things went downhill IMO.

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Compared to the WBAI I joined as a volunteer in 1961, the station has definitely been moribund for the past 25 years. Good programs continued, but enlarged egos did not allow the station to grow, intellectually, as it was meant to do. Now the years of stagnation and the most idiotic governing "system" imaginable is finally killing it. Many listeners—most of them having abandoned the station—feel that it is already dead.

Here's recent post from one of the former supporters:

When the marketer "Dr." Gary Null returned to WBAI, I wrote in protest that I could not participate in maintaining a station that confuses narcissistic contrarianism and merchandising with criticism of and resistance to power. Before I wrote that, I heard WBAI "doctors" diagnosing people on the air, after a few minutes of phone rambling from the desperate "patient", sight unseen. Who can support that? Seriously, think demographics - what kind of people, with what kind of behavior, will support that month after month? Are there enough of them? Do they have the cash? I was dismayed that credentialed scientists associated with WBAI refused to demand an end to this (that's when I realized that the situation was not salvageable). The desperate gave more $$$, and I got to hear first hand who these people were, as I took the calls. The premiums aren't any more crazy than the regular free offerings. If you want to take money from the audience, it will have to be from the audience you built with the programming you offer. With all the money "Dr." Gary Null raised, did anyone wonder - even for a moment - at all the people who would REFUSE to tell anyone about the station, even about other programs, for fear that they'd be seen as lunatics? Did anyone wonder - even for a moment - at all the people who would simply walk away, shaking their heads, feeling like they'd been had (after given time and money)?
When I was in a position to ask the question at the station, I inquired after programming standards. Written ones. There were none. I asked if the PD met with the on-air talent. Not really. And never was there a checklist of (1) who was the intended audience, (2) how successful is this connection with that audience - and how is that measured, (3) how well does that fit within a broader station programming direction and mission, (4) what can the PD or others do to improve the quality and outreach, (5) what can the talent do to improve the quality and outreach? Nope. No questions. No records. And why should there be? The station's programming was often embarrassing, even downright dangerous - not merely annoying, or something I disagreed with - but dishonest and destructive. Why make a written record of that, who would sign off on that?
I have recently read a prominent WBAI personage denounce Al Lewis's fake birthday, in very disparaging terms. I couldn't listen to "Grandpa Al" because he was something between mean and cruel to people (really, if you only want to hear your own voice, why take calls - especially when you know half the callers are mentally disabled and will add nothing). But this poster's hang-up was with a 90th birthday party for a man who wasn't 90. Really? On the station with "Dr." Gary Null as star attraction, THAT is the big problem? The 90-year-old thing is just a joke - and lying about age is a common ruse among performers. And nobody took it seriously. It just shows how cynical and unserious the leaders of WBAI are. If there was any - and I mean ANY - integrity left anywhere at the station, they would appeal to the foundation to sublet the station's programming to some other group, perhaps an arts foundation for half the day and perhaps FAIR or The Nation Institute for the other half. Sure, I'd have plenty of quibbles with that solution, I'm somewhat to the left of FAIR/The Nation and probably any arts group who would have the wherewithal to run a station... but right now, we're talking about basic competence. And Pacifica doesn't have it.
I'll never forget going to a seder, a pro-Palestinian one, and the someone had said, "Oh, did you all get the email from ____ to give $25 and vote in the next Pacifica election?" Everyone said yes. And I said, "Hey, that's WBAI! Did any of you catch the show about..." And I immediately noticed that everyone (the room was filled with 20- and 30-somethings) turned in shock, with my partner tugging at my sleeve saying, "Nobody actually LISTENS to WBAI, honey." As I said, a handful of cynics behind the mics... and a rapidly diminishing number outside the walls who have long ago switched off the radio. That's WBAI.

WBAI isn't going to die.
It's already dead.

They are probably somewhat repetitious, because they are random posts (i.e. no intended chronology), but these links may give you a slightly sharper picture of Post than the one you formed as a teenaged listener.

http://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/2011/05/wbais-metamorphosis-early-inkling.html

http://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/2012/04/wbais-decline-begins.html

http://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/2012/10/it-is-no-secret-that-wbai-is-stuck-in.html

http://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/2011/09/final-scraps.html

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Compared to the WBAI I joined as a volunteer in 1961, the station has definitely been moribund for the past 25 years. Good programs continued, but enlarged egos did not allow the station to grow, intellectually, as it was meant to do. Now the years of stagnation and the most idiotic governing "system" imaginable is finally killing it. Many listeners—most of them having abandoned the station—feel that it is already dead.

Here's recent post from one of the former supporters:

When the marketer "Dr." Gary Null returned to WBAI, I wrote in protest that I could not participate in maintaining a station that confuses narcissistic contrarianism and merchandising with criticism of and resistance to power. Before I wrote that, I heard WBAI "doctors" diagnosing people on the air, after a few minutes of phone rambling from the desperate "patient", sight unseen. Who can support that? Seriously, think demographics - what kind of people, with what kind of behavior, will support that month after month? Are there enough of them? Do they have the cash? I was dismayed that credentialed scientists associated with WBAI refused to demand an end to this (that's when I realized that the situation was not salvageable). The desperate gave more $$$, and I got to hear first hand who these people were, as I took the calls. The premiums aren't any more crazy than the regular free offerings. If you want to take money from the audience, it will have to be from the audience you built with the programming you offer. With all the money "Dr." Gary Null raised, did anyone wonder - even for a moment - at all the people who would REFUSE to tell anyone about the station, even about other programs, for fear that they'd be seen as lunatics? Did anyone wonder - even for a moment - at all the people who would simply walk away, shaking their heads, feeling like they'd been had (after given time and money)?
When I was in a position to ask the question at the station, I inquired after programming standards. Written ones. There were none. I asked if the PD met with the on-air talent. Not really. And never was there a checklist of (1) who was the intended audience, (2) how successful is this connection with that audience - and how is that measured, (3) how well does that fit within a broader station programming direction and mission, (4) what can the PD or others do to improve the quality and outreach, (5) what can the talent do to improve the quality and outreach? Nope. No questions. No records. And why should there be? The station's programming was often embarrassing, even downright dangerous - not merely annoying, or something I disagreed with - but dishonest and destructive. Why make a written record of that, who would sign off on that?
I have recently read a prominent WBAI personage denounce Al Lewis's fake birthday, in very disparaging terms. I couldn't listen to "Grandpa Al" because he was something between mean and cruel to people (really, if you only want to hear your own voice, why take calls - especially when you know half the callers are mentally disabled and will add nothing). But this poster's hang-up was with a 90th birthday party for a man who wasn't 90. Really? On the station with "Dr." Gary Null as star attraction, THAT is the big problem? The 90-year-old thing is just a joke - and lying about age is a common ruse among performers. And nobody took it seriously. It just shows how cynical and unserious the leaders of WBAI are. If there was any - and I mean ANY - integrity left anywhere at the station, they would appeal to the foundation to sublet the station's programming to some other group, perhaps an arts foundation for half the day and perhaps FAIR or The Nation Institute for the other half. Sure, I'd have plenty of quibbles with that solution, I'm somewhat to the left of FAIR/The Nation and probably any arts group who would have the wherewithal to run a station... but right now, we're talking about basic competence. And Pacifica doesn't have it.
I'll never forget going to a seder, a pro-Palestinian one, and the someone had said, "Oh, did you all get the email from ____ to give $25 and vote in the next Pacifica election?" Everyone said yes. And I said, "Hey, that's WBAI! Did any of you catch the show about..." And I immediately noticed that everyone (the room was filled with 20- and 30-somethings) turned in shock, with my partner tugging at my sleeve saying, "Nobody actually LISTENS to WBAI, honey." As I said, a handful of cynics behind the mics... and a rapidly diminishing number outside the walls who have long ago switched off the radio. That's WBAI.

WBAI isn't going to die.

It's already dead.

They are probably somewhat repetitious, because they are random posts (i.e. no intended chronology), but these links may give you a slightly sharper picture of Post than the one you formed as a teenaged listener.

http://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/2011/05/wbais-metamorphosis-early-inkling.html

http://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/2012/04/wbais-decline-begins.html

http://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/2012/10/it-is-no-secret-that-wbai-is-stuck-in.html

http://wbai-nowthen.blogspot.com/2011/09/final-scraps.html

Read them. Aha, I see your point.

BTW, I never could stand Null, and saw right through him. Talk about egos....

Edited by fasstrack

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it's hard to believe that BAI once had people like CA, Don Schlitten, Marian McPartland, Ira Gitler, Gunther Schuller and Dan Morgenstern doing jazz programming, but I read the Roland Kirk bio recently, and it said that RRK used to call up Morgenstern regularly, and have interesting discussions about jazz history with him. I was too young to hear any of that.

The reference to "Lenny" Lopate and the tape recorder reminded me how successfully he used "'Round Midnight" to advance his radio career...

My best memories of BAI are when they had the Free Music Store concerts in the church.

My friends and I saw Jim Hall, Ron Carter and Benny Aronov do a fine concert there.

Then we saw Chuck Wayne and Joe Puma play a concert there, and I got to sit in with Chuck Wayne- on the air.

Joe Puma was nice enough to say, "What club are you playing at?", after I finished playing, although I was still in high school, and had a long way to go.

I haven't heard much to listen to on BAI in ages...

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I went to Free Music Store events also. Bill Farrar also had a fine show, Jazz Sampler, for years. There have been so many great shows through the years that it's truly sad to listen these days both to content and begging.

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I think the other Pacifica stations have had similar problems.

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I think the other Pacifica stations have had similar problems.

Yes, and much of the blame for that can be laid on the governing structure of Pacifica—it opened the door to opportunists with personal agendas, political as well as entrepreneurial. Corruption is high and internal lawsuits are common and routinely settled out of court. The infomercial-inspired hucksters and "premiums" are interchangeable at these stations and the screw-the-listener attitude is foundation-wide.

Your local Pacifica station, KPFK, with its Blosdale, is quite bad, but I believe WBAI has gone from being the most financially stable to a point where it has been relying on Pacifica for financial support. That source has dried up, as has the spirit that once drove all these stations. I don't see much hope for the future, and WBAI will probably be the first station to go.

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Didn't Pacifica install the current management at BAI?

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I used to be a faithful listener and contributor to BAI, but haven't listened for probably 20 years. Everything ends when the time comes.

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Didn't Pacifica install the current management at BAI?

Yes, with recommendation from a local screening committee whose members have little or no knowledge of broadcasting. They apparently saw 60 candidates! Kinda makes one wonder what the other 59 were like!

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I remember seeing Archie Shepp's Attica Blues band at the Free Music Store. Don Cherry also did Relativity Suite there, and I recorded it from the radio to reel to reel.

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This blog post from former BAI on-air personality Mike Feder was about racism and mismanagement at the station.

http://www.federfiles.com/archives/000063.html

I never listened much to Feder, but my friend Jeff, who was a radio junkie was a big fan of his storytelling. So when I found his memoir at a used book store I bought it, I found it to be very revealing and well written

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