Saturday, September 28, 2013

Silent but deadly







We start with independent media and how it is at risk of going under in the United States.  This morning, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) announced, "The independent, daily half-hour news program Free Speech Radio News is airing its last edition today due to funding shortfalls. According to its website, FSRN is looking into the possibility of restructuring its organization in the future."  That's dishonest.

FSRN explained in a public statement on their website, "FSRN is currently carrying just over $200,000 in accounts receivable. For much of the year, our major funder Pacifica has not been able to pay us and its past-due balance to FSRN is about $198,000. "

Amy Goodman doesn't have to worry about these things because she found a way to leverage an attempted takeover of Pacifica Radio into riches.  This led to the 2002 deal in which Amy got ownership of the program (which had been owned by Pacifica) and hundreds and thousands in funding.

So maybe it's guilt that made Amy lie this morning.  I don't know, I don't give a damn.

She's just one of many WBAI thieves in the '00s who've destroyed Pacifica.

WBAI in the '00s aired one substandard, embarrassing program after another.  This really isn't a story about a Saturday schedule without news, with tired old records or the programs of a dead man that were rarely topical when he was alive (Al Lewis), or wasting the airwaves with a program about "your PC" at a time when laptops and tablets were the new norm. 

Pacifica Radio started with KPFA.  In 1949, KPFA began broadcasting in the Bay Area.  Pacifica was KPFA, KPFA was Pacifica.  It was the first listener-supported radio.  Long before NPR, there was Pacifica.  It had a commitment to diversity and to peace.  When Amy Goodman pimps Samantha Power and the UN resolution on Syria this morning, she's betraying the roots of Pacifica, so it's actually good in many ways that Democracy Now! is not a Pacifica program anymore.

A decade later, 1959, Los Angeles' KPFK started.  No problem there, like KPFA, KPFK pulled its own weight.  Then came WBAI in 1960 and the troubles emerge.  No group worked to put together WBAI and that's why it's been trash on the airwaves for decades.  They arrived with a feeling of entitlement.  In the Bay Area and in Los Angeles, work had to be done to create KPFA and KPFK.  In Washington DC, work had to be done to create WPFW (1977) and in Houston, Texas, work had to be done to create KPFT (1970).  Those four stations contributed and never had a sense of entitlement.

But unlike the other four, WBAI was a donation.  It's officially donated to Pacifica in January 1960 (it had been a commercial radio station) and broadcasting in the first week of the month.

It has always pulled stunts that have risked the work of the entire network.  They knew, for example, that broadcasting the George Carlin 'naughty words' routine was risky but they did it.  Fortunately, the Supreme Court sided with Pacifica but it could have gone the other way and risked the entire network. 

You do not get that cavalier F**K YOU WE DO WHAT WE WANT from the other four stations.  They have a history of work, not of entitlement.   That is not to claim that life is perfect and wonderful at the other four.  It is to note that if they take a stand, it's on a real issue -- a news issue, a broadcast issue -- whereas WBAI does stunts.

And that's created the culture at WBAI that has been so destructive.  Greed and incompetence have been the hallmarks of those who chose to stay with the station (as opposed to the many who elected to move on).  I'm not going to embarrass a '00 on air here.  But she was a woman of color, she was a very talented broadcaster and she was ousted from her job by the little junta which controlled WBAI in the '00s.  This same group -- a mixture African-Americans and Anglo Jews -- are the first to scream racism, but their own actions targeting people of color were racist.

Doug Henwood hosts Behind The News (whch originated at WBAI and now airs on KPFA Thursdays at noon PST).  He characterizes the '00s at WBAI:

 Charges of “racism” were lobbed constantly. A succession of managerial mediocrities drove the station into the ground. Excruciating stupidity was embraced in the name of populist programming. For several years in the mid-2000s, the station was run by a cabal of black nationalists of an antique and alienating sort. They were forced out by Pacifica central, only to be replaced by an even less distinguished (though not black nationalist) set of sub-mediocrities.

That probably includes the people who caused Henwood to leave.  In 2010, major changes were implemented and leadership forced on to WBAI.  Bernard White felt the need to whine publicly.  Strangely enough, White felt it was okay to use WBAI's airwaves in 2008 to promote and endorse Barack Obama for president.  In his role as program manager of WBAI, that endorsement was both questionable and potentially harmful.  As the daytime voice, he did bumpers between the morning programs, stupid musings without merit that would be embarrassing in any city but especially in New York City where so much media was present to catch the stupidity.

It was in one such 'bumper,' that he mused on the violence that would arrive should Barack not become president.  Pacifica has a certain tax status and has that because it's non-partisan.  To have the daily announcer -- who is also the program manager and was the voice of WBAI at that time -- make such a stupid statement was appalling to the Pacifica board.  It was unprofessional and it could have resulted in the network losing its tax status.

WBAI was not pulling its own financial weight and had not been for some time.  White's stunt set in motion his 2009 dismissal (which he claimed publicly was a COINTEL plot and "non-progressive, what I consider to be racist people").  What followed was the usual stupidity of 'poor Bernard was fired because he was Black!'  It's interesting how color 'matters' when White's cabal screams racism.  It didn't matter when White fired Robert Knight (who is African-American -- Knight would go on to do Flashpoints on KPFA with Dennis Bernstein and Nora Barrows-Friedman before returning on air at WBAI after White left), it didn't matter when they got rid of the woman of color I wrote of earlier.  But when White loses his job, it's 'racism.'

No, it was about not paying the bills.  It was about draining Pacifica's cash with your station no one listened to.  In 2010, serious measures were taken.  It was necessary to get money and listeners immediately.  Pacifica was in danger of going under -- that was chiefly due to monies WBAI owed.  All stations suffered and had to make concessions.  KPFA, for example, had to do away with The Morning Show.  (A blessing in disguise.  It allowed for diversity in programming and thought to replace an increasingly soft pseudo news show.)  For WBAI, it meant experimenting with new programs -- a long overdue need.  That meant moving some programs currently airing and how the hosts did howl. 

Mya Shone and Ralph Schoenman provided a real service with Taking Aim.  (Doug Henwood would disagree, he despises shows that question the 9-11 narrative.)  They did a first-rate program.  But when they learned their Tuesday show was moving from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm, they had a hissy fit.  They dubbed ten p.m. "the bedtime hour."  Excuse me?  10 pm is bedtime in NYC?  WBAI was attempting, through the efforts of interim director Tony Bates, to bring in listeners.  They had to shake up the schedule.  They were not burying Taking Aim at midnight or later, they were airing it during the last hour of prime time.  (Don't ask Mya or Ralph what happens on ABC's Scandal -- which returns this coming Thursday at 10:00 pm EST, 9 central -- because they're already in bed and can't watch.)   The anger of Mya and Ralph was misplaced but quickly adopted by the Bernard White crowd with calls of 'take back WBAI!'  Under Bates, the station was actually listenable.  (Law and Disorder is the only WBAI show the station had that was consistently listenable in the '00s.)

They never succeeded and they won't.  Goodman's gotten what she wants (she got it immediately -- two airings daily of Democracy Now! on WBAI).  They have no real leaders (in the past, people stood behind White, real leaders, pulling the strings).  And they're in a position of weakness.  August 13th, I filled in for Stan at his site and wrote "WBAI troubles."

Oh, how the deluded don't like reality.  I got a real taste of the hatred the Bernard White crowd has heaped on Robert Knight (he had dared to call out Barack's Drone War, war on Libya and more).  To suggest that WBAI should be sold!!!! Gasp!!!! How dare I?

Here's some of what I wrote:

It has been a worthless radio station.  I don't slam the shows about "conspiracy theories" the way Henwood does.  I think they gave WBAI some diversity in thought.
But the garbage, I call that crap out and have for some time.  We wrote about a lot of this in real time.

For example, Saturdays and Sundays on WBAI was crap with one dee jay oldies music show after another.
After Grandpa Munster passed away his Saturday time slot should have gone to needed news programming.  Instead Al Lewis was kept on the air (via old programs) for a year after he died.
Now this garbage on the weekend?
WBAI gets credit for airing Winter Soldier put on by Iraq Veterans Against the War.
But it didn't air them.
It aired Friday's proceedings.  They skipped Saturday and Sundays proceedings to air their crappy programs where they spin old records.  Actual news was taking place -- and KPFA was airing it -- but WBAI wasn't.
Doug Henwood apparently is uncomfortable calling that out.  I have no problem.  I called them out on the Saturday it happened.
WBAI's news has been a damn joke forever.
They are in the media capitol of the world and yet their news played like the worst local news in the worst and smallest market in the country.
The news only aired Monday through Friday and for a half hour.
So if any news broke on the weekend, WBAI couldn't cover it.
While KPFA has hourly news breaks during the day -- at the top of the hour (except during Democracy Now!) -- WBAI considers 'news' to be telling people the time and temperature.
They are an embarrassment.  So is the DC station.
And if you can't carry your weight and you're risking destroying the 'network' (five stations) you need to go.

Law and Disorder Radio will go on if WBAI doesn't.  The rest of programming offers nothing.  It's weak minded hosted by the weak minded and so far from Lewis Hill's intent with Pacifica that they should all be ashamed.  It's not just the falling asleep on air twice in 2012 by Tom Wisker (who was then hosting Weaponry on WBAI).  They are an embarrassment.  More importantly, they are not carrying their weight.  They owe Pacifica money and they risk the entire network going under as a result.

Free Speech Radio News was actual news.  It wasn't garbage.  It wasn't, "Let me interview my friend about their new book while we pretend on air like we're not best friends."  This was actual reporting -- a foreign concept to WBAI, granted.  The loss of this half-hour show is tremendous.  Free Speech Radio News covered everything that was news and did so professionally.

A few weeks ago (a few days before I wrote the post at Stan's blog), a friend called about what was going to happen to FSRN.  Couldn't we, he suggested, all kick in and take care of that?  We could.  And normally I'd be the first to write that check.  But I'm sick of paying WBAI's bills.  And rescuing FSRN would just give Pacifica another excuse not to address the WBAI problem.

WBAI is not pulling its weight.  It needs to publicly be informed it has X number of days to turn that debt around or its station will be sold.  Pacifica cannot risk going under to save that awful station.  Today, the world lost Free Speech Radio News.  If the problem's not addressed, it will be something else in a few months.  If the problem's not addressed, it will eventually be announced that Pacifica is going under.  One station should not be allowed to destroy the whole network.  KPFA, KPFK, KPFT  pull their own weight.  WBAI needs to make money quickly or be cut lose and the same is true of WPFW. 

Pacifica is supposed to be a network which supports peace.  Its purpose is too important.  Losing FSRN is a huge blow, losing Pacifica would be even more so. 

If you want to help Pacifica, you might also start demanding Amy Goodman write off the two million she's expecting Pacifica to pay her.  As Pacifica Treasurer Tracy Rosenberg noted at Matthew Lasar's Radio Survivor:

It’s not correct that Democracy Now hasn’t been paid a penny by Pacifica. It’s been paid millions of dollars, just not the last million. Since 2002, when the initial contract is signed, through the current day, the total amount Pacifica contracted to pay Democracy Now is over $5 million dollars. The problem is signing contracts that go up every year regardless of whether the pledges received during the airing of the program go up or down, and they have gone down substantially in the last decade. Pacifica, unfortunately, has gotten a lot of bad legal advice over the years and tends to make decisions emotionally. Emotional ties to DN were not a good enough reason to sign a contract which was not advantageous to both parties involved. And in the end, it hasn’t proven that advantageous to DN either. Pacifica’s then-ED Greg Guma objected to the terms during the renegotiation in 2007 because he could see the numbers weren’t trending in support of the terms, but no one listened to him at the time.

Goodman's very good at enriching herself.  It's really time for her 'to give back.'  It's also time for Pacifica to either enter a new contract with her or else drop her from the airwaves.  It wouldn't be a loss.  As Cindy Sheehan has pointed out, since Barack Obama has become president, she's been on Democracy Now! only once for a few seconds.  Amy puts on CIA contractor Juan Cole but ignores Cindy?  That's not Lew Hill's mission statement.

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