Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sometimes a Great Notion

WBAI's Program Director Chris Hatzis has departed from the station suddenly and unexpectedly and somewhat mysteriously. We're hoping that he will at some point come forward and provide some explanation and perhaps some analysis. But will it help?

Musical Managers
One thing we know is that the endless progression of managers in recent years has not helped. WBAI is still like Ken Kesey's story of "a family of fiercely independent Oregon loggers struggling to keep the family business alive amidst changing times."

Although Chris Albertson and a few others wanted Chris Hatzis to be the great white hope, there were reservations among others about the advisability of bringing in yet another manager who was unfamiliar with WBAI, with hopes that they would magically provide solutions to the station's programming problems.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Here's a novel idea: let the inmates run the asylum! Seriously though, there is a strong core of knowledge at WBAI, existing in people who have the depth of experience to provide the kind of guidance that's so desperately needed at the station. Why not give that a try? Rather than importing from the outside someone who is bound to be unfamiliar with the culture of WBAI, why not utilize the practical insight that already exists within the station?

Rather than imposing rule in a top-down manner, why not try governance from below? Assemble a consortium of workers - a super Program Council if you will, to figure out how best to proceed. That changes are needed is a given that everyone can agree on. But watching a newcomer like Hatzis react in an almost paralyzed manner and end up doing nothing to improve the station makes one realize that this approach is not working, and that it's time to try something else. And time is of the essence. The station really cannot afford another 10 months of someone getting their feet wet, only to find that they are not a fit, or have no idea what to do.

The New Sanity
The approach we're suggesting would be consistent with what economics professor Richard Wolff has been preaching on WBAI's airwaves for some time now: an alternative to the capitalist structure in which workers have little say;  one in which the producers of an organization participate in running it. Why not put this idea to work at WBAI?

Of course it would take beaucoup de cooperation, congeniality and fellowship that WBAI is not famous for. Would it even be possible with the warring factions that still exist inside the station? We think that the balance of power is such right now that it could be possible, and that it might be important to seize the moment. Just an idea to be thrown into the mix, but one thing we can all agree on is that there have been too many failed managers at WBAI for too many years now, and that this has been hurting the station. Albertson's idea of a clean sweep has been shown to have backfired. In the end it may only be WBAI people themselves who can solve the station's problems.


  1. Realistically, there's no way that a super-programming council could manage the day to day programming operations of the station. They'd take a week to consense upon one email. The partisan divisions are too stark for speedy decision-making.

    I agree, though, that what has been happening the past couple years has proven itself a failure, and that maybe it's time to hire a nonpartisan insider of some sort who can hit the ground running, yet not start going on an ideologue's war path -- what about someone from elsewhere in the Pacifica Network (though not one of the extremists trying to sell WBAI, obviously)? Or one of the more neutral unpaid producers? I don't know them personally, but the people at the Asia/Pacific Forum put on a good show and don't seem overly invested in the uglier side of station politics. Ditto for the hacker show.

    The real question is, why would anybody want to take on such a thankless and doomed job?

    1. I don't think anyone will be able to "hit the ground running" and time is of the essence now. Too much time has already been lost with the many failed hirings, which is why my idea is to get some knowledgeable insiders or even hire one insider to do the job on an interim basis. Station politics really need to be put aside right now, and everyone has to pull together and put WBAI's interests above factional ones. This worked once before when BAI was under siege (Christmas Coup), and the station is somewhat less factionalized now, so I see no reason why it couldn't work again.

    2. I see your point, for sure. I wonder who specifically it could be...

    3. Well I can think of three people right off who would have the wisdom, consciousness and knowledge of BAI to do this: Max Schmid, Ibrahim Gonzalez and Robert Knight. Now the only problem with them (assuming they'd even want the job) is the question of self-interest, since they all currently have shows. In order to do this I guess those involved would need to give up their own shows if they had them, for this period of time. I'm sure there are others behind the scenes who also have the kind of knowledge and understanding needed to do the job. I would see this as a temporary effort to get WBAI going in the right direction again. Maybe an Interim PD could be hired simultaneously whom they could bring up to speed. But to just bring in yet another outsider at this point seems way too risky to me. Hatzis (and others) who looked good from the outside totally fizzled out. What's to prevent that from happening again, and can WBAI afford it?

  2. Also, what is Albertson's idea of a clean sweep? I'm not familiar with some of the uglier parts of this partisan bickering. It certainly is appealing on the face of it to get rid of Berthold and Kathy, who have proven themselves unfit to run a lemonade stand much less a large radio station.

    1. Albertson always tries to portray himself as being non-partisan, which could be the case, but it could also be the case that he is simply insane, which is pretty much what I think. Did Berthold and Kathy run a lemonade stand? News to me.

    2. Yeah, I just spent a little time looking at his site, and he seems to have some real psychological issues. I don't use this term lightly, but he really seems to be a flaming racist, too. The less said about that kind of person, the better. I just ignore those crazies.

      As far as Berthold and Kathy, I just meant I don't think they're very good managers (nor was Chris Hatzis, but he's gone). Kathy is nice interpersonally, but she always seems like she's stoned, and it is literally impossible to contact her, which is pretty important for her job. I have seen her passive aggressively kill a number of ideas and projects just by ignoring them.

      Berthold is kind of the opposite, like a nervous stress-case constantly overwhelmed by the littlest thing. More to the point, Berthold really badly handled a few crises, such as Hurricane Sandy and this move. Why did he ignore all the input of producers who could have actually helped during Sandy (such as the Off the Hook guys?). It's because of his anti-democratic, corporate management style. Plus, the fund drives he has managed have gone worse and worse and worse. Plus he hired Chris Hatzis, who was a do-nothing salary-collector. Plus he okayed the transition to one-third to one-half of airtime being fundraisers, which is why I personally think there have been diminishing returns -- we've lost many of our listeners because every other week is producers desperately asking for money.

      Having said that, kudos to him for finally getting the station out of that horrible contract with 120 Wall. That will be his legacy. Unfortunately, he handled all communications and processes around that decision very badly, IMHO.

      Also, kudos to him for hiring Andrea Katz, who is very creative about getting things done and seems to be making real progress around various forms of fundraising other than pledge drives. However, Berthold over-relies on Andrea, such as when she was forced to rig a boom box to her computer to record air checks after Hurricane Sandy. I admire her for figuring it out, but anyone with real technical skills could have done it more professionally. The problem was that Berthold forcefully excluded the contributions of everyone other than his inner circle.

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