On Dismantling WBAI, the Who and Why: or Why Saving Our Newest Wave of Programmers is Essential!
It is once again with heavy heart and political distress that I write about this next round of dismissals of programs, of my radio colleagues. I write because of the complete absence of process for those dismissed and in condemnation of an institution that whose public persona of respect for and democratic process towards workers isn’t applied internally. Pacifica management is as cruel a boss as the worst of the plutocrats we publically critique.
How sad it is to work in an environment where our unpaid staff/worker union was destroyed and the paid staff union, virtually busted. How sad to work as though each producer was an independent contractor, an island onto oneself, alone, without collective support amongst ones peers, without any input from subscribers and listeners butting up against a cynical, insidious and most definitely an incompetent management, which is the fundamental dilemma Pacifica faces. Once again we whittle away at staff, whose hard work is ignored, whose important contributions to the public discourse are disregarded, staff whose programming encompassed real consideration for self-determination by racial, ethnic and gender groupings – not merely the platitude of encompassing racial diversity, which we can’t even claim at this juncture.
Pacifica management is categorically, arbitrarily dismissing producers/workers, dismantling programming, and by so doing showing its distain for and discarding the listening audience, an alternative perspective to the status quo and liberal social critique. It is departing from its mission, a mission rooted in activism, and involvement in actually pursuing change and not merely a homogenous, essentially academic critique of the status quo. There is a repudiation of the “movers and shakers” as management increasingly tilts towards those with a less strident “left” persuasion toward a more social democratic, a more academic and sedentary critique of policy-makers, rather than a systemic critique oftentimes. There’s a decided preference that management has for catering to those more economically more solvent, as a group and rejecting emphasis on responding to and hearing from the most impoverished, the most disenfranchised and those communities who suffer the greatest indignities within our system, yes those without some “name recognition” and some careful admittance into the media stream.
So, without any internal process, without any focus groups, and with decision-making concentrated largely in the hands of a small grouping, from outside the listening area, whose own incompetency's are legion, now another dozen or so programs are to be disappeared. Those programs are to be disappeared and replaced, at least momentarily with more males, Caucasian men from the middle class, with generally a social democratic political perspective and familiar and characteristic form of expression. Management is dismantling the production staff and with it firing the listeners, particularly listeners with more overt activist perspectives and practice and within those areas dismissing various cultural sensitivities within immigrant communities and communities of color in a city that is increasing Black and Latin in its population.
It certainly wasn’t that the programming now shredded wasn’t meaningful in content, and well-produced in form - programming by activists that gave voice to activism and stirred further involvement in responding to and alternating the political paradigms in our system.
Yes, this is the ideological dismantling of the station, this is the elimination of broad blocks of workers and the firing of their listeners, which I believe really is occurring to eliminate any resistance to the an inept management across the network. Ours is a management, without the essential credentials to administer a multimillion dollar alternative media network, in a series of increasingly expensive markets. Ours is a management installed by fiat, not because of individual knowledge, background, experience and acumen in dealing with alternative media institution financing, changing technologies or simply intellectual study and acumen. Ours is a management grouping that is given license by an undemocratic, cumbersome, fractious and fractured governance structure that has never since the most recent bylaws were implemented raised a fathering to support the station or produced a single constructive project or process for growing the network and developing the stations. It is not by-in-large the programmers, or the programs that are pushing the network to its possible demise, but the management and a hopeless governance structure.
As the entire network falters, WBAI is the cow being led to slaughter, that is the cash cow that is being discussed for leasing, possibly for bankruptcy, or sale, possibly to shore up the faltering Pacifica and the California stations. Of course, lose the programmers, lose their listeners and weaken any resistance for the hierarchal management schemes on the horizon. There a dare say soon to be revealed schemes regarding WBAI that are being fleshed out by Pacifica management and the Pacifica Board that are kept secret, that we need to be wary of and are certain to follow!!!
Replacing programmers with a Tom Hartman, or trumpeting, as labor friendly a returning broadcaster who had cooperated with the infamous Utrice Leid, where all workers were treated as fodder for an administration that virtually destroyed the network is not a formula for success. Some name recognition of professional, broadcasters, in generally secondary markets, from the failed Air Americas or who sound like and look like the voices and personalities heard over NPR stations cannot grow WBAI’s audiences.
We must have our own signature, we can’t copy and we can’t compete with NPR. We can’t compete with WBGO or other music avenues either and progress. WBAI must capitalize on its mission, its history, its own identity, its own unique signature. That is we must be committed to substantive change, be active in working towards it and engage those in the broadcast process who are the iconoclasts, the organizers, the creators for a better world, particularly in our communities where human and democratic rights, where economic opportunity and equality are the most limited. The policies and practices that discriminate and create disparities in out cities, our nation and across the globe, always looking towards getting people involved in changing them, not just theorizing about them unconnected to becoming immersed in the process of change is what has and should characterize our broadcasters.
Seeking activists from across the working class spectrum and certainly those with a “liberal” and left’ persuasion to listen to WBAI should be an affirmative duty and upheld. Seeking listeners who are the most sensitive, informed and aggressive in railing against individual, attitudinal cruelty and discrimination as well as institutional forms for discrimination are who we want to be our audiences and programmers. Catering to social change activists and those who value and give value to oppressed groupings – racially, ethnically, gender, sexual orientation, the disabled, the working class those are not “niche audiences but the audiences we should service and grow amongst.
Assuming you don’t believe this is about the deconstruction, dismantling entirely of WBAI, “burn the village to save the village” – then surely realize that the notion of predominantly, if not exclusively white, liberal men – formerly from the failed Air American, or those imported from California, or former administrations, attempt to immolate and or compete with the sound and general perspective of NPR hosts is not a workable formula for increasing listenership.
Bringing on board an increasing homogenous group, color wise, class and gender wise producers of “C” or “D” list fame, who can as well be heard elsewhere, will not draw more listeners to our station, but rather further alienate and eliminate the audiences we have – they will continue the process of firing the listeners and disregarding those most in need of a progressive venue of communication for those otherwise locked out of media to tell their stories “Like It Is”. People fighting for freedom and equal rights aren’t niche audiences.
Lastly, with the unpaid staff/workers union destroyed, with SAG/AFTRA virtually busted and growing numbers of programmers dismissed and their listeners turned away who is left to resist? Management understands this and the Tom Hartman’s I believe are at best just holding spaces while WBAI as we know it is being dismantled. Management, the Pacifica executive management and the Pacifica National Board are locked away from view, deliberating amongst the hierarchy, soon no doubt to release their plan for whether a leasing/operating plan for WBAI, a bankruptcy, a sale I dare say will soon be revealed.
The real problem with WBAI is a management across the network that isn’t competent to administer our beloved media network and a cumbersome, fractured, contentious governance structure that hangs like an albatross over us. Those are the real culprits in the dilemmas faced by the network.
In Struggle & with Hope
Co-host of Building Bridges, which airs weekly on WBAI