Monday, February 24, 2014

Alternatives to Leasing WBAI

From Jim Dingeman:
LSB continuation meeting to discuss alternatives to LMA

The next LSB meeting will discuss alternatives to  leasing out the station to fend off the consequences of WBAI and Pacifica debt.  I encourage those, who have plans or thought out ideas to increase revenue on a consistent ongoing basis, to come to this meeting.

Location: 111 Livingston Ave. 7th fl. Brooklyn. 
Date: Thursday Feb. 27th
Time: 7 pm.

From R. Paul Martin:
Here's the motion that the committee passed this past Wednesday.

The WBAI LSB Finance Committee recommends the following motion to the

 Motion on Developing LSB Plan for Alternatives to LMA
 Whereas, on February 9, 2014, the Pacifica National Board adopted a
 motion postponing for 60 days any negotiations on a Local Marketing
 Agreement or Public Service Operating Agreement (LMA/PSOA) for WBAI,
 during which the WBAI Local Station Board (LSB) is to come up with a
 written plan for alternatives to an LMA/PSOA;


 1. The WBAI LSB will immediately form a Sustainability Working Group of
 at least 4 LSB volunteers, two local Finance Committee members, two
 active Community Advisory Board meeting participants and Management to
 organize broad outreach to WBAI listeners, Paid and Unpaid Staff, to
 evaluate existing proposals, including Community Advisory Board
 proposals, and develop additional proposals for station sustainability
 as an alternative to a Local Marketing Agreement or Public Service
 Operating Agreement.

 2. The working group will hold its first meeting within eight days in
 person if possible, or by teleconference if necessary, with provisions
 made so that members of the public can also call in and participate. All
 of the Working Group's meetings shall be open to the public with at
 least 7 days notice on the WBAI Web site, the LSB-Public LISTSERV, and
 as many other venues as possible.

 3. The Working group will report back on its work at all LSB meetings
 held through the LSB's April meeting.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Letter to Listeners: The State of WBAI

February 21, 2014

Over the past sixteen months, the WBAI community has had more than its fair share of turmoil: one hurricane, two temporary studios, one temporary office, three moves, nineteen layoffs and two program directors. All of this tumult has been disconcerting, even scary. You can hear the gloom in the voices of some of our producers. Naysayers abound, but there are also many dedicated people working hard to solve longstanding problems, and we are on track to make a dramatic recovery.

The Buddy program-has been wonderful for WBAI. When listeners automatically give us a certain amount each month, we have at least one predictable income stream. This is precious, financially and as encouragement to everyone who works at the station. I want to thank all of you who have signed up and make sure you know how important you are. Some BAI Buddies have not yet received their cards and tote-bags. There is no excuse for this (other than the fact that we don't have the staff to do it). I promise that you will receive them by the end of February.

Gary Null is back on the air at his usual time from noon to 1, Monday through Friday. His two-week absence was extremely unfortunate, but Gary's loyal listeners can be assured that his popular program will continue to be broadcast on our airwaves.


We tried a new approach, "the program is the premium," but it was unsuccessful. This concept does not work for most public radio stations, and it did not work for us. We basically jettisoned overnight the model that had kept us going for 60 years. Of course we all want to get away from WBAI's undue reliance on premiums. Diversifying revenue streams is a high priority, and there is a team working on a plan to increase the share of funds raised online, in the community, and via traditional non-profit strategies. This plan includes a carefully timed transition, steadily reducing on-air fund-drives as the new revenue sources emerge and stabilize. In the process of transitioning to new revenue streams, we will need to experiment, and the recent effort did provide some lessons learned. But the tuition for those lessons was exorbitant: The first two weeks of February set us back a quarter of a million dollars (we usually raise at least $18,000 a day), and we are now in crisis mode. Bills are overdue. Payroll is looming.


While the situation is extremely precarious, it is nowhere near as grim as it was a year ago or even six months ago. Don't forget that last February we were still reeling from Superstorm Sandy: we owed $250,000 on the transmitter and another $150,000 for office rent. Month after month WBAI depended on Pacifica to help with payroll and other expenses (which is one reason why Pacifica no longer has any cash reserves with which to help us or any of the other stations in the network).

We had no choice but to slash costs: we moved to Brooklyn and laid off three-quarters of the staff. The situation only started to turn around in October, when we had a very successful fund-drive that generated nearly $850,000, almost $200,000 more than the $650,000 target. Most of the extra revenue went to pay back debts to Pacifica and Silverstein Properties (we made our final rent payment for our former offices), as well as to purchase more premiums. And, although we had to add a few days, our December fund-drive also exceeded its target.
Because we have drastically cut costs and enjoyed two successful fund-drives, the Pacifica National Board voted earlier this month to give WBAI two more months before considering any of the LMAs (proposals to give up control of our programing through leasing arrangements). We have sixty days to prove to Pacifica that we can be financially self-sufficient.
With a successful fund-drive this month, we can continue to break even over the next quarter. Of course, we have to do better than break even, but our current and very realistic goal is to cover our monthly expenses, raise about $35,000 to build a studio at our Brooklyn location, and organize a big fundraiser to pay the severance we owe our laid-off employees.

Too many listeners have still not received their premiums, but there are a lot fewer than there were two months ago. Volunteers have been churning them out as fast as they can. How did we get so far behind, you might ask. After the hurricane we worked out of temporary offices for seven months with our equipment, supplies and premiums scattered in various storage units around the city, not sure where we would be month-to-month. But we dug ourselves out of that hole and by mid-summer moved to Brooklyn. Then, just as we were looking forward to settling down and catching up, WHAM, we had to lay off nineteen employees including most of the administrative staff. Since then, other than the brief stints with the two programming directors, we have had only TWO (including me) paid employees working full-time at the office. No regular company could lay off most of its staff and survive, but at WBAI, interns and volunteers have picked up the slack.

As General Manager, premiums were my responsibility, but I could not figure out a way to do my job, the jobs of all the people who were laid off AND recruit and organize volunteers to get out the premiums. I just couldn't do it. As a result, we have a backlog of e-mail and voice messages from people upset about not receiving their premiums.

WBAI is very fortunate to have top-notch interns and volunteers. For three months now, they have been coming every Sunday to help pack and ship premiums. But this is still not enough. So beginning next week, we are going into full-time Listener-Service Mode. Starting Monday, our Brooklyn office will be set up to accommodate at least eight volunteers at a time. We will contact every listener who has had a premium problem and resolve it. We will call every WBAI Buddy. Our goal is to fix all of these problems by the first day of spring on March 20. We are determined to regain the trust of our listeners.
By the way, if you have a premium problem, you can contact us via email or phone. We prefer emails so that we can look up your record before calling you back, but you are also welcome to call. The email address is The phone number dedicated to premiums is (347) 529-6664.

The crisis at WBAI has had a wonderful consequence: we are creating a real community among the listeners who volunteer regularly. Imagine that! You can help WBAI get out premiums and make genuine new friends at the same time. If you have time, send a message with your contact information to: It's time to turn all this theory into practice. Besides, working and talking with other listeners can be interesting and fun.


This is yet another problem for which I must ask your understanding. You need this document to get credit for your generous donations and file your tax returns, and we will get it to you by February 26.

The gloom-and-doom crowd-those who claim that any optimism is just wishful thinking-do not know what is really going on. Yes, we still have many problems, but there is also a solid basis for hope.
We could not have survived all the turmoil without our dedicated staff, producers and volunteers. But, most of all, it is you listeners who have inspired us to carry on despite all the obstacles and naysayers. I am deeply grateful to you, especially to the many people who contacted us this year to wish us well when the situation was most treacherous. Your encouragement was essential.
The last two weeks were especially rough, and we need to catch up quickly. But we can do it. Breaking even for two consecutive quarters will give us all renewed hope and confidence. Our foundation is much stronger, but our position is still precarious. Give us another chance, and we will put the community back in community radio.
Once we have stabilized our finances and built our studio in Brooklyn, we will have consolidated operations in one affordable place. That will made a huge difference. We are already exploring options for the popular call-in shows, as well as innovative ways to cover local news. And we want your input. Sometime soon you will be receiving with the newsletter a survey asking for your opinions about all of this.

Thank you,
Berthold Reimers
General Manager

Laid-Off WBAI Employees Still Waiting for Severance Six Months Later

It was August when Pacifica Radio's executive director, Summer Reese, took to the airwaves to announce that most of the station's paid staff, including its entire news department, was being laid off.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Letter from Berthold Reimers

Good morning, listeners,

This is Berthold Reimers, General Manager of your station. I am here with you this morning to report on the situation at WBAI. There are lots of rumors afloat, and many people are understandably confused about what’s true and what’s not.

The first thing that needs to be clarified is the question of the LMAs, or Lease Management Agreements by which WBAI would be handed over to an outside programmer. On Sunday, our former Program Director told a reporter that if the situation were not turned around in “just a couple days,” Pacifica would sell the license for the station or lease its airwaves.” That is absolutely not true. In fact, the Pacifica National Board this past weekend voted to put off any consideration of LMAs for 60 days in order to give WBAI time to work out a realistic alternative.

Second, it has been repeated on air numerous times these past two weeks that we could not offer premiums because we could not afford to buy them. The former Program Director also told a reporter this week that the reason we had to conduct a fund-drive without premiums is that we have none. That is not true. WBAI and Pacifica have a deep reservoir of fabulous programs on CD. We also have a substantial inventory of books and DVDs. And starting next week we will return to pitching premiums. Even NPR does not conduct fund-drives without premiums.

Members of the WBAI community don’t agree about much, but there is ONE THING we all agree on: everybody wants to move away from so much on-air fundraising. Diversifying revenue streams is a high priority, and there is a team working on a plan to increase the share of funds raised online, in the community, and via traditional non-profit strategies. The plan includes a carefully timed transition, steadily reducing on-air fund-drives as the new revenue sources emerge and stabilize. It is just common sense that we cannot jettison overnight a method that has kept us alive for the past 60 years. And that is what we did this month. It was a big mistake.

]In fact, we are now in much bigger trouble than we were two weeks ago. As most of you are aware, neither WBAI nor Pacifica has a cash reserve. Pacifica can no longer bail us out when we are short of cash. So we need to raise money fast.

The good news is that with a successful fund-drive, we can definitely break even during the current quarter. Our monthly expenses are down to about $125,000, half what they were a year ago. In fact we nearly broke even during the last three months of 2013 in terms of operating expenses. But we still had debt: for120 Wall Street, moving expenses, and we had to pay back money we had borrowed from WPFW.

We have left only one significant external debt, and that is the severance pay. It is a big problem because even if we dedicate the entire Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant to it, we still need an additional $90,000 to pay the full severance. But think about it: IF this fund-drive is successful, we may for the first time in a long time make it through a quarter without depending on Pacifica to bail us out. AND we will have no external debt! Of course we need to do much more than break even. But breaking even is important: it will stabilize us and give all of us new hope.

The last two weeks have set us back, and we need to catch up quickly. But we have the possibility, with this fund-drive, of turning a corner. After a very long fifteen months since Superstorm Sandy, we are close to getting back on an even keel. BUT ONLY IF THIS FUND-DRIVE IS SUCCESSFUL.  You the listeners are the ones who have made it possible for WBAI to survive all the turmoil over these past fifteen months:  · losing our offices and studio;
· moving to new locations;
· producing radio with makeshift studios;
· trying out several new program directors.

It has been one helluva year. But all along, we have been getting closer to financial stability AND deeper community.  The Community Advisory Board has been working for months on a plan to diversify revenue streams and will be implementing it in the coming weeks.

We have more volunteers taking up the slack, dedicating countless hours to getting out premiums faster than ever before. And we are creating new partnerships and alliances. For example, we are working on an arrangement with the Brecht Forum where we will record some of their outstanding programs to share with our listeners.

We CAN turn a corner if you the listeners will stand by us once again. Our expenses are much more realistic now, but our position is still precarious. Please, we have come a long way, but we still must get over this final hurdle.

Berthold Reimers
General Manager
WBAI 99.5 FM Radio

Saturday, February 8, 2014

WBAI: is the fix in?

WBAI's winter fund drive is tanking. At the end of the first five days they've only brought in $20K. A series of events have led us to wonder if the fix is in:

1. First came the announcement by Interim Program Director Robert Hennelly that this is a "make or break" fund drive. If this drive does not succeed, WBAI may be forced to enter a leased agreement.

2. Then they eliminated premiums, saying that "the program is the premium", knowing full well that this approach did NOT work the last time around when the fall drive was tanking.

3. Then they eliminated Gary Null. (More on that below.)

4. Then they eliminated the two shows by paid professionals in the afternoon ("The Sojourner Truth" and "Letters and Politics", both from Pacifica sister station KPFA) that had replaced the drive time shows that were lost when the paid staff was laid off last August.

5. And they replaced those shows, which could be considered the best of Pacifica,  with "local programming" -- ie just "regular people" talking about "regular things", like weight, image problems and so on. These are not going to be radio people, said interim PD Robert Hennelly, but people just like us, the listeners.

So what's going on with Gary Null? Well earlier in the week Gary announced that he'd attempted to contact Pacifica Executive Director Summer Reese about this, and as soon as he heard back from her, he'd discuss it on the air.

Here's what he said on his PRN show on Friday:

"Summer Reese was supposed to get in touch with me last Monday. I have not heard one word from her. I'll extend her until next Monday. If I have not heard from her by Monday, I will then lay out the full story that none of you have heard, and you will understand why I am not on WBAI or any other Pacifica station at this time."

So what do you think, is the fix in?

Postscript from Gary Null: "I've waited for Summer Reese to get back to me and she's a week late, but she's been busy with the Pacifica National Board Meeting held last weekend, so I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt, and I'm holding off my discussion of Pacifica until next Monday evening (Feb. 17) on the Progressive Commentary Hour at 8pm."