SF Bay Area Indymedia indymedia
About Contact Subscribe Calendar Publish Print Donate

East Bay | Indymedia

Do Pacifica’s moves signal plug could be pulled on WBAI? (KPFA)
by Repost
Thursday Aug 9th, 2012 4:35 PM
From the East Coast side of things

WBAI, the listener-sponsored radio station in New York City famous for airing George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” in the 1970s, is facing possible closure by the end of this year.

Although folks fond of following the never-ending soap opera known as WBAI may claim this is just more smoke in the perennial battles that have defined the station, this time the end may really be near.

WBAI is the home of iconic New York broadcasters like the poetic radical Bob Fass, moderately famous on local airwaves long before the Internet began its assault on traditional media-listening habits and sent media junkies to the likes of Mashable and Facebook.

WBAI was also the starting ground for Amy Goodman, whose “Democracy Now!” show has reinvented activist journalism and turned liberal political reporting into an Internet feeding machine. The station has also been home base to organic foods and health guru Gary Null. All from studios that have been occupying 120 Wall St., where WBAI has been located for a third of its 50-year existence.

But now the Pacifica Foundation, the Berkeley, California-based nonprofit that owns WBAI and four other community stations around the United States, is ready to pull the plug.

During the foundation’s quarterly national meeting held in Berkeley last month, the governing Pacifica National Board refused to back a $1 million emergency cost-cutting move that would have put Pacifica’s meager resources behind the floundering WBAI. But after rounds of cuts already taken that have decimated staff and canceled popular programming at the network’s stations in California, Washington, D.C., and Houston, the board said no more.

The P.N.B. is now on record mandating stations solve their own financial problems without assistance from the network. Pacifica also declined to renew the contract of Arlene Engelhardt, its current national director and the originator of the cost-cutting proposal.

According to P.N.B. member Tracy Rosenberg, a former New Yorker now representing Berkeley radio station KPFA, board members have been considering either temporarily shutting down WBAI at the end of the year when its lease runs out, or swapping the signal for another, weaker one — as the former New York Times-owned WQXR did some years ago — in return for cash, but at the cost of a much weaker signal. The most recent offer for a “signal swap” made public a few years ago included an offer of more than $100 million to Pacifica.

Rosenberg supports Engelhardt, adding that the conflict over WBAI is “a real threat” and “not rhetoric.” She claims her opponents are “supporting a vision of sink or swim,” and that “Pacifica is legally a network and available resources have to be allocated to meet pressing needs.”

Rosenberg is not popular in the Bay Area for her stance and is currently the focus of a recall election instigated by SaveKPFA, a group opposed to Engelhardt. A judge recently halted the recall because of allegations of impropriety in lists of eligible voters.

Unusual for organizations of its kind, the P.N.B. is chosen from among listener members, volunteers and employees in expensive and hard-fought, biannual elections designed to manage years of internecine conflict.

Pacifica’s “toxic” work environment, according to Rosenberg, was illustrated during last month’s board meeting when Engelhardt complained that she has been receiving “screaming messages on my cell phone in the middle of the night calling me a bitch and a whore.” She added that these calls were coming from “your listener representatives.”

No one at the meeting responded directly to Engelhardt’s charges, but P.N.B. member Dan Siegel, a bitter foe of Engelhardt, said at the same meeting that “WBAI’s facilities are not affordable and WBAI is a major threat to the organization.” He added, “I don’t want to get rid of WBAI. I want to see WBAI self-sufficient.”

Siegel, a Bay Area attorney, is a longtime radical activist best known as the mentor to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. When Quan’s police were accused of brutality against Occupy Wall Street protesters last year, Siegel resigned as her adviser and appeared on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” to publicly disavow Quan’s actions. Siegel is a strong partisan in Pacifica politics, backing former WBAI Program Director Bernard White, whose firing under pressure by the station’s local board, Siegel compared to “ethnic cleansing” at WBAI.

White’s opponents have long accused him of improper behavior and mismanagement, basically handing over the station to his cronies.

Siegel has publicly advocated a signal swap for WBAI and has suggested locations in either Brooklyn or Newark, N.J. According to WBAI board members, before he was fired, White had made similar suggestions in reaction to WBAI’s sinking finances.

Rosenberg admits WBAI faces serious hurdles because it has high “long-term, fixed expenses,” including more than half a million dollars annually to rent a transmitter on the Empire State Building, and that the cash injection from a signal swap is tempting. But she added that she envisions a “middle ground that makes sense,” since, in her view, “it’s not the role of WBAI to be sacrificed to endow the network.”

According to Rosenberg, there are alternatives. When pressed on the dwindling returns on generous payments by Pacifica to “Democracy Now!” Rosenberg admitted that even the sacrosanct Amy Goodman may be partially responsible for WBAI’s demise. According to Rosenberg, the 2002 original contract with “Democracy Now!” was “designed to benefit” Goodman’s program and was unopposed by the board; but in 2007 when the same $750,000 annual contract was renewed it was “at a detriment to Pacifica,” she said.

Goodman has refused offers to renegotiate, and her program, which started at WBAI, remains solvent with millions in reserve.

Much of the bitterness at Pacifica is rooted in a decade-long battle between factions that inherited control of the station in 2001. In that year revelations that Pacifica was exploring a signal swap exploded into acrimonious charges that Pacifica wanted to “sell” WBAI.

Now, more than a decade later, the same charges are being met with a whimper, in part because of the enormity of the financial problems and in part because power at the foundation is so widely scattered, the only successful managers are the ones who, according to Pacifica historian Matthew Lasar, realize that “people at Pacifica don’t bow down just because you wave around scary numbers. You got to go with who you’ve got,” he said.

If WBAI does not solve its financial mess by year’s end those words may seem prophetic.

DeRienzo is a former WBAI programmer and currently co-hosts “Let Them Talk” on Tuesday’s at 8 p.m. on Manhattan Neighborhood Network.
by earthling
Thursday Aug 9th, 2012 10:24 PM
This writer is a supporter of Tracy Rosenberg, and he leaves out 90% of the important details.

Better sources on what's going on at Pacifica are:

Current, a public media blog: Pacifica budget cuts delayed

Surprising developments at the PNB meeting in Berkeley

Pacifica’s long-awaited audit shows where the money goes

Pacifica demanding $1 million from stations to fix network’s financial problems:

Rosenberg supporters withdraw support:

Rosenberg sues over KPFA recall, ballot count delayed:
by Native San Franciscan
Friday Aug 10th, 2012 2:13 AM
We are reminded that this is a large country where the East Coast really is 3,000 long miles from the West Coast by inaccurate articles like this.

For starters, there is nothing radical about reactionary hoodlum Democratic Party Hate Pacifica Gang member, Dan Siegel, who brought the police to Oakland's public schools. His hoodlum behavior while sitting on the Local Station Board may be found at:
and the story at

THE BASIC PREMISE IS COMPLETELY FALSE. WE LOVE TRACY ROSENBERG as we elected her twice to the Local Station Board and she received the largest number of votes in at least one election. We will continue to elect her so long as she chooses to run for office AND WE WILL FILL ALL 14 OPEN LSB SEATS THIS YEAR WITH ANTI-RECALL CANDIDATES. Please do your part by
(1) Giving at least $25 before September 1 to KPFA so you can vote at:
(2) Running for the Local Station Board if you have the time and ability to sit on the Local Station Board, submitting your papers by August 30. See
For information about becoming a candidate in this year's LSB election, please contact:
Aharon Morris, Local Election Supervisor: 510.848.6767 ext. 212
or via e-mail at: election [at] kpfa.org
To obtain a nomination package and find other information, visit the Pacifica election page at
and complete the form at

As to being a refugee from New York in California, that is extremely common, with generations of New Yorkers fleeing the decay of US capitalism in the older sections of this backward country to come to California where the climate is certainly better and where the decay is not as bad. Before 2007, most people in California were from somewhere else, and New York was a common place of origin. We welcome Tracy Rosenberg to California and she is extremely popular in the San Francisco Bay Area, the listening audience of KPFA. Her supporters, including the ANSWER coalition that organizes all peace marches and many other demonstrations, Peace & Freedom Party and the Green Party, may be found at:

It would be sad if we lose WBAI and hopefully the Pacifica National Board will come to its senses and do what they must to save it.

by NYer
Friday Aug 10th, 2012 5:39 AM
WBAI is sucking the lifeblood out of Pacifica, sucking the life out of the chances of survival of the entire network. Operating out of high end space and turning out low end radio, it will ultimately bring down everyone. In the largest media market in the world they draw a ridiculously small audience. Why wouldn't a trade down on their signal and luxury studios be a valid consideration? Mayber BAI needs to get back to basics, remember that their job is to produce radio that more people WANT to listen to.
by Goose/Gander
Saturday Aug 11th, 2012 12:44 AM
KPFA has the same "ridiculously small" audience and apparently produces radio that no one wants to listen to. The level of audience support is .... exactly the same at the two stations.
by Reality
Saturday Aug 11th, 2012 4:38 AM
There are 8 million people in New York City, a region, and 7 million people in the 9 counties of the San Francisco Bay Area. KPFA claims 22,000 subscribers and some greater number of non-subscribing listeners. The concerns of KPFA are the concerns of educated people; it is not a lowest common denominator station, and neither is the rest of Pacifica. The audience increases somewhat when there is another illegal American attack (and they are all illegal attacks) on another country but in a country of 310 million people, this increase is still small. Even the large peace demonstrations in 2003 combined were not more than 1 million people nationwide. In San Francisco, a city of 856,000 people, we had 200,000 people protesting, mostly from out of town.
by pacifica listener
Saturday Aug 11th, 2012 11:38 PM
Pacifica’s audited financial statements for the years ending September 2010 and 2011 have finally been released. You can download the reports at Pacifica’s website. The independent auditor raises “substantial doubt” that Pacifica can continue as a “going concern” without making changes in the way it operates.

The audit shows that of the network’s five stations, KPFA is the wealthiest, with net assets of $3.2 million. KPFK in Los Angeles is the only other station in the black. The rest are underwater.

Worst of all is WBAI in New York, which has been operating under Pacifica-installed management for nearly four years. WBAI has a current net worth of NEGATIVE $3.3 million — with a deficit of $750,000 in 2011 alone.

You need to understand how to read a balance sheet and the difference between that and an income statement. KPFA's division of the Pacifica Foundation includes the value of a property on Martin Luther King Jr Way that is worth some money. It's not liquid money and you can'y pay your bills with it unless you borrow against it. KPFA has no other cash reserves at this time and isn't remotely rich having squandered a million dollars between 2008 and 2010 and now having very few assets beyond the building that houses it and a few hundred thousand at the SF Foundation reserved for capital expenses (which should be used to renovate the abandoned restaurant at 1921 MLK. It's an eyesore and you don't let your property deteriorate for a decade).

WBAI doesn't own a building so obviously when they run a deficit, there is nothing to offset their net worth against. They don't really have one besides some radio equipment, most of which has depreciated into financial irrelevance.

The reality is that Pacifica does not declare the value of the radio licenses themselves as an asset, and in so doing they obscure the reality that they are worth millions and millions of dollars, and WBAI is the most valuable asset of them all. The mission of the organization is not the speculative sale of radio licenses so the accounting does not reflect that, but that is the financial reality.

Not liquid, bad cash flow, operating expenses that exceed revenues, but tremendous assets of great value. If we want to keep them then the operating expenses need to come into balance.