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WBAI and Occupy Wall Street—where is the live coverage?

WBAII’m picking up a lot more frustration with Pacifica radio station WBAI-FM in New York regarding Occupy Wall Street—a general sense that the station could be providing much more live coverage of the actions and events than it currently airs. Apologies for the textblock approach to this issue. Here’s what economist and former WBAI programmer Doug Henwood sent me on Friday:

I’m stunned. They’re right on Wall Street. They could walk out the door and ask the denizens of Brown Bros Harriman and Deutsche Bank what they make of it. And then walk five minutes down the street to Zuccotti Park and cover breaking news and all kinds of stuff. It could attract a worldwide listenership.

I was directed to a more detailed protest that came from several WBAI programmers and posted to the “blue board” WBAI listeners forum on Thursday:

AAAARRRGGGGG!!!!!!!!! By: Dr. History (

Date: Thursday, 20 October 2011, at 9:30 pm

Reggie, Ibrahim, and me were right here in the studio, and wanted to go on live with the damned revolution that going down around the corner from the station.

But Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!

I have to play another re-bleeping-run you’ve already heard three times.

Amongst the three of us we had near 100 years of radio experience weird talents, and a deep desire to do the deed!

But then reality came crashing in. We or in this case I have a list to stuff to play, and could get suspended w/o pay if I toss it out again. So just as with the Wall Street Occupation I’m in the cross hairs of the way things are as opposed as to the way they ought to be.

Call the damned station, and tell them to get bleeping real, and wake up, and smell the world wide revolution.

We’re dropping the ball big time again.

We must do right by this historic era. Btw we need ‘it’ more than they need us. They’re worldwide viral. We’re stuck in the last century. Many here want to do the do. However the over lay of the old ways of doing things is killing us.

That dreary meeting here on how to ride the coat tails of this world movement sez it all,…eckk. It’s like the old communist party trying to co-op a be-in in 1968.

Bleeping pathetic.

This seems to confirm the earliest complaint I’ve picked up, which came from the Facebook page of former Pacifica news director JoAnn Kawell.

What’s up with WBAI? Why aren’t THEY live broadcasting the Wall Street protests. Fer gawd sakes, their studios are right on Wall Street. Shame, shame, triple shame. This is final proof, if any more was needed, that the Pacifica network is completely moribund.

I attempted to reach Bates, Wakeup Call Producer Sharan Harper, and News Director Jose Santiago via e-mail for a response to this, but have yet to receive a reply. I also contacted Mitchel Cohen, Chair of WBAI’s Local Station Board. He sent me this statement, which I post unedited and in its entirety.

Hi Matthew,

I have pleaded, cajoled, pulled my remaining hair out with management about the need to do LIVE coverage—that means, “as it is happening” (the iPD seems to have a different definition he uses)—from Liberty Park.

WBAI does NOT lack coverage. There is a lot of it on the air, and almost all of it has been terrific—although it took some doing that first week to get that rolling (which seems to be an unfortunate pattern). What is STILL lacking is, as most radio people would understand, is live coverage, especially of the hour or so last Friday morning when the cops were expected to attack.

Tony Bates (the interim PD), and Berthold Reimers (the General Manager) are personally very into the events at Liberty Park, and the WBAI evening news has been exceptional, every day running long pieces on the protest. Management also directed that WBAI carry feeds at 5 pm every day, which Robert Knight has been ably doing, followed by usually extensive stories about OWS on the evening news. The News department has been absolutely great, here. It is not the dessicated News Department’s responsibility to cover events live during the day, as prior management was forced to lay off a key reporter a few years ago and no funds have been provided to hire a new one. Lots of other folks were willing and able to pick up the slack, but whoever was making these decisions for some reason didn’t want to use any of the hundred or more WBAI members who were there (more on this later).

Last Thursday night and into Friday morning (the morning of the threatened showdown), Bob Fass followed by Ibrahim Gonzalez had been encouraging call-ins from OWS and shared their important and sometimes eloquent insights about OWS. Ibrahim was waxing poetic over the occupation of Wall St. You can listen to his show in the archives.

Same with Uncle Sidney Smith. What a great show he did in the middle of the night last week, taking live call-ins from the Occupation, mixed with music and good talk. I had never before heard Sidney sound so … hopeful, or radical!

Felipe Luciano, whose show at 6 a.m. Friday morning was playing music and pitching for the fundraiser at the time the Mayor was threatening to crack down, did not cut into the fundraising material to go live until almost an hour after the Mayor backed down, when Mimi Rosenberg called in her story. I don’t know why that was. I haven’t spoken to Felipe, but I doubt it was his fault as he is always all too happy to cover all sorts of material on his show. In my opinion, there was insufficient oversight by the iPD in making the decisions to make that happen.

Management says they indeed wanted cut-aways from the canned programming to air live reports Friday morning from Liberty Park. Mimi Rosenberg and Ken Nash were down there, as was the News Dept.’s Andrea Sears, as well as perhaps hundreds of loyal WBAI listeners, Board members, etc. But for some reason no live reports were aired for an hour and 15 crucial minutes while the height of activities were occurring. WHY NOT? I don’t know, it’s still unclear to me why not. Why not at least take call-ins?

It takes a hands-on Program Director—and Tony Bates is usually VERY hands on—to take charge to make such things happen. Here, management once again refrained from properly using the airwaves to put an announcement ON THE AIR asking ANY WBAI listeners, or if necessary, those of us associated with WBAI like me, Jennifer Jager, Ray Laforest, dozens of others—all factions were well represented there!—to call in live reports. He could easily have broken into the canned fundraising every 5 or 10 minutes. How exciting that would be to listen to it live! But that procedure was not set up, just as it was not set up properly during hurricane Irene (don’t get me started!) until the National Executive Director (Arlene Engelhardt) correctly intervened and overruled the local management.

Why did WBAI not air live reports? I still have been unable to find out the real story. I’ve asked WBAI management about this, but I got a VERY hostile, nasty letter in response from the interim Program Director. Jennifer Jager (who is a former PNB Director), Carolyn Birden (current PNB Director) and I visited the GM’s office at 120 Wall Street late that Friday morning (Oct. 14) seeking explanations. We asked, “Why didn’t WBAI do live reports at 6 a.m. and after, this morning? This was a crucial moment in the history of NYC and this movement.” Tony Bates insisted that they DID do live reports, that Mimi Rosenberg went live on the air. I’m sure he believed it, but it’s simply not true; as I said, Mimi did not come onto the air until the whole showdown had been over for 45 minutes and the events had already been reported on every TV and radio station in NYC.

My latest guess—and it is only a guess—is that Tony Bates wasn’t there at the station at the critical time, and whatever it was that he’d thought he’d set up the night before fell through the cracks. Why weren’t his instructions followed, if indeed he’d clearly made them? Why weren’t there back-up plans? Why did he not involve the large presence there of WBAI listeners?

I asked, and the only response I got was a blistering attack from the interim Program Director on my character and his not very flattering view of my letters to him.

I believe that Pacifica National is also concerned here, but that some in Berkeley attribute it incorrectly to the failure of the News Department. That is not correct. Good management would have opened the phone lines to members to call in reports. The same occurred during Hurricane Irene, and it seems that management, especially the iPD, did not learn from his mistakes there.

Mitchel Cohen

No comment from me on any of this except the obvious—the more live coverage WBAI provides, the better. Happy to post any statements ‘BAI management sends from this point onward. If you want to respond to this post, please remember our rules: civil, non-expletive based, non-personal attack discussion, and don’t bother filling your comment with hyperlinks. It will just get caught in our spam filter.

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3 Responses to WBAI and Occupy Wall Street—where is the live coverage?

  1. Chris Albertson October 24, 2011 at 4:24 am #

    This is but the latest and most grievous example of the current management’s ineptitude. GM Berthold Reimers and “interim” PD Tony Bates were sent to WBAI to correct the mistakes and wake of negligence left by predecessors, but they have, instead, compounded the ills.

    Reimers has remained virtually invisible since his arrival, over a year ago, leaving important decisions to “interim” PD Bates, who is, essentially, an on-the-job trainee. This is too important a position to be filled by a novice.

    Pacifica’s head, Arlene Engelhardt, dispatched these men to the station, but appears not to have stepped in when things went wrong (as they have, repeatedly), so perhaps the blame for this outrageous instance of warped priorities ultimately rests on her shoulders.

    WBAI LSB Chair Mitch Cohen is in a frustrating position and has some good ideas, but I wish he were not so apologetic when it comes to Reimers and Bates.

  2. Don DeBar October 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    Sigh…they fired a lot of us in 2009, starting with Bernard White, who did NOT need on-the-job training, and not just in being a generic program director; he also came to WBAI with a long resume as an activist (another area where Tony has no history of experience), and Bernard brought his Rolodex of other activists with him. Had they not purged me, I could spend Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays there and stream live to them – with my own equipment, no less. But instead, I am currently banned from the air there (and rather than engage in a useless back and forth over whether or not I am, simply ask Cynthia McKinney about our experience two weeks ago where she was told that she couldn’t have me on in a segment they wanted her for regarding Libya). Among those of us who are banned are a number of people who not only could – and would – add to the mix not only to the coverage by the “dessicated News Department” in terms of air, but the perspective of people who have actually been helping to organize this nationally sicne its inception.

    Unfortunately, the network is still dominated by people for whom a guaranty of their own political dominance trumps both the needs of the audience/sponsors and the organizing effort itself. The fact that it is “Free Speech Radio” that is suffering the censorship of voices actually connected to the effort is more than ironic – it’s tragic.

  3. P. Sielman October 30, 2011 at 3:44 am #

    we are supporters of the occupy movement

    So we composed and played a free song about it.

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