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Hope for WBAI? An assessment of the station’s immediate future

WBAIPacifica National Board member Tracy Rosenberg has sent us her own assessment of the crisis situation at WBAI in New York City. I post most of her response to my Friday piece here. I’m not sure that I would describe the following as “cautiously optimistic,” but Rosenberg suggests that “if the station can cover much-reduced monthly expenses, then it may re-stabilize and be able to gradually add more staff back on.”

Rosenberg explains:

To start at the beginning: The contract with SAG-AFTRA requires that layoff notices be issued “to each and every staff member” if any layoffs are to ensue. In other words, the notice is an automatic bureaucratic requirement, it has to be sent to everyone if 1 person is going to be laid off or if 20 people are going to be laid off – no difference. So engaging in speculation about what the notice means is counterproductive. It means that at least one individual is going to be laid off.

If you’re asking me what is going to happen, that’s being figured out collaboratively by the WBAI national board members and the local and national managers and then they’ll have to meet with SAG/AFTRA. Given the scale of the difference between the money there is and the money needed to continue business as usual, it’s probably safe to say that more than one layoff is in the cards. It’s sad because despite losing money for 11 of the past 12 years (the problem is utterly non-factional, BAI has been hobbled with costs it can’t meet through 6 executive directors, 5 or 6 local managers and factional swings in the national board), BAI was doing better in 2011 and the 1st part of 2012, with noticeable upticks in the number of subscribers and the amount of listener support. Things looked hopeful. But the hurricane and subsequent homelessness cost $600,00 in listener support that never came in and by the time the save-the-antenna campaign was launched (successfully) and over $900,00 was raised, the support base was tapped out. The May fundraiser tanked at 400K for a station that needs 300K a month just to pay the bills. You can’t fund-raise 12 hours a day for a month and raise only a month or so worth of expenses. The next month, there’s nothing there. With the other 4 Pacifica stations also running small operational deficits, even if they wanted to help WBAI (and they largely don’t), they have no ability to do so.

The CPB information isn’t accurate at all. I’m disappointed in Current. There’s no “delay” on the CPB funds. They’re paid out after the annual audit is done and it’s not done. Once it is, the funds will be disbursed. The amount to WBAI is a bit less than 100K which doesn’t change the overall situation. It is long past time to declare that everything is okay in NY if there is enough in the bank to pay bills for the next 10 days. You have to deal with the big picture.

The CPB audit was for the period from 2008 to 2010. Anyone who has been through a tax audit knows that stuff comes up and in this case, CPB identified a few things that have to be changed:

1) The cost basis used to report the “cost of sales” for premium gifts was being calculated incorrectly. By two different CFO’s (from different factions) and signed off by two entirely different outside independent auditing firms. This resulted in overpayments to all 5 stations combined of $66,000 for each of two years or about 6.5% of the total $2,000,000 in CPB grant support for the 2-year period. These amounts will be subtracted from the 2014 disbursals.

2) The second item was on-air announcements of governance meetings (of which Pacifica has a lot). CPB asked three of the stations for proof of recorded announcements of the time and dates of all the governance meetings in 2009 and the stations couldn’t produce them. Might mean they didn’t do them, or might mean they couldn’t produce the sounds files 3+ years later, but either way they got dinged. The national board passed a resolution instructing monthly announcements and archiving for 5 years.

3) The final item related to segregating CSG expenditures from general expenditures more clearly in the books so the audit trail was easier to follow.

That’s that.

On WBAI’s future: On the good news front, the station is being relocated to a building in Brooklyn at the reasonable rent of $4,500 a month, which will eventually result in a savings of over $300,000 a year from the Wall Street studio that flooded in Hurricane Sandy and cost $30,000 a month. Much saner.

The priority is being placed on paying rent and the transmitter. If the station can cover much-reduced monthly expenses, then it may re-stabilize and be able to gradually add more staff back on. If it can’t, then we’ll have to see, but everyone wants to maintain the antenna if we can. It’s an important asset for progressive media.

Tracy Rosenberg

KPFA Listener Representative

Pacifica National Board

Editor’s note: Please be civil in your responses to this post. Comments with foul language or multiple hyperlinks will wind up in our spam queue.

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10 Responses to Hope for WBAI? An assessment of the station’s immediate future

  1. Mike Janssen June 23, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    I’m the author of the article in Current that Rosenberg says is inaccurate. Are the CPB funds delayed? If Pacifica had delivered requested documentation to CPB earlier, its stations would have received their second 2013 Community Service Grant payments by now. The foundation was given a deadline by CPB and missed it. Missing that deadline has held up disbursement of funds.

    Given those facts, I disagree that “delay” is an incorrect term to use. Rosenberg is welcome to submit a letter to the editor, however.

    • Tracy Rosenberg June 23, 2013 at 10:58 am #

      Hi Davis,

      I did send a letter to the editor (on-line) to Current 2 days ago. It appears to be still being held for moderation. Perhaps you could take care of that and publish it?

      The story is misleading. It conflates the 2008-2010 audit with the “delay of funds” when there is no connection between the two.

      Pacifica also submitted its audit to CPB in June’ish last year and didn’t receive the funds till July. I didn’t see any articles in Current about it.

      That’s because its standard operating procedure with CPB. First you submit the audit, then you get the grant funds.


      Tracy Rosenberg

      • Tracy Rosenberg June 23, 2013 at 10:59 am #

        Ooops – Sorry. “David”. Typing pre-coffee is always hazardous 🙂

      • Mike Janssen June 24, 2013 at 11:10 am #

        Hi Tracy,

        Can you help me out by quoting exactly which part of the story you think is inaccurate or misleading?

        Also, how did you submit your letter to the editor? Was it as a comment on our website?


      • Mike Janssen June 25, 2013 at 9:02 am #

        Hi Tracy — since I can’t get notifications when comments are made on this page, please email me directly at mike at mikejanssen dot net. Thanks!

  2. Pacifica Worker June 24, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    Quick Fact check:

    1) The five Pacifica stations’ CPB checks *are* delayed, by any reasonable definition of the word “delayed.” Pacifica’s own finance staff budgeted to have the cash from this year’s first CPB payments in hand in *APRIL*, which is when the money arrives under normal circumstances. The money’s delayed because Pacifica’s late in completing a financial audit — and its stations are paying the price. The Current reporter’s description of the situation is much more accurate than whatever Roenberg’s selling.

    2) The language that Rosenberg puts between quote marks from the SAG-AFTRA contract at WBAI doesn’t appear anywhere in the actual contract. In fact, nothing in that contract requires that employees who aren’t being laid off get layoff notices. The applicable language reads as follows: >ARTICLE XVI – DISCHARGE AND SEVERANCE

    >A. Layoffs
    >1. The Company will notify the union and *affected* employees in writing >of economic layoffs at least four (4) weeks before layoffs take place, ”
    >>(emphasis added).

    This is not to say that everyone who got a layoff notice *will* be laid off — the contract requires management to meet with the union over alternatives to layoffs during the notice period — but Tracy’s assertion that the contract *obliges* management to give everyone a layoff notice, even if it only intends to lay off one person, has no basis in fact.

  3. William Heerwagen June 25, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Regarding much of Tracy Rosenberg’s misinformation about WBAI, others have already responded.

    On the issue of rent she presents only partial information. The $4,500 per month is for the third floor of the three-story structure. The General Manager has said that when WBAI soon leases another floor there will be an additional $4,500 per month. He plans to have all wiring done before the office staff, currently at short-term free space at 4 World Financial Center, will move in. He plans to make the equivalent of “Studio 3” in the new building while continuing to broadcast from the home of WHCR-FM at City College-CUNY at $5,000 per month. Pre-wiring is a good idea, but there are some, including me, who believe that an engineering study should be done before any more is spent at the site. As of our June Local Station Board (LSB) meeting this had not yet been done. It should also be pointed out that a structural engineering evaluation should be done to determine if the current structure can support the weight of several state of the art studios. I told him this at a recent Finance or LSB meeting and he said it was a good idea, but whether it will be done is an open question. One might also hope that the electric, plumbing, heating, roofing and any other systems would also be evaluated before moving ahead.

    William Heerwagen
    WBAI LSB Listener Member
    WBAI Finance Committee Member

    • jack depalma July 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

      the building is more than strong enough to hold the studios to be built. the wiring, computer lines and all needs technical need to be installed if the station’s studios are to located there but the building was used as a safe and safe box production site, like bank safes. A very strong steel frame with industrial rated floors. the structure is sound. other considerations may be significant but the building can handle studios and office space with no problem whatever with the load ratings. To clarify why I know that…
      I have volunteered weekly for the last two years before sandy and after the move as I can with the premium dept / yvonne, and I have worked at BAI and with station manager berthold, and had worked long hours and weekends before the move helping pack and move the electronics, the news equipment, computers etc.
      I was involved in the moving, loading and unloading the “station” into storage and uptown… and I have listened for over 40 years.
      If WBAI is to survive we must do whatever it takes, there is too much at stake to lose this lifeline to reality in bloomberg’s amusment park city. we must get past our differences and work together or we will be all alone fighting for what? – the meaning of a phrase. don’t be fooled, there are serious problems that need to be resolved but if those can not be resolved we will lose the best thing we have in today’s media mindlessness… (we must act like grown ups, understand and trust in democratic processes, respect union rules and please, please, please honestly face the significant facts of what is relevant in this most serious situation if WBAI is to continue). the truth is our best friend, if we disagree with each other we will be divided and so easily conquered. it is that clear to me. jack depalma


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