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WBAI at the cliff

6/22/13 – 9:47 PM. Update on this story here: an assessment of the situation from a Pacifica National Board member.

WBAIFull disclosure: trying to verify anything at Pacifica radio these days comes down to citing around 5,000 unofficial spokespersons in the absence of even one of the official variety. But this statement purporting to come from WBAI-FM in New York staffer “Uncle” Sidney Smith on the WBAI Blue Board seems rather ominous (if the Blue Board prompts you, the login is “poster” and the password is “enternow”).

The commentary arrives in response to former ‘BAI general manager Chris Albertson noting a thirty day layoff notice received by staffer Hugh Hamilton.

“It’s the whole staff” that received notices, Smith says.

How they’re going to run the station or ‘if’ there will be a station is not known.
One possibility we’ve thought they may be up to is to go the the Transmitter.
Retreat to the Empire State Building, and transmit programs from the network on computer.
I imagine this would require one part-time engineer.
So ‘Bai would have a staff of one..or one half a person.
‘Might be something else, but we don’t know what.
Anyway we have 30 daze till we leave to work out the details of what will be left of the station.
“…to those that loved her best, and were with her to the end.”
(Song about a sinking ship I once heard.)

There is further conversation about this in a thread titled “The Chop has Come.” Radio-ink is trying to figure out what is going on too. I have called Pacifica (which owns WBAI), WBAI, and the WBAI staff union SAG-AFTRA, but have received no reply. In any event, the Blue Board post follows the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s decision to withhold CPB funding from Pacifica and its five radio stations, at least for now. Current reports that the decision came following “missed deadlines for fixing errors and shortcomings in [Pacifica’s] accounting and operations.”

Even prior to this development, the New York station was barely hanging on. At a June 11 Pacifica Finance Committee meeting, WBAI stalwart R. Paul Martin reported the good and the bad news [live audio of all Pacifica meetings here]:

“The good news is that the payroll has been caught up with,” Martin explained. “We missed two payrolls, April 30 and May 15. They’ve been paid. We made payroll on May 30th. So that’s that. Empire state building [antenna] was paid for the June 1st rent. I am not sure if the Silverman [inaudible] rent was paid.”

Then came the bad news:

“We had our fundraiser. It went on for a while. The goal was $850,000. The tally ended up at $467,000 and change. We have collected $343,000. And so we’re short by a lot, and so this is a problem. The WBAI general manager has written to us that we don’t have the money to cover the June 15th payroll.

And the next $20,000 to the proprietors [landlords] of 120 Wall Street [WBAI’s previous home], which we are paying off over time, we don’t have that at this time.

The July 1st payroll is also a question mark. And the National Office we’re told, doesn’t have the dough to bail us out at this point in time. So what is happening is that the general manager has basically declared this is a big emergency and programming is being preempted and we are doing four additional days of on air fundraising with the goal of raising a minimum of $100,000.

And so today at 6 o’clock in the morning we started preempting things, and we have a different schedule, and it is all on air fundraising schedule. We’re back in our thon, after being off it for about a day, or two.”

To which new Pacifica CFO Raoul Salvador confirmed that WBAI had met its payroll for various fortnights, but:

“The reality of that is that New York did not make the payment, but we have to manage some of the other radio station’s funds and borrow from the National Office funds to pay for the payroll in New York.

Although we have paid the payroll on time for May 15 and May 31, we have really borrowed money from the other funds to be able to meet those payroll payments. There is still an underlying issue on meeting the obligations in New York.

. . . We really need to take some measures that will rectify the situation on a need basis so that we will be able to justify the existence of WBAI.”

It appears from a subsequent Pacifica special meeting held on the 13th that interim Executive Director and Pacifica National Board Chair Summer Reese thought she had the CPB situation under control.

“They wanted more of a narrative as to what has gone on with the books,” Reese told the meeting. “I attended all of the NFCB [National Federation of Community Broadcasters] conference in San Francisco and met with Bruce Theriault from the CPB after one of the sessions to discuss our particular challenges at as a network at this time. CPB is keenly aware of all of our business and I think it is quite sympathetic as long as we get our act together and continue to address various deficiencies of the past.”

But the sympathy hath run dry, it seems. The status of Pacifica’s ability to cope with the situation is unclear. Updates to this story as I get them.

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