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Mitchel Cohen: nine steps Pacifica should take before leasing out WBAI

Editor’s note: On October 3, the Pacifica Foundation National Board passed a resolution instructing its interim Executive Director to release a Request for Proposals for Public Service Operating Agreements (essentially leasing arrangements) for Pacifica station WBAI in New York City. Seven days later the board passed a motion instructing the ED “publish the RFP as drafted, with a response deadline of November 6.”

Obviously this is a response to WBAI’s extended financial crisis. But former WBAI Local Station Board Chair Mitchel Cohen argues that Pacifica should step back and rethink its leasing strategy. His statement below is a response to a commentary by WBAI LSB member Steve Brown, also included in the post.

Mitchell Cohen WBAI

Mitchel Cohen, former chair of WBAI’s Local Station Board

Steve, and all:

There would be no need at all for any leasing of WBAI and this end-run around the admittedly imperfect but democratic bylaws if management had done some pretty basic things that many of us have been proposing.

Note: Management STILL could do these things!

These fairly simple and yet essential managing basics are ones that any organization needs to employ (whether a radio station, an environmental advocacy not-for-profit, or a private company). They must be done first, before any Leasing agreement is considered — let alone signed.

What Pacifica’s resolution — passed in executive session last week — means, to me, is that Pacifica’s management has given up on trying to appoint competent management at WBAI and is looking for a way out of meeting its responsibilities.

What I imagine, here, is that a leasing proposal will be accepted from a private person or agency that is as close a match to Pacifica’s Mission as possible, but which

a) Does away with the bylaws and listener-and-staff governance of Pacifica;
b) Agrees to put in a few million dollars in the form of guaranteeing ongoing payments to cover WBAI’s expenses;
c) Agrees to return WBAI to Pacifica in five years (we’ll see how that works out in reality!);
d) Does not answer to anyone;
e) Has private access to all of WBAI’s database and website for any purpose;

and a lot more that I’d be speculating about without actual knowledge, but which is pro forma for these matters.

I do not agree that Pacifica should lease WBAI to a private individual or company. Pacifica seems to think that just because an individual or company has a few million dollars to guarantee payment on WBAI’s debts — chickenfeed, actually!, given the value of WBAI (politically and artistically, as well as economically) — that it’s therefore OK to sell them the “rights” to running WBAI and allow them to play around with our station as they please. (It does not matter how constrained their promises in any leasing agreement. We all know how those things turn out in practice.) By doing so, Pacifica is, in my opinion, abandoning its responsibility to appoint a management team at WBAI who would take basic measures to raise the funds needed to make WBAI sustainable fiscally over the next few years.

Those measures would include (and all of these have been proposed repeatedly by members from all factions, but never implemented by management):

1) A concerted campaign to publicize the station’s existence to the 17.5 million people in our potential listening area who never heard of us, and expanding the membership base by 100 percent;

2) Systematically contacting the artists and wealthy individuals who appear regularly on WBAI’s airwaves, creating a “sustainers fund” for the station;

3) Sending out mass fund-raising letters to the entire database — something that has not been done for at least 3 years under current management;

4) Implementing measures to recoup the $800,000 per year in funds already pledged but for one reason or another never received by the station;

5) Re-Negotiating WBAI/Pacifica’s $50,000/month (and rising) contract with the Empire State Building (or similarly placed antennas), and bringing political weight, if necessary, to achieve a greatly reduced not-for-profit rate;

6) Communicating regularly with and involving listeners and staff in all aspects of WBAI’s situation (that is, EXPANDING democratic control of WBAI, and not setting up listener and staff governance as a strawman and then setting it on fire!);

7) Re-Negotiating WBAI’s and Pacifica’s current debts (as is done by all for-profit corporations);

8) Re-conceptualizing and expanding WBAI’s media footprint and revenue via the internet, and parallel radio stations on WBAI’s website;

9) Accrue revenue from WBAI’s current leasing of its secondary carrier signals (today all revenue accrues directly to Pacifica and is not applied to WBAI’s payments to Pacifica);

and more.

Those bullet-points should be part of a comprehensive plan. But the construction of such has apparently eluded WBAI’s management for a decade, past as well as current management.

Any competent management at Pacifica and WBAI would have ensured that such a recovery plan be considered, written, circulated, implemented, and monitored — and it should have been done yesterday. WBAI’s membership should have been sent (two years ago, at least) management’s comprehensive plan, which would include all of those items. And management should have provided regular updates on mobilizing the listeners and staff to achieve implementation of such a plan.

Any competent organizer knows that management must do all of the things (and more) listed above — anyone knows this except, apparently, WBAI’s management, which has never produced such a plan, let alone submitted it for review to the Local Station Board. Why is it that the National office cannot properly supervise the management that it has appointed to ensure these basic things are done, and done properly?

I strongly oppose acceptance of the proposed RFP (Request for Proposals) for Public Service Operating Agreements for WBAI-FM (99.5 FM – NY), leasing arrangements, or any deal that privatizes WBAI and its management — even for a relatively short period. I urge WBAI’s directors to the Pacifica National Board and all others to oppose it as well.

Mitchel Cohen
former Chair, WBAI Local Station Board (2008-2012), and
current Secretary, WBAI Local Board

For Public Information.

On the evening of October 3, 2013, the Pacifica Foundation Radio Board: met in Executive Session to discuss privileged matters pertaining to contract negotiations, and passed the following motion:

The PNB instructs the interim executive director to prepare a release an RFP (Request for Proposals) for Public Service Operating Agreements for WBAI-FM (99.5 FM – NY) for approval at the next meeting of the PNB, with a response date no longer than 30 days after the release of the RFP and the PNB instructs the interim executive director to schedule a conference call with the WBAI Local Station Board in the next 5-7 working days in executive session to discuss responses received to date.

Respectfully submitted,
Richard Uzzell,
Pacifica Foundation Radio, Secretary

On the evening of October 10, 2013, the Pacifica Foundation Radio Board: met in closed session to discuss information obtained on a confidential basis, and passed the following motion:

Motion that the Executive Director publish the RFP as drafted,
with a response deadline of November 6.

Respectfully submitted,
Richard Uzzell
Pacifica Foundation Radio Secretary

At 12:40 AM 10/14/2013, Stephen M Brown wrote:

Dear WBAI Supporter:

I am reposting a message (see email at bottom) from Pacifica National Board Member Cerene Roberts, at her request.
The message is both historic and sad, and also a bit cryptic. But in case anyone is in doubt as to what it means, the translation is this:

**** Because Pacifica is no longer able to support the cost of operating WBAI (nor can the station support itself), Pacifica is, and has been for some time, negotiating with one or more non-Pacifica entities or persons to take over management of WBAI under a lease-management arrangement. This will give the new operator carte blanche to do whatever it wishes with the signal. ****

So although WBAI might not be sold (yet), it seems almost certain to be leased.

But that might not be all bad. I would guess that Pacifica will lease to an entity (or person) with impeccable left- or near-left credentials. Therefore, the thrust of the station’s programming can be expected to remain the same, even if the programs themselves may not. There is at least one, and possibly several candidates offering to take over the station, whose names have been mentioned, but since I have not been able to verify either their identities or their offers personally, I will not name them.

There could be a hitch, though. Since the bylaws specify that WBAI must have a local station board, and also that this local station board must have a hand in the selection of management (or at least of the general manager), it will be interesting to see how the PNB and any new lessee will attempt to evade these requirements. And evade them they must, since it is inconceivable that any lessee (in its right mind) would wish to retain current WBAI management, on the one hand, or desire to be hampered in its decisions by the station’s LSB, on the other.

My guess is that, since WBAI’s LSB is (merely) a committee of the PNB, the PNB might simply terminate that committee, and accept the risk, and cost, of fighting off any legal challenges to that termination from whichever WBAI members might choose to make them.

All in all, depending on the character of the future lessee that is, how bold, how proggressive, and how willing it is to advertise the station vigorously to the general public (as no former management ever has) — the public might ultimately be better served by a new (albeit undemocratic) WBAI management that can pay its bills, instead of by the current management, which cannot. At least the public will have a live WBAI to listen to, presumably dedicated to the Pacifica mission, instead of a dead WBAI, whose signal has been sold off, for big bucks, to Clearwater or some other right-wing commercial entity (as some on the PNB are in favor of, so that they can divide the sale proceeds among their own stations).

Stand by and watch the unfolding of events. For as mere listeners (or staff), watching is about the only thing you will be able to do.

Stephen M Brown

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3 Responses to Mitchel Cohen: nine steps Pacifica should take before leasing out WBAI

  1. Tom October 15, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    The Gary Null cult is slowly choking WBAI to death.

  2. DrTCH October 19, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

    Maybe so…on friggin Green-Stuff.

  3. DrTCH October 20, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    I’m not sure about WBAI, but I find many of the guests during KPFK fund-drive programs, in Los Angeles, to be horrifying. Many of these people have no scientific credentials, and make silly, outlandish claims…nothing more than frank snake-oil promotion. Among them are Brent (Bent?) Phillips, David Wolf, George Quant, and by and large, Gary the Null. Wolf tells us nonsense such as the cause of kidney disease, cataracts and rheumatoid arthritis is intake of calcium. Quant advises us that high level meditators produce high levels of delta brain-waves…not unless they are asleep or are comatose!! Phllips claims a history of making millions/month, and other very nutty accomplishments. These people are merchandisers, not scientific leaders or health care providers. If you know your stuff–as I do as a holistic/alternative practitioner for more than twenty years–this stuff is very difficult to sit through, and I am convinced that this caliber of material greatly cheapens the quality of station air-time (and the long-term reputation of KPFK-FM).

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