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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

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