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WBAI: Concern about Pacifica/local WBAI relations

Update!: News from Local Station Board: There will be a Town Hall meeting on Monday, April 13th at a place yet to be determined. Please spread the word. (Note, I changed the tenses in the title and post below. It was written as an action alert on the day of.)

Some people went to the station on Wed. April 8th between 3pm and 6pm to ask questions of visiting national delegation. And, at 7pm for the listener speakout portion of the Finance Committee meeting.

I do not feel I understand exactly what is going on at WBAI 99.5FM in New York City. I believe that some people from the national Pacifica Foundation attempted (not sure they succeeded) to change the locks on the transmitter. And, that that happened without the proper people at WBAI being informed. It is difficult to understand how such a lack of communication could have happened.

On WBAI radio this morning, I heard Don DeBar express concern about the current situation. And, I heard Mimi Rosenberg say that she felt there were problems with actions taken by Interim Executive Director Grace Aaron and Interim Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams. I think that this could be another push by the national Pacifica organization to control or take over our local, WBAI. And, that seems problematical.

Though, there are definitely financial deficits at WBAI, and festering conflicts and power imbalances which are also of concern.

There is a message board here where some free-wheeling discussion is going on. You might find help, info or resources there.

Some open letters re-posted to the local station board list-serve:

Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2009 07:42:16 -0400
To: info@…
From: info@…
Subject: Open Letters to Grace Aaron

**** Please circulate widely ****
Please read these two open letters to Pacifica Interim Executive Director Grace Aaron from concerned listeners regarding her visit to WBAI.
To: graceaaron@…
Sent: 4/7/2009 12:24:06 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time
Subj: Letter attachment and in text re WBAI

To Grace Aaron, Interim Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation,

We are writing you on behalf of a wide range of WBAI listeners and staff who are very concerned about recent developments with regard to the station.  In that light, we are calling for an open town hall meeting to address the analysis of the problems that exist and strategies for solution.  This meeting would provide you and your designees to opportunity to state the plans you have in mind and the concrete steps you might be taking during your visit.  We propose that the meeting take place either on Saturday, April 11th at 1 PM or on Monday, April 13th at 7 PM.  Once we agree on a date, our group will be glad to secure a large enough space for all of us to have an open discussion.

Most of us never heard of you before you automatically became the Interim Executive Director as a result of the previous Director’s resignation.  Your first communication to us was rather delayed and indirect given the seriousness of the changes you were considering.  We have seen WBAI Station Manager Anthony Riddle’s e-mail to you in which he asked for a number of clarifications about decisions you made regarding the station without informing him or WBAI listeners, supporters and staff.  Your response shows very clearly that you are coming to New York City with LaVarn Williams and several KPFK staff people to implement major changes.

We want to be sure you understand that while we share a deep concern about the station’s serious financial shortfall, many of us have a different analysis from yours about what the problems and solutions with respect to finances and other issues at WBAI are.  We insist that our views be seriously considered before any changes are even formulated, let alone acted upon.  We have fought long and hard, devoted many years of intense work and commitment, and considerable financial resources to this station.  We strongly believe that the direction of this station must continue to be ultimately accountable to our very diverse listenership, support network, and staff.

In the struggle for justice and peace,

Betty Dopson and James McIntosh, M.D., Co-Chairs, Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive To African People,

Suzanne Ross, Ph.D., Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC) and International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal

To: <pnb@…>
From: Makemba X <makemba007@…>
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2009 01:01:53 -0400
Open Letter to Grace Aaron and the Pacifica National Board:

Firstly, I support local autonomy of WBAI and am appalled by the recent events that have happened regarding the attempted take over of its signal and the blatant disregard for the station’s management.

Such disregard is even more troubling considering the fact that on March 26th, the General Manager, Anthony Riddle, presented to the Local Station Board a well thought out and innovative report containing concrete suggestions for fund-raising, and programming evaluation while demonstrating his willingness to collaborate with others throughout the network for the good of the station.

Some of his ideas/projects included:

  • service oriented premiums that would focus on helping those in need (i.e. homelessness, legal aid for evictions, food for the hungry etc),
  • plans for concerts,
  • street fairs, rent parties,
  • Peace and Justice Awards,
  • WBAI 50th anniversary, etc.
Additionally, he laid out plans for website improvement which would also generate more revenue, as well as processes for examining programming.

So why then would you subsequently make plans to come to New York, and to orchestrate such a move on April 1st to take over control of the transmitter without so much as having any kind of discussion with him on any of your plans???

Whoever controls the transmitter controls the radio station.

Anthony Riddle has an extensive and successful background in working with community media. He has only been with WBAI one year and needs to be given the time and support to bring his expertise to fruition at the station. Your actions are counterintuitive to the success of the station.

But the recent chain of events begs an important question.    What background and credentials do you have that qualifies you to run a national radio network with a 17 million dollar annual budget with hundreds of paid and unpaid employees throughout the country?

I remind you that you did not go through a hiring process to assume the position of Interim Executive Director (IED).   You became the IED by default as California law mandates that in the event that there is not an Executive Director, or a person hired as an Interim Executive Director (IED), that the Chair of the National Board assumes that position until an ED or an IED is hired.

Moreover, it is untenable that someone in a temporary position would make such drastic changes to the structure of the Foundation.  Frankly, it is an abuse of the position. I do know that in the past when previous Chairs of the PNB assumed that role they primarily did so as caretakers to ensure continuity until a permanent Executive Director was hired.

In closing, there is one other point that I must address.

Your posing FCC concerns as your argument for taking over control of the airwaves is a straw man’s argument.

I was a Director on the Board from January 2006 – April 2008, and have had the chance to have meetings with John Crigler, the Foundation’s attorney for the FCC.  During that time he never suggested that the National Office seize control of the transmitters from the local stations as a way to allay FCC concerns.  Crigler has stated that the FCC urges broadcasters to have processes in place to deal with FCC concerns.  To that effect, WBAI has implemented training programs  that were in fact conducted by Crigler and Pacifica has instituted a policy to deal with alleged FCC violations.

Lisa V. Davis
WBAI Local Station Board Listener Rep Member
and member of Justice and Unity

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