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WBAI held hostage

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 4:36 p.m.

When a memo from Grace Aaron, interim Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation, announced on Thursday an order to change the locks at WBAI's transmitter, it emitted a firestorm of reaction from staff members and the station's general manager, Tony Riddle.

Riddle was particularly incensed since he had not been notified of the action that threatened to end the station's control of programming. He demanded some answers to several pertinent questions:

What is the purpose of this action, he asked Aaron?

"Pacifica as the license holder of all five stations is responsible for having access to all station signals to avoid legal risk," Aaron responded in an email. "Ricardo DeAnda, our interim General Counsel, has advised us that we need to be able to show the FCC that we can exercise our responsibility over our airwaves if necessary and, therefore, we have begun the process of assuring that the Foundation has this access at all five stations."

Riddle wanted to know why he wasn't informed. "It was not my intention to withhold this from you," Aaron said. "I apologize for the fact that you have not heard this directly from me."

"Why was our engineer, who is responsible for keeping us on the air, not involved or given access?" Riddle asked. "I understand that Jake Glanz contacted WBAI's engineer Graceon Challenger," she replied.

Riddle insisted that "any changes in operation of this unit should be following a transparent and obvious process."

Meanwhile, WBAI remains on the air during a critical pledge drive for funds to keep the financially strapped, publicly-supported station afloat.

Even so, while WBAI remains on the air during a critical pledge drive for funds to the financially strapped station afloat, there are questions that have not been answered, particularly what are the complaints about programming that "threatens the financial and legal health of the Pacifica Foundation"?

Below we offer the full memo from Aaron.

"We have received complaints about programming that may be threatening the financial and legal health of the Pacifica Foundation. Therefore, following legal advice, we are taking preparatory measures to secure our broadcast signals should we need to prevent legal liability as a last resort. These precautionary measures will be taken at all five stations under advice of Counsel. Pacifica is the license holder for all five stations and is ultimately responsible for everything broadcast over all of them.

"No one on the National Board or at the National Office or at any of our Pacifica stations wishes to threaten any high quality, community-based programming at our stations that conforms to the Pacifica Mission.

The Pacifica Foundation is facing a severe financial crisis. Multi-year down trending listenership at all of our stations has been eroding our membership and net income. The economic downtrends in society as a whole are also impacting us. Restructuring is occurring at most of our stations which has already reversed the decline at a station or two.

"The National Board as well as Pacifica senior management understands the urgency of addressing the shortfalls at WBAI, which are particularly severe. WBAI is also saddled with extremely high overhead mainly due to leases for both the WBAI offices and transmitter entered into in better financial times.