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.

“According to James Ross, the Chair of the Pacifica National Finance Committee:

“WBAI has operated at a deficit for years. This practice is not supportable and in fact is a threat to the Pacifica foundation:

“WBAI owes the foundation at least $800,000 in unpaid central service fees and bill backs. This debt has accumulated since 2006.

“Through the first five months of the current fiscal year, WBAI is operating at a deficit of at least $30,000 per month, despite layoffs last fall designed to cut costs and bring the station to financial stability.

“WBAI’s on-air fundraising has declined in effectiveness at a rate of about 12 percent per year since 2003. Now the station’s drives are close to a month long yet still fail to meet budgeted goals.

“WBAI is four months in arrears on its office rent (balance due: $128,072.34). It is also 2 months behind on the rent for the facility that houses the transmitter. This bill comes to approximately $35,000 per month, according to National Office Finance Staff. The total in unpaid rent at WBAI comes very close to $198,000.

“Pacifica no longer has the reserves to underwrite WBAI’s continuing deficits. Last year the foundation had to take out a line of credit, secured by another station’s assets, to cover costs unpaid by WBAI. This line of credit has not been paid back, and these assets are still frozen. Further, non-payment of bills may lead to involuntary bankruptcy, which could be catastrophic for our foundation, given our extremely valuable assets, the station licenses.

“Currently, we are at risk of being sued for breach of our lease agreements, which could have dire consequences. In the case of the Tower lease where our transmitter is located a continuing breach could result in a loss of our signal.

WBAI, however, is in the largest radio market in the U.S. With a signal that covers a population of 19 to 20 million people; improved programming will certainly boost our listenership, which will result in increased membership and listener support. This approach is advocated by the Pacifica National Board. As long as our listeners, staff and governance bodies work together to bring needed changes we see no major obstacle to a resurgent WBAI that is more vital than ever.

“Some staff at the National Office, some Pacifica National Board Directors and the General Manager and some staff at KPFK has come forward to offer support and help. The GM of KPFA has also been sympathetic and offered support in this effort. In light of that, I have planned to come to New York with our iCFO, LaVarn Williams, along with several staff loaned to us from KPFK, to assess what is needed at the station. We also intend to roll up our sleeves, fix what needs fixing, wipe out any backlogs such as in mailing out premiums, repair equipment, enhance the website and give a boost to WBAI.

“We assume that the vast majority of people associated with WBAI will not only agree with our efforts but also offer their help. In addition, your financial support would be much appreciated at this time.

“Our success will ensure the financial integrity and continued existence of WBAI.

In Peace,

Grace Aaron

Chair of the Pacifica National Board

Interim Executive Director of

The Pacifica Foundation

An alert from WBAI’s Justice & Unity members declared “We must fight back! Send an email to the Pacifica National Board at pnb@pacifica.org — which reaches each board member individually, including Grace Aaron. Please send a cc to info@justiceunity.org. Demand that WBAI’s autonomy and local control of programming be maintained and protected!

“We will be back in touch soon with follow-up info on next steps in the fight-back. For updates, call the Justice & Unity Hotline at 212-591-2111. To join the Justice & Unity update list, email info@justiceunity.org.

“In the meantime, the station is in the midst of a (previously planned) 3-day emergency fund drive (today, Fri. & Sat.), to help deal with its financial crisis. Please donate generously and volunteer to answer phones. To donate or to put your name on the list to get into the building, call 212-209-2950. You can also donate via PayPal at www.wbai.org.”

Signed,

WBAI Justice & Unity members of the Local Station Board:

Tibby Brooks

Omowale Clay

Lisa Davis

Sara Flounders

Vajra Kilgour

Ray Laforest

Father Lawrence Lucas

Bob Lederer

Berta Silva