“We are back unapologetically with more radical, cutting-edge programming,” WBAI radio (99.5FM) General Manager Berthold Reimers said at press time this week.
At midnight Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, embattled “progressive” New York radio went back on air with local control, by court order of NYS Supreme Court Judge Melissa Crane.
The restoration of live local broadcasting, access to their website, archives and live stream came after a month of legal wrangling in the courts.
Earlier this month on air hosts and staff at the Cobble Hill, Brooklyn studio offices were emailed a statement by the Pacifica Foundation saying: “Due to ongoing and continued projections to further financial losses at WBAI, local operations are being discontinued as of Oct.7, 2019.” Doors were locked, studios rendered unusable, and access denied. Four weeks of court action and activist
pushback court victories, appeals and counter appeals ensued.
“The return of WBAI to local control shows you the power that a progressive multi-ethnic and multi-racial coalition standing united on the right side of history can accomplish in a City like New York,” said Black Star News host Milton Allimadi.
Early on Thursday morning, Nov. 7, 2019, WBAI hosts Wuyi Jacobs and Sally O’Brien confirmed to the Amsterdam News that the station was back on air though the fight was not yet over and appeals were expected. Hosting shows immediately on Thursday morning were Wuyi Jacobs, Mimi Rosenberg and Milton Allimadi.
Afrobeats Radio Executive Producer and host Wuyi Jacobs said, “It’s great to have WBAI back in local management hands and local programing back on the air, but the crisis is not over until the threat by some to sell the historic 99.5 signal is removed. And more so, there is plenty of work to do to get WBAI back to speed. I call on listeners and members, producers and management to rise to the occasion; it is time to reinvent a new WBAI to face the challenges of our time, with exciting new possibilities in programming and community engagement.”
The day local broadcasting resumed, Education at the Crossroads producer and host Bashir Mchawi posted on Facebook, “While still in a fragile state, internal warfare has broken out at WBAI (again). Whether WBAI survives or not is up to all of you. With the current programming crisis caused by no news department, constant blabbing about fundraising and programs piped in from the West Coast, I can understand all of the people who have turned their radio dial to other stations. How about picking and choosing? There are still some good programs on BAI. Select a few programs to listen to in your car, at home, on your smartphone or tablet, on your computer…you can even retrieve programs from the archive at wbai.org. For WBAI (99.5 FM) to stay alive, the station needs you. My current program, Education at the Crossroads, began in November of 1996. It will be 17 years at the end of the month! There is now not a single Black owned FM radio station in New York. We need access to the airwaves. WBAI is just about all we have. Select a couple of programs to listen to and tell a friend or two about WBAI.”
“The foundation will comply with the court’s order as it considers an appeal of the judge’s decision,” stated Sabrina Jacobs, Pacifica Foundation National Board chairperson. “Nevertheless, the Foundation wishes to point out that neither the judge nor a faction of the Pacifica National Board of Directors has offered a solution to the financial crisis that necessitated the layoffs in New York. We await the written decision of the court before offering any further comments.”
Speaking on behalf of Pacifica Foundation, press consultant Susan Roth said that the statement stands; however, she added that she would keep the paper “posted if/when we issue a new statement.”
Reimers assured the Amsterdam News, “There are no grounds for an appeal. It’s over. We won. They had no authority to do what they did.”
Reimers noted that in those four weeks of uncertainty, regular listeners contacted WBAI to say that they would discontinue supporting the station until things returned to normal.
And so now, “WBAI is back better and stronger. We won. Thanks to this coup, we all now recognize how important WBAI is to the community and how good and community-oriented and New York-oriented the programming is.
“This coup was never about WBAI not making enough money. A listener from WBAI left a bequest of $582,000 to Pacifica and they cashed that check late July 2019. So, to say that WBAI is causing Pacifica to bleed in September was just a lie.”
WBAI host and attorney Arthur Schwartz stated, “The fight with what turned out to be rogue leadership at Pacifica was a fight over local media and local control of content which serves a New York City audience, with its broad demographics. We won the case because Pacifica and WBAI are structured as democratic organizations, with local station control over content, and the new executive director thought he was a corporate CEO who could just do as he pleased.”
Schwartz, the principal attorney of the Advocates for Justice Chartered Attorneys, concluded, “WBAI’s victory in court was a victory for democratic institution. That being said, WBAI and Pacifica have major financial problems, and we the listeners, need to step up our support.”
Prior to the reinstatement of regular programming while the case was going back and forth in the courts, on Oct. 31, 2019, Pacifica Foundation issued a statement saying in part, “In order to keep the first listener-supported radio network on the air, the Pacifica Foundation and Pacifica National Board Chairperson Sabrina Jacobs called on her fellow PNB Directors, and the organization as a whole, to immediately resolve its internal dispute over the temporary disconnect of Pacifica’s New York station WBAI’s
“We think that mediation, as suggested by a U.S. District Court judge on October 21, is the best course of action. It needs to happen right away,” said Pacifica National Board Chairperson Sabrina Jacobs. “We have heard the many calls from WBAI’s loyal listeners. We have to do the right thing and very soon.”
Pacifica added that since the Oct. 7 disconnect of WBAI’S local programming, “The station has sought redress in the courts for what is clearly an internal dispute. However, on Monday, October 21, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer said that mediation was the way to resolve this dispute.
“Over many years, both WBAI and Pacifica have experienced financial shortfalls in fundraising. During the past fiscal year, WBAI was unable to make payroll eight times, and when it occurred again on Oct. 5 of this year, the network no longer had available funds to keep it on the air in its past format. The local programming disconnect at WBAI was neither arbitrary nor capricious, since the other four stations in the network have been making up for shortfalls at the foundation’s New York outlet for some time.”
Pacifica Interim Executive Director John Vernile said, “We had no other choice but to take this action after receiving a report from our chief financial officer that the Pacifica Foundation was at immediate risk of financial survival because of WBAI’s debt. We have said it on the air many times, without financial support from the public, the station could not function. It’s no surprise that we had to act given the economic realities.”
The Foundation called on the New York’s Mayor’s Office, as well as the attorney general offices in New York and California, to “lend whatever aid and assistance they can to swiftly end this stalemate and quickly restore progressive local programming from WBAI to the people of New York City.”
“Pacifica needs to be on a sure path to economic recovery,” Vernile said. “This is just the beginning of a concerted effort to get our house in order.”
Jacobs added, “Pacifica’s intention is to rebuild WBAI with new and improved programming, that includes conversations about income and wealth inequality, the climate crisis, immigration, white supremacy, racism, corporate power and militarism. WBAI will be fearless, as Pacifica stations always have been, in examining some of the most pressing issues of our time.”
Over the weeks they filled the airwaves with Pacifica Across America, which included shows such as “Democracy Now,” “The Thom Hartmann Show,” and programs from the other Pacifica stations.
Reimers stated, “We know that WBAI’s message is more radical throughout the Pacifica Network, and the West Coast stations have stated their discontent many times. Before the win, they were negotiating WBAI going back on the air with content controlled and edited by them. At the end, they came at six o’clock in the morning like thugs who function more like Trump and Giuliani than like Pacificans. Further, they did not have the authority of the Pacifica National Board and never even brought the subject to the Pacifica National Board which makes their action illegal and maybe criminal.”
Activist journalist Allimadi explained, “While exiled from our station, we met together and strategized, we protested together, we made all the court appearances together, and we won together even though the rogue Pacifica faction led by the interim executive director John Vernile was represented by a white shoe Wall Street firm. We had truth, the facts, and the bylaws on our side.
“During our exile I hope listeners realized the value we bring in terms of independent news analysis based on historical class, gender, and race exploitation and that they will support us financially. For my ‘Black Star News Show,’ which deals with Black Consciousness locally and globally from a Pan-African perspective, I welcome ideas and suggestions from young people about topics they’d like to see discussed. Next week I plan to have as my guest Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao on my show. When this great Pan-African was recently fired by the AU as ambassador to the U.S. after she denounced French neocolonial control of West African countries, nearly 90,000 people signed a petition on change.org calling for her reinstatement.”
“It is your radio,” Reimers concluded. “Support us to prevent them from even having the excuse of