> Why WBAI Has No Money
> At the latest Local Station Board meeting, on July 27, WBAI's Program
> Director, Bernard White, finally agreed to come before the board and explain
> why every fundraising drive he has overseen during the past 3 years has
> failed miserably to reach its revenue goals in the time allotted -- throwing
> the station into severe financial crisis, and requiring significant
> anticipated layoffs in station staff.
> After White had spoken, I and several other board members asked him:
> If our listeners are refusing to support the station with their dollars,
> might not the reason possibly be that they do not like the new programs and
> policies you have instituted? And might they also not like the way you
> insulted, harassed, and ultimately fired such popular programmers as Gary
> Null, Mike Feder, and Robert Knight?
> White answer was -- No.
> According to White, the listeners actually loved his policies, loved his
> programming, and were delighted that Gary Null, Mike Feder, and Robert
> Knight were no longer on our airwaves.
> White was then asked:
> If the listeners love what you are doing, why haven't they shown that love
> by sending us their dollars, as they used to? His answer was -- "Er, um, we
> just have to find more exciting premiums to offer them during our pledge
> So now, thanks to Bernard White, we finally learn the real truth about
> WBAI's fundamental appeal to listeners.
> In the past, we foolishly believed that listeners sent us money because they
> wanted to support our programming -- but we were mistaken. According to
> Bernard White, listeners merely send us money to buy premiums.
> Well, if that's the case, why does WBAI need to waste $60,000 a year on a
> program director? Why not abolish that job -- and simply hire a premium
> When the program director was asked, once again, why the station was so
> financially strapped, he said -- "costs have gone up." That is certainly
> true (in good part because of the program director's policies). But it
> doesn't explain why daily fundraising revenues have gone down -- way down.
> So I specifically asked him to explain why -- if our standard 18-day fund
> drive must raise $61,000 a day to achieve its $1.1 million goal -- our last
> drives have been reporting daily levels as low as $19,000 a day?
> I also asked the program director whether his alienation of Gary Null's
> listeners -- by gratuitously insulting Null on the air day after day, by
> cutting 20% off his airtime without explanation, by pre-empting him from the
> last two years of pledge drives, and finally by firing him without cause --
> was in any way responsible for at least some part of the station's poor
> fundraising performance.
> The program director evaded -- i.e., didn't answer -- the question of why
> the station's daily fundraising revenues had fallen so precipitously from
> $61,000 a day (which is what our sister station, KPFK in Los Angeles, gets)
> to sometimes as low of $19,000 a day. He also denied that the harassment and
> firing of Feder, Null, and Knight had any significant impact on the
> station's revenue.
> In fact, the program director went even further. He actually denied that
> Null was a significant fundraiser for WBAI -- even though, according to
> Pacifica's own documents, Null's Natural Living Program had raised up to
> one-third of the station's total fundraising revenue every year for the last
> 26 years.
> White pooh-pooh'd Null's fundraising record (which was often higher, on an
> hour-by-hour basis, than that of all other fundraisers in Pacifica,
> including Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!) by pointing out that, in the last
> two years, Null's program had raised almost no money at all during WBAI's
> pledge drives.
> Yes, that is certainly true. During the last two years Null raised almost no
> money at all during WBAI's pledge drives. But White conveniently, and
> dishonestly, neglected to add one teeny-weeny fact -- that it was White
> himself who had specifically ordered that Null be pre-empted from
> participating in WBAI's pledge drives during those last two years. A lovely
> example of Catch-22, isn't it?
> In case anyone is interested, here is part of a report recently submitted to
> the national board about the specific (negative) dollar-impact of the Null
> pre-emption and firing on WBAI's revenue stream (and that of the Pacifica
> According to internal documents from WBAI, Pacifica, and Null's own company,
> Gary Null's Natural Living program has been responsible for raising up to
> 1/3 of WBAI's total yearly revenue for every single one of the 26 years from
> 1978 until his recent pre-emption and firing.
> This sometimes amounted to as much as $300,000 per fund drive. But this
> revenue stream was abruptly -- and deliberately -- cut off approximately 3
> years ago, when WBAI Program Director Bernard White began to personally
> insult Null on the air on a daily basis, then cut 20% off Null's daily
> air-time with no explanation, pre-empted Null from virtually all pledge
> drives (again with no explanation), and then finally fired him in December
> of 2004.
> For most of those 26 years since 1978, Null's program listenership is
> estimated to have comprised as much 50% of the station's total audience, and
> as many as 1/3 of its paid members. (By rough estimate this comes to about
> 7000 paid members as of mid-2004).
> However, after the program director began to insult Null daily on the air,
> his listeners responded by the thousands with letters and phone calls of
> protest. They warned Bernard White (and station manager Don Rojas) that they
> would stop listening and withdraw their financial support from the station
> if the harassment of Null did not stop. The program director and station
> manger ignored these listeners, and so the listeners withdrew their support.
> The results of that withdrawal can be easily seen in dollars and cents. For
> In the past, WBAI could raise $1 million or $1.1 million in a single pledge
> drive lasting 18 days, or about $61,000 per day. (KPFK can do this easily.)
> However, during the past 2-3 years, the station has only been able to raise
> a fraction of that amount during its 18-day drives. Therefore it has been
> forced to extend pledge drives by as much as a month or longer. And even
> then, instead of raising $61,000 a day, daily fundraising totals have
> dropped precipitously -- to as low as $19,000 a day in recent drives.
> This is far below even a bare subsistence level.
> However, this steep 2-3 year decline in daily average revenue totals was
> deliberately obscured by the program director and station manager. By
> extending each drive longer and longer, the station managed to come up with
> enough money to survive, even if deeply in debt, but only by having the
> other four Pacifica stations, in effect, subsidize WBAI's deficits (with or
> without their knowledge) by means of questionable internal transfers that
> funneled funds from the other stations to WBAI, quietly facilitated through
> the national office by Dan Coughlin and Lonnie Hicks.
> What has the Null issue cost WBAI to date?
> If Null's participation in a $1.1 million pledge drive was arguably worth up
> to $300,000, then Program Director White's still unexplained decision to
> pre-empt Null from more than 12 pledge drives, has so far cost the station
> (and the foundation) up to $3.6 million -- or more than an entire year's
> What will the Null issue cost the station going forward?
> WBAI raises about $3,000,000 a year through membership fees and pledge
> drives. That means each member is worth approximately $158 a year to the
> station. Therefore the loss of Null's 7,000 paying members (who have all
> followed him to his new station, according to industry measuring surveys)
> will cost the station $158 x 7,000 or approximately $1,106,000 ... every ...
> single ... year.
> We see these numbers actualized in every pledge drive. For example, WBAI's
> last full pledge drive was targeted to raise $1.1 million in 18 days. But
> after 18 days it had raised only $600,000-plus. So the drive was extended
> for a month. But it was still unable reach that goal. So a two-week
> mini-drive had to be held shortly thereafter. And so it goes.
> Last year WBAI was forced to fundraise on air for nearly 95 days. (That
> translates to 40% of every business week of the year.) This year it seems
> that fundraising may increase to 110 days or more.
> This is not a solution -- it will simply make things worse. For it has been
> demonstrated by research reports from the public radio sector [see them at
> http://www.walrusresearch.com/reports/doc-114.htm] that listeners become
> increasingly irritated and will tune away from a station when fundraising
> goes on too long.
> This causes fundraising revenues to drop. Which means the station must
> fundraise even longer to make up for the drop. This causes even more
> listeners to leave, requiring even longer fundraising times. And so on, in a
> vicious circle that will eventually bankrupt WBAI -- or even Pacifica itself
> if the national board continues to do nothing to correct the situation.
> In my opinion, correcting the situation must start with removal of WBAI's
> program director.
> I do not wish to imply that all of the station's financial woes are due to
> the harassment, pre-emption, and firing of Gary Null. But the Null firing is
> part of a pattern of arbitrary and listener-alienating behavior by the
> program director that has brought the station to perhaps its lowest point in
> I believe that Program Director Bernard White has unethically used the
> station's resources to consolidate his own power even at the expense of the
> station's health. For reasons of personal spite, not related to station
> business, he has abused his office to "revenge" himself on certain
> individuals, at great harm to the station.
> This has resulted in the firing of popular and important prizewinning
> programmers such as Gary Null and Robert Knight (both winners of numerous
> awards for journalism and investigative reporting).
> It has resulted in hiring his friends when there was no money in the budget
> to justify such hires.
> It has resulted in terminating broadcasters who had wide listener support
> and replacing them with the program director's friends and political allies.
> (For example, the program director cut that 20% out of Gary Null's airtime
> so he could create a show for his own personal physician.)
> The program director has also lowered staff morale and created an atmosphere
> of race-baiting and physical violence at the station in which staff members
> or listeners are often threatened or actually beaten up in their own offices
> by outside thugs.
> And he has shown himself unable to create the kind of powerful programming
> that attracts listeners and excites them into providing the financial
> support the station must have -- and could previously count on having in the
> years before the present program director took office.
> Stephen M Brown
> sbrown13 at nyc.rr.com
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