[lbo-talk] Why WBAI Has No Money

Louis Kontos Louis.Kontos at liu.edu
Fri Aug 12 16:11:39 PDT 2005

This station needs an identity. Null's programs (speaking objectively -- i.e., with restraint) have always been filled with reactionary (uniformed) political opinion, mixed with health-advice that anybody can easily find elsewhere, without too much trouble. If anything, he was fired too late -- i.e., he supported the crowd that tried to end everything 'progressive' about WBAI. I would have fired him on the spot -- as soon as the reactionary crowd left the premises. Also, I don't want to know another thing about Mike Feder's mother. How someone can talk about his mother for hours and hours on radio is beyond me. Don't get me wrong. I had a mother too. She's dead and I miss her. But I won't talk about my mother to strangers, nor anyone who has other things to be concerned about -- in other words, Feder should be in psychoanalysis, not on radio. Having said all this, I can't figure out how or why Bernard thinks it's okay to replace Null with his personal physician (whose program is not only dull, meaningless drivel, but also insulting to the intelligence of the audience). Robert Knight seemed to grow into the job over the last few years. I can't support his firing, unless there is something I don't know. As for WBAI itself, if it's a political station, I can support it. If it's a niche for vegetarians and health-advise seekers, I couldn't care less as to its fate. I know that many others on this list have different opinions. But, at least, let's be clear about what we're talking about. Louis

> 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
> drives."
> 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
> director?
> 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
> foundation).
> ****************************************
> 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
> example:
> 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
> revenue.
> 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
> history.
> 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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