Pacifica's WBAI-FM is laying off its entire news department and almost all paid staff effective Monday as the cash-strapped New York outlet fights to stay solvent.
Pacifica interim executive director Summer Reese made the announcement on-air on Friday afternoon. Reese told the audience that she came to the station by cab directly from negotiations with the SAG-AFTRA union.
“We have not been able to fully recover, not only from the hurricane, but from many years of financial stress at this radio station,” Reese said, on Friday. “And, it’s with great sadness that I have to tell the WBAI listening audience here in New York and New Jersey and Connecticut that many of the voices that you have been listening to for many years will no longer be on the air as of next week.”
When Reese initiated negotiations with the union in July, she proposed job cuts that would reduce WBAI’s full-time workforce from 28 staff to seven. The layoffs to be imposed Aug. 12 eliminate jobs for the entire news department and almost all on-air talent.
"We are only retaining staff that is critically necessary to operational functions at the station," she said.
She told listeners that shows dropped from the line-up will not air again.
“Most of your familiar hosts in the daytime, whose shows you value will not even have the opportunity to really say goodbye to you for which I am deeply sorry,” Reese said. Replacement programs from other Pacifica stations and content that had already been acquired will fill WBAI's broadcast days for the short term, she said.
During the two-hour broadcast, Reese said she is “100 percent” committed to keeping WBAI on the air and as a Pacifica station.
WBAI has been running at a loss for the past decade, and mounting fees including $50,000 a month in rent for the station's transmitter led to the solution, Reese said, and layoffs had become unavoidable because the station can't afford its current payroll anymore.
To pay employees for this week, Reese borrowed money from another Pacifica station; next week's payroll will deplete the WBAI's emergency transmitter rent fund.