WBAI interim p.d. quits over fundraising programming

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Andrew Phillips resigned last month as interim p.d. of Pacifica’s WBAI in New York, a post he accepted less than three months ago in an effort to rebuild the audience of the financially troubled station.

Phillips cited a disagreement over fundraising programs airing on the station, including shows featuring products pitched by alternative-medicine promoter Gary Null, as the reason for his decision.

“It’s a model destined to failure, and I don’t want to be a part of it,” Phillips said.

Pacifica assigned Phillips to WBAI in August after imposing a workforce reduction intended to sharply reduce the station’s operating costs. To attract more listeners, Phillips introduced news and public affairs shows from Pacifica’s KPFA in Berkeley, where he had previously overseen programming, and Los Angeles station KPFK.

But during a recent fund drive, Phillips said, Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese overrode his decision to keep fundraising programs out of drive time and aired pledge shows hosted by Null. The programs, which aired during mornings, pitched premiums such as Gary Null’s Green Stuff, a nutritional supplement, and Gary Null’s Super Sexy Pack, a collection including a cookbook and five DVDs.

Such programming smacks of infomercials and treats listeners as customers, said Phillips. He didn’t object to airing Null’s fundraising shows at other times, however.

“We’ve gone into this mode of fundraising to the detriment of the overall sound of the station,” Phillips said. “Much of it is repeated and repetitive. It’s devoid of any real programming content at all.” Phillips had hoped to use drive time to promote sustaining memberships around a series of speakers recorded by KPFA, including Ralph Nader, Chris Hedges and Christopher Hitchens.

WBAI has turned to infomercial fundraising tactics because it owes settlement funds to its laid-off staffers, Phillips said. But the station has a weak track record of actually mailing out the premiums it promises listeners — a problem that has also plagued WPFW, Pacifica’s station in Washington, D.C.

Asked about Phillips’ concerns, Reese said that the former interim p.d. “didn’t innovate anything programmatically” during his time at WBAI.