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.
The Pacifica Foundation is seeking another nonprofit organization to help operate WBAI, its financially struggling station in New York. In a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued this week, the foundation specifies that it intends to retain ultimate control over WBAI programming under a Public Service Operating Agreement. It plans to employ two members of the station's staff, one of whom would have managerial responsibilities and report solely to Pacifica. The RFP outlines costs that prospective co-operators would be expected to cover, including the two employees’ salaries, studio expenses and rent payments for its lease on the Empire State Building, where WBAI’s transmitter is located. Prospective co-operators must be willing to reimburse Pacifica for these expenses.
Pacifica has laid off the entire news department of WBAI-FM and almost all paid staff effective Monday in an effort to keep the cash-strapped New York outlet solvent. Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese made the announcement on WBAI’s air Friday afternoon. Reese told listeners that she had arrived at the station by cab directly from negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents WBAI staff. “We have not been able to fully recover . .
Pacifica station WPFW in Washington, D.C., is in “a pretty critical financial situation,” according to Summer Reese, interim executive director of the network. Reese discussed the state of WPFW during a July 25 Pacifica board conference call. Responding to a board member's question about a WPFW on-air fund drive planned for in September, she said: “The concern there is, frankly, that you don’t have enough money to get through until September.”
WPFW has fallen into a “perpetual” state of on-air fund drives, Reese said. “It’s not giving listeners much of a break.”
Reese told the board she was following up with WPFW staff about which of the station's bills must be paid most urgently. Neither the D.C. station nor WBAI in New York have paid for board election costs from last year, she said.
A journalist and former employee of a Pacifica station diagnoses the network’s failure to attract listeners in an article in the Leftist Review. The election of President Barack Obama is in part to blame, writes Kellia Ramares-Watson, because it helped to mollify the network’s left-leaning audience. But she attributes much of the problem to programming. Stations, she writes, “need to stop their attempts to represent as many of the disparate groups in their audience as they can cram into 168 hours a week.” New York’s WBAI, she notes, aims to serve many audiences by programming hosts in monthly slots and narrowly targeting ethnic niches. The station faces severe layoffs due to chronic shortages of funds.
The Pacifica Foundation will lay off 75 percent of the staff at WBAI, its station in New York, in an effort to put the foundering station on steady financial footing. Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese is travelling to New York this week to begin negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists chapter representing WBAI employees. The talks will determine which employees in particular will be let go. If carried out as planned, the job cuts will reduce WBAI’s full-time workforce from 28 staff to seven. In recent months the station has struggled with cash flow, falling behind on payments to its employees and for rent on its antenna.
CPB has withheld financial support for the Pacifica Foundation’s five radio stations after the organization missed deadlines for fixing errors and shortcomings in its accounting and operations. The errors were discovered during a CPB audit last year that cited Pacifica for insufficient accounting practices, misreported revenues and failure to comply with CPB rules on open meetings and financial transparency. The withholding of CPB funding hits Pacifica at a precarious time as its stations struggle to raise enough money to pay rent and staff. WBAI, Pacifica’s New York station, fell short of its on-air fundraising goal in May by 45 percent, or $343,000. The station can’t cover its June payroll or rent for its antenna, according to a June 9 email by Berthold Reimers, g.m., to members of WBAI’s board.