WBAI hip-hop host quits following Lopate hiring, Twitter quarrel

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Jay Smooth, longtime host of a hip-hop show on WBAI in New York, split from the station after criticizing it for bringing former WNYC host Leonard Lopate back to New York City’s airwaves.

“This is incredibly painful, despite all their efforts to make the decision easier,” Smooth said in a Thursday tweet. “But there is no other choice.”

The Columbia Journalism Review reported that Smooth, host of the station’s Underground Railroad, told listeners Saturday that he was “vehemently opposed” to WBAI’s decision to pick up Lopate’s daily show. “If this show is still airing as of Friday, I’m definitely not going back on Friday,” he told CJR. “The question for me is, have we gone past the point that I want to go back at all?”

New York Public Radio fired Lopate in December for violating its standards “for providing an inclusive, appropriate, and respectful work environment.”

WNYC News reported that Lopate made “sexually provocative” comments and bullied employees who worked on the show. “He made everyone cry at some point,” a former producer said.

In the thread of responses to his Thursday tweet, Smooth said his departure is “really less about me than everyone who has to remain in this workplace, and media spaces everywhere, under management like this who hire and protect and coddle men like this.”

Before announcing his departure, Smooth criticized WBAI for its retweets supporting Lopate, including one that equated the talk-show host with Jackie Robinson, the first African American Major League Baseball player.

WBAI responded on its main Twitter account.

BAI Buddies is the station’s sustaining membership program.

WBAI announced earlier this month that it would begin airing Lopate’s show Lopate at Large. The daily interview show launched as a weekly show and podcast in May on WPWL, a community radio station in Pawling, N.Y., and Robin Hood Radio, a small NPR station in Sharon, Conn.

“We are thrilled to have him back at WBAI and can’t wait to hear what he has in store for all of us,” said WBAI GM Berthold Reimers, in a press release announcing Lopate’s return. The release also said Reimers “helped convince the veteran talk show host to return.”

Reimers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

WBAI’s website says Smooth is “known as the first DJ on Radio to explore mixing classic jazz cuts with the latest underground Hip Hop.” Spin said that with Smooth’s departure, “WBAI loses a supremely [knowledgeable] and compassionate voice, one who balances a firm grounding in the history of the genre with an eclectic taste for music outside its nominal borders.”

2 thoughts on “WBAI hip-hop host quits following Lopate hiring, Twitter quarrel

  1. I wish it didn’t have to happen this way. I have been listening to the Underground RailRoad since 2005 and I am still in disbelief.
    After Jay Smooth left WBAI, Lenny Lopate publicly announced on WBAI recently that he was very glad to be a part of WBAI after leaving WNYC. He also stated that he was not fired from WNYC due to allegations of misconduct from other employees there.
    The point I am trying to make is that just because something like this happens, a radio show host should never let anyone intervene with another radio show hosts tenure. The other radio show hosts currently on WBAI are pretty much taking it in stride and continuing doing what they do best.
    I’m sorry but you don’t just throw away a nearly 30 year old reign on the radio.

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