Pacifica considers appeal of decision that restored WBAI to the air

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WBAI is back on the air with local programming out of New York City, but its dispute with its licensee, the Pacifica Foundation, is far from over.

In a decision Wednesday, New York state Judge Melissa Crane extended an Oct. 7 preliminary injunction and further enjoined Pacifica from terminating any WBAI employees or preventing the station from airing its regularly scheduled programming.

WBAI had been broadcasting a feed of other Pacifica programs since Oct. 7, when interim Executive Director John Vernile abruptly laid off the station’s staff and shut down its Brooklyn studio. WBAI producers and supporters called Vernile’s move a “hijacking” and a “rogue effort” to destroy the station.

The station resumed its local programming at midnight Thursday morning. Its website, which for the past month had displayed only the day’s radio schedule and a short message from Pacifica, has also returned to its previous version, which includes links to donate money and listen to programming online.

“Everything is back in place,” said attorney Arthur Schwartz, who is representing the WBAI producers and supporters in court and hosts a show on the station.

“I don’t think anybody believed me when I said ‘Be ready to go back on the air Wednesday night,’” he added. “People aren’t used to winning these cases.”

WBAI may be back under local control, but the underlying dispute between the station and leadership at Pacifica continues.

Sabrina Jacobs, chair of the Pacifica Foundation’s national board, said Pacifica will comply with the court’s order but that she is considering an appeal.

The financial crisis that necessitated the layoffs has not been addressed, she said. In court documents, Vernile argued that the shutdown was necessary for Pacifica’s financial health because WBAI had been unable to finance its own payroll.

“The question is still there: Where is the money coming from?” Jacobs told Current.

WBAI producers, including Schwartz, argue that the shutdown ended a fundraising effort for that station that would have netted up to $300,000. That “would be one-quarter of their budget for a whole year,” he said.

Jacobs rejected the notion that Pacifica had gotten in the way of the fund drive.

“Pacifica didn’t get in the way, because Pacifica is trying to save itself from itself,” she said. “WBAI has been siphoning off money from all of our other units.”

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