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.
Lynne Rosen, 46, and John Littig, 48, a couple who co-hosted a self-help radio show on New York’s WBAI, were found dead June 3 in an apparent double suicide. A spokesperson for the New York Police Department confirmed that both had left suicide notes.
Money shortfalls at New York’s WBAI, one of two Pacifica Foundation stations that must relocate their studios later this month, continue to worsen.
At the end of April, WBAI lacked funds to pay staff or rent on its antenna, according to an email by the treasurer of the station’s board. WBAI owed about $119,000 and had $4,000 in the bank as of April 29, Local Station Board Treasurer R. Paul Martin wrote in an email that was sent to an LSB Yahoo! group. The station is mandated by law to pay its staff, and missing the rent on WBAI’s antenna on the Empire State Building could result in “very bad consequences” if not paid by Monday, May 6. As of that date, the station still lacked the money, according to a later email by Martin.
The Pacifica radio network rarely enjoys a drama-free moment, but with two of its five stations on a tight schedule to find new studios, tensions among network leaders and local volunteers are even higher than usual. Last week Summer Reese, interim executive director of Pacifica, took a redeye from the West Coast, where Pacifica is headquartered, to appear in court in Washington, D.C. The landlord of WPFW, Pacifica’s Washington station, is selling the building that houses the station’s studios to a developer who has plans for a new hotel on the site and needs WPFW to move out of the way. Reese and WPFW leaders have been searching for a new location for months, but the site on which the station had already paid rent has prompted a backlash among station volunteers: The studios are located outside the District of Columbia and shared with a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications. Some WPFW volunteers have gone to court to block that move, and Reese is sympathetic to their cause. Meanwhile, Pacifica’s debt-burdened New York station, WBAI, is also on the hunt for a new home and faces an equally pressing deadline to find one.
WPFW-FM, the Pacifica station in Washington, D.C., faces a deadline to vacate its studios at the end of month and still has no clear plan for relocating, reports the Washington City Paper. Programmers and listeners have opposed a plan to move to studios in Silver Spring, Md., that would be leased from a subsidiary of Clear Channel. Even Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese opposes the move — she’s asked WPFW’s Local Station Board to determine whether the station can back out of the sublease agreement. The building’s landlord also is questioning the lease, reportedly because Pacifica briefly lost its corporate charter earlier this year. Pacifica’s poor finances, as well as WPFW’s, have thwarted the station’s efforts to negotiate for other locations.
All five radio broadcasters in the nationwide Pacifica network will suspend their regular programming on Nov. 15 from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. EST to hold a day-long fundraiser for New York City’s WBAI-FM, which sustained massive damage to its studio and operations during Superstorm Sandy.
Leaders of the Pacifica Foundation will seek a new executive director and are asking stations for financial information before ordering across-the-board cuts pushed by current Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt.