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WBAI’s First Week Back Reveals Need for Advocacy and Vigilant Listener Support

Milton Allimadi, host of the “The Black Star News Show” addressing WBAI supporters at a rally during the period of the hostile takeover of the station.
Milton Allimadi, host of the “The Black Star News Show” addressing WBAI supporters at a rally during the period of the hostile takeover of the station.

by Maitefa Angaza

In the week since WBAI 99.5FM returned to the air, relieved loyal fans (New York fans) and those across the tri-state area have been repeatedly warned that the battle is not yet over. Judge Melissa Crane of the Manhattan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the station, ordering its Pacifica Foundation parent company to do what was necessary to return WBAI to the airwaves. However, the station is by no means free of trouble. Pacifica has said it will appeal the judge’s decision.  

Among the challenges facing WBAI now is raising money when a fund drive was under way just a month ago. Monies raised during the drive were not returned, leaving the station in financial straits. Meeting the rent is, of course, a priority so that WBAI can maintain its just-reclaimed broadcast home. And in order to fundraise, the station must be in touch with its listener-base, made complicated by the fact that many stopped listening, angry at Pacifica, and not charmed by the “programming” from Pacifica Across America that aired in place of the station’s regular fare. 

Attorney Mimi Rosenberg, longtime co-host of “Building Bridges” on WBAI-FM radio protested loudly and fought alongside the station’s attorney Arthur Schwartz for the reclamation of the station’s offices and its broadcasting rights. Photo: Stephanie Ruseell-Kraft

So WBAI is asking returning listeners to spread the word that the station is back under its own control with the programs and producers they know. The fundraising under way has no features, no premiums; listeners are asked to regard the show’s themselves as the incentive to donate. The fund drive is going ____ Jubilant regular listeners flooded the phone lines in the first few days of WBAI’s return. They expressed their new sense of the value of the station and many aired their anger at the events that had preceded. 

The monthlong takeover of the station has been characterized by many station personnel and listener-supporters and some elected officials as a “coup.” Individuals stormed the Atlantic Avenue station on October 7th and, according to station and program managers, ushered staff out, changed the locks, removed mics and other equipment necessary to broadcast, and took computer hardware and software, as well as most of the station’s important files. They also took over bank and social media accounts.

Some say the raiders represent a rogue faction at Pacifica, others believe these actions were carried out with Pacifica’s consent. And at least one program host, nationally known health guru Gary Null, feels “it is naïve” to assume there are no government plants operating within Pacifica, given the primarily leftist nature of a good deal of the programming. Null was also among those who questioned the absence of any commentary on the takeover on “Democracy Now!” over the course of the month.

In the absence of the station’s regular programming, shows were aired that originated at other Pacifica stations. Some of these were outdated reruns and even the current fare was not to the taste of New York listeners – with perhaps a few exceptions. Upon the return of regular programming, most program producers addressed their views on the takeover and the current challenges still to be met. 

And although many loyal fans responded quickly with donations, they are being called upon to be patient, with heightened awareness of the political landscape, of the internal politics at Pacifica and even at the station as well. Listeners did turn out for rallies and court appearances and their involvement now in public meetings and campaigns for support is being urged by many voices now back on the air. 

The Pacifica Foundation, founded in the late 1940s by former reporter and World War II conscientious objector Lewis Hill, debuted with KPFA in Berkeley, CA, the first listener-sponsored station in the nation. The foundation followed with KPFK, WBAI, KPFT in Houston, Texas and WPFW in Washington, DC. WBAI was founded in 1955 by philanthropist Louis Schweitzer, who founded the Vera Institute of Justice the following year. He gave the station to the Pacifica Network in 1960. 

“We’ve still got some real battles. The Pacifica wars are still on,” said Mimi Rosenberg, producer of the long-running show “Building Bridges” and a new morning show host on the station. “WBAI is a movement. It’s a radio station, but it’s a station with an ideological purpose… It is for all people who work for truth and justice. I am delighted to be back!”

“This is a historic moment for all of us,” said Allimadi. “And obviously we need to build from here. We need to continue the momentum. Because I think this brief period allowed us to grow and to become much more effective.”  

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