Letter to WBAI Listeners from iPNB Secretary:
call to join by Nov. 21, crisis report
Hello WBAI Listeners --
Back in 1999, when we began our "listeners' lawsuit" to restore Pacifica to its founding principles and to remove the rogue former Board of Directors -- John Biello, one of the three listener-plaintiffs from WBAI, said: "WBAI & Pacifica are national treasures that must be preserved for the next generation."
Sadly, John passed away last year. But I am thinking of him today as I write to you. You supported our lawsuit, either financially or with your signed declaration of support -- so I imagine that you shared John's love for Pacifica's values and WBAI's contribution to your lives over the years.
The lawsuits were settled in December 2001, and I have served on the interim Pacifica Board of Directors since then. Our term has not been easy. Restoring Pacifica to its founding principles and financial health after years of mismanagement and profligate waste would have been a daunting task for anyone. But it has been made doubly and triply difficult by an interim board composed of hostile factions (which was unavoidably built into the settlement structure) and by resistance to change from entrenched interests within the stations, and by grudge matches and abysmal morale among the staff throughout the Pacifica network. Nowhere has this been more evident than at WBAI.
The WBAI "Christmas Coup" of December 2000 always appeared to me to be more a war between staff factions at WBAI than a part of the "mainstreaming" and "defanging" of Pacifica that had gone on at the other stations over the previous decade and from which WBAI had been largely immune. With the return of the "fired and banned" to WBAI in January 2002, those staff factions remained deeply hostile to one another -- and those hostilities have carried over into the management and programming decisions at WBAI for the past 2 years.
Listeners have been leaving WBAI in large numbers. You may have been one of them. Listener support has plummeted over the past year. A year ago WBAI raised almost $1 million in PAID pledges during its Fall fund drive. This Fall pledges totalled only $800,000 -- and worse, pledge fulfillment has plummeted this year from about 75%-80% to 60%-65%. This has created an immediate financial crisis for WBAI -- the station cannot survive until the next fund drive at the end of January, cannot meet its payroll and pay the rent and utilities necessary to keep operating the station.
I'll give you more financial details below. But, first, I want to ask you to do something: If you have not given at least $25 to WBAI over the past year, PLEASE DO SO BEFORE NOVEMBER 21ST so that you will be eligible to vote in the upcoming Local Station Board elections. To be eligible to vote, the station must RECEIVE your money by November 21st, so please make your payment by credit card or walk your money into the station. You can pay on-line at www.wbai.org. Even if you have already donated this year, please do it again if you can -- and if you can donate more than $25, please do so.
Your vote in the upcoming election of the WBAI Local Station Board will be crucial because, as much as anything else, WBAI desperately needs a Local Station Board that is committed to both financial responsibility and to the programming changes needed to bring back WBAI's audience -- a local board that will not only support necessary changes but will insist upon them and require that the station management carry out essential financial and programming reforms. So, please VOTE in the elections, and carefully question the candidates at candidates' forums about these issues -- and you might even run for a seat yourself. (You have until December 5th to file candidate's papers & the forms are on-line at www.WBAI.org ).
The financial information I promised -- This is the best information available to me. More financial information is posted at www.pacifica.org.
WBAI ended the fiscal year on September 30th with a $200,000 deficit in unpaid bills.
Current expenses are about $120,000/month more than projected income over the four months from October through the end of January when the next regular on-air fund drive is scheduled.
Current station operating expenses from October through January are projected at about $1.2 million -- about $300,000 per month -- including about $145,000/month in salaries, payroll taxes and benefits.
Current station income is projected at about $720,000 from October through January -- including about $520,000 in listener support from the October fund drive ($800,000 in pledges x 65% fulfillment) plus another $50,000 +/- per month in other income from community events and CPB grants -- or about $180,000/month in income.
$180,000/month in income, minus $300,000/month in expenses leaves a monthly shortfall of about $120,000. This $120,000 monthly shortfall will result in a $680,000 deficit by the end of January (including the $200,000 deficit carried forward from September) -- and, if carried through the entire fiscal year -- would result in a $1.64 million dollar deficit by the September 30, 2004 (including the $200,000 deficit carried over from last fiscal year).
There are currently 29.5 full time equivalent employees at WBAI (including part-time employees). The management is making plans to cut back to a skeleton staff of 14 full time equivalent employees as of December 1st. Pink slips are being issued today, I believe. This may be the most painful cutback in WBAI's history -- the "Christmas Coup" pales by comparison. Many staff members are in shock and denial. I don't blame them. Some have vowed to fight these layoffs -- and they are pleading with management not to carry out the layoffs if they can come up with a "credible" plan to raise another $200-$300,000 by the end of December. Sadly, $200-$300,000 is nowhere near enough. And, even if it were enough to get through January, it is not sustainable to continue at the current staffing levels when the listener support is not coming in through the fund drives.
Some are proposing seeking other funding sources for WBAI -- an additional $1.4 million -- over and above the on-air fund drives over the next year.
While emergency financial help should be considered, it is important to remember Molly Ivins' Texas dictum: "You got to dance with them what brung you."
I have heard no particulars about where this additional funding might be sought. But Pacifica's editorial independence has been fiercely protected for more than 50 years by relying primarily on "listener-sponsorship" for our funding. And Pacifica's Articles of Incorporation require us to be as "nearly self-sustaining" as possible. I submit that relying on "other" sources of funding for 40% of WBAI's $3.5 million budgeted operating expenses this year -- even from friendly organizations committed to peace and justice -- is fraught with perils that should be considered with great caution.
Also, it will not be possible for Pacifica, or the other Pacifica stations, to make up the shortfall at WBAI. When we took over the network from the former board in January 2002, not only were all the reserves built up over the years gone but Pacifica was almost $5 million in debt. We have slowly been working our way out of debt -- and are almost there (or were until this recent crisis at WBAI) -- but we do not have the reserves, either in the network or at the other Pacifica stations to carry WBAI at its current unsustainable level.
Why has listener support for WBAI fallen so precipitously over the past year? I am not a WBAI listener so I cannot say definitively. (I'm from the KPFA listening area in Northern California.) But it is not rocket science to figure out that the listeners are not happy with the programming at WBAI -- not enough of them to support the station. The station manager has announced that he will be making programming changes, but fixing this problem and rebuilding lost audiences will take time -- and will require WBAI's listeners to get involved in this discussion through their Local Station Board elections and other means.
I encourage you to write your programming thoughts to WBAI's station manager, Don Rojas, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may rightly ask, "How has the interim Board of Directors permitted this to happen?" There is no good answer. I can only say that the deep fractures on the interim board have prevented some board members from focusing enough attention on finances. Our Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer have been working on these financial problems at WBAI for several months -- but with little support from the board.
So, once again, that is why it is so important for you to take part in the upcoming WBAI Local Station Board elections. It is imperative that responsible people who are willing and able to put aside differences in order to insure the survival of the station be elected to the WBAI local board. The Pacifica National Board of Directors will be composed of 4 directors from each station local board -- elected by each Local Station Board from among their members.
We fought for the legal right to vote as members of the Pacifica Foundation so that -- if a station or Pacifica ever got into trouble again -- we would have the ability to replace the board to set things to rights. WBAI is in deep trouble now and your vote (or even your running for the local board) can be part of the solution -- part of restoring WBAI and Pacifica to its place as a "national treasure" for the next generation.
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