WBAI Programming Council meeting notes:
PD Planned schedule changes tabled
Posted on the "Goodlight board" [http://www.listenerforums.net/cgi-bin/issues_config.pl]
Posted By: Listener
Notes from the 12/08 Program Council Meeting
Bernard White stated that there has been negative talk by on-air producers, giving all sorts of reasons for the drop in listenership, and that needs to be dealt with. He said that there really hasn't been a drop in listenership, and that "We have always experienced bumps, followed by a leveling off after major events. We're not losing people. The idea of people leaving in droves is nonsense."
When questioned further about the drop, he said "I said that there's not been a dramatic drop", and when asked how they measure that he said "We measure subscribers, not listeners" adding that there's a strong correlation between the two.
Of the proposed programming changes, he said that there have been pilot programs going on for over a year and those that have been doing well - he mentioned The Largest Minority, Ain't That Good News and The Joy of Resistance - have been given a space to come on at least once and maybe twice a month. Mike Levine would be allotted one show per month. Housing Notebook would be switched to 5pm to make room for a new show about legal issues, slated to immediately follow Building Bridges.
Harry Allen wondered if the new proposed prgram grid meant that the old schedule didn't work, and if not, why not? Bernard said that was not true, but that "there had been demands made by different groups and we have to respond." He said that this was a new phenonmenon, and "we didn't have to respond to this kind of pressure before, but now we do." The newly proposed program grid was described as a continuation of incorporating various groups - "the groups who have been confronting us." - into the schedule. When asked which groups, he said that it was groups such as women, youth, and Latinos: "This schedule is an attempt to satisfy a lot of demands that have been placed on us".
Harry Allen then asked if is there an "overarching notion" to the station's programming, and Bernard answered that yes there was, and that was "that we come up with a radio station that can gain respect in the media."
Bernard also said that it has been proven that strip programming works, and that "we need a balance of both because we need to increase revenues". When asked if programs like MORC and Fass had been eliminated, as indicated on the new grid, he said no they were not eliminated, that the grid was an incomplete draft, a work in process.
Sandy Boyer said that two shows were more important than all the others - Wakeup Call and Talkback - and it would appear that those two key shows were working. Bernard replied "The revenues for Wakeup Call have begun to go back up again - it looks like the changes we've made are working." Then he explained a bit later that the changes consisted of adding more health programming. He said "There used to be health programming on Wakeup Call, and that raised a lot of money, but there hasn't been any."
Donna Gould complained about what she called "the overall reduction in the participation of women on air". And Bob Lederer wondered what the race and gender of the hosts of the new legal show would be. Bernard said the legal hosts, who will be high-powered lawyers, have yet to be chosen. His response to the criticism of not having enough women on the air was "It's a problem I've had with some of the critiques: that they just take a snapshot at a particular time, without looking at the day before or the day after." He went on to say that "there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women on air."
On Latino programming, Bernard said that we need to look at the wide range of different Latino groups in the city. The host of the new Spanish-speaking show (didn't catch his name) said that although he's from Puerto Rico, it would not be a Puerto Rican-dominated program. He said that although there are plenty of Spanish language shows in the city, most of them are horrible and super-reactionary, and there's a crying need for this program on BAI.
Scott Somer objected to having his show moved to 5pm in order to open up space for the new legal show, saying that this would be bad for Housing Notebook since "most of our audience are the working poor, and they are commuting at that hour." And even if they could listen then, call-ins are a vital part of the program, and most people wouldn't be able to do that if they were commuting. He said a lot of his guests also work 9-5 and would have trouble coming on at that hour. He said he'd been on for years back-to-back with Ken and Mimi, and that this had worked very well and both shows had thrived. They've had very good fundraisers, and the show has gotten its legs and really started to thrive in its current time slot. Scott's complaint brought to the fore the fact that the new program changes had been proposed without even conferring with the producers of the shows being moved or replaced.
Susan Lee was also unhappy with having her show You and Your Money moved, saying "I've just been moved back to 11:30am - after I just got through training my audience to tune in at 10:30." She also said she felt a lot of the changes were "personal and capricious". She confronted Bernard with her belief that "Janet Coleman was being screwed". Janet had apparently been told by Bernard in a prior meeting that CCCP would not be given a time slot because somebody told him "it wasn't as funny as it used to be". So the question arose, did Bernard think it wasn't as funny or did someone tell him it wasn't as funny? The fact remained that Janet as Arts Director was being given very little real estate with the proposed changes. She was told that if she wanted to keep CCCP on the air she'd have to fit it into the 2pm Arts slice, by preempting current offerings, including her own Cat Radio Cafe. Bernard's response: "I did not screw Janet and I have no intention of screwing her. We had a discussion and I said I thought it wasn't funny." To which Janet replied: "No Bernard, you said that someone else said that it wasn't funny."
Then Robert Knight brought up the fact that there was obviously palpable discontent with a lot of the proposed program changes, and with the manner in which they were being made, "in a black hole of decision making, without a process of feedback, and without transparency." He criticized responses to the station's financial failures as being too hasty and improvised, "as reflected in the 9/11-emergency marathons, rather than in careful preparation and planning that's needed". He said that what happened on Wakeup Call was now happening more widely throughout the station, with other producers being treated the same way he had been. He asked when would there be in place "a mechanism whereby a producer will have the right of notification and will not just be told 'You're not on tomorrow'? And when would there be a mechanism in place where decision-making would not be in the hands of one person? These questions set the course for the rest of the meeting.
Bernard defended his actions by saying "Many of these discussions went on at Program Council meetings. If you're not part of the Program Council then you don't know (what's going on)". And "in terms of Wakeup Call, I've had several meetings with the producers of that show. And I also asked for meetings with Robert Knight, and I issued memos to Robert. I did not get ONE response from him! In an attempt to pull the thing back together, there were many attempts, but they were just ignored." Robert replied that this was not true, saying that Bernard had spoken not a single a word to him since October 6th with the exception of one phone call that Robert made to Bernard to complain about him going behind his back, cancelling specials and taking over Wakeup Call. During that call Bernard told Robert that he was not only taking over Wakeup Call the followng day, a day for which Robert had already planned a special, but that he was taking it for the entire following week of the marathon, after which he laughed and hung up. Bernard did indeed take the entire next week, always saying "sitting in for Robert Knight" each morning, and of course not meaning it, as was evidenced one morning at the end of Wakeup Call, when Errol, not realizing they were still on mic, laughingly said "sitting IN for Robert?" after which more laughter could be heard from both of them. And Bernard never called Robert again, telling him to come back. Bernard denied that he had ever laughed and hung up on Robert, and Robert replied that he had witnesses. Then Robert said that he didn't come there to discuss Wakeup Call, he came to discuss due process for all producers, but he was not going to let lies be told. He called for process and transparency.
Janet Coleman said that there had been some attempt at that, "We did set up procedures, it took us one year to set them up. There is supposed to be a paper trail, but it appears in many instances here that there has not been." Bernard challenged her: "Many?" Janet responded: "Well, Andrea Clark, for one, and our own program Cat Radio Cafe, for another. You gave no indication that you were displeased, there was no procedure along the way before this preemption."
Barbara Nimri-Aziz asked " In general have you gone to any producer and talked to them before making changes? Can't we have that much respect?" Then she also made some observations about Wakeup Call, "I think there's a conflict of interest for you there. It is a major program and you're the Program Director playing around with schedules, but there's something sacred with Wakeup Call." The she said she'd like to have her co-host Abdullah have his own show, saying that she didn't see any increase in Muslim or Arab programming being addressed.
Bernard replied, "I withdrew myself from being on the selection committee for Wakeup Call. Wakeup Call will have to become a new entity." and "I'm not so close to Wakeup Call that I have to smother it with my ideas." And again "I'm not saying that I'm the strongest one for the job. Wakeup Call must be strong, it's what people tune into in the morning, so it's very important to have a Wakeup Call that's fast-paced and tuned to the audience."
Maniche offered her opinions on two issues: "First transparency, so that everybody knows what's going on, and people need to become a part of the process. The other thing that really bothers me is that programs are being dealt with by how much money they make. Having 10-20 hours of health programming is not moving things along. This process of thinking bothers me, it's bottom-feeding and reactionary".
Then Chris Farrell addressed Bernard saying "You say these program changes are due to pressure groups, but this is still not based on listener feedback" and " Your changes so far have been a failure. There is a need for a serious re-evaluation of your principles. When Harry Allen asked you about what your vision was for the station, you said your goal was 'to be a media outlet that would gain respect', but your changes have been piecemea,l with no driving vision." The Bernard asked him if he had a show, and Chris replied that he was "just a listener", to which Bernard replied (referring to Chris in the 3rd person as "Mr. Feder") "He has made a lot of baseless allegations with nothing to support any of his claims - they're just baseless." Harry Allen then asked Bernard: "I would like to know why you called Mr. Feder's(!) statements baseless". Chris Farrell said "It's Farrell." Then Bernard said "Feder." (possibly inferring that Chris's "baseless" ideas came from Mike Feder's Goodlight posts?)
Carolyn Birden raised her concern that again there was no program FOR the listeners. She suggested perhaps 1 hour a week, saying occasional call-ins with hang-ups were not enough time for listeners to voice their concerns. She said that listeners have been asking for this for years, and The Report to the Listener is FOR the listeners, but not BY the listeners.
Janet said we should look at the grid as a proposal for discussions, talk to the producers involved, and get them to concur that these are the changes that best serve the interests of the station, the best changes that we could make at this time - before we make any changes. She said "I don't think shows should be moved without a proper evaluation. It's an important part of the process that we shouldn't skip." Regarding CCCP Janet said "I have no problem with moving CCCP, but what is of serious concern is that you asked me to move it to the Arts strip. I've recently been working with two of the most brilliant voices on the air now - Harry Allen and Brendan Costello - and there's no place to put these voices, except by clogging the 2pm Arts hour!"
Bernard repled: "The Arts Dept raises very little revenue, and most of the Arts programing that does raise dollars is done by those NOT in the Arts Dept. It's not about taking programing away from Arts, that is not the case. The 3-5 time slot on Saturday is going to Public Affairs, but other times are available to the Arts Dept." and then "In the real world we do have to worry about raising dollars."
Bob Lederer told Bernard that "There should be a basic process in place in which you speak to the producer. I'm disturbed that you didn't do that, when you said last time that you would talk to the producers first." Bernard replied " I never said that. The Program Council is the place where these discussions were to take place." Bob maintained that it was very troubling that producers would hear about their programs being changed through the grapevine.
Then Robert Knight said "Given three failing marathons in a row, and given that these latest schedule changes have been made without sunshine, is it on the table that they be suspended or placed in abeyance until such time as they can be debated and reviewed?" Bernard replied that "in the October Drive we'd usually try to raise $500-$600, and we raised $800, but our expenses are way up, so we need to raise more dollars or cut expenses." And "If you check the dollars raisd by BAI, it exceeds what was raised in the past. The variable that has gone up is expenses. All the other talk is nonsense. I'll show you the figures tomorrow." John Almela responded "But there's only a 60% fulfillment rate?" And Bernard said "Well maybe we'd have to go to the Fiscal Dept. to find out just where we are right now, because once we asked people to fulfill their pledges, they did just that - fulfilled their pledges."
And then "I believe I was supposed to bring this proposal to the Program Council. My approach was to look at the entire schedule and see what fits where in the overall schedule. As for standards, the Program Council is a young experiment - only around for a couple of years - it may work, it may not." To Robert's charge that there are no standards, Bernard replied "All the new progams had evaluations." But Bob Lederer said "Not true." And Bernard replied "We had feedback sessions, made suggestions about how they could strengthen themselves."
Don Rojas commented on the need for a vision for WBAI, saying "I do have a vested interest in the best possible programming - good, radical programming that serves Pacifica's mission and the broad interests of the radical movement - the peace and justice movement. We have been discussing changes in the absence of a coherent programming philosophy at the station. Is there a common thread that reflects the identity of the station? What is it that really differentiates us - what comes to peoples' minds when they hear the word WBAI - is our programming adequately addressing the broader needs?"
Robert Knight read his motion, which contained words to the effect that "until such time as there is proper notification, sunshine, review, and specification of what the changes are, that Bernard's changes be held in suspension or abeyance." Bernard replied by saying "I don't believe that the group here has the authority to make such a motion. We've already discussed the procedure, and there's no need for this motion". Then he commented, "One of the things I find amazing is that sitting down with the Program Council, we discussed exactly how this would proceed. But once the grid came out, all hell broke loose! Now that the grid is out on the table, all of a sudden there's no process. These are a set of proposals gone over by the Program Council in previous meetings. Now nobody wants to take any responsibility for being involved in the discussions at all, and I find that amazing."
Eileen Sutton said "What Robert Knight is raising speaks directly to the issue that this radio station has no structure." She went on to say that she doesn't consider Pacifica to be a progressive organization, because of the way it is structured, and because of the way decisions are made. "We're talking about what democracy looks like at this radio station - and this is a very important conversation to be having." Kathy Davis agreed, "This is the same thing that I've been saying. I think it is definitely a mistake to go forward after what we have heard here today." Susan Lee also agreed, "I too support what Eileen says. I thought naively that when we came back, everything would be (democratic). I'm very disappointed that this station is being run like a sole proprietorship, with fear of retribution and lack of process. This station has been driven down since we came back! We need collectivity, and we need process."
Fran Luck also supported Robert's motion but wanted to add a friendly amendment to add "gender parity" to the mix, saying it was as critical as any issue. Robert did not accept her amendment, saying that parity of all types was already included in his motion, which was about "fairness, transparancy and due process" and that included "gender parity" "cultural parity" and every other kind of parity.
Sandy Boyer then said that he did not support Robert's motion as it was written, "As I understand it from reading the Union Contract, the Program Council only makes suggestions, and we don't have the authority to make decisions. But I would like to stop the process for a while, even though I don't support the motion." Robert responded,"Can I put it more simply? No changes without due process." And Bob Lederer responded, "I disagree, Sandy, with your analysis of the powers of the Program Council. The only concern I have (about delaying the process) is the Latino programs. There's been a good faith dialog about the timing for the Latino programing and perhaps the Haitian program as well, that coincides with the bicentennial of the Haitian Revolution." Vajra supported Bob's motion, saying she thought it was important to go forward immediately with the Spanish language programming. Cerene weighed in, "I understand the importance of Spanish language programing with regard to "moving ahead", and if it doesn't displace anything fine, but the Sunday show does displace the Sunday news. Maybe put it in the 2nd hour of the 3-5 slot."
Mitchel Cohen said that he'd like Bernard to hold off making changes, and made the additional point that the listeners need to be consulted as well. Donna Gould added "I did not stand out there on picket lines for this kind of an outfit! We haven't given them (the listeners) anything they can grasp as exciting since we got (the station) back!" Barbara Nimri-Aziz said "I was moved by what Scott Somer was saying. I know the programing before me and after me alters ny content and presentation." Carolyn Birden stated "I'm upset about the concept that programs have to earn their keep. I think that we are missing the boat by asking people to fund individual programs and by having no (other) mechanism for listener feedback. We need maybe to have a complete upheaval of all programming. For example we could have 3 different housing programs - there are enough organizations in this city to do it - and less health!"
Aniruddha Das supported the idea of abeyance, saying that "nothing shines through as an exciting proposal, and it does seem like simply a rearrangement of existing programs for the most part". He liked the idea of "suspending changes in order to get to a more exciting place". Linda Ziskes approved of Robert's motion saying "I think this motion is about process. For example there was a lack of process in the abrupt termination of Gary Null, and then (on Wakeup Call) when all of a sudden Robert was not there." She said she felt that the Program Council has not been proactive. "Let's pause, let's stop, let's start something that IS proactive."
Bob Lederer then put his motion on the table that the two Latino programs and the Hatian program be put on a fast-track to be resolved next week at an emergency Program Council meeting. Eileen objected to Bob's motion, saying it was antithetical to this process. Susan Lee supported it, saying one of the shows had been promised since June. Aniruddha Das supported it, and Kathy Davis said that the Haitan program had also been on the agenda for a long time. Cerene said they could be put into 3 slots that were already available without displacing anyone now. She said "There's a lot of dead wood that needs to be trimmed. Let's do it! People say they want change but then they say it's 'not my show'. I'm sick of that!"
Janet Coleman maintained that if the new Latino shows were given time, she wanted a tradeoff for 2 more hours of arts programming. And Harry Allen said: "I'm struck by how difficult a job Bernard and Don have. We want the opportunity to help build this." But then he said "it was disconcerting when I learned in a meeting that something I've been trying to do since September is being cast aside for something else."
Sandy Boyer then made a counter motion to Robert's, that the changes be postponed for at least a month, with the exception of the Latino and Haitian programing. Kathy Davis objected to Sandy's motion because she thought that putting a 30-day timeframe on things didn't sound realistic. She said "We have a radiothon coming up and a pledge drive starting on Jan. 17, and in between that a campaign of calling listeners. We don't want our energy diverted by having to create a time schedule. To say we'll come up with an evaluation within 30 days is unrealistic." Robert also objected to postponement based on a time limit, because his motion was to postpone pending establishment of due process and qualitative changes. But Sandy's substitute motion passed, stipulating that all changes except the Latino and Haitian public affairs programming be postponed for at least a month, and that an emergency Program Council meeting be scheduled to fast-track those shows. Sandy's motion beat Robert's by one vote - Bernard's - and some felt it was questionable whether Bernard should have had a vote.
From: Carolyn Birden [CdPNY]
My rough notes from last night's meeting: please supplement, correct, redirect, revise if you recall otherwise.
My notes (scattered) from the PC meeting 12/8/03
The agenda plan, as announced by Sandy Boyer, was to discuss the general schedule changes as a whole and then go to specific programs. Harold Allen led off with a query: what is the PD's philosophy? Why, and how, is this schedule different from the last schedule?
A lot of backing and forthing followed: Bernard said there had been a lot of demands on WBAI since the coup: this schedule addresses those issues. Groups, and individuals, and issues have put pressure on him/the schedule. It is proven that stripprogramming brings in money but it eliminates producers: we need a balance. "This [new schedule] satisfies demands by groups, by individuals, by issues."
BW challenged statements that membership had dropped dramatically (he returned several times to the theme of on-air statements that were untrue, this being one of them). Mitchel Cohen asked what tools he used to measure that. BW corrected self: subscribers, not listeners, have not dropped: didn't mean listeners.
The proposal is for a 13-week contract for new programs.
Sandy: As TalkBack and WUC are essential and what you build your day on, yet you do not mention changes there: you must think they are okay? BW: revenue has been going up for WUC. I didn't want to return, recused myself from committee to search for replacement. (more later on WUC)
Donna Gould mentioned arithmetic re women hosts: some added, some removed, so consider the whole picture.
Bob Lederer re the proposed legal show: what about the race and gender of the hosts? BW: the problem with these gender studies is that they take a snapshot: there has been a dramatic increase in women at the station. I can't go to the people planning the show [later, three civil rights groups were referred to, but not by name] and just say we want this or that. Later, someone -said, of course you can, and must, do just that: we need women and people of color.]
Mara Bard (LIFriends of BAI): there are 325,000 immigrants on L.I. Is the new news program in Spanish? What is it about?
Scott Somers: out of order, as he had to leave to do a show: the change to 5 p.m. wrecks the audience, who are working class and don't get home at 5. it is a call in show and no one will be able to be there. I cannot be there, as I work (UAW organizer) and 5 p.m. is a disaster.
Daniel Vila: a group of us began collecting signatures. This will not be a PR dominated program: Spanish stations are super reactionary, there is a desperate need for an hour of progressive news on WBAI.
Susan Lee raised three points. 1 was regarding the income on WUC, which Bernard had said was steadily going up: she did not agree. 2, she sees no standards being proposed or upheld. It seems "personal and capricious" - Janet, for instance, is getting screwed. These decisions are all your personal opinion. 3, my show is now moved again, to the half hour, when we had just trained listeners to tune in at 10:30.
BW: health programs on WUC raised a lot of money. Re standards, and complaints about Janet's show [some discussion here about who, Bernard or someone else on the show, said CCCP was not funny enough].
Robert Knight: there is palpable discontent of decision, manner, lack of accessibility to that process. There is a black hole where decision making goes. There is no transparency or method, leaving the impression no building of the audience or "even more important" producer building. No due process or communication. When there is a process, and published standards
[complex motion that asked for a suspension of changes until producers could be consulted and until there was an actual philosophy of programming in place]
BE: if you are not part of the many discussion on the subject [this seemed to be addressed to the listeners present] these PC decisions might seem capricious. The problem is that at the radio station people go to the air with total fabrications. He had several meetings with Robert, had written him several memos with specific requests, got not one response. It costs him $80 a week to do a job he is not getting paid for. You cannot just keep ignoring things.
RK: October 6th was the last time we spoke, and you refused to discuss any of those issues. BW: I did not make statements that were false. Etc.
Janet: re PC meetings. ALL should attend. There ARE procedures re evaluations. There has been no voting, however, on these pilot programs. We had specific procedures and there should be a paper trail from Pd to programs. The rules have not been followed. [discussion on procedure re Andrea Clarke]
Barbara Nimri Amiss: re my show, have you gone to any producers whose times you change and ask about their life situation? No respect for us as humans as living people Re WUC, there is a conflict of interest: you as PD - there is something sacred about WUC and you should not be involved with it. Re the Muslim community, 30% are immigrants. We need a regular program with him as host: you have not addressed the issue of him as host. I have brought in a good many Muslim listeners.
BW Re life issues and respect: this is a proposal the next step is to begin talking with people directly. This was worked out with the PC. The next step is to talk with producers. Re WUC, I had withdrawn from the selection committee. WUC has to be strong: the Muslim community is one of many we need to deal with. Eileen: the issue of training: we are not training people, as per mission.
Chris Farrell, Janet C, Manijeh, Kathy. Janet C: not enough arts. Lost 3-5 hours to public affairs, and have this pathetic strip into which an arts how is being pushed. Harry and ?? are brilliant. No adherence to the mission.
Carolyn: What about the listeners? WE need an hour a week for listeners to present their points of view. The report to the listeners is not about the listeners, but to them. LL deserve time to raise their issues. [later] how much money a program brings in should not be the ultimate criterion: adherence to the mission. We should be pitching the idea of the station, not individual programs. I give to the station although I don't like some programs. Also there should be process in place.
Bob L: you said a week ago that you would consult with producers before coming to a general discussion. BW: no, I did not say that, cannot talk to producers at this station.
Harry Allen: wants to know why Bernard characterized Chris Farrell's statements as baseless?
RK: re marathon and changes: move to hold up, suspend them.
BW: arts have had a serious problem for a long time. They raise very little money, and most of that is by people no in the arts department. It's about space: there are other hours.
Decreasing expenses means termination of some people: I think we can raise additional revenue needed. I believe this proposal was what I was to do. The PC is a young experiment. It may or may not work. We are developing as we ho.
BW: many try to use the figures for their own personal gain. Expenses are up.
Don R: Focus missing in this discussion: we must be vested in good programming that serves the mission and broad interest of the peace and justice movement. We are discussing changes in the absence of a philosophy of programming. I am not aware of any coherent philosophy of programming, certainly not in writing. Where is the common thread, the public image? What makes us unique in the public mind?
8:45 RK motion: suspend changes.
Eileen Sutton: this speaks directly to the structure of this station. Pacifica is not a progressive organization.
Kathy: take a pause in the process. Sandy does not support the motion - it is too detailed - and according to the union contract, we can make recommendations only to the PD. But we are not ready to proceed, need to discuss civil rights show. Let's stop the process.
RK: no changes w/o due process.
Michel: Different philosophy: More arts. Radical math and science. The PD should hold off.
Donna: very disappointed with these processes. I did not get arrested to see this kind of structure back in the station.
Bob: good case for pause. The PC should make strong recommendations. re Latino programming, these 2 programs were raised correctly: could we exempt these?
Carolyn: we have no audience evaluation - who are they, what do they want? No feedback. Also there should not be locks on programs; there is room in this town for more than one housing show (with all the tenants/renters), and some of the health programs could go.
Cerene: re displacement of Sunday news, there were cost issues attached, but salary was returned by one people, so there is no longer any cost factor.
Aniruddtha Das: nothing shines through here: there is no philosophy. there should be excitement out of the consultative process.
Linda Z: re motion on process, re termination of Null, and then Robert: there was no notice, no process. In the PC, the driving concern for evaluation was always put aside.
Harry Allen: I'm struck by how difficult a job BW and Don R have - "thankless". Thanks for all who supported me. Want to help build this.
Fran: agrees there should be a pause in the process. Props for gender parity which should be part of the consideration.
[There was a vote on allowing the two vetted Latino shows to be included in the schedule, and then the Haitian show was included in someone's motion. I was preparing to leave, so do not recall the final votes. Someone asked what the quorum was, but no one answered. ]
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