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WBAI GM report to the listener

[ From wbai.org ]

An Address to the Listeners of WBAI by General Manager Don Rojas

Sisters and Brothers of the WBAI family,

I am humbled and honored for having been chosen to lead WBAI as its next general manager. To all who supported my candidacy I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude.

The selection of a new GM was, indeed, a long and tedious process but it was, nonetheless, a necessary exercise in participatory democracy and institutional transparency, particularly in the wake of the recent crises at WBAI and other Pacifica stations. Those crises are now behind us and we are moving forward with new energy, momentum, determination and renewed resolve.

My first order of business today is to salute all of you in the WBAI listener community for your past and present contributions to this station and for your commitment to the mission of the Pacifica Network. The valiant activism that many of you in the listening community exhibited in recent times helped rescue WBAI from impending peril two years ago. Your energy and dedication, personal sacrifices and unquenchable passion guaranteed that the station would be returned to its founding principles and to its historical mission. As we move forward in the New Year, I would hope that our loyal listeners can once again muster the same levels of passion and energy that would be required to tackle the many tasks and challenges that lie ahead. New mechanisms will be institutionalized to increase the levels of listener involvement and democratic participation in all aspects of the station’s operations. We are proud of our unique status in the world of radio as a non-commercial, listener-supported station dedicated to peace and justice for all. We will remain unalterably committed to these principles and to the propagation of free-speech radio exercised with responsibility and consonant with our mission.

While there will be no attempt made to censor or gag anyone’s right to express themselves freely on the WBAI airwaves we will nevertheless implore both our producers and our listeners to respect the boundaries of free speech and to refrain from engaging in obscenities or in the slander of any one or any group based on their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual preference. Any manifestation of racism, racial profiling, race-baiting, sexism or anti-Semitism should not be tolerated within the WBAI family. On the contrary, WBAI must become a model of multicultural and multiracial tolerance, understanding and co-operation.

Sisters and Brothers, I would be remiss if I did not use this occasion to recognize the many years of dedicated service to WBAI rendered by my predecessor Sister Valerie Van Isler. She has kept this ship afloat through many turbulent storms and we thank her for the steady hand. I want to offer my best wishes to Valerie as she moves on to new endeavors, new battles and new victories. I want to also express my eagerness to work closely in the days ahead with our program director Bernard White, with the various department heads, with the Local Advisory Board and with the various listener activist groups.

Today, I don’t intend to outline a detailed work program or action agenda. I promise that will come early next year after completing a process of bi-lateral meetings and consultations over the next few weeks with members of staff and with the various BAI constituencies.

But I do want to share with you on this occasion some of the priorities that I’d like us to work on collectively over the next 6-12 months:

  1. significantly expand BAI’s news and public affairs capacity beginning with the introduction of news headlines and guest commentaries at the top of each hour. Many listeners have asked us to add a local sports report to our daily newscast and so we will be looking into the feasibility of such an addition. We will also be making positive changes to the morning program ‘Wake Up Call’, and in consultation with the Program Council we will be examining ways in which we can improve the quality and relevance to our mission of the entire program line-up.
  2. completely overhaul and enhance BAI’s Web site and position the station as a pioneer in the new media of Internet radio. Bandwidth will be significantly expanded to accommodate many more simultaneous listeners to our live stream. News and information will be updated daily on the site. Programs will be archived on the Internet for up to seven days and each program will be given a page on the station’s Web site. The site will be re-designed to maximize the interactivity and communications flow between the station’s staff and its listeners. We will add Web-based polls and surveys on station programs and station policies as well as on the issues that we cover in our news and public affairs. Listeners will be able to communicate with BAI management and staff regularly by email. And, as we move to greater transparency of the station’s finances we will be posting the annual WBAI budget and other important financial documents on the station’s Web site.
  3. explore the possibilities of having select WBAI programs distributed across the country via satellite radio
  4. re-establish the Folio as a regular BAI newsletter in both printed and electronic formats,
  5. increase the amount of live remote broadcasts of important events in the tri-state area,
  6. better serve the peace, justice and labor movements with expanded air time allocated to announcements of non-profit community events and with a community events calendar on the station’s expanded Web site,
  7. expand the station’s outreach efforts into the multi-cultural communities of the tri-state area with more BAI sponsored forums,
  8. establish BAI support groups on tri-state area campuses and in local labor unions,
  9. explore the feasibility of adding some Spanish-language programming to the line-up,
  10. institute a mandatory technical training program for all staff and an apprentice training program for young radio journalists and producers,
  11. produce more programming that documents the histories of the peace, justice, labor and national liberation movements in the USA and around the world,
  12. strengthen strategic partnerships with other alternative and progressive media entities.
  13. more fully utilize the station’s performance studio for live broadcasts of musical performances, poetry-reading sessions, radio dramas, public policy debates and discussions etc.

To be sure, this is a fairly ambitious agenda but it is all designed to bring our listeners a better radio service. Nothing on this agenda can be accomplished without your support. Its worth reiterating here that WBAI is not owned by some corporate media conglomerate and it does not generate millions of dollars in advertising revenues. We are owned by the Pacifica Foundation, a modest non-profit entity, and the vast majority of our financial support comes from you in the listening community. This reality will not change and so we will continue to call on our listeners to provide the financial sustenance for our survival and our growth in the months ahead. Your pledges to WBAI are investments that you make in alternative media and it is our responsibility to give you a decent return on your investment in the form of quality programming.

Sisters and Brothers, let me state unequivocally that under my stewardship there will be no victimizations, no favoritism, no vendettas and no hidden agendas. I carry no brief for any faction or clique or camp.

I fully intend to respect and honor the principle of fair representation for the various branches of the larger WBAI family on the station’s staff and also in the content of its programming.

One of the great strengths of this radio station is the on-air talent, a beautiful rainbow of voices representing a universe of ideas and interests. Under my watch, WBAI will continue to be a platform for the free expression of New York’s rich diversity but in utilizing that sometimes intoxicating tool we call a microphone, we must always be mindful of the sanctity of the WBAI airtime. It’s an invaluable asset. Let’s not squander it. Let’s not abuse or violate this asset to wage personal battles against each other or to posture and profile our egos. Apart from legitimate concerns for FCC regulations, the trifling use of airtime to malign people we don’t like or have disagreements with is not the exercise of free speech but rather the irresponsible use of the airwaves. Leave that to the trashy right-wing talk shows. It is below the dignity of this institution. Also, WBAI’s airtime should not be used for promoting the commercial interests of producers or their guests. After all, this is still non-commercial, listener-supported radio. However, we will explore ways in which we may be able to support the legitimate commercial activities of our producers and listeners with ads in the Folio and on the Web site, but not on the air.

Let us not forget also that each of us – staff member and listener activist alike – is an ambassador for WBAI. We are representatives of the station, of its mission, its ideals, and our conduct both on and off the air reflects an image to the world outside the station’s boundaries. Let us therefore conduct ourselves with the dignity and integrity of good ambassadors.

Today is as good a day as any other to celebrate WBAI’s proud and rich history and to herald its many noteworthy achievements spanning four decades. But I am convinced that the value and relevance of BAI and Pacifica is not a thing of the past – our best days are ahead of us, not behind us. The future is bright for this institution. I am hopeful and optimistic and I am confident that you are too.

Sisters and Brothers, the members of the WBAI radio community are a wonderful collection of racially and culturally diverse individuals, talented and committed folk. There’s nothing quite like this community in New York. I sincerely believe that this community is now being called upon to perform a historic task for the New York metropolitan area and for the country as a whole. We all have an opportunity and an obligation to build and foster multi-cultural solidarity and multi-racial collaboration as the antidote to the increased balkanization of this city’s communities. We have before us an unprecedented opportunity to build bridges of dialogue and co-operation that are designed to break down these polarizations. We all hail from communities that are rich in heritage and culture, none of which is superior to the other.

But underlying these cultural differences there are commonalities based upon similar economic interests and aspirations. Working people of all ethnicities---African American, Latino, Jewish, Asian, Italian, Irish, Polish, Greek, Haitian, Caribbean—are all seeking the same fundamentals for themselves and their families, all struggling to realize the potential that US capitalism has promised them, the promise of equality of opportunity and the possibility of prosperity. Irrespective of their ethnicity or cultural background they are all striving for secure jobs with decent wages, safe neighborhoods, good schools for their children and affordable health care, to name a few.

I believe that on the basis of these commonalities an independent progressive movement can construct multicultural solidarity in this city and WBAI, as a vanguard institution of the progressive movement, has a critical role to play in this arena. Only on WBAI can New York’s working people find the kinds of ideas and discussions that can inform, educate and unite them around their common interests. Commercial media on the other hand serves to mystify, misinform, mislead and obfuscate. Only on WBAI can New York’s multicultural working people find a message that there can be no peace and social progress without social justice and economic equality. Together, we can strengthen WBAI as a catalyst for multi-racial solidarity, as an instrument to organize and mobilize a united opposition to the forces that are blocking the realization of the American Dream for countless millions. And who are these forces? They are the political and economic elites that continue to prostitute the political process, rape the US constitution, subvert real democracy and rip off the wealth produced by the working people. Some have called them the permanent and invisible government that operates in New York and Washington.

These ruling elites perpetuate the structural inequalities in US capitalism and they cleverly use institutionalized racism and sexism to keep us divided and constantly fighting each other over turf, over prerogatives, over privileges.

In order to meet this historic challenge of building a united front of many cultures and ethnicities, we in the WBAI community must put our own house in order. The time has come for an end to recriminations and internecine battles. Let us put all the internal negativities behind us and replace them with positive words and constructive actions. Now is the time for team building, for re-conciliation, for healing inside the WBAI family.

In the weeks ahead, I intend to take this message on the road in meetings with listeners in all the boroughs of New York City and in various communities in New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, and the surrounding areas. To those communities not yet familiar with WBAI, we will take a message of a people’s radio station with a vision and a mission; a vision to fully utilize radio as a mass medium that gives voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless and a mission to promote and advocate for a city, a country and a world of peace and justice for all. I look forward to meeting many of our listeners at these upcoming meetings.

At the end of 2002, we are witnessing tens of thousands of people of all ethnicities, religions and political affiliations, cutting across the generations, mobilizing around this country and the world against an impending war in the Middle East.

Tens of thousands of youths continue to take to the streets in cities around the world in anti-corporate globalization and anti-racism protests.

Thousands of Americans, alarmed at what’s being done to them in the name of fighting terrorism are beginning to organize a fight back to Washington’s assaults on our civil liberties.

In the months ahead, these forces will turn to BAI and Pacifica for information, for inspiration, for analysis, for guidance.

It is therefore imperative that we prepare ourselves to more effectively serve the needs of these growing social movements. How do we do that?

Fundamentally, we must recognize the gravity of such a responsibility. Secondly, we need to modify our programming model to meet the requirements of the movement and thirdly we must allocate resources to training the staff in the skills and competencies that the times demand.

The super-power ideology emanating from Washington is an ideology that seeks peace and global stability through coercion, not through justice and fairness. It is an ideology of dominance, control, aggression, acquisition at the expense of others, disrespect for the sovereignty of whole peoples and nations, subjugation of other cultures, the foisting of a Western value system and way of life on others who have no interest or need for it. Such an ideology is life destroying, not life affirming.

This post cold war ideology of the sole super-power is exemplified in US foreign policy on two fronts: the doctrine of pre-emptive strike and unrivaled supremacy and the bullying of the United Nations. This pre-emptive doctrine is unprecedented in the annals of imperial arrogance. It is Uncle Sam’s ego writ large. It not only dismisses the basic tenets of international law but, more ominously, it represents a dangerous threat to world peace in our lifetime.

There is no countervailing force at the level of state power to be found, no effective checks and balances originating from the capitals of the world. The once mighty Russian bear has been de-fanged. The Chinese star is rising in the East but it will be years before it reaches its optimum strength and Europe, while grumbling about Washington acting as an overly aggressive cop, has no appetite for confronting this type of global police brutality. Besides, the European elites understand quite clearly that the doctrine of pre-emptive strike is not directed at them but at those “unruly” people of color, the vast majority of whom were once colonized by Europe itself.

The corporate media, which is becoming less diverse each day thanks to the free-market policies of the FCC, has been cowed into genuflecting to this super-power ideology. Look at how it deliberately under-reports and discredits the peace movement or the actions of working people struggling for economic justice.

But there is an emerging force coming from the streets in cities and towns across the USA and the world, a populist force that is justifiably alarmed and wants to do something to reverse this perilous course.

In domestic policy, this ideology manifests itself in the emphasis on homeland security and tax cuts for the wealthy. It is precisely this super-power arrogance that has bred so much hatred for the US government around the world and which fuels the terrorism that takes so many innocent lives in acts of mindless violence. I submit that the first step in making the homeland more secure is to make the homeland more compassionate. Giving the government the right to spy on every American and to gather data on their personal affairs is more than a blatant violation of privacy. It is the beginning of high-tech fascism in America.

This ideology is in contradiction to all of our vital interests, no matter if we’re Black or White or Latino or Asian, straight or gay, believers or non-believers. The epic magnitude of this struggle commands us all to rise above petty differences, to sublimate our egos and personal agendas and instead to work in collaboration with each other and with this rising populism.

To not struggle against this menace would be irresponsible. The stakes are too high. As serious progressives we have a duty to both expose and oppose this madness in all aspects of our radio programming from news and public affairs to arts and culture as well as in our various community outreach activities. To dissipate our energy in sandbox fights over secondary contradictions is to render a disservice to the oppressed communities that we come from and to short-change the growing peace and justice movement that WBAI is part and parcel of.

In the weeks and months ahead, with unity and resolve, let the collective voice of BAI say to the critics and the nay -sayers—

We will henceforth struggle mightily for life, liberty, democracy and the pursuit of happiness for all, not just for a few, and that we will steadfastly oppose the conservation of a political and economic order that benefits a small minority at the expense of a vast majority.

This, dear friends, is the unique historical task of progressive institutions like WBAI. Our programming, therefore, must not only reflect our principled protest to this hegemonic agenda but also it must articulate an alternative vision for our listeners, an uplifting, liberating and empowering vision.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that I bring one simple agenda to this job – to work with all of you in a dynamic collective that grows WBAI into the most influential and respected alternative media institution in this country. I carry no water for any political party or political orthodoxy. All I seek is your support and co-operation and I pledge to you my best efforts.

Sisters and Brothers, working in harmony, I am convinced we can achieve our lofty objectives. Let us now link hands and hearts and minds and let us march forward shoulder to shoulder towards the noble goal of using radio and new media to construct a better city, a better country and a better world for our children, our families, our friends, and ultimately, for all humanity

Long Live WBAI

Long Live the Pacifica Network

Forward Ever, Backward Never


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