The Fight to Save WBAI - 1977 back  next

What Happened?
The Friends of WBAI is an organization of listener - supporters. We gathered in direct response to a series of actions taken by the National Board of Pacifica Foundation and the Management of WBAI, which culminated in our station being taken off the air.


In 1960, WBAI-FM was donated as a gift to the non- profit Pacifica Foundation by Louis Schweitzer. He gave as his reason the need "to liberate a single element of mass media technology on behalf of the public and to arrange matter, so that it became ... the free marketplace of ideas." For the past 17 years, WBAI has been the only uncensored radio station in New York. It allowed producers to gather and express individual passions, values and creativity. WBAI alone provided spontaneous airspace for open discussion, extensive live news coverage as it occurred, and unscreened listener call-in. This was possible only because the station's air time was not controlled by commercial investors.

During the past 2 years, WBAI has experienced a 33% subscription decline. This was precipitated by management's decision to stop publishing "Folio" in October of 1974. "Folio" was a crucial source of publicity for WBAI programming. Coupled with program content appealing to only a limited audience, loss of this publicity drastically cut into the station's audience and income.

The Board of Directors called for staff cuts in early 1976, aggravating the crisis and resulting in the resignations of Program Director Marnie Mueller and Larry Josephson, Station Manager. Anna Kosof was hired as Station Manager, effective October 1st, upon the recommendation of her friend David Larnpell (News Director at WBLS radio, member of WBAI and national 'Pacifica boards). On December 20,1976 she appointed Pablo Yoruba Guzman as Program Director.


In mid-January, Mr. Guzman and Ms. Kosof proposed drastic program changes, and gave only token consideration t-:) suggestions by the staff restructuring committee. Guzman and Kosof were vague about procedure and implementation, leading the staff to believe that the proposals were tentative. At the same time press releases were distributed announcing a new formal to begin March 1st. Drama and literature were reduced to two hours per week. Jazz would be cut from fourteen to two and one-half hours per week. Public affairs cut 35% and most of the scientific, medical, and technological programming eliminated completely. Popular and Latin music were to be increased significantly. Listener phone calls were to be screened, TCB productions (the Third World programming) dissolved, and Mr. Guzman announced that he would host a 15-hour per week daily program, "El Barrio Nuevo" to feature Latin music and conversation. Furthermore, the staff was not to make on the air references to the format changes.

The proposed structure would be focused around four three-hour blocks each day, hosted by rotating producers. These blocks would feature popular music interspersed with ten to twenty minute prerecorded feeds. These feeds would be produced and edited by a specified cluster of staff members on topics assigned by the host producer and used at the discretion of the host. According to the staff. this type of programming may not be technically compatible with the station's present facilities and largely volunteer work force.

The intent of the format, as stressed by Mr. Guzman, is to sculpt programming into time blocks to fit the available audience, who have been "conditioned by plastic radio." This superficial. fast-paced structure would resist artistic and political expression and In-depth proqramming ideas. It would mean an end to the free form, free speech, alternative radio which WBAI has made available. The spontaneous interaction of energy and ideas between radio programmers and listener participants creates a powerful link between people who have no other ready means of communication. This potential would be lost under the new format.

". . . Yet there are times when all things need a showering down. If we've learned only one thing from this disorienting siege, it's that WBAI needs to change, to grow, to be constantly in flux, to reflect it's own flux, and that of the worlds' in its own programming, to experiment more, technically and substantively, to reach out to all kinds of people, first-second-third-fourth-fifth world and beyond; to bring people In and train them so they can find the joy of connection with a potential audience of millions and thereby raise their personal antennae to the world around them. The radio's voice Is a powerful illusion; It's Oz, and only at WBAI can anyone get to play wizard ..."
From Press of Freedom, Village Voice--3/7/77. Eccentric People Make Good Radio by Lin Harris, Staff member WBAI-FM


On February 9.1977, the staff Of WBAI unionized in response to the staff cuts and imposition of the new programming. A list of demands was presented to the board, but management refused to recognize the existence of the union. Staff members still scrupulously obeyed Mr. Guzman's order of silence in answer to listener questions about the upcoming changes, with such responses as, "I can niether confirm nor deny that. " Management feared that the listeners would react against these methods. On the morning of February 11, the local Pacifica board voted to take WBAI off the air until management could gain control of programming and personnel, citing FCC regulation as justification. When the staff learned that the shut down would take place it 2 PM, they resisted by informing the listeners and taking over the station. Barricading themselves into the transmitter room of the Empire State Building, staff members broadcast for 51/2 hours until management ordered the electricity turned off and our radio station was silenced.
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