New York: At 9:00 a.m. on Monday, 18 irate listeners to noncommercial radio station WBAI (99.5 FM) marched into the station chanting "Take back WBAI!" and "Restore Progressive Radio!" Several interrupted WBAI's Morning Show demanding a reversal of the sharp, rightward political turn and selective censorship of programming, as well as an end to attacks on workers' rights.
Some protesters attempted to hung a 30-foot banner reading "Save Progressive Radio" from the 10th floor studio at 120 Wall Street, while other members of the group distributed flyers with their demands To a surprised staff.
WBAI is a public radio station in the listener-sponsored Pacifica Radio Network, which consists of this station and four others in Berkeley, LA, Washington, DC and Houston.
The non-violent group calling itself LOUD RAPP (Listeners Outraged, Upset and Determined to Restore A Progressive Pacifica), which organized the protest, insisted that programming at the Pacifica Network return to its progressive founding mission. The group demanded that WBAI Interim Station Manager Utrice Leid schedule, within two weeks, a two-hour on-air program hosted by the station's Local Advisory Board to discuss the crisis at WBAI/Pacifica. The program would allow both sides to present, including representatives of WBAI management, staff and listeners. The group also demanded the resignation of Ms. Leid and a reversal of what they called the purge of leftist programs and programmers undertaken by her since her installation by the increasingly corporate-led National Board of Pacifica in a late-night coup on December 22, 2000.
According to Miguel Maldonado, a listener activist (and also chair of WBAI's Local Advisory Board), "Since the coup, Ms. Leid has removed or pre-empted some of the most progressive, critical and popular radio programs from the air, replacing them with bland, New Age material and in the past month, at least three programs based on Right-wing, anti-semitic conspiracy theories."
One of the programs currently pre-empted in New York is Democracy Now!, an award-winning daily national news program showcasing voices of dissent. In addition, Ms Leid has fired or removed 21 producers and staff members, imposed selective on-air censorship, and is trying to impose a new labor contract that removes all unpaid producers - who comprise the vast majority of programmers - from legal protection.
For more than 41 years, WBAI has been New York's cherished outlet for progressive issues and community concerns rarely heard on mainstream media. Today's action is part of a rising crescendo of criticism of the current management, including a very effective listener-led boycott of WBAI's current three-week on-air fund drive, on which the station depends for 85% of its revenue.
June 4, 2001
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mark Sanborne: 212 803-8231
John O'Connelly: 917-653-7267 (cell) on scene