In yet another dramatic escalation in the WBAI/Pacifica crisis, the host
of an afternoon talk show was forced off the air Monday live over the
airwaves by Interim General Manager Utrice Leid.
Ken Nash was discussing the ongoing Pacifica crisis with Congressman
Major Owens on his weekly program "Building Bridges." That show had
until recently been co-hosted by Mimi Rosenberg, who was banned from the
station several weeks ago. A conclusive reason for the ban has yet to be
The program opened with a strong commentary by Nash condemning Rosenberg's
banning. He used the fact that the program focuses on labor issues as
justification for speaking out and, in so doing, violating the "gag rule"
imposed by Leid on January 24 which prohibits discussion of internal
station business. "How can I report on the injustices throughout the city,
the country, and the world and be expected to remain silent when my own
co-host Mimi Rosenberg has been fired for no good reason except she
opposed the will of interim station manager Utrice Leid?"
Congressman Owens had just begun to speak on the issue of media control
and the question of who actually owns the airwaves. "We must keep alive
what WBAI stands for in terms of freedom of speech through the radio
airwaves - unlike most people have access to in the country - we don't
have that kind of access --" It was at this moment that the Congressman
was cut off by Leid, who had come into the studio against the wishes of
the program host. Nash could be heard objecting to the interruption while
Congressman Owens appeared confused over the commotion. At this point,
music was faded up. When the program resumed, both Nash and the
Congressman were gone, leaving Leid to take phone calls from incensed
listeners for the remainder of the hour.
This is the first instance in the current crisis where a programmer has
actually been physically forced off the air in the middle of a program
and is reminiscent of the now famous 1999 incident involving a KPFA reporter
physically removed from his station after broadcasting part of a press
conference that was critical of Pacifica. That incident, which took place
at WBAI's sister station in Berkeley, led to the shutdown of the station
and tens of thousands of demonstrators demanding the return of the
programmers. In the end, KPFA was returned to the airwaves and the crisis
was, at least, temporarily averted.
Monday's incident comes in the midst of what many feel is Pacifica's worst
crisis yet, where the Pacifica National Board is seen to be garnering
increasing power including the ability to sell off stations and change
formats against the will of listeners and programmers. While this kind
of thing goes on all the time in commercial radio, Pacifica has always
been different, being the first truly listener supported network in history.
On Monday's "Building Bridges," a report on this weekend's Pacifica
National Board meeting in Houston was to have been presented where crowds
showed up to address the crisis. That report never got to the airwaves.
Building Bridges, March 5, 2001