Click Here to Return to the Main Page









WBAI Fundraising Goes in the Tank; Listeners Rally for Democracy Now!

by John Tarleton May 26, 2001

WBAI listeners rallied outside the station yesterday afternoon in support of "Democracy Now!" while leaders of the Campaign to Stop the Corporate Takeover of Pacifica claimed success for their fundraising boycott against the embattled Pacifica Network.

NEW YORK CITY--WBAI (99.5 FM) listeners rallied outside the station yesterday afternoon in support of "Democracy Now!" while leaders of the Campaign to Stop the Corporate Takeover of Pacifica claimed success for their fundraising boycott against the embattled Pacifica Network.

Pacifica's five stations launched their spring fundraising drives on May 16, and Juan Gonzalez, Campaign director and former co-host of "Democracy Now!", said that fundraising has declined throughout the network especially at WBAI, which he said is down as much as $30,000-$40,000 per day.

"We're going to very soon make an appeal to the (Pacifica)national board to come to its senses and realize that they've lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the people so we can begin to negotiate their exit," Gonzalez told the crowd of 100 people.

The historically left-leaning Pacifica Network has been engulfed in a protracted leadership struggle since the mid-'90s. That battle spilled over into New York last December when the parent Pacifica Foundation fired WBAI's station manager and subsequently banned or fired 22 other programmers and producers. Most recently, interim station manager Utrice Leid pre-empted "Democracy Now!" from WBAI during its three-week fundraising drive.

"I've noticed a lot of difference in the past five months," said Gabriella, a New York City Parks Department employee who has listened to WBAI for 23 years. "There's no analysis to the news. Now, they just read it." Gabriella gave $175 to WBAI last year. This year, nothing.

Fired station manager Valerie van Isler said that "Democracy Now!" traditionally grossed $5,000-$10,000 per day during fund drives, second only to the now dismantled morning news show "Wake Up Call". She also said that Goodman went "the extra 10 miles" to raise money for the network's other stations in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Houston and Berkeley, California. 17.5% of funds raised by local stations goes to the parent Pacifica Foundation.

"For Utrice Leid to ban "Democracy Now!" is completely irrational given "Democracy Now!" has an extraordinary record of fundraising over many, many years," van Isler said.

Leid was unavailable for comment.

Goodman, appearing in her trademark black pants and purple vest, spoke briefly at the rally. Since the fund drive began, she has been exiled to an auxiliary studio where she is unable to simultaneously interview multiple guests on-air. "Democracy Now!" had also been pre-empted from KPFK in Los Angeles until it was restored yesterday after a barrage of listener phone calls.

"It is very frightening. We are seeing a political purge going on at the station," Goodman said. "...We have to rebuild the Pacifica Network to be run by journalists and artists not corporations that build a drumbeat for war."

Goodman is known for covering controversial issues such as sweatshops, police brutality and the death penalty that the mainstream corporate media prefers to avoid. She was nearly killed in November 1991 while covering an Indonesian Army massacre in Dili, the capitol of East Timor. John Miller of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) credits Goodman's sustained coverage of East Timor for helping to prod changes in U.S. policy that led to East Timorese independence.

"As we celebrate East Timor becoming more democratic, we need to work extra hard to bring democracy back to WBAI and Pacifica," Miller said.

Joel Meyers of "Workers and Oppressed Unite" suggested that listeners should form a union and hold open, democratic elections to choose members of WBAI's Local Advisory Board.

"It's the only way listeners can have permanent institutional leverage over the station," said Meyers, who has listened to WBAI since its inception in 1960. "This tragedy happened because of the elementary powerlessness of the listeners."