Iconic Brooklyn broadcaster WBAI shutters local programming
Local programming at 99.5 WBAI FM — the decades-old, listener-supported radio station with a studio in Boerum Hill — is no more, officials announced Monday.
The station’s owner, the Pacifica Foundation, broke the news to its employees Monday morning, the same day it shuttered the station’s worksite.
WOW. WBAI has been shut down – after 60 years. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been part of the station. This is a big loss for NYC. pic.twitter.com/WqbS22cfEF
— Jeff Simmons (@JackHites) October 7, 2019
“Due to ongoing and continued projects of further financial loses at WBAI, local operations are being discontinued as of October 7, 2019,” the nonprofit — which owns a slate of other independently operated radio stations — said in a staff memo. “We realize this news will come as a deep and painful shock, but we can no longer jeopardize the survival of the entire network.”
WBAI will still be on the air, a former staffer who requested anonymity told the Brooklyn Eagle, but with syndicated content from across the Pacifica network. Its local programming — beloved in Brooklyn and beyond for generations — ended effective Monday.
Longtime journalist Jeff Simmons — who hosts two shows on WBAI — said the news came swiftly.
“[Staff] received an e-mail from the general management that all of the employees and volunteers had been terminated, and Pacifica sent out a memo about a half an hour later,” Simmons told the Eagle.
“It depresses me when I think about the listeners that really have been loyal fans of WBAI for decades,” he said. “WBAI has been around for 60 years and it’s a really big progressive voice here in New York City that’s going to be missed.”
Since its beginnings in 1960, WBAI’s lineup has included a mix of political news, talk shows and opinion, as well as music programming and more eclectic productions like Jim Freund’s science fiction and fantasy talk show “Hour of the Wolf.”
Freund, who could not immediately be reached for comment on the shutdown, has hosted “Hour of the Wolf” for nearly half a century. He joined the station as a 13-year-old volunteer answering phone calls. In 1974, he began playing co-host to Margot Adler, the author and radio journalist who created the show. When Adler stepped down as host, Freund, now 65, took her place.
WBAI joined Pacifica in 1960 after it was donated to the foundation by Louis Schweitzer. According to NBC, the station had been struggling financially for years.
Still, WBAI — made up largely of volunteers — is also often regarded for giving Brooklynites of all backgrounds a hands-on chance to learn and produce.
“My hope is that there can be a resolution and that WBAI can be resurrected,” Simmons said.