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Beloved radio station WBAI gets a reprieve from shutdown — for now

October 8, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Legal action may temporarily save local broadcasting at 99.5 WBAI FM, staffers said Tuesday.

Just one day after the station’s owner, the Pacifica Foundation, announced that original programming would end at WBAI — and shuttered its Atlantic Avenue worksite — a volunteer host at the decades-old, listener-supported radio station alerted the Brooklyn Eagle to a court order that could keep the storied broadcaster creating, at least in the short term.

“My hope is that there can be a resolution and that WBAI can be resurrected,” journalist Jeff Simmons, who hosts two shows on WBAI, told the Eagle Monday.

Since its beginnings in 1960, WBAI’s lineup has included a mix of political news and talk shows as well as music programming and more eclectic productions, such as Jim Freund’s science fiction and fantasy talk show “Hour of the Wolf.”

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According to court documents, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge determined Monday night that, pending a hearing on Oct. 18 at which Pacifica is ordered to show cause for the closure, the parent company is barred from terminating any WBAI employees or impeding the station’s regularly scheduled programming in any way.

The judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking Pacifica from shutting down the station.

Linda Perry, program director at WBAI, tweeted early Tuesday that the station managed to get an injunction and that the programming was legally back in the hands of WBAI personnel. Perry further noted that producers are meeting Tuesday night and a WBAI board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

WBAI is claiming that Pacifica violated its rights — not only under common and not-for-profit law, but also under its own bylaws, as well as the station’s free speech rights, a lawsuit filed by attorney Arthur Schwartz shows. (Schwartz, the principal attorney at Advocates for Justice, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)

In the meantime, WBAI’s parent company has added an open letter to the station’s website. As of Tuesday morning, the website also shows a schedule of mostly local programming for the rest of the week.

In the open letter, Pacifica — a nonprofit that owns a slate of other independently operated radio stations — says that while the decision to shutter local programming was “abrupt,” it came “after careful examination of all possibilities.”

“As a network we hold each other together, we act in the spirit of solidarity and fiduciary responsibility,” the letter reads. “The WBAI staff has tried for several years to mitigate a ballooning debt and has been unable to do so. WBAI has accumulated $4 million debt to the Pacifica Central Services — a weight our [other stations] have had to carry. Additionally, we as a network of stations must secure $3.2 million to repay a loan that is due in full in 2021.”

The next step, owners said, will be to “relaunch WBAI” as the Pacifica Across America Network, which will consist of a curated collection of original content produced by stations in the Pacifica Network.

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  1. Jim Freund

    According to a Facebook Live video by producer/engineer Reggie Johnson, broadcast air has NOT been returned to WBAI as of this afternoon, and some equipment critical to broadcasting has been disassembled and removed. So it would appear that Pacifica may be in contempt of the TRO.