Even with a judge issuing a temporary injunction to halt the takeover of WBAI New York (99.5) by Pacifica Foundation, the longtime progressive outlet was unable to return to local programming on Tuesday (Oct. 8). The station’s facilities are reportedly no longer broadcast ready and Pacifica continues to control the station’s transmitter and website.
Upon returning to work, employees had to break door locks to get in, only to find microphones, broadcast equipment and computers disconnected or removed, WBAI attorney Arthur Schwartz told Gothamist. “They're still controlling the signal for Times Square and the website,” he said.
Reggie Johnson, who hosts “From The Soundboard” on WBAI, posted several video updates to Facebook showing the studios and explaining the situation. “It’s never a dull moment here at WBAI,” Johnson says on the video, the Daily News reports. “Why is the struggle so hard? They took out a lot of equipment, the mics were gone. I’m just showing you all what’s happened.”
The station website contains “An Open Letter To Our Community,” which offers an explanation for why Pacifica suspended local operations at the station. The streaming option on the one-page website offers a feed “based on Pacifica Across America – a curated collection of original content produced by stations in the Pacifica Network,” the letter states. As of Wednesday morning (Oct. 9) the Pacifica Across America feed was still airing on the website stream.
The injunction issued late Monday (Oct. 7) from the Supreme Court of the State Of New York prevents Pacifica Foundation from: “Seizing any property, offices or equipment of WBAI; Terminating employees of WBAI; Preventing WBAI from broadcasting its regularly scheduled programming; Interfering in the orderly administration of the business and affairs of WBAI.” A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18.
Schwartz told Gothamist that there is “nothing in the Pacifica bylaws [that] allows such a takeover by its Executive Director, who acted without even debate or a vote by Pacifica's Board of Directors.”
Station attorneys believe the reason for the takeover has more to do with station programming than financial issues. They say Pacifica told the station that using the words “Stop Trump” in a promo “threatened the station's FCC license,” Gothamist reports, and that further promotional mentions were to be recorded and approved by corporate. That request was refused by GM Berthold Reimers, which resulted in Pacifica Executive Director John Vernile issuing a letter to the station that read in part, “As a result of your unacceptable performance, this letter represents a written warning.”
Pacifica cited “ongoing and continued projections of further financial loses” for shuttering the historic station on Monday.
While the reason for the takeover remains debatable, the station’s woeful financial situation is a matter of public record. Last year, a not-for-profit lender threw the station a financial lifeline to release the non-commercial radio operator from a $1.8 million judgement for back rent, tower fees and related costs due to Empire State Realty Trust. In October 2017, a judge ruled against the company and awarded ESRT a summary judgement of $1.8 million plus attorney’s fees.