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WBAI: Wikis


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WBAI Logo.png
City of license New York City
Broadcast area New York City
Branding WBAI
Slogan Your Peace and Justice Community Radio Station
Frequency 99.5 MHz
First air date 1960
Format Community radio
ERP 4,300 watts, Stereo
HAAT 415 meters
Class B
Facility ID 51249
Callsign meaning the former owner, Broadcast Associates Incorporated
Owner Pacifica Radio
Webcast Listen Live

WBAI, a part of the Pacifica Radio Network, is a non-commercial, listener-supported radio station, broadcasting at 99.5 FM in New York City.

Its programming is leftist/progressive, and a mixture of leftist political advocacy tinged with aspects of its complex and varied history, such as Freeform radio, which WBAI played a role in developing, as well as various music.



The WBAI studios on the 10th floor of 120 Wall Street, Manhattan

The station began as WABF, which first went on the air in 1941 as W75NY and moved to the 99.5 frequency in 1948. In 1955, after two years off the air, it was reborn as WBAI (whose calls were named after then-owners Broadcast Associates, Inc.). It was purchased by eccentric philanthropist Louis Schweitzer, who donated it to the Pacifica Foundation in 1960. The station, which had been a commercial enterprise, became non-commercial and listener-supported under Pacifica ownership.

The history of WBAI is long and contentious. Referred to in a New York Times Magazine piece as "an anarchist's circus," one station manager was jailed in protest, and the staff, in protest at sweeping proposed changes of another station manager, seized the studio facilities, then located in a deconsecrated church, as well as the transmitter, located atop the Empire State Building.

WBAI played a major role in the evolution and development of the counterculture in the 1960s and early 1970s. Alice's Restaurant was first broadcast on Radio Unnameable, Bob FassFreeform Radio program, a program which itself in many ways created, explored, and defined the possibilities of the form.[1] The station covered the 1968 seizure of the Columbia University campus live and uninterrupted, as well as innumerable anti-war protests. With its signal reaching for nearly 100 kilometers beyond New York City, its reach and influence, both direct and indirect, were significant. Among the station's weekly commentators in the mid-1960s was author Ayn Rand. The 1964 Political conventions were "covered" satirically on WBAI by Severn Darden, Elaine May, Burns and Schreiber, David Amram, and members of the Second City comedy group. The station presented an annual 24-hour nonstop presentation of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, held live performances of emerging artists in its studios, and produced and presented interviews with prominent figures in literature and the arts, as well as original highly-produced radio dramas. In 1970, Kathy Dobkin, Milton Hoffman, and Francie Camper produced an unprecedented, critically acclaimed 4½ day round-the-clock reading of Tolstoy's WAR AND PEACE. The epic novel was read cover to cover by more than 200 people—including a large number of international celebrities from various fields. "Newsweek" called this broadcast "one of the more mind-blowing 'firsts' in the history of the media." The complete reading (over 200 audio tapes) was the first Pacifica program to be selected for inclusion in the permanent collection of the Museum of Broadcasting in NYC.

In 1973, the station broadcast comedian George Carlin's infamous Filthy Words routine uncensored – see F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation for a detailed account of the court case that ensued.

With the decline of the arc of history represented by the 1960s and 1970s, the station turned against itself. A new board of directors determined a new agenda, and, against the staff resistance provoked by what was known internally as The Crisis, and manifest in the seizure and occupation of the facilities, a different station emerged, one which attempted to offer an alternative perspective within the mainstream commercial aesthetic rather than from the outside.

The "Christmas Coup"

Internal conflict from 2000 through 2001 troubled the station and temporarily resulted in the banning of several on-air personalities. The roots of the trouble laid in the Pacifica Radio foundation's interfering with the Local Advisory Board of WBAI. In the last weeks of December 2000 the political dispute at the station intensified, and discussion of the dispute on air was forbidden. Suddenly, on December 23, 2000, at 1:48 AM, the station was taken over. Utrice Leid announced that she was now the interim general manager. [2] Soon, Dennis Bernstein, Bernard White, Sharan Harper, Erroll Maitland, Grandpa Al Lewis, Tomas Moran, Sherry Gendelman, Barbara Lubin were banned from the station. [3] On January 31, 2001 Juan Gonzalez (journalist), then a co-host of "Democracy Now," announced, on-air, his resignation. This same day he sent a public letter of resignation to the Pacifica Radio Foundation. [4] A KPFA program on the "coup" is available online. [5]

Amy Goodman began closing "Democracy Now," uttering a new tag-line, "Free Speech Radio," and gave a paean to the "banned and the fired." Eventually, on May 14, 2001, she too was removed from the station, immediately before airtime. The [1] UE Local 404 described the working environment as hostile. [2] [6] (Non banned on-air personalities during 2001 included Diabel Faye, Paul DeRienzo and Clayton Riley.)

The dispute intersected with disputes at the level of the national Pacifica Radio network. However, by January, 2002, the dispute was settled, and long-time producers, such as Amy Goodman, were reinstated. [7]

Disputes resumed in Spring, 2009. Bernard White and several producers and program hosts were dismissed in May, 2009.[8]

Alumni of the station

Alumni of WBAI include Margot Adler, Jan Albert, Chris Albertson, Archie Altman, Robbie Barish, Deborah Begel, Olenka Bohachevski, Delphine Blue, Peter Bochan, Bunny Bruce, Doreen Canto, Pepsi Charles, Frank Coffee, Janet Coleman, Neal Conan, Pat Conte, John Corigliano, Deloris Costello, Larry Cox, Joe Cumo, Barbara Day, Dick Demenus, Kathy Dobkin, Mike Edl, Matt Edwards, Dick Elman, Bob Fass, Mike Feder, Charlie Finch, Richard Fioravanti, Paul Fischer, John Fisk, Sara Fishko, Joe Frank, Paul Gorman, Joanne Grant, Jeff Greenfield, Edward Haber, Charles Hobson, Milton Hoffman, Mary Houston, Susan Howe, Jimmy Howes, Timothy Jerome, Larry Josephson, Citizen Kafka, Jesse Keyes, Glo Kirby, Robert Knight, Alen Pol Kobryn, Chris Koch, Robert Kuttner, Richard Lamparski, Julius Lester, Al Lewis, John Lithgow, Sari Locker, Leonard Lopate, Ann MacMillan, Marian McPartland, Margaret Mercer, Frank Millspaugh, Dale Minor, Andrew Phillips, Charles Pitts, Steve Post, Charles Potter, David Rapkin, David Rothenberg, Charles Ruas, Eric Salzman, Lynn Samuels, Bill Schechner, Baird Searles, John J. Simon, Miles Smith, Gordon Spencer, Dick Sudhalter, Becky Thorn, Mickey Waldman, Marjorie Waxman, Manoli Wetherell, Ira Weitzman, Bernard White, Tom Whitmore, Ed Woodard, Peter Zanger.

In the 1960s, Dale Minor and Chris Koch reported on the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggle. Former Station Manager Chris Albertson returned to the music field, spent 28 years as Contributing Editor to Stereo Review and authored a biography of Bessie Smith. The Apple specialist business Tekserve was originally composed of former WBAI employees David Lerner, Dick Demenus, and Mike Edl. Through the 1970s, David Rapkin, James Irsay and Charles Potter produced some of the finest American radio drama of the post "Golden Age", some is still found in the Pacifica Archive, notable, an adaptation of Dalton Trumbo's "Johnny Got His Gun". In the 1980s, new studios at the stations Eighth Avenue address were built by Miles Smith who, along with WBAI alumna Jane Pipik, is now working at WGBH in Boston. About the same time Dennis Coleman, Jim Freund, Sharon Griffiths, Kathy O'Connell, Sharon Mattlin, Sidney Smith, Paul Wunder, Max Schmid and Simon Loekle formed EMRA, the Early Morning Radio Alliance. Loekle also created the Shakespeare Liberation Front and with Stephen Erickson produced radio dramas, dramatic readings and documentaries - notably, "Tale of the Monkey King" and the "Communist Manifesto". Loekle (As I Please - Saturday Mornings at 7AM and “Stand-up Academy”), Freund (Hour of the Wolf), Smith, and Schmid are still at the station. After retiring as a NYC High School science teacher, Paul Wunder, aka, "Doctor Science", became Operations Director, a position he held until his death. Erickson, who became program director in 1984 but was battered by charges of racism (Village Voice 1985) when he attempted to change the program schedule, moved to Germany where he produces radio documentaries.

WBAI's broadcast of the comedian George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" became a landmark moment in the history of free speech. In a 1978 milestone in the station's contentious and unruly history, WBAI lost a 5-to-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision (FCC v. Pacifica Foundation) that to this day has defined the power of the government over broadcast material it calls indecent.[9]



Democracy Now! is presently WBAI’s most influential offering. The station also hosts shows such as Golden Age of Radio serials Weaponry, a show about military history and technology, Free Speech Radio News and Wakeup Call; WBAI's morning drive time news magazine presented by several hosts including Mario Murillo and Esther Armah. Also included are a regular science fiction program: Hour of the Wolf presented by Jim Freund, Off the Hook, a program presented by the 2600 hacker group, The Personal Computer Show with Joe King and Hank Kee, assisted by Mike, Stevie Debee, Dannyb, and a bunch of friends (which first aired August 6, 1984), and the economics journalism of Doug Henwood. Music programming includes Peter Bochan's All Mixed Up, Music of the Grateful Dead and more on "Morning Dew" and Jeannie Hopper's, Liquid Sound Lounge on Saturdays and Chico Alvarez's, New World Gallery on Sunday afternoons.

WBAI also offers ethno-centric programming targeted primarily towards ethnic/socioeconomic audience segments that are typically under-served by most commercial media outlets. Radio Tahrir (supported in part by Islamic Center of Long Island which itself is targeted primarily towards Muslim Americans), First Voices Indigenous Radio is a global look at Native/Indigenous peoples and Asia Pacific Forum, (which is targeted primarily towards Asian Americans) are examples of such programming.


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