The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Leftist Media Outlet Dying of Too Much Government

OnAir

A leftist NYC radio station is facing a serious problem: too much government. The Times reports on the financial crisis facing WBAI, “radio for the 99 percent” that only reaches “0.1 percent of the New York radio audience.” Struggling with massive losses for years now, the station has just laid off 19 out of its 29 staff members, and it’s fate now largely rests with its owner, the nonprofit Pacifica Foundation. Unfortunately, both Pacifica and WBAI have something of a democracy problem:

Critics have long said that its top-heavy governance, with large local boards and frequent, expensive elections, have put the organization in a constant state of gridlock, and that unless Pacifica reforms it will simply govern itself to death [...]

Those same problems were on display at a public WBAI board meeting last week in an arts space in Lower Manhattan. Despite the layoffs just days before, the first 25 minutes were devoted to a procedural debate about the night’s agenda, with frequent mentions of Robert’s Rules of Order. Occasional shouts of “fascist!” and “go back to the N.S.A.!” rang out from listeners in attendance. [...]

Former WBAI staff members complain that constant management turnover as the board instituted one “coup” after another made their jobs nearly impossible.

Ironically, Pacifica’s most popular show is called “Democracy now!” It looks like the organization got what it asked for, and the result is a headlong rush towards financial disaster. We at Via Meadia enjoy a little media diversity, so we wish the Pacifica the best in its efforts to turn its fortunes around. But it looks like this bastion of leftist thinking will need to learn a key lesson that is already familiar to much of the world: When it comes to governance, less is often more.

[On air sign courtesy of Shutterstock]

Published on August 25, 2013 3:00 pm
  • Corlyss

    Guess the 99% weren’t willing to pay for it. Surprise! Surprise!

    • Bill_Woods

      Or listen to it.

  • Pete

    WBAI should have been put to sleep years ago.

    • Fifty Ville

      Their audience beat them to it.

    • Whitehall

      The last ratings comparison I’ve seen was in 2009 where the Limbaugh station (WABC) beat the Pacifica station (WBAI) 43 to 1.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    It looks to me like an opportunity to buy a radio station cheap, is coming up in NYC. The previous owners are a bunch of leftist idiots, that haven’t a clue what radio listeners want.

    • Andrew Allison

      Unhappily, you are wrong. They target the left (Democracy Now is as one-sided as you can get) and are popular there.

      • Tom

        OTOH, only one in a thousand New Yorkers listen to it.
        Personally, I hope the station gets taken over by the Crawford Broadcasting Company. They’re hardcore social conservatives, and just watching the whiplash would be entertaining.

        • Andrew Allison

          LOL!

        • Corlyss

          I like the way you think, Tom!

        • bpuharic

          So do I. THe right needs another echo chamber

          • Tom

            Replacement of one echo chamber with another.
            Seems legit.

          • bpuharic

            Except epistemic closure is limited to the right. Lefties don’t listen to talk radio. We’re not bobble heads

          • Dungeonmaster Jim

            Actually, you lefties are. Talk radio is a conversation. You prefer the lectures from your designated objects of adoration.

          • bpuharic

            Right wing talk radio is not a dialog. It’s an insipid, paranoid santorum of hatred and delusions about godless communists coming for our guns while getting welfare.

          • Dungeonmaster Jim

            Projection and a clear display of hostile stereotypes plus a dismissal that shows complete ignorance beyond the talking points of ‘The Nation’/MSNBC style outlets: just about what I expect from a leftie troll.
            Unless you were trying (and failing) to be clever, it’s ‘sanitarium.’

          • Nate Whilk

            “It’s an insipid, paranoid [something] of hatred and delusions…”

            Actually, you’re projecting. That typifies your posts precisely!

          • bpuharic

            The freshman psych major learned a new word.

            We’re duly impressed

          • gitarfan

            HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! Thanks for the laugh!! Yes, you ARE bobble heads. You have 3 or 4 slogans you shout at protests with a yell leader helping everyone stay in rhythm. Some union prints the majority of signs with those same slogans and off you go. Look at the broadcast news and major papers. They all cover the same stories the same way and ignore the ones detrimental to Democrats. They are a leftist echo chamber.

          • avery12

            hilarious! “epistemic closure is limited to the right” = instant classic.

          • Nate Whilk

            “Except epistemic closure is limited to the right.” That statement is YOUR epistemic closure. Thanks for playing.

        • Whitehall

          The Pacifica stations (except the Berkeley station, KPFA) are all in the “non-commercial, educational” (NCE) set-aside part of the FM band. That slot was given to them by the FCC and can only be transferred to another NCE broadcaster. Still, that frequency allotment could be worth millions.

          • Tom

            Ooh, even better. Have Focus on the Family take it over.

          • avery12

            the democratic Establishment would step in to prevent such a horrible fate, but it is a beautiful dream.

          • mrkwong

            I believe KPFA’s been near collapse a couple times in the past few years.

      • mrkwong

        The Pacifica stations in general are the comedy spot on the FM dial.

    • Dungeonmaster Jim

      Part of the reason that left of center talk radio fails in the marketplace is that there is a government funded competitor in NPR.
      I was one of the few right of center people who thought Air America had a chance. Maybe I am quixotic, but I still maintain that had it not been for egregious mismanagement it could have been a going interest.

      • bpuharic

        the American right is SO extreme that any moderate voice is seen as leftist.

        You think it would dawn on these folks that there are actually very few commies lieft.But they think anyone who doesn’t believe in Fox news is a red

  • ljgude

    WBAI seemed seemed early 20th century left even in the 60s. Pacifica have or had another outlet in Dallas or Houston I remember listening to on the way into one city or the other in the 90s. I just loved the irony – real live commies in the great state of Texas.

    • Whitehall

      Last ratings numbers I’ve seen (2009), the Texas Pacifica station is out-rated by the local Rush Limbaugh station 27 to 1.

  • f1b0nacc1

    This reminds me a great deal of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”, watching the interminable arguments among the would-be revolutionaries who were more concerned with their intercene battles (ex. the People’s Front of Judea were the real enemy) than actually achieving anything. As I remember, they were obsessed with process too….
    Remember the old joke, “A liberal is someone who doesn’t ind if a 16 year old girl becomes a prostitute, as long as she is paid the minimum wage”….

    • drkennethnoisewater

      What’ve the Romans ever done for us?

      • Laka

        They gave us the word “liberal,” by which they meant, “pertaining to free citizens.” Now, of course, “liberal” refers to someone in favor of coercive regulation on all aspects of life except what you do with your naughty bits..

        • f1b0nacc1

          I have always found it somewhat amusing that the Left believes in freedom of choice when it pertains to murdering the unborn, but never anywhere else…

          • bpuharic

            Of course, a million women a year would disagree but conservatives view women as govt property.

          • Tom

            Or view unborn babies as people.

        • bpuharic

          And conservatism, especially Christianity has, in the words of Richard Posner, become obsessed with govt regulation of the naughty bits.

  • HAPPY

    Maybe what Pacifica needs is a `strong’ Democratic executive, like an Obama of its own, who can issue Executive Orders and selectively abide by its founding By-Laws.

    Heck, in this Age of Obama, all any org needs is a `strong’ Executive, like an Obama.

  • Whitehall

    Here’s a piece from American Thinker that compares Pacifica’s five stations (and their finances) against the five stations that carry Rush Limbaugh in the same markets.

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/03/megaphone_envy_and_the_fairnes.html

    Leftists always have a problem with management.

    • http://davidhdennis.com/ David H Dennis

      Very interesting article! Interesting that Rush crushes Pacifica even in Washington, DC. That’s impressive!

      But I wonder what would happen if you totalled all conservative radio and divided it by all NPR. I think there are quite a few NPR stations in DC …

      Rush was asked recently about his success, and he attributed it to his bond with his audience. I think a lot of that is created by his sense of humor, which seems very much lacking in NPR. Also, obscene profit breaks are a lot less annoying than Pledge Week …

      D

      • bpuharic

        The explanation is more straightforward. Right wing talk radio is an echo chamber filled with delusional paranoid plots that appeal to angry white guys. They love hearing themselves talk and talk and talk

        • mrkwong

          The problem is, and I say this as no fan of talk radio in any form, too many of those delusional paranoid plots are coming true.

        • http://davidhdennis.com/ David H Dennis

          I don’t actually listen to Rush, but I do read his transcripts all the time on rushlimbaugh.com , and I must say that’s not my experience. The callers seem like perfectly decent and intelligent Americans to me.

          I suggest you either read the transcripts or listen to the show to see what it’s really like, instead of relying on left-wing talking points to form your opinion.

          • Tom

            He’s bpuharic. Won’t work.

          • bpuharic

            I used to live in TX. Rush (PBUH) was hard to avoid

            THe man’s an idiot. Every right wing cliche, every paranoid delusion, every fantasy about blacks harbored by the klan show up in his show at some point

            You guys are welcome to him. You deserve each other

        • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

          As opposed to parrots like you?

          The real reasons that Rush succeeds, while Pacifica fails:

          1> Rush is simply a public voice for what MILLIONS have determined to be true and good BEFORE HE EVEN SAID IT … while Pacifica’s audience waits around to be told by their “betters” what is good and true, then blindly swallow those camels while straining at every gnat of conservative “evil”.

          2> Conservatives are not afraid to declare something right … or wrong … and bring a discussion to a logical conclusion, as opposed to the Progressive intellectual pastime of emotion-driven “dialogue” with either illogical conclusion, or caveat after caveat that leaves the listener hanging and unsatisfied.

          • bpuharic

            The Rush-bot complains that the left isn’t composed of bobble heads like he is.

            Rush is an angry, rich, paranoid white guy who gives failures like you a voice for your failure. It’s a voice of paranoia and disgust with freedom. Which is pretty much what the American right is all about

    • bpuharic

      “Leftists always have a problem with management.”

      Hmmm…how’d that love letter of deregulation to Wall Street you guys wrote do for our economy in 2007? 8 million jobs lost…19 trillion in equity wiped out

      Great, right wing management there!

  • Boritz

    The fight is so bitter because the stakes are so low.

  • gvanderleun

    I once worked for KPFA a sister station to WBAI for Pacifica. Believe me when I tell you that you cannot dump all these crapulous cretinous stations into the dustbin of history fast enough.

    • f1b0nacc1

      I think not. These stations server a valuable purpose….keeping all those idiots in a safe place FAR away from the rest of us where nobody listens to them.
      If you killed the stations, they would be dumped into the real world to be even more irritating…

  • teapartydoc

    Somehow this has to be the fault of a right wing conspiracy hatched in Wall Street by conservative talk show hosts and the only way we can save ourselves is to try and be more Swedish.