WBAI in Crisis: A Brief History of Seminal NYC Radio

08/12/2013 12:31 PM |


Radio in NYC was a wild place during the 60s and 70s, full of late-night rants, avant-garde arts and other signs of the counterculture. By the 21st century, most of that was gone from the airwaves, but it still lived on 99.5 FM, WBAI, an anarchically programmed (and, by most accounts, run) station on which often unpredictable shows informed by fiercely progressive, community-focused politics were the norm. But is that model proving untenable? The station has laid off two-thirds of its staff, including its entire news division, the Times reports. It’s been “operating at a loss” since 2004, is in serious debt for rent on its transmitter, and unable to meet its payroll. (This comes after a few years of contention between staff and new management.) “The Pacifica network”—the non-profit company that owns WBAI and several other stations around the country—”had repeatedly drained its finances to cover WBAI’s expenses,” the Times reports; the layoffs are meant to protect the station from having to sell its broadcasting license. But it doesn’t bode well for the station’s future. As WBAI possibly heads toward its end, let’s look back at the contributions it’s made to media and the US since getting on the air in 1960.