The sordid situation of Pacifica Radio took another turn last week, when the owners of the Empire State Building—where WBAI’s transmitter and antenna are located—threatened to pull the plug on the station. According to a report dated June 19th by Pacifica Foundation Interim Executive Director Bernard Duncan, rent payments from WBAI to the ESB for May and June were "returned indicating an imminent eviction."
Free Speech Radio News announced this past weekend that it will resume a semblance of operations on Tuesday, February 11th. It’s a soft launch, beginning with the provision of limited content and then working up to the resumption of regular daily broadcasts.
A pioneer of the networked newsroom, FSRN has been a stalwart of community broadcasting in the United States for more than a dozen years. Unfortunately, it fell silent last September after its major funder, Pacifica Radio, welshed on several outstanding bills.
Uh-oh, indeed. Pacifica’s National Board is now soliciting bids to take over the programming and operations of its station in New York City. WBAI is prime real estate, transmitting with 4,300 watts of power from atop the Empire State Building on a choice frequency smack dab in the middle of the FM dial. The station’s worth tens of millions of dollars were it ever to be sold.
This was a long time coming. WBAI, like many of Pacifica’s radio stations, is caught in the jaws of a dilemma as old as community radio itself. Essentially, people can lose sight of the actual goal of running a successful and sustainable community radio station and instead use (and abuse) the station as a battlefield on which to act out some larger sociopolitical struggle. What the station stands for becomes more important than the station itself, and nobody wins. In Pacifica’s case, they stand to lose it all.
In a nutshell, the problem is money, and the writing’s been on the wall for a while. Free Speech Radio News has been hurting in that department since the fall of 2010, when it first raised the spectre of going dark. Saved by a last-minute crowdfunding campaign, FSRN’s been teetering on the brink ever since, held together by creative management, another emergency fund drive, and the passion of its crowdsourced production base. That can only take you so far, it would seem.
The Federal Communications Commission is busy preparing for an onslaught of applications for new low-power FM (LPFM) stations: the filing window opens on October 15th and closes on the 29th. Interested applicants should already be hard at work preparing, because building a radio station from scratch is not a simple process.