- Brooklyn, New York 02/21/2014 by Berthold Reimers (WBAI)
Berthold Reimers, Station Manager for listener-sponsored, non-commercial WBAI, Progressive Pacifica Radio in NY.
Over the past sixteen months, the WBAI community has had more than its fair share of turmoil: one hurricane, two temporary studios, one temporary office, three moves, nineteen layoffs and two program directors. All of this tumult has been disconcerting, even scary. You can hear the gloom in the voices of some of our producers. Naysayers abound, but there are also many dedicated people working hard to solve longstanding problems, and we are on track to make a dramatic recovery.
The Buddy program-has been wonderful for WBAI. When listeners automatically give us a certain amount each month, we have at least one predictable income stream. This is precious, financially and as encouragement to everyone who works at the station. I want to thank all of you who have signed up and make sure you know how important you are. Some BAI Buddies have not yet received their cards and tote-bags. There is no excuse for this (other than the fact that we don't have the staff to do it). I promise that you will receive them by the end of February.
Gary Null is back on the air at his usual time from noon to 1, Monday through Friday. His two-week absence was extremely unfortunate, but Gary's loyal listeners can be assured that his popular program will continue to be broadcast on our airwaves. Archives for his show are here.
We tried a new approach, "the program is the premium," but it was unsuccessful. This concept does not work for most public radio stations, and it did not work for us. We basically jettisoned overnight the model that had kept us going for 60 years. Of course we all want to get away from WBAI's undue reliance on premiums. Diversifying revenue streams is a high priority, and there is a team working on a plan to increase the share of funds raised online, in the community, and via traditional non-profit strategies. This plan includes a carefully timed transition, steadily reducing on-air fund-drives as the new revenue sources emerge and stabilize. In the process of transitioning to new revenue streams, we will need to experiment, and the recent effort did provide some lessons learned. But the tuition for those lessons was exorbitant: The first two weeks of February set us back a quarter of a million dollars (we usually raise at least $18,000 a day), and we are now in crisis mode. Bills are overdue. Payroll is looming.
THE FINANCIAL SITUATION
While the situation is extremely precarious, it is nowhere near as grim as it was a year ago or even six months ago. Don't forget that last February we were still reeling from Superstorm Sandy: we owed $250,000 on the transmitter and another $150,000 for office rent. Month after month WBAI depended on Pacifica to help with payroll and other expenses (which is one reason why Pacifica no longer has any cash reserves with which to help us or any of the other stations in the network). We had no choice but to slash costs: we moved to Brooklyn and laid off three-quarters of the staff. The situation only started to turn around in October, when we had a very successful fund-drive that generated nearly $850,000, almost $200,000 more than the $650,000 target. Most of the extra revenue went to pay back debts to Pacifica and Silverstein Properties (we made our final rent payment for our former offices), as well as to purchase more premiums. And, although we had to add a few days, our December fund-drive also exceeded its target. Because we have drastically cut costs and enjoyed two successful fund-drives, the Pacifica National Board voted earlier this month to give WBAI two more months before considering any of the LMAs (proposals to give up control of our programing through leasing arrangements). We have sixty days to prove to Pacifica that we can be financially self-sufficient. With a successful fund-drive this month, we can continue to break even over the next quarter. Of course, we have to do better than break even, but our current and very realistic goal is to cover our monthly expenses, raise about $35,000 to build a studio at our Brooklyn location, and organize a big fundraiser to pay the severance we owe our laid-off employees.
Too many listeners have still not received their premiums, but there are a lot fewer than there were two months ago. Volunteers have been churning them out as fast as they can. How did we get so far behind, you might ask. After the hurricane we worked out of temporary offices for seven months with our equipment, supplies and premiums scattered in various storage units around the city, not sure where we would be month-to-month. But we dug ourselves out of that hole and by mid-summer moved to Brooklyn. Then, just as we were looking forward to settling down and catching up, WHAM, we had to lay off nineteen employees including most of the administrative staff. Since then, other than the brief stints with the two programming directors, we have had only TWO (including me) paid employees working full-time at the office. No regular company could lay off most of its staff and survive, but at WBAI, interns and volunteers have picked up the slack. As General Manager, premiums were my responsibility, but I could not figure out a way to do my job, the jobs of all the people who were laid off AND recruit and organize volunteers to get out the premiums. I just couldn't do it. As a result, we have a backlog of e-mail and voice messages from people upset about not receiving their premiums. WBAI is very fortunate to have top-notch interns and volunteers. For three months now, they have been coming every Sunday to help pack and ship premiums. But this is still not enough. So beginning next week, we are going into full-time Listener-Service Mode. Starting Monday, our Brooklyn office will be set up to accommodate at least eight volunteers at a time. We will contact every listener who has had a premium problem and resolve it. We will call every WBAI Buddy. Our goal is to fix all of these problems by the first day of spring on March 20. We are determined to regain the trust of our listeners. By the way, if you have a premium problem, you can contact us via email or phone. We prefer emails so that we can look up your record before calling you back, but you are also welcome to call. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The phone number dedicated to premiums is (347) 529-6664.
The crisis at WBAI has had a wonderful consequence: we are creating a real community among the listeners who volunteer regularly. Imagine that! You can help WBAI get out premiums and make genuine new friends at the same time. If you have time, send a message with your contact information to: email@example.com. It's time to turn all this theory into practice. Besides, working and talking with other listeners can be interesting and fun.
This is yet another problem for which I must ask your understanding. You need this document to get credit for your generous donations and file your tax returns, and we will get it to you by February 26.
The gloom-and-doom crowd-those who claim that any optimism is just wishful thinking-do not know what is really going on. Yes, we still have many problems, but there is also a solid basis for hope. We could not have survived all the turmoil without our dedicated staff, producers and volunteers. But, most of all, it is you listeners who have inspired us to carry on despite all the obstacles and naysayers. I am deeply grateful to you, especially to the many people who contacted us this year to wish us well when the situation was most treacherous. Your encouragement was essential. The last two weeks were especially rough, and we need to catch up quickly. But we can do it. Breaking even for two consecutive quarters will give us all renewed hope and confidence. Our foundation is much stronger, but our position is still precarious. Give us another chance, and we will put the community back in community radio. Once we have stabilized our finances and built our studio in Brooklyn, we will have consolidated operations in one affordable place. That will made a huge difference. We are already exploring options for the popular call-in shows, as well as innovative ways to cover local news. And we want your input. Sometime soon you will be receiving with the newsletter a survey asking for your opinions about all of this.
Thanks very much,