Published on Sunday, December 24, 2000
Midnight Coup at Pacifica's WBAI:
KPFA Report on WBAI takeover
Transcript of 12/23/00 newscast by KPFA's David Landau
DAVID LANDAU: Pacifica Radio has struck with full force at
Pacifica station WBAI. At about midnight last night, under
instructions from Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash,
locksmiths changed the locks at WBAI and security guards began
barring entrance to all except hosts and guests of regularly
scheduled shows. No other staff members were being admitted
into the station, and that includes, Amy Goodman, whose national
show on Pacifica, Democracy Now!, is produced at WBAI.
AMY GOODMAN: Last night, as the locks were being changed on the doors, I called into the station. I spoke with the operations director, Sidney Smith. I asked him if I could come into the station. And Utrice Leid, the new Pacifica-appointed general manager , was standing next to him. Sidney asked her if I could come in and she said no. I saw her today, uh, there was a protest, uh, of more than 100 people outside the station that was just ad hoc pulled together...I wanted to go up. She wouldn't let me go into the station. It's an illegal lockout of union workers, both UE, United Electrical...I'm AFTRA...
We were not able to go in. When we attempted to go in, as workers, as producers, the security prevented us from going up and they called in police and they pushed us out of the building. And so, we were outside, as Bessie Wash and Utrice Leid were upstairs.
LANDAU: Besides hosting Democracy Now! Goodman also co- hosts WBAI's three-hour morning show, Wake Up Call. The crisis at WBAI has been brewing since October, when Pacifica management gave Goodman a new set of guidelines for Democracy Now! and threatened to fire her if she failed to obey.
Then, last month, Pacifica Executive Director Wash, informed WBAI general manager Valerie van Isler that she would no longer be serving in that position. Van Isler said she would not observe the termination date of December 31st and would appeal the decision. WBAI staff announced that they would not cooperate with the Pacifica -imposed regime at the station. At least one staff member decided not to accept appointment as van Isler's successor.
Then last night, Wash appointed programmer Utrice Leid, whom van Isler had earlier passed over for the program director;s position, as interim station manager. Early this morning, Pacifica fired WBAI Program Director Bernard White who also co-hosts the morning drive show, Wale Up Call, as well as Sharan Louise Harper, who produces the morning drive show.
Harper told KPFA about receiving Pacifica's notice of dismissal at her home, early this morning.
SHARAN HARPER: There was a knock at my door. And there was a messenger who had an envelope with a Pacifica logo on it and said,"This is for you. You have to sign for it. I opened the envelope and inside was a letter that said that effective immediately, I had been...I'm paraphrasing because I don't have the letter...It said that I had been terminated, that I was being given a check that was equivalent to two weeks severance...if I thought I was owed further compensation, then I would have to notify the the signer and explain why, and the signer was Bessie Wash. It said that my personal belongings would be sent to me, and that I was no longer considered staff and if I should enter the premises, that it would be considered trespass.
LANDAU: An identical procedure was also taking place at the home of program director Bernard White. Neither staff member was given an explanation for the dismissal. Both refused to sign Pacifica's letter. Both declined to take their severance checks. Both later found their checks under their door.
White said a key question now is whether the remaining on-air staff at WBAI will cooperate with Pacifica's new regime.
BERNARD WHITE: We have had people on the inside...quislings on the inside who have collaborated with Pacifica National and it becomes somewhat confusing to our audience because the person who has collaborated is very popular a person. I don't know how popular she'll be once people find out what she has done to the station, There is definitely going to be..as she was on the air saying there would be no changes in programming..everything would go pretty much the same.
LANDAU: In spite of what interim manager Utrice Led said, however, program changes have already begun. The new interim manager will reportedly take over the morning show and will give her afternoon show to someone else. An on-air WBAI tech-in earlier today included many outspoken comments about the station situation, while about 150 listeners demonstrated for several hours in freezing cold outside the station.
Neither WBAI interim manager Leid nor Pacifica Executive Director Wash could be reached for comment about this situation. Fired WBAI staffer Sharan Harper:
HARPER: My biggest concern is not for my employment but for the continuance of free speech radio. I think this issue is far bigger than my termination or Valerie's or Bernard's . The biggest termination we have to be concerned with is the termination of free speech.
LANDAU: For KPFA news, this is David Landau.
Available in mp3 http://clients.loudeye.com/imc/mayday/landau_on_wbai_ne.mp3
For more background: http://www.radio4all.org/freepacifica/index.html