Summer Reese, interim executive director of the Pacifica Radio Network, choked up as she announced this afternoon that legendary New York radio station WBAI was laying off its entire news department, and the majority of on-air talent, effective Monday.
WBAI, the station where Pacifica’s flagship program, Democracy NOW!, was founded, has broadcast on 99.5 since 1960.
Andrew Phillips, former general manager of KPFA, Pacifica’s Berkeley, California, station, has been appointed interim program director. The station’s general manager, Berthold Reimers, and interim development director, Andrea Katz, will also stay on board.
“Today I have concluded union negotiations with SAG-AFTRA, regarding proposed layoffs here at WBAI, and with a very heavy heart, and very great difficulty, we will laying off virtually everyone whose voice you recognize on the air,” Reese said.
Approximately 75 percent of staff will be laid off. “We are only retaining those staff critically necessary to operational functions at this station,” she said.
“We have barely made our transmitter payments,” Reese explained. WBAI’s transmitter, located at the top of the Empire State building, is leased to the station at a cost of about $50,000 a month. In March, WBAI raised $500,000 to protect the transmitter, after the station was threatened with eviction for non-payment of rent.
“Most of the producers whose shows you value will not even have the chance to say goodbye to you, for which I am deeply sorry,” Reese told the listeners.
SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents WBAI’s paid producers, declined to comment on the layoffs.