WBAI parent company lied about debts: Broadcasters

Staffers at WBAI claim that executives at its parent company — which shutdown the station on Monday — are lying about the station’s finances.
WBAI reopened at midnight on Nov. 7. Photo by Rose Adams

The national nonprofit radio company trying to shutdown Brooklyn’s beloved 99.5 FM WBAI lied to the public about debts owed by its listener-funded broadcast, according to executives at the radio station, who claim their tax-exempt overseers really just want to strip the station for parts.

“The four-million-dollar figure is a complete and total fiction,” said Alex Steinberg, a member of the local and national station boards that oversee WBAI and Pacifica. “They just created it to make WBAI look like a deadbeat.”

Big shots at the California-based Pacifica Foundation claimed WBAI was drowning under $4 million in debt after workers stormed the radio station’s Boerum Hill offices, firing most of the staff and taking over the station’s programing.

But the $4 million debt claimed by Pacifica is totally bogus, according to WBAI’s general manager, Berthold Reimers, who said the station only owes Pacifica and outside lenders about $700,000.

The exaggerated debt was circulated as a ruse to distract from Pacifica’s true motives, according to Steinberg, who said the closure was a rogue decision by Pacifica’s new director, John Vernile, who he speculates wants to sell the 99.5 FM signal — worth between $20 and $40 million — in order to cover mounting deficits plaguing Paficia’s other radio stations.

“Their game plan I believe is to sell the signal,” said Steinberg.

Pacifica brass have butted heads with WBAI broadcasters over the station’s content in the past, and a dispute erupted in September after longtime host Mimi Rosenberg cried out, “Stop Trump,” which executives at the station’s parent company feared would threaten their Federal Communications Commission license, according to Arthur Schwartz, a lawyer and broadcaster with WBAI.

“This is about content. It’s not about finances,” said Schwartz.

Steinberg added that higher-ups have attacked WBAI’s management in closed circles, making unsubstantiated claims that its leaders lied about the station’s ratings.

After the abrupt shutdown on Monday, WBAI filed an injunction against Pacifica, arguing that the company violated its own bylaws by shuttering the station without board notice or approval. The dispute quickly devolved into a back-and-forth legal battle that temporarily resolved on Thursday, when a judge ruled that Pacifica could control the station’s broadcasting as long as it rehired WBAI’s employees, according to court documents posted on Twitter.

Reps with the Pacifica Foundation did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The case will return to court on Oct. 18.

Reach reporter Rose Adams at radams@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams

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