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Layoffs and Canceled Shows at WBAI-FM, a New York Radio Original


WBAI and Pacifica had been under strain for years. Pacifica has not released any financial statements since 2017, when its auditor cited doubts that the organization could continue as a going concern.

The foundation faced possible bankruptcy after a New York State court ordered it in 2017 to pay $1.8 million in rent and other fees to a trust affiliated with the Empire State Building, where WBAI transmitted its signal.

Last year, Pacifica settled with the trust after obtaining a loan from FJC, a nonprofit lender. Mr. Vernile said Pacifica had been meeting its obligations under the loan agreement. Sam Marks, the chief executive of FJC, declined to comment.

WBAI, founded in 1960, was a leader in the free-form radio movement, and has had a history of extraordinary moments in broadcasting. Bob Dylan made early appearances on the station, and in the 1970s WBAI was cited by the Federal Communications Commission for indecency for running George Carlin’s routine on seven “filthy words,” a decision upheld by the Supreme Court.

As WBAI’s audience has dwindled, its finances have grown shaky. In 2013, after nearly a decade of losses, the station laid off 19 employees. At times, it has seemed crippled by factionalism, as board meetings descended into name-calling and bickering over parliamentary rules.

The station’s most valuable asset may be its license to operate a coveted spot on the dial, at 99.5 FM, but Mr. Vernile said Pacifica was determined not to sell that prime piece of radio real estate. Pacifica, he said, wants to “rebuild” WBAI at some point, although he did not offer a clear target date.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said, “but this puts us in a place where we have a shot at bringing everything back in full.”


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