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A House Divided: First-Ever Listener Elections Leave WBAI with Divided Board

Chris Anderson Feb 17, 2004

Historic listener elections to the Local Station Board for WBAI-99.5 FM ended Feb. 5 without any of four competing slates controlling a majority of the 24-member board. The Justice and Unity slate, which centered its campaign on the need for more diversity at the station, earned eight seats. Advocates for more internal democracy at WBAI running on the List-Prog slate garnered six seats and the People’s Radio slate won three. Supporters of WBAI healthguru Gary Null picked up two seats, and independents amassed a total of five seats. Eighteen of the seats went to listener representatives and six to members of the station’s staff.

The new board will face vexing questions about the station’s finances, programming and diversity when it meets for the first time in February. The launching of a “liberal” radio network in New York City this summer poses yet another challenge. The fate of WBAI may rest on the ability of long-time political rivals to work together to move the station forward.

Founded after World War II by a small group of radical pacifists, listener-sponsored Pacifica Radio operates high-powered FM stations in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Houston, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Located in the center of the FM dial, WBAI’s 50,000-watt signal alone has a potential audience of more than 20 million people in the New York City area.