Pacifica Seeking To Lease WBAI New York
Update 10/16: Pacifica has published its RFP for potential PSOA suitors. Pacifica is searching for a partner willing to comply to the following terms:
- Pacifica must retain ultimate control over WBAI’s program policies and be able to preempt or reject programming in order to prevent a violation of FCC rules or to address an issue of local or national interest
- Pacifica must continue to employ two WBAI employees, one of whom has managerial responsibilities and who reports solely to Pacifica
- Pacifica will be reimbursed the costs of the two WBAI salaries, antenna and transmitter rent on the Empire State Building, and costs incurred in maintaining the main studio
- All proposals should seek to preserve Pacifica’s eligibility to receive grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the operation of WBAI
- Any proposal must preserve WBAI’s status as a noncommercial station and advance Pacifca’s mission. All applicants must be bona fide nonprofit organizations in good standing. WBAI should continue to broadcast noncommercial programming that will serve programming interests otherwise unserved in the greater New York City area and to advance the mission set forth in Pacifca’s Articles For Incorporation; for example, enabling WBAI to “contribute to the democratic process through public discourse and promotion of culture.”
- Pacifica will favor proposals that allow Pacifca to reserve some airtime on WBAI for programming produced or selected by Pacifica. The days and times of the retained program blocks are negotiable.
- Pacifica will favor proposals that are for a term that is less than a full license period (8 years) for WBAI.
Any interested party has until November 6 to submit their proposal.
INSTANT INSIGHT: Pacifica basically wants someone to continue the existing WBAI programming while taking on all responsibility for the cost of producing said programming but with Pacifica able to butt in when they feel like it. This is not a recipe for success for any possible suitor and will just continue to delay the inevitable for the station.
Over the course of a few private board meetings earlier this month, the Pacifica National Board passed a motion to solicit Request For Proposals for potential Public Service Operating Agreements to assume operations the station. Interested parties have until November 6 to respond.
A Public Service Operating Agreement is a non-commercial equivalent to an LMA, but unlike commercial stations the FCC forbids payments above necessary operating expenses. A PSOA would prevent any operator seeking to run WBAI as a commercial station as long as the 99.5 allocation remains licensed as a non-commercial station.
Pacifica would relieve itself of the financial hardships of day-to-day programming of WBAI, with the leasing group controlling all of the programming and reimbursing Pacifica for any costs relating to transmitter rent, equipment, and maintenance.
By going the PSOA route instead of selling or converting to a Commercial license, Pacifica, if it wishes to, can cherry-pick the operator that it feels best suits its model. This will likely result in a scenario in which WBAI retains a format similar to its current Progressive programming.
The Pacifica National Board bylaws require each station to have a local station board. That will need to be resolved as Pacifica moves forward with any potential lease of WBAI to ensure the new operator has full autonomy over programming.