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COURIER LIFE, N 16 OVEMBER 15-21, 2019
Hosts Reggie Johnson and co-host Shawnee Rice back on the air at WBAI Radio.
Photo by Derrick Watterson WBA, hi!
Supreme court ruling allows beloved Brooklyn
radio station to return to the air waves
BY COLIN MIXSON
Shuttered Boerum Hill radio station
WBAI was allowed to resume broadcasting
at 99.5 FM following a weekslong
closure at midnight on Nov. 7, after
a state judge ordered the station’s
parent company to lay off its attempts
to silence the channel.
State Supreme Court Judge Melissa
Crane reinstated a restraining order
against the Pacifi ca Foundation — the
nonprofi t owner of fi ve listener-funded
radio stations across the country —
that requires the company to hand control
of local content back to WBAI.
The station’s return comes a month
to the day after Pacifi ca Executive Director
John Vernile ordered the station
closed on Oct. 7, claiming the non-forprofi
t could no longer support WBAI
and its multimillion-dollar debt.
But WBAI broadcasters claimed
Vernile exaggerated the station’s dues,
and that they were being attacked by
a rogue faction within the national
broadcast company for political reasons
stemming from radio host Mimi
Rosenberg’s on-air statement, “shut
And Vernile was soon overruled
by the company’s board of directors,
which voted on Oct. 20 not to ratify his
prior directive closing down the station
— and to place him on a mandatory
However, Vernile challenged the
vote in court, with attorneys arguing
the board had failed to provide proper
notice, resulting in a legal duel that led
to Crane’s decision on Wednesday.
Broadcaster and attorney Arthur
Schwartz, who represented WBAI in
court, praised the ruling for preserving
a decades old New York City institution.
“I was ecstatic,” said Schwartz. “It
restored a unique entity which allows
literally hundreds of volunteers to produce
locally oriented news, political
and cultural programming that has
been going on for 60 years.”
Alex Steinberg, a Pacifi ca board
member who supported WBAI against
Vernile, is concerned about the station’s
listenership in the wake of its
monthlong hiatus, fearing the broadcasts
fans will have fallen out of the
habit of tuning in.
“They might think we’re off the air
for good,” said Schwartz. “We’re going to
have to have a huge publicity campaign
to tell people were back on the air.”
However, fellow board member Bill
Crosier said he shared Vernile’s funding
concerns, saying Pacifi ca has historically
propped up WBAI at the expense
of other serious obligations
— including paying the company’s accountants.
“We’ve been notifi ed by the company
that does our accounting and HR
support, they’re going to stop working
for us because we owe them so much
money, because that money has been
pulled to pay WBAI salaries,” said Crosier.
“Our audits are past due, and without
audits we could lose our tax exemptions,
which is entirely serious.”
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