From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
WBAI logo.svg
City of license New York, New York
Broadcast area Metropolitan New York
Branding WBAI
Slogan Your Peace and Justice Community Radio Station
Frequency 99.5 MHz
First air date January 8, 1960
Format Community radio
ERP 4,300 watts, Stereo
HAAT 415 meters
Class B
Facility ID 51249
Callsign meaning the former owner, Broadcast Associates Incorporated
Owner Pacifica Radio
(Pacifica Foundation, Inc.)
Webcast Listen Live
Website wbai.org

WBAI, a part of the Pacifica Radio Network, is a non-commercial, listener-supported radio station, broadcasting at 99.5 FM in New York City. The station has a transmitter atop the Empire State Building.

Its programming is leftist/progressive, and a mixture of political news and opinion from a leftist perspective, tinged with aspects of its complex and varied history, such as Freeform radio, which WBAI played a role in developing, as well as various music.



The former WBAI studios on the 10th floor of 120 Wall Street, Manhattan

The station began as WABF, which first went on the air in 1941 as W75NY, of Metropolitan Television, Inc. (W75NY indicating an eastern station at 47.5 MHz in New York), and moved to the 99.5 frequency in 1948.[citation needed] In 1955, after two years off the air, it was reborn as WBAI (whose calls were named after then-owners Broadcast Associates, Inc.).[citation needed]


WBAI was purchased by eccentric philanthropist Louis Schweitzer, who donated it to the Pacifica Foundation in 1960.[1] The station, which had been a commercial enterprise, became non-commercial and listener-supported under Pacifica ownership.[citation needed]

The history of WBAI is iconoclastic and contentious.[citation needed] Referred to in a New York Times Magazine piece as "an anarchist's circus," one station manager was jailed in protest, and the staff, in protest at sweeping proposed changes of another station manager, seized the studio facilities, then located in a deconsecrated church, as well as the transmitter, located atop the Empire State Building.[2] During the 1960s the station hosted innumerable anti-establishment causes, including the anti-war folks, feminists, kids lib, early firesign theater comedy, and complete-album music overnight.[citation needed] Notable were the continual direct daily coverage of the Vietnam war, including the daily body count, their refusal to stop playing Janis Ian's song about interracial relationships "Society's Child" and their live coverage of various bra-burning conventions.[citation needed]

WBAI played a major role in the evolution and development of the counterculture in the 1960s and early 1970s.[3] Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" was first broadcast on Radio Unnameable, Bob Fassfreeform radio program on WBAI, a program which itself in many ways created, explored, and defined the possibilities of the form.[4] The station covered the 1968 seizure of the Columbia University campus live and uninterrupted, as well as innumerable anti-war protests.[citation needed] With its signal reaching nearly 70 miles beyond New York City, its reach and influence, both direct and indirect, were significant.[citation needed] Among the station's weekly commentators in the 1960s were author Ayn Rand, British politician/playwright Sir Stephen King-Hall, and author Dennis Wholley.[citation needed] The 1964 Political conventions were "covered" satirically on WBAI by Severn Darden, Elaine May, Burns and Schreiber, David Amram, Julie Harris, Taylor Meade, and members of the Second City improvisational group.[citation needed] The station, under Music Directors John Corigliano, Ann McMillan and, later Eric Salzman, aired an annual 23-hour nonstop presentation of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, as recorded at the Bayreuth Festival the year before, and produced live studio performances of emerging artists in its studios.[citation needed] Interviews with prominent figures in literature and the arts, as well as original dramatic productions and radio adaptations were also regular program offerings.[citation needed]


In 1970, Kathy Dobkin, Milton Hoffman, and Francie Camper produced an unprecedented, critically acclaimed 4½ day round-the-clock reading of Tolstoy's War And Peace.[citation needed] The epic novel was read cover to cover by more than 200 people—including a large number of international celebrities from various fields.[citation needed] "Newsweek" called this broadcast "one of the more mind-blowing 'firsts' in the history of the media". The complete reading (over 200 audio tapes) was the first Pacifica program to be selected for inclusion in the permanent collection of the Museum of Broadcasting in NYC.[citation needed]

A poster in a WBAI broadcast booth warns radio broadcasters against using the seven dirty words.

In 1973, the station broadcast comedian George Carlin's infamous Filthy Words routine uncensored. WBAI's broadcast of Filthy Words became a landmark moment in the history of free speech. In a 1978 milestone in the station's contentious and unruly history, WBAI lost a 5-to-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision (FCC v. Pacifica Foundation) that to this day has defined the power of the government over broadcast material it calls indecent.[5]

In 1974 WBAI program director Marnie Mueller asked Charles Ruas to become director of arts programming.[citation needed] Thus the station, already at the forefront of the counterculture and anti-war protest, also became a platform for New York’s avant-garde in theater, music, performance, art, and poetry.[citation needed] When the downtown avant-garde opera A Letter to Queen Victoria by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson opened at the Metropolitan Opera, the station was right there to tape excerpts in rehearsals for broadcast.[citation needed]

Ruas initiated a year-long series on Marguerite Young’s epic novel Miss McIntosh, My Darling.[citation needed] These readings were transformed into performances by Rob Wynne, who scored them with a complex collage of sound effects, music, and opera.[citation needed] The participants included Anaïs Nin, Marian Seldes, Alice Playten, H. M. Koutoukas, Leo Lerman, Michael Wagger, Novella Nelson, Osceola Archer, Owen Dodson, Wyatt Cooper, Michael Higgins, Anne Fremantle, Peggy Cass, Ruth Ford, Earle Hyman and Daisy Alden.[citation needed]

When William Burroughs returned to the United States from Tangier, Ruas invited him to present a retrospective of all his works.[citation needed] The series consisted of four programs, beginning with Junkie and followed by The Yage Letters, read by Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg, The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, and, finally, Naked Lunch.[citation needed] Bill Kortum oversaw this series as well as retrospectives of the works of Jerzy Kosinski and Donald Barthelme, co-produced with Judith Sherman, the station’s music director.[citation needed]

A semester of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry seminar held at the Naropa Institute in Colorado was presented by Ruas, and for many years the station covered the annual New Year’s Eve celebratory poetry marathon at St. Mark’s Church.[citation needed] The day the Vietnam War ended, poet Muriel Rukeyser came to the station to read her poem on peace.[citation needed]

Ruas inaugurated the Audio Experimental Theater, a series presenting the works of avant-garde artists: Meredith Monk, Yvonne Rainer, Ed Bowes, Michael Newman, Joan Schwartz, Benjamin Folkman, Vito Acconci, Charles Ludlum, Jacques Levy, Willoughby Sharp, John Cage, Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, Richard Foreman, and Joan Jonas.[citation needed]

In drama, the station defended Tennessee Williams against his critics during his last years by covering his Memoirs and broadcasting a production of Two-Character Play.[citation needed] Other dramatists whose works were featured included Jean-Claude van Itallie, Richard Scheckner, Andrei Serban, and Elizabeth Swados.[citation needed]

Ruas initiated interview programs featuring nonfiction writers discussing their fields of expertise—Buckminster Fuller, Thor Heyerdahl, Ed Sanders, Jonathan Kozol and Nigel Nicholson.[citation needed]

Each of the arts had weekly coverage.[citation needed] Courtney Callender’s Getting Around covered the cultural scene.[citation needed] Moira Hudson was the dance critic.[citation needed] The visual arts critics were John Perreault, Cindy Nemser, Liza Baer, Joe Giordano, Judith Vivell, Kenneth Koch, and Les Levine.[citation needed]

Susan Howe produced a weekly poetry program presenting the works of John Ashbery, W. S. Merwin, Maureen Owen, Charles Reznikoff, Rebecca Wright, Ron Padgett, Carter Ratcliff, John Hollander, Anne Waldman, Helen Adam, Audre Lorde, Michael Brownstein, Mary Ferrari, and Muriel Rukeyser.[citation needed] She also produced specials featuring William Carlos Williams, V. R. Lang, Jack Spicer, Louise Bogan, Paul Metcalf, Jonathan Williams, Harry Mathews, and James Laughlin.[citation needed] John Giorno presented his 5-part series Dial-a-Poem Poets.[citation needed]

For a few years WBAI became a cultural force as these programs were disseminated nationally through the Pacifica Network.[citation needed]

With the decline of the arc of history represented by the 1960s and 1970s, the station turned against itself.[citation needed] A new board of directors determined a new agenda, and, against the staff resistance provoked by what was known internally as The Crisis, and manifest in the seizure and occupation of the facilities, a different station emerged, one which attempted to offer an alternative perspective within the mainstream commercial aesthetic rather than from the outside.[citation needed]

Dwindling and decline[edit]

In 1998, WBAI moved to the tenth floor at 120 Wall Street in the Financial District.[6]

In late 2012 WBAI suffered extensive damages to their offices following the events of Hurricane Sandy.[6] The Manhattan offices saw flooding reach the second floor, trapping seven staffers inside, and the telephone systems being disabled. The devastation by Sandy occurred in the midst of fundraising efforts, which ultimately prevented WBAI from acquiring the necessary funds to remain operational. As a result of funding and operational difficulties, WBAI announced in 2013 it would be moving out of those studios to temporary studios of WHCR-FM located in Harlem, a station operated by City College of New York (CUNY).[7][6]

Lynne Rosen and John Littig, co-hosts of the monthly show The Pursuit of Happiness, were found dead on June 3, 2013, after committing suicide in their Park Slope home.[8]

In June 2013 the Corporation for Public Broadcasting suspended payments to WBAI citing accounting irregularities and a failure by the station to meet its financial obligations.[9] Layoff notices effective July 15 were subsequently issued to the station's staff and management.[10][11]

On August 9, 2013, Pacifica management announced that due to financial problems, WBAI was laying off about two-thirds of its staff, effective August 12, 2013. The entire news department was laid off.[12] Summer Reese, the interim executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, which owns WBAI, said that after talks with SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents broadcasting talent, “we will be laying off virtually everyone whose voice you recognize on the air,” effective Monday. She corrected that and announced the final number was 19 out of the station’s 29 employees, about 66 percent. Andrew Phillips, the former general manager of another of Pacifica’s five stations, KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, was appointed WBAI’s interim program director. The New York Times reported[13] that the station owes $2 million in broadcast fees to Democracy Now! alone, while cash on hand was just $23,000.

In March 2014 there were assorted rumors that the station will be sold or leased or moved, in whole or in part (including their equipment and antenna at the Empire State Building[14]) after contentions and firings both at WBAI and at Pacifica headquarters.[15]

On December 17, 2014 the California State Attorney General opened a full and formal investigation into the Pacifica Radio Foundation, owner of WBAI-FM, with respect to its alleged irregularities as to its finances, violations of California law with respect to nonprofit organizations, and violations of its own bylaws.

Alumni of the station[edit]

Anthropologist and WBAI radio personality Barbara Nimri Aziz at the Left Forum (NYC), Apr 2009

Alumni of WBAI include Margot Adler, Abraham Aig, Jan Albert, Chris Albertson, Nancy Allen, Matt Alperin, Archie Altman, Lindsay Audin, Robbie Barish, Deborah Begel, Olenka Bohachevski, Delphine Blue, Peter Bochan, Elombe Brath, Bunny Bruce, Janice K. Bryant, Doreen Canto, Pepsi Charles, Frank Coffee, Candy Cohen, Janet Coleman, Neal Conan, Pat Conte, John Corigliano, Deloris Costello, Liza Cowan, Larry Cox, Joe Cumo, Ken Davis, Barbara Day, Ife Dancy, Dick Demenus, Paul DeRienzo, Kathy Dobkin, Mike Edl, Barika Taheer Edwards, Matt Edwards, Dick Elman, Bob Fass, Mike Feder, Charlie Finch, Richard Fioravanti, Paul Fischer, John Fisk, Sara Fishko, Joe Frank, Gary Fried, Jim Freund, Paul Gorman, Joanne Grant, Jeff Greenfield, Edward Haber, Doug Henwood, Lex Hixon, Charles Hobson, Milton Hoffman, Mary Houston, Susan Howe, Jimmy Howes, Rob Hunter, [James Irsay], Heywood Jablowme, Timothy Jerome, Reggie Johnson, Larry Josephson, Sam Julty, Citizen Kafka, Dred-Scott Keyes, Glo Kirby, Robert Knight, Alen Pol Kobryn, Chris Koch, Robert Kuttner, Richard Lamparski, Andy Lanset, Julius Lester, Al Lewis, Tom Leykis, John Lithgow, Sari Locker, Leonard Lopate, The Mighty G-Man, Ann MacMillan, Marian McPartland, Samori Marksmen, Margaret Mercer, Frank Millspaugh, Dale Minor, Marcos Miranda, Rebecca Myles, Kathy O'Connell, Andrew Phillips, Betty Pilkington, Charles Pitts, Steve Post, Charles Potter, Robert Potts, David Rapkin, Chris Rhoden, Desiree K. Robinson, David Rothenberg, Jay Rothman (Zeke), Charles Ruas, Eric Salzman, Lynn Samuels, Howard Schwartz, Andrea Sears, Bill Schechner, Baird Searles, James P. Sherman, Judy Sherman, John J. Simon, Anthony J. Sloan, Miles Smith, Peter Cedric Rock Smith (aka: Rocky), Jay Smooth, Bruce Soloway, A. B. Spellman, Gordon Spencer, Dick Sudhalter, Becky Thorn, Tom Tracy, Mickey Waldman, Marjorie Waxman, Manoli Wetherell, Ira Weitzman, Chris Whent, Bernard White, Tom Whitmore, Will K. Wilkins, Ed Woodard, David Wynyard, Peter Zanger.[citation needed]

In the 1960s, Dale Minor and Chris Koch reported on the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggle.[citation needed] Former Station Manager Chris Albertson returned to the music field, spent 28 years as Contributing Editor to Stereo Review and authored a biography of Bessie Smith.[citation needed] The Apple specialist business Tekserve was originally composed of former WBAI employees David Lerner, Dick Demenus, and Mike Edl.[citation needed] Through the 1970s, David Rapkin, James Irsay and Charles Potter produced some of the finest American radio drama of the post "Golden Age", some is still found in the Pacifica Archive, notable, an adaptation of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun.[citation needed] In the 1980s, new studios at 505 Eighth Avenue were built by Miles Smith who, along with WBAI alumna Jane Pipik, is now working at WGBH in Boston.[citation needed] About the same time Dennis Coleman, Jim Freund, Sharon Griffiths, Kathy O'Connell, Sharon Mattlin, Sidney Smith, Paul Wunder, Max Schmid and Simon Loekle [16] formed EMRA, the "Early Morning Radio Alliance".[citation needed] Loekle also created the Shakespeare Liberation Front and with Stephen Erickson produced radio dramas, dramatic readings and documentaries – notably, Tale of the Monkey King and the Communist Manifesto.[citation needed] Loekle died November 28th 2015 of complications from pancreatic cancer. Freund (Hour of the Wolf), Smith, and Schmid are still at the station.[citation needed] After retiring as a NYC High School science teacher, Paul Wunder, aka "Doctor Science", became Operations Director, a position he held until his death.[citation needed] Erickson, who became program director in 1984 but was battered by charges of racism (The Village Voice, 1985) when he attempted to change the program schedule, moved to Germany where he produced radio documentaries and taught documentary production for the EBU Radio Master School until 2011.[17]


Democracy Now! is presently WBAI’s most influential offering.[citation needed] A news/talk show that mixes humor and public affairs The Julianna Forlano Show hosted by Brooklyn College Professor Julianna Forlano airs during the 6 p.m drive time hour. The station also hosts shows such as Golden Age of Radio serials, Weaponry, a show about military history and technology, Free Speech Radio News, and Wakeup Call (WBAI's morning drive time news magazine presented by several hosts including Mario Murillo and Esther Armah).[citation needed] Also included is a regular arts program, The Artsy Fartsy Show with host Barika Taheer Edwards.[citation needed] Others are the weekly science fiction program Hour of the Wolf presented by Jim Freund, As I Please, a program of literature (Joyce, Beckett, Pound and many more) presented by Simon Loekle since 1980 and Off The Hook, a program by the 2600 hacker group about the societal implications of communications & security technology and related laws, and The Personal Computer Show with Joe King and Hank Kee.[18] Music programming includes Peter Bochan's All Mixed Up, Music of the Grateful Dead and more on Morning Dew, Free-form music and arts program "In the Moment" [19] hosted by Ahmad Ali with Will Roberson and Mailon Rivera of Urban Alchemy 360º on Friday Mornings,[20] Jeannie Hopper's Liquid Sound Lounge on Saturdays, "Through The Opera Glass" and Chris Whent's "Hear of a Sunday Morning" on Sunday mornings, Chico Alvarez's New World Gallery on Sunday afternoons and David Kenney's Everything Old Is New Again, a mix of pop and jazz standards, show tunes, cabaret and interviews on Sunday evenings.[citation needed]

WBAI also offers programming and specials targeted primarily toward cultural audience segments that are typically under-served by most commercial media outlets.[citation needed] Examples include:

In 2015 WBAI moved to new studios and offices at 388 Atlantic Avenue in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.

WBAI's FM subcarrier (SCA) (at 67.65 kHz) is leased to Radio Maria New York which airs Catholic programming in both Italian and Spanish languages.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "RADIO: WBAI in the Sky". Time Magazine. January 25, 1960. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Voice of the Cabal". Newyorker.com. 2006-12-04. Retrieved 2015-05-17. 
  3. ^ Collins, Glenn (June 25, 2008). "The Station That Dared to Defend Carlin’s ‘7 Words’ Looks Back". The NYTimes. Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
  4. ^ Active Radio: Pacifica's Brash Experiment. U of Minnesota Press. 1999. p. 116. ISBN 0-8166-3157-3. Retrieved 2012-02-23. 
  5. ^ Collins, Glenn (June 25, 2008). "The Station That Dared to Defend Carlin's '7 Words' Looks Back". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-23. 
  6. ^ a b c Matthew Lasar (11 February 2013). "Volunteers needed to help WBAI in NYC move to City College station". Radio Survivor. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Matthew Lasar (11 July 2013). "CPB on WBAI: the good news is that we are talking, but . . .". Radio Survivor. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  8. ^ "Co-hosts of radio show 'The Pursuit of Happiness' committed suicide". NY Daily News. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  9. ^ CPB Holds Back Funds From Pacifica As WBAI Is Late On Payroll And Antenna Payments All Access, June 20, 2013
  10. ^ WBAI Lays Off Entire Staff Lance Venta. Radio Insight, June 20, 2013
  11. ^ End Times for WBAI in New York City? Matthew Lasar, Radio Survivor, June 21, 2013
  12. ^ Ben Sisario (August 11, 2013). ""WBAI-FM Lays Off Most of Staff"". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-17. 
  13. ^ Ben Sisario (August 20, 2013). ""Democracy May Prove the Doom of WBAI"". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-17. 
  14. ^ "WBAI To Be Evicted From Empire State Building", Lance Venta, Radio Insight, 2014 June 24
  15. ^ "WBAI Actually Being Sold?", Radio Insight Forum, 2015-05-17
  16. ^ http://www.simonloekle.com/
  17. ^ http://www3.ebu.ch/contents/trainings/2010/02/5th-ms-radio-features.html
  18. ^ "Off The Hook" (MP3). 2600.com. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  19. ^ "WBAI Radio - Programs". Wbai.org. Retrieved 2015-05-17. 
  20. ^ "Welcome to UA360º". Urbanalchemy360.com. Retrieved 2015-05-17. 
  21. ^ "WBAI Program Schedule". WBAI.org. Retrieved 2012-02-23. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°44′53″N 73°59′10″W / 40.748°N 73.986°W / 40.748; -73.986