Transcript of "Let Them Talk" last Wednesday
Miss Joanie Moossy
and special guest ............LARRY BENSKY
Be sure to check Paul and Joan's excellent site
for many other items of interest at:
PAUL: Still making history at Pacifica. And this WBAI and we're going
to be making history here at WBAI and here on "Let 'em Talk" with Paul
DeRienzo and Joan Moossy, and our guest who is joining us, former
KPFA and Pacifica national producer Larry Bensky.
MR. BENSKY: Hi, Paul; hi, Joan, how are you doing?
MISS MOOSSY: Hi.
PAUL: How are you doing, Larry?
MR. BENSKY: This is the first 50th anniversary celebration because it's not
let the 15th out here in California.
MISS MOOSSY: Yeah, we're kicking it off here on the East Coast.
PAUL: This is like New Year's in the Soviet Union where they do it from the
old Soviet Union --
MR. BENSKY: Well, you know I always celebrate New Year's every year by
watching the ball fall in Times Square at nine o'clock out here, and then I
go to bed.
MISS MOOSSY: Close enough.
PAUL: So Larry, fifty years later what's happening? Is Pacifica any more
healthy or less healthy than it was when it started with Lou Hill fifty
MR. BENSKY: Well, I didn't know Lou Hill, it only seems like I've been here
PAUL: You've been here thirty years, right, that's a long time.
MR. BENSKY: Thirty. I did my first broadcast here on KPFA back in 1969 as
a volunteer. I haven't been to the organization constantly through that
time, I've had jobs in commercial radio, and was out of radio for some time.
But for the last ten or twelve years or so I've been pretty much a constant
voice as WBAI listeners know, anchoring hearings and special broadcasts.
PAUL: You're a Polk award winner, you won the prestigious -- which Amy and
the staff of Democracy Now recently won.
MR. BENSKY: Amy and Jeremy yeah, and also Juan Gonzales. But I was the
first one, I won that back in '88. I was the first alternative media
journalist ever to win one when Pacifica got it back in '88 for our Iran
Contra coverage. So I've been around KPFA and Pacifica off and on for
thirty years, mostly on. In the mid-1970's I was station manager out here
after another very contentious time when we had a dispute which took the
station off the air for a month before we were able to straighten things
And a few years after that WBAI had a period of time when WBAI was off in
the late '70's for, I can't remember if it was a month, but it was several
weeks anyway in a dispute. So yeah, we've had contentious and difficult
What's happened out here most recently is on April 1st, two weeks ago, our
station manager here at KPFA was fired, or actually had terminated, her
contract was not renewed. And she'd been here a year and a half, and had
proven very popular. The station had had difficult times a couple of years
before that. Everybody liked her; the staff liked her. Listeners loved her
because she was the first station manager in a long time to go on the air
and explain what was going on in a regular call-in show.
MISS MOOSSY: Oh, that's nice.
MR. BENSKY: Then all of a sudden she's terminated and nobody could
understand it. And the reason given was that she wasn't a good fit with the
organization. Well, speaking of fits, everybody had a fit. And the staff
unanimously -- and you know how hard it is to get a staff in a place like
this unanimous with a few hundred people; the paid staff and the unpaid
staff unanimously issued a statement condemning the termination of Nicole
Sawaya, and asking for her to be immediately rehired, and for some
mediation to begin about this organization called Pacifica; how come it
can do precipitous things like this. The woman never had a job review
that involved anybody inside the station. It was all done at some top down
And a statement was drafted by everyone including me, which people read on
the air regularly on all the shows saying we want Nicole Sawaya back and we
want this whole organization basically investigation by a mediator.
At which time our executive director Lynn Chadwick, who's been in power now
for five months, went on the air with a prerecorded statement about three
minutes long saying there has been a lot of misinformation on the air about
Nicole, and also about Larry Bensky -- I was fired, by the way, back in
December too, but rehired two weeks later after a lot of public pressure.
"There's been a lot of misinformation," Chadwick said, "and I just want to
clear the air." And then she went on to make a lot of Nixonian type
PAUL: What's a Nixonian statement?
MR. BENSKY: What's a Nixonian statement? "Let me make one thing
Perfectly clear," and then get everything muddied right after that.
Remember that Paul?
PAUL Right, I remember it all too well.
MR. BENSKY: she made two statements about me in that three-minute hrangue
which she ordered broadcast several times on KPFA, her taped statement. And
when it came time for me to do my Sunay program,
Sunday Salon, we had just started being broadcast on WBAI -- and I
want to talk about that in a minute because I want to say something
In any case, it just started being broadcast on WBAI, and in one of my first
programs I said look, I've got to respond to this statement. So I played it
on my program, and then I said that she had made two false statements
about me in there. One she said I wasn't fired; and I'll show anybody the
letter I got back in December which says, "You're hereby terminated,
goodbye." If that's not being fired I don't know what is.
The other statement she said I wasn't rehired as a result of popular
pressure, although Pacifica issued a press release saying "thanks to popular
pressure Larry Bensky's rehired." She was just all over the place on this,
and I responded to it and I read a longer staff statement.
Then I read a statement that I'd made prepared to give to the Pacifica
national board, which met out here in February, about how concerned I was
as a person who's been with the organization longer than just about anyone,
about what I saw as more top down authoritarian behavior and wasteful,
self-perpetuating bureaucracy. I read that on the air too. And a few days
later I was fired; that happened last Friday. This time fired because I
supposedly broke a gag rule about not talking about Pacifica matters on the
Now meanwhile, six other --
MR. BENSKY: The one we're currently breaking, the one that doesn't exist.
The one that isn't on paper anywhere --
PAUL: The one Samori told me didn't exist, so I'm not sure what's going on.
MR. BENSKY: It doesn't exist. It's a custom rather than a law, and it's a
custom I generally support I have to say. Because you know, we're all
opinionated people, that's why we work at Pacifica. And if we spent our
whole programs talking about nothing but Pacifica, who the hell wants to
listen to that. That's not why we're on the air. Like there's a war on,
hello. We should be talking about that. And instead, out here we're
totally tied in knots with this craziness of them firing the manager and
then firing me for protesting her firing.
At the same time I was being fired six other people on the staff received
disciplinary procedures for reading that statement; six out of probably
around thirty or forty people who have read it on the air already. Why was
I fired and everybody else just disciplined; who knows, probably just --
MISS MOOSSY: And why were those particular six people disciplined
and not everyone?
MR. BENSKY: Nobody knows, no answers. So I mean it's a very arbitrary
and tense situation out here. We've had -- we're reading a statement on the
air constantly in KPFA asking people to log onto a Web site, send us e-mail,
which is SavePacifica@HotMail.com. Anybody listening right now should
hoot an e-mail to that. And we send you back the Web site, we've got all
documents there about what's going on here.
There's been an enormous uproar. We've had almost two thousand people
log onto that site, and we've had over three thousand letters, as we can
tabulate so far, that have gone to this executive director Lynn Chadwick,
and to Mary Frances Berry, chair of the board protesting what's going on out
here. And I just got another batch, I was over at --
PAUL: Mary Frances Berry, by the way, who's also going to be investigating
police brutality in New York City next month.
MR. BENSKY: Right, she's head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, has been
for years, and she's taken on that task of investigating the Diallo tragedy
and then allied events. So she's the chair of the board of Pacifica, she
has been in it about a year and a half. And she's been getting a lot of
this protest too, as a member of the Pacifica national board.
Now this comes, as you said in opening, days before now we're in the actual
day, at least in New York, the 50th anniversary of Pacifica, which KPFA had
been planning for for over a year. And we had all kinds of events
scheduled. We had a committee, there was fund-raising going on, special
film was being made; all of that is wiped off the table. And instead, later
today in front of KPFA at noon there will be a demonstration where there
will be hundreds if not thousands of people protesting what's going on.
It's completely crazy. We've blown hundreds of thousands of dollars in
potential donations. It's a huge media story out here, it's been in every
newspaper and a lot of radio stations. And the goodwill we've sacrificed is
enormous. How we're ever going to get back I don't know. And everybody
out here is just really furious and angry and emotion.
And I have every hope that we're going to be able to turn this around, but
for the moment I'm still fired, Nicole is still fired, and the staff is
still unified and is still very angry; and so are the listeners and so is
PAUL: Well, I still -- in the ten years that I've worked and volunteered at
WBAI and followed all these things that have happened at the level of
Pacifica and all the intrigue that happens, I still haven't figured out
what's going on.
MR. BENSKY: I haven't either.
PAUL: The general belief, at the meeting the other day, is that there's a
battle between the liberals and the leftists going back to the '50's till
today, that's still playing itself out in this weird cold war throwback
called Pacifica, and that this is what's happening. It's just the
respectable NPR liberals are fighting out with the radical anarchist
MR. BENSKY: Well, I suppose it's one way you could look at it. I don't,
myself, think that that's especially what's going on here.
PAUL: I'm not even saying that's -- you know, that's sort of a conundrum
that we just use to try and figure it out.
MR. BENSKY: I don't know what's -- you know, Paul, in my years of reporting
on various sociopolitical events, when I don't understand something what I
do is I fall back on what I do understand and what I can see. And whatever
the motivation here, whether it's just stupidity, ineptitude, or there's a
conspiracy where there's a real plan, the net effect is what I look at. And
the net effect is the flagship station, the oldest community radio station
in the United States is being immeasurably weakened right now.
MISS MOOSSY: And like you said, there's a lot of really important things
going on right now.
MR. BENSKY: Well, that is the ultimate irony, of course, and that is what
really bothers me --
PAUL: We're watching a war. We have CNN right now and we're watching lips
of World War II atrocities interspersed with talking heads. And where is
Pacifica in all this?
MR. BENSKY: Nowhere, and we --
MISS MOOSSY: Should be playing a major role.
MR. BENSKY: Right. This bombing started on the 24th, our manager was
fired on the 1st. We had died then a couple of special hurling programs
out here, and boom bang, all of a sudden all we can worry about and talk
about is ourselves. We have no resources. National Pacifica is a ghost
of itself, it hasn't produced anything -- I think maybe one hour of special
programming came down about this.
And you know, this network was founded out here by people who were
pacifists, who objected to World War II. They came out of conscientious
objector camps. And I just feel the ghost of those people now saying what
on earth are you people doing, do you understand Milsovic is ethnically
cleansing Albania, Clinton is ethnically cleansing Serbia. You've got
madmen at work and tremendous destruction and suffering, and all we can
do is fight against our own organization? It's insane.
PAUL: I don't know what more I can add to that. You want to take a couple
MR. BENSKY: I'll take about nineteen calls. I mean it's -- and I cannot
tell you the nature of the support we've had over here, it's just
overwhelming. I'm one of --
PAUL: There's going to be a rally at noon, about three p.m. our time, noon
MR. BENSKY: Yeah, why don't you guys fly out. Anybody can get on a
PAUL: Tomorrow we're having a rally --
MISS MOOSSY: We're having a huge rally here tomorrow.
PAUL: There's a huge rally on the Diallo issue and on police brutality
tomorrow starting at noon here.
MISS MOOSSY: No, at three p.m. Rally for justice and reconciliation.
MR. BENSKY: City Hall?
MISS MOOSSY: No, we're meeting at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, marching cross
the Brooklyn Bridge and landing at the Federal Plaza in Manhattan.
PAUL: And it's going to be huge, the media's already got the cameras and
everything set up. They've been doing all night reports.
MISS MOOSSY: There's been TV ads for the protest against police brutality.
MR. BENSKY: Well, you know that's what Pacifica should be doing, and it's
embarrassing in a way, thinking about sitting in front of our own building
having a rally about our own organization when there's so much going on; a
war and the police brutality situation. What the hell are we doing blocking
off a street with hundreds if not thousands of people, a major roadway in
Berkeley, of a protest about our own station? It's completely crazy.
Before you take phone calls I didn't want to forget this, Paul and Joan. I
just wanted to say one thing about Samori. I worked and knew Samori I
guess for about ten years, and I was devastated when I heard the news.
And I haven't had a chance to talk to any WBAI audience about this. I
wanted to talk about it on Sunday Salon, but frankly I wasn't sure we were
on the air in New York because only the first hour was broadcast there, so
we didn't get phone calls during the second hour, and then they were going
to clear the second hour.
I had talked to Samori I can't remember how many days before he died,
within a week, because we were working on getting this on the air. He was
very supportive of this program. He always said he wanted a noon-to-two
program on Sunday. We couldn't give him one at the beginning because
we needed -- I had a daily program for a year and a half, which wasn't heard
in New York, called Living Room, which was on at three p.m. your time, it
was noon West Coast time. And you have a popular, established program there
I understood that wasn't going to be on. Samori said give us the Sunday
program twelve to two.
And he was so supportive, I cannot tell you how supportive he was. He
called me at the end of December when I got fired and then rehired, and he
said, "You know, this is great, Larry, we're finally going to have the
show," etcetera, etcetera. But that's not the only reason I was devastated
by his very premature death. This was a political animal.
You know, you talk about, Paul, liberals versus radicals or whatever in this
organization. Samori was on the radical side. Samori had a very, very deep
understanding of international politics, he was an Afro-Caribbean centrist
militant; I don't know why you would typify him socialist. He was just a
really -- and he was always very straight with me about everything. If he
could do something he'd say yes, if he couldn't he'd say no. And if it was
maybe it was maybe. I didn't get equivocation, I didn't get nonsense.
And I had a lot of respect for him as a political analyst and thinker, as a
broadcaster and as administrator and as a comrade. And I just wanted to
put that on WBAI's air because his loss -- not a lot of people out here knew
of him in California because he didn't have a national program. But I had
dealt with him, and I've just got to say it was devastating to me. And I
really appreciate all the response and love and comradeship that I know has
been expressed out there since he died.
PAUL: We had quite a turnout, over three thousand people came to the
memorial at --
MISS MOOSSY: Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
PAUL: -- the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I think we were all even
shocked, but to the extent that a relatively quiet man who worked quietly
behind the scenes in that radical sort of way of trying to pull together the
station and make it work, had really connected with New York, and we saw
that at that memorial.
MR. BENSKY: And it's a very -- I think being program director at WBAI has
got to be one of the most difficult jobs on the face of the planet.
PAUL: He handled it well. He balanced all the different political factions
well, and he delivered, he delivered multiple million dollar fund drives, an
unheard of thing. Ten years ago when I started, and it's only ten years ago
we would think of a hundred thousand dollars as a pretty good fund drive.
MR. BENSKY: And not only that, but I tell you KPFA, which always -- you
know, being established and everything out here is always the sort of cash
cow of the network. We don't raise millions, but we have always made our
fund drives and everything. And when the station gets in trouble they
always take from us.
And for years one of the complaints out here is we're supporting WBAI, why
the hell are we supporting the station. Why can't they raise their own
money. And as you said, Samori turned that around. So on a whole lot of
levels it was and is a tremendous loss.
PAUL: We're going to have to really redouble our efforts if we can, if
we're given that opportunity.
We're going to take a few calls here. 212-209-2900. Our guest is Larry
Bensky, we're discussing the 50th anniversary of Pacifica radio at a time
when war is raging yet again fifty years later. It began in the aftermath
of World War II by pacifists who fought against even that war. And now it's
fifty years later, where are we, in the Balkans. It's almost like World War
II happening all over again, only its third World War II. So 212-209-2900,
and you're on the air, go ahead.
CALLER 1: Hi. You know, I think -- this is my gut feeling, and I'm totally
uninformed and naive. I wouldn't be surprised if this was like -- what's
going on at Pacifica is a COINTELPRO type operation.
PAUL: I've heard that on the e-mail list --
CALLER 1: I really wouldn't be surprised because they're making -- if this
is true, if I heard correctly that one of the arguments why -- I don't know,
something about they can't lose their million dollar plus funding from the
federal government-chartered Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and
they're doing all this craziness because of that, it's kind of fishy. It
just doesn't sound right because they should be affluent enough to be able
to dispense with a few million dollars from the government.
MR. BENSKY: You know, I have some personal knowledge of that. Of
course you're not alone in thinking there's --
CALLER 1: I'll just get off the phone and let others call.
MISS MOOSSY: Thanks for calling.
MR. BENSKY: We see -- as you were mentioning, Paul, we see this a lot on
e-mail, people are suspicious, and rightly so. I mean there's been a whole
history in this country of destabilization of progressive organizations, and
with infiltrators, with agents provocateur, with everything you could
I'm not so sure that I believe that that's going on here; could be, who
knows. But the whole idea of taking money from the government, the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting, I have some public knowledge of that --
personal knowledge I should say, because I was station manager of KPFA
back in the mid-1970's when we first made the decision to take CPB money.
And that point the debate was -- and there was a guy in New York from the
WBAI board who was adamantly against it, and I was pretty adamantly for it.
I said look, take the money no strings attached. The minute they put
strings they buy bites of the money. And he was saying and others were
saying yeah, but you're going to get addicted to it. You take it and it's
going to be impossible to get rid of it. It's going to be a bigger and
bigger share of your budget.
Well, in fact it wasn't a bigger and bigger share. It still amounts to
what, seventeen, eighteen percent of our budget. Now that's still a million
bucks plus a year, maybe almost two million dollars a year; I'm not sure, we
never hear accurate financial figures out of Pacifica these days. It's a
lot of money. But I think if we had to give it up and we went on the air
and we said look, we don't have this money because we don't want strings for
the government, would you help us, you listeners help us, they would help
us. They'd make it up fast.
The string now that's been attached to this is -- it's complicated to
explain, and it just happened at this board meeting --
PAUL: We actually discussed this a few weeks ago with Andrew Philips, so
those listeners who listen regularly have some background. So feel free to
jump into this whole world of governance and advisories, etcetera.
MR. BENSKY: What I was going to say is the string that's attached now is
that they say that we can't have a national board of Pacifica that consists
partially of people who are elected to their local boards or come from the
local boards. The national board has to be autonomous.
Now that's a very controversial interpretation of what the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting says. The net effect is that the National Governing
Board of Pacifica becomes even less responsive to WBAI, to KPFA and to
the other stations; becomes even more self-perpetuating. So a lot of people
are against that and they say look, if we got to give up the CPB money and
have more democracy in the organization, let's give up the money. I'm not
sure yet how that falls.
PAUL: Now over time Pacifica really -- I mean the foundation, the national
governing board of Pacifica really is a more recent -- something that's come
almost -- sometimes this happens, hold on there for a second. (Pause)
You're listening to WBAI in New York, I'm Paul DeRienzo. There we go, we
MISS MOOSSY: Small technical problems on the phones.
PAUL: I'm getting good at fixing these old things. Go ahead, Larry
Bensky -- what I was saying is that the idea of the central bureaucracy
controlling or monitoring all five stations in the Pacifica network is
something that's although not new, it's only recently that they've actually
had a large enough budget to operate as the central authority.
MR. BENSKY: That's a very good point, and that's what my statement to the
national board was protesting back in February. I can't get a really
accurate financial handle on this, but I have been involved in the
organization in management as well as in broadcasting for a long time. And
as near as I can tell, something like seventeen or eighteen percent -- some
people say it's more -- of every dollar that people donate now to a Pacifica
station like WBAI, goes to the central Pacifica bureaucracy.
It used to be it was only like three, four, five percent. It rises
constantly. As recently as ten years ago we only had three and a half
employees in the Pacifica national office. Twenty years ago, twenty-two
years ago we had no central office. As you were saying, we existed for the
first twenty-eight years of our lives without an executive director, without
any of this stuff.
Then it got to the point where it was three and a half years ago
approximately. Now it's thirteen people. And thirteen people plus at least
six or seven consultants. Who are these people; how much do they get paid;
how do they decide who hires who? Big mystery in many cases. And I think
that is antithetical to the principles of this organization. It certainly
allows the kind of thing that's just happened out here with the firing of
our popular manager to take place.
And it's got to be stopped, because you guys are next. I don't know if you
guys are next, Los Angeles, someplace is next. It's got to be seen and it's
got to be stopped. And this so-called gag rule against talking about
internal matters on the air, I know about that too from my management days.
It's meant to stop programmers from talking about other programs, from
protesting this and that, saying wow, did you hear that jerk this afternoon
on WBAI; she was taking calls, and she's really off the wall, and then it
gets into a session about each other; I think that music program on Tuesday
afternoon definitely should have three hours rather than two. You get into
that kind of nonsense on the air and who needs to hear it.
Now we're talking about the structure and the survival of the organization.
We're talking about how we use the money that people give us. And that
cannot be banned from our air. Our executive director out here, Lynn
Chadwick, one of the things she says to the KPFA news department is oh,
this is not a story, it's not a news story. You people are making the news
rather than reporting it. Meanwhile every single newspaper out here is
writing stories about this --
MISS MOOSSY: They find it fascinating.
MR. BENSKY: I've had five or six calls from radio, national press is
writing about this. It's not a news story she says, all of a sudden she's a
news critic too, you know. It's crazy. And again, I don't know how many
times I can say this. It is so infuriating to me, not just to be fired and
be off the air right now, but to have the entire organization crippled at a
time it should be doing exactly what it was founded to do, which is talking
about this military action in Yugoslavia, and we can't do it.
PAUL: And we're watching it -- well, actually now we're watching baseball,
but we have CNN here, and if anything blows out while we're --
MISS MOOSSY: Sports war.
PAUL: -- anything blows up while we're watching we'll definitely report it
to you. Larry Bensky's our guest, formerly a national programmer here at
WBAI Pacifica radio throughout the country. And his recent career demise
has become quite a news story despite the fact that other people who are
part of the story seem to think this isn't news.
MISS MOOSSY: That it's not that important, yeah.
PAUL: I'm a news reporter, I'm telling you my news sense is tingling. And
you're on the radio.
CALLER 2: Just let me turn my radio down.
PAUL: You're listening to WBAI in New York.
CALLER 2: I had spoken to Cindy Smith off the air about this very question,
but with what's going on at the Pacifica Foundation, what I'm seeing is
other stations actually leaping ahead of Pacifica stations, like a music
station like FMU getting on the Internet raising a half a million dollars
like nothing, and from countries all over the world besides locally. To me
it's absurd that BAI can't just put itself entirely on the Internet 24.7,
and what is the feasibility of stations like KPFK and BAI breaking off from
Pacifica and keeping their license, and just doing their own thing?
MR. BENSKY: That's a really interesting question. Let me just talk about
the two parts. I don't know what if anything Pacifica is doing about
Internet expansion. I know that KPFA has streaming audio, you can dial up
KPFA and listen to it. I know WPFW, our Washington station, has it. I
don't believe WBAI has it.
PAUL: No, we don't. And if we do have it, it's going to be -- it's being
provided -- our entire BAI -- we have quite a sophisticated Web server
called WBAI Free, WBAIFree.org; www.WBAIFree.org, which is provided by
Dorsai, which is a progressive Internet service provider here. Escape.com.
Dave Burstein and the folks in the computer show arranged for it. It's
totally volunteer and outside of the structure, the corporate structure of
BAI and Pacifica.
MR. BENSKY: Are you saying that I can dial up on my computer WBAI and
actually listen to it?
PAUL: No, you can't listen to it, but you will be able to soon; but it's
not because of -- in other words, in a sense what I'm saying is that it's a
pretty terrible situation and sad situation that it is not being provided,
and that it has to be provided through almost like a parallel government
that's developed here that --
MR. BENSKY: It's completely crazy. What is our national bureaucracy
doing, are they getting into the cutting edge? You know, everybody in the
world is talking Web, Internet, blah, blah, blah. I work in a college here,
I teach in a college part-time. Our college station is now on the Internet.
We're getting people calling us from France and Bulgaria and all kinds of places.
At WBAI you can't even hear in the United States. It's completely crazy.
And as far as -- and it shows the ineptitude and out-of-itness of this
bureaucracy that we've grown that they're not even dealing with a question
like that as far as I know. If they're dealing with it they haven't gotten
CALLER 2: Will this parallel organization put BAI on 24.7 or just selected
PAUL: I think it's going to be on 24.7, but Dave Burstein has really been
talking about it on the computer show, and he's real excited by it. But the
problem is as much as people want to do it by strength and volunteerism,
it's never quite as effective as the institution doing it itself out of its
MR. BENSKY: We're at the point now if somebody knows how, and I
certainly don't, you get a Web page up there, it says here's our five
Pacifica stations, here's their format; click on this, they'll show you
what's on. You can listen to it. How hard is that?
PAUL: It's not hard at all, they could be doing that. It's not being done
because there's a level of computer illiteracy. I don't want to get really
too -- let's just say there's a level of computer illiteracy at the
MR. BENSKY: The caller's other point, how hard would it be to take our
licenses away from Pacifica and run our stations ourselves. It would be
very hard because you would have to do a competitive license challenge.
And the way they've deregulated the FCC, I'm not even sure how that works
anymore. But you would not be the only applicant. And the two stations,
WBAI and KPFA out here, happen to be grandfathered on the commercial and.
WBAI is not down in that ghetto between 88 and 92, where you find the rest
of the noncommercial stations, it's at 99.5. Because it's been on the air
so many years they didn't have that ghetto, so it's grandfathered in there.
That frequency alone in New York is worth probably a hundred million
PAUL: I think they've been offered even more than that already.
MR. BENSKY: And the one out here is worth, in Berkeley, which is the fifth
largest market --
PAUL: What do you think of these rumors that they might sell one of these
stations and live on the money? Some people think that's going to happen
tomorrow, others say it's unrealistic.
MR. BENSKY: I think it's unrealistic for two reasons. Number one, I think
that the outrage in the community, if you look what's happening out here for
just firing the general manager and me, and what's going on, if you ever
told me they were going to sell the station -- I mean you got an audience
with three thousand lawyers in it, and five million political activists,
they're going to sue you, they're going to have hearings, they're going to
tie you up in court for generations.
CALLER 2: Now there's two people rolling in their graves, turning in their
graves; not only Lou Hill, but now Lucille Ortel.
MR. BENSKY: That's the guy who gave the station --
CALLER 2: And his wife, yes.
PAUL: Who donated WBAI?
MR. BENSKY: WBAI was a donated frequency. A guy didn't know what to
do with it, he gave it to Pacifica. That's how it started. But out here,
our stations, I was going to say, this is the fifth largest market in San
Francisco, so this is worth forty, fifty million dollars too. So between
the two of them you're talking a hundred fifty, a hundred seventy million
dollars. Now they have always been --
PAUL: That's worth a day and a half of the war in Yugoslavia.
MR. BENSKY: But the point is we have always said way back look, we will
trade frequencies with somebody. If you can give us equal coverage from 88
to 92, we'll spend a year publicizing it, we'll say it every hour hey, we're
changing on January 1st; same program, same station, you'll just be able to
hear us, dial into 89 point whatever. If that happens, if somebody can
arrange a trade okay, we'll take the hundred and fifty million dollars and
run. But nobody's ever been able to come up with that kind of trade.
PAUL: They looked at WNYE here and there's a lot of problems with that,
including reducing yourself from a fifty thousand watt station to a fifteen
hundred watt station.
MR. BENSKY: And I don't think their transmitter's on the Empire State
PAUL: No, it's out in Brooklyn on the campus there. We would have to find
a place to move it to.
MR. BENSKY: That was the first radio station I was ever on in my life,
WNYE. I was a junior high school student in Brooklyn.
MISS MOOSSY: That's great.
MR. BENSKY: That was the first radio station my voice ever appeared.
PAUL: Figures the troublemakers all come from Brooklyn, New York.
We're going to move on, caller, thank you.
CALLER 2: Hey listen, condolences, Larry.
MR. BENSKY: Thank you, but it's not over yet.
PAUL: It ain't over till the skinny guy sings. You're on the air.
CALLER 3: Hello, this is Astro, how are you doing? You know, what you
gotta do is make sure the audience understands they got to keep the
contributions coming into WBAI-FM radio, and also your station, and also
give the Web site again. Maybe the contributions will make it possible to
hire some professional computer people who will be able to set up that
international Web site. I'm not familiar with computers, to tell you the
truth, but I took a cost-based program in Brooklyn College is about all I
But anyway, that's one of the suggestions I suggest to the public. And
also, go to companies. I understand that under the tax law that they
passed, a lot of these computer companies are getting tax write-offs for
donating equipment that isn't so current, you understand, but still useful.
Billion dollars in tax write-offs I understand. That was in the New York
Times last year or this year.
MR. BENSKY: Then it must be true.
CALLER 3: So in other words, if it cost them a hundred dollars to make the
computer and they sell it for fifteen hundred dollars, they take fifteen
hundred dollars off their taxes. So that's another thing you can do.
MR. BENSKY: But the idea of -- thank you for mentioning it. I did want to
mention again. If you're interested in what's going on out here in
Pacifica, shoot us an e-mail at SavePacifica -- one word
SavePacifica@HotMail.com, and we'll send you back the Web site --
CALLER 3: I have one other suggestion for you, Larry.
MR. BENSKY: Yes, sir.
CALLER 3: You know, New York Publicity Outlets also publishes California
Publicity Outlets, and that gives you all the media out in California; the
names of the editors, fax numbers, addresses, phone numbers, so forth.
MR. BENSKY: They all read the papers, man, if they haven't seen this yet
they're not reading every newspaper known in California.
PAUL: Thanks a lot. Welcome to WBAI, you're on the air.
CALLER 4: Good morning, Paul, Joan and Larry. I just got to say, in
regards to the Astro call just now. I take a completely opposite tack on
what needs to be done right now. And I know, I read these stories on
Counterpunch and the nation and radio for all tonight right before the show
started. And what you're doing out there in KPFA is the tack with the
general strike at the station and choking off doing any special program,
raising more funding, we got to hit it more hard.
I'd like to see a general strike go through all five of the stations, shut
down all the programming in terms of like let --
PAUL: Except "Let 'em Talk." This program we're going to keep on.
CALLER 4: I got to tell you, Paul; I got to tell you, Paul, I got a lot of
respect for you and Joanie and the guys from Orthodox radio crusade the
other night -- I hope the rest of the other liberals on the station -- the
liberals, especially the high profile democracy people, etcetera, get on
board with this and realize that this is news, that this big time -- that I
been subscribing, listening for twenty-five years. I am incensed at the
direction that the national board has gone, this whole authoritarian
structuring that's going on here.
Mary Frances Berry, as far as I'm concerned, at the national board broke
Samori's heart, I think that contributed to his death, what's going on with
Pacifica now. I want to see the whole thing shut down, I'd love to see the
whole thing shut down until the vision of Lou Hill is restored to Pacifica.
Otherwise, Larry, God bless you, Larry, for what you did putting yourself on
the line. God bless you guys for putting yourselves on the line. And I
want to see the rest of BAI's people put themselves on the line, do what
KPFA's -- the people out there are doing, and restore democracy to Pacifica.
MR. BENSKY: Well, thank you for calling. We're doing what we can by
stages. I mean to just jump out and go on strike and take the radio station
off the air or the network off the air without educating a lot of people as
to what's going on, and having unity inside, would be I think a very
adventurous tactic. It may come to that, it has come to that on a couple of
previous times. As I mentioned a while ago, our station here was off the
air the entire month of August of 1974; I remember it well, it was once
Richard Nixon resigned. There we were off the air.
CALLER 4: I went through the same thing a couple of years later, like you
were talking about, where you lost the transmitter.
MR. BENSKY: And it's terrible and we don't want to get to that stage, but
it may have to happen.
PAUL: I have the tape. You know, there's a tape of the air leading up to
the actual pulling of the plug in which Bob Fast is on the radio and up at
the station is Margo Adler, who's of course at NPR right now in New York,
and various other famous personalities.
And this tape goes on and on and on, and we actually played it a couple of
years back, I don't know if anybody remembers. But the response we got to
playing that tape was pretty amazing. And I can tell you I asked permission
to play that tape from Samori, and he said sure, go ahead and play it.
MR. BENSKY: Well, you know this again goes to the question of how is this
organization really being governed. Who has the power, how did they get
that power, and how can we take it back and make this less of a top down
more of a participatory community institution. These are difficult
questions. I don't have the answer to it.
A lot of people say oh, we've got to elect a board and this and that, I say
hey, elections are not necessarily democracy. You don't believe me, take a
little trip to Washington, D.C. and visit the House of Representatives for a
little while. Just because you call something an election doesn't mean that
democracy comes out of it.
But democracy is impossible without some sort of representivity, and
elections are something that needs to be looked at. A lot of things need to
be looked at; nothing's being looked at right now, we're slowly being
strangled and this has got to be turned around. And there's going to be so
many people out here tomorrow you're not going to be able to believe it,
because people are really upset. And this is an opportunity we have here.
You know, somebody called me today and said well, if they call you tomorrow
and say hey, kumbaya, let's join hands, you can have your job back --
CALLER 4: But the problem on that, Larry, is that --
MR. BENSKY: -- what will you do, and I said no, this is not what it's
about. It's not about me and my job.
CALLER 4: Well see, that's the problem here. I talked to Bob Fast about
this about this a couple of weeks -- he just kind of stonewalled the whole
thing. There's a lot of people that have been around Pacifica for a long
time, that are known on the airwaves, whether it's BAI or nationally, that
just fall in line. And it's like they got a careerist mentality, they're
not willing to --
PAUL: That's at any workplace though, you know, the --
CALLER 4: That's true, but let me --
MR. BENSKY: What is your name, caller, I didn't catch your name?
CALLER 4: My name is Rich.
MR. BENSKY: Rich. Listen, I got a lot of criticism over the years and I've
been reading some of the same Web sites you do attacking people.
People on the outside don't know. Just because everybody doesn't jump
up all the time and smash a window with a brick every two hours, doesn't
mean that there aren't people inside every single station who are just as
upset as you are,and who are trying to work from the inside, which I did as
long as I felt I cold. And when I couldn't anymore I went public with it,
and I got fired, oky?
It ddn't make me a creep before and it doesn't make me a hero now. I try
to tay consistent with who I am. And I did what I did because that's how I
didit, and this is how I'm doing it now. But don't assume that everybody
who works inside these stations is a careerist, is a sellout, is a
compromiser, has no guts, because that is not true. These are working class
issues. We have three different unions representing four different entities
in this organization. Communication is not easy among us, our union
contracts are all different. There's a whole bunch of stuff we have to go
through in order to have the unity we need to succeed.
But I really get impatient with people who assume that everybody who works
at WBAI, who isn't on the air haranguing all the time about whatever, or at
KPFA or wherever, is necessarily the enemy.
CALLER 4: But nobody has said nothing. Some of the more high profile
people on BAI have not made any public comment --
MR. BENSKY: But you don't know what they're doing inside and it could be
more valuable for them not to make public comments at this point. That's
what I'm saying.
CALLER 4: I hope so.
MR. BENSKY: That's what I'm saying.
CALLER 4: All right, thanks a lot, keep up the good work.
MISS MOOSSY: Thanks for calling.
PAUL: Welcome to "Let 'em Talk" with Larry Bensky, our guest, I'm Paul
DeRienzo with Joan Marie Moossy, and you're on the air.
CALLER 5: Good evening everyone. I would say that the money that the
stations raise shouldn't go to a board that's misusing the money. It's
almost like tax dollars being spent, and the tax dollars that people are
paying out of their hard-earned money being turned around and used against
them in a lot of cases.
For example, the courts tied up the movement in the '70's and late '60's,
these were tax dollars of the very people that were in the movement being
used against them. So I would say the money that's raised at places like
BAI, KPFA, KPFK, etcetera, shouldn't go through the central ruling body. It
should just remain in the hands of the people that are working hard to raise
it, being implemented to upgrade the stations, to put the stations on the
Internet and everything else that has to be done.
PAUL: Well, that raises the question I think you were mentioning earlier,
Larry. You said that we really haven't gotten an accounting of what happens
to the money that goes into that lockbox and then is used by the bureaucracy
in Berkeley to run the Pacifica network. What do they do with this money?
I mean thirteen people get paid, what -- twenty people --
MR. BENSKY: I wish I knew. It's not that we don't get any accounting, we
get accounting. Of course we see some figures if we want to, or if you
really beg for them you can get them. Some of them are on the Web now
because a lot of people agitated for it.
But there's a difference between showing you a global figure like for a
department, and there's a difference between breaking this down and seeing
what it actually buys. I believe, and it was my practice when I was KPFA
manager back in the '70's, I used to have finance committee meetings that
were open to anyone in the entire community, they could come to the
meetings. In practice only a handful of people would come. And there they
could question every -- look at every single expenditure.
Every check we had written, and every donation we got -- we wouldn't put the
names on them of course, because some people don't want to know, but we'd
tell them where the money came from and where it was being sent. Total
transparency. I believe that is absolutely necessary and honest in any
organization like this.
We are the furthest thing from it now. We don't know who's paying who what
money in this administrative level. Which consultants are getting hired for
how much money and why. What the expenditures are for, you know, planes
and trains and hotels and ...........
..............To be continued
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