Back in the 1980’s, I had seen The Last Starfighter at a movie theater. It didn’t seem too bad at the time, and the video game in the movie was pretty cool. A couple of years later, I was listening to 99.5 WBAI one Saturday morning, and they broadcast the entire audio portion of the movie, dialogue and all, unedited. No kidding! As a science fiction fan (both then and now), it was pretty darn exciting. Throughout the years, I continued to feed my sci-fi addiction, as well as my appetite for all things radio. FM 99.5 is a frequency I would return to, but not with very much frequency (if you’ll pardon the pun). In recent years, I hadn’t tuned in at all… except for this one time when I was really riveted to the real life drama of the station when the staff was locked out of the studio in December 2000. I don’t recall the specific details, just that there was a lot of heated discussion over the future of WBAI. Now it would appear that the future of WBAI might be at an end:
In a report about the financial difficulties surrounding the Pacifica Foundation and its stations, TheVillager.com states that one of the plans the board of directors repetitively floated would be to swap the Class B signal of 99.5 WBAI New York located at the top of the Empire State Building for a lesser signal and cash. Otherwise station may need to even temporarily go dark at the end of the year for the inability to pay the rent for its transmitter.
WBAI has its place in radio history. It’s the birthplace of Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! and one of the few places you can hear old time radio. It’s also the station that aired George Carlin’s filthy words routine, spawning a complaint to the FCC, resulting in a regulation that forbid these words to ever be spoken again on radio (much to the frustration of Howard Stern). Putting FM 99.5 in the hands of new owners would solve Pacifica’s financial problems. With prime real estate on the FM dial (right in the middle… although, with digital tuners, that concept might be moot) they could make a real go with a commercially appealing format. Could CBS purchase it and start simulcasting WFAN? They sure could. This is, of course, just one of many other possible scenarios.
The current infighting between Pacifica and WBAI is certainly a far cry from the station that broadcast an unedited movie soundtrack some 25 years ago. Whatever mission WBAI had all those years ago is not as relevant today. They need to either change their mission or die. Maybe they should just hang up the headphones and play a video game.