blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
Reporting by Cherilyn Sprague
On July 02, 2012 the Global Youth Connect youth delegation visited WBAI in NYC, a completely listener supported radio station broadcasted from the Empire State Building that is vital to the NYC progressive community. Our guide through the radio station was Kathy Davis, who has two health related programs on WBAI. She described the radio station as “left of liberal” which our guide felt was an important side of the political debate that does not get heard on the mainstream avenues of media. As an independent radio station, they are allowed to voice (at times) unpopular political and social opinions, as well as being able to play types of music that do not get exposure on mainstream commercial radio. As a group we felt that the idea of non censorship was so important. The example given was when the Dixie Chicks spoke badly about President Bush and were banned from most radio stations in the United States. We felt it was really important for alternative voices to have a place to be heard. One interesting thing was that in Russia and Uganda they have state controlled media which does not accept dissenting opinions. This is interesting because it in the United States our public media is considered to be sometimes more politically diverse then privately owned media. In Pakistan, we found out that they focus on mainly negative aspects of politicians and current events which is not that different from the United States during the election season.
The station was started by Lou Hill who was a conscientious objector to WWII, which was a very unpopular opinion at the time. He felt their needed to be a place for people like him with different opinions from what was being heard in the mainstream. They do not accept any grants from the government, as well as no money from commercial interests, because it limits their ability to challenge. They have no censorship besides the rules that the FCC lays out in regards to what words you are allowed to say on the air, as well as not being able to endorse a candidate because of their nonprofit status. One thing the group talked about was how it was a very fine line between endorsing a candidate and bashing only one candidate, thus supporting the other indirectly. In my experience I find that community stations are more likely to criticize their own political side even harsher when they don’t align with the radio stations ideals. The hosts are not given a script to follow on their shows, and the only internal policy they have on censorship is that they are not allowed to air their “dirty laundry” on air.
One of the downsides of being community funded is that this is that it causes the radio station to struggle financially, and this is felt pretty universally among all completely listener supported radio stations. Instead of commercials, WBAI plays PSAs and a community bulletin board to let the community know about what is going in. All of the producers at this radio station are volunteers who organize shows to their own interests, often putting money and resources into their own shows. They have a few who are paid staff as well as students who intern for the summer to get their foot in the door of radio. One of the most famous alumnis of WBAI is Amy Goodman, who hosts the nationally syndicated program called Democracy Now!, which focuses on global issues often with a human rights focus. Some other shows that WBAI plays are on the topics of labor, immigration, Cuba, health, housing, and even a show on the Occupy movement. Once a year program changes are made which gives other people a chance to create proposals and sample programs for new radio shows that may make their place on WBAI. The group was very interested in how WBAI chose its shows, as Kathy told us that they were very selective and had a low turn around rate. Our group was also interested in the technical aspect of the visit after we learned that about 75 percent of the people who host shows also engineer their own show, which is dealing with the technical aspect of it. When asked why people put so much this radio station, Kathy told us that it was their opportunity to make an impact on the world.