WBAI Facing Eviction from Transmitter Facilities

The sordid situation of Pacifica Radio took another turn last week, when the owners of the Empire State Building—where WBAI’s transmitter and antenna are located—threatened to pull the plug on the station. According to a report dated June 19th by Pacifica Foundation Interim Executive Director Bernard Duncan, rent payments from WBAI to the ESB for May and June were "returned indicating an imminent eviction."
WBAI has fallen several months behind on the rent for its transmission facilities. The curious language of Duncan’s report suggests that perhaps Pacifica’s checks to ESB may have bounced. It would not be the first time: just a year ago the station suffered a series of blows when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting suspended payments to Pacifica for "errors and shortcomings in its accounting and operations," leading WBAI to lay off most of its staff after failing to make payroll. It also ditched its pricey Wall Street digs after falling behind on rent there.
WBAI operations are now scattered throughout the city, with production facilities on two CUNY campuses and a business office in a shared space in Brooklyn. The station’s also been trying to rent itself out, so far unsuccessfully.
The plan is to move WBAI’s transmission facilities to 4 Times Square. While the cost to rent space there is dramatically lower than the Empire State Building (and should not result in any significant degradation of WBAI’s coverage area), it’s not clear just how Pacifica plans to cover those expenses. If the ESB landlords press the issue, Pacifica will need to pursue some sort of court action to prevent a switch-off. WBAI will also need to file for Special Temporary Authority with the FCC when it moves skyscrapers and/or goes silent.
WBAI is not the only Pacifica station with big problems: WPFW in Washington, D.C. is also seeking a new home, in hopes of lightening its own fiscal burdens, while KPFT in Houston is still operating at reduced power after a lightning strike damaged its transmitter in 2012 and has not been able to raise the money to buy a new one.
Less than three months into the job (which began with his predecessor occupying the offices in protest), Bernard Duncan announced he’ll be stepping down from Pacifica’s ED position on July 5th to move back to New Zealand. With no replacement on the horizon, nobody seems to know just how Pacifica will cope with its crises.