Tuesday, December 18, 2007

BYE BYE WBAI 99.5FM


PACIFICA RADIO CEO RESIGNS By The Radio Phantom


The resignation last week of Nicole Sawaya, Pacifica Radio's Executive Director, the network's de facto CEO, could very well mean the non-commercial network is in an all out free fall. The resignation could not have come at a worst time, say network insiders, who point to mounting debt, a demoralized workforce, a civil case in one state and others threatened in another, that surround a disputed system-wide election last November.

Sawaya stepping down caught many reformers and others inside the troubled radio network flatfooted and, in a state of shock.

As the network is mired in debt, civil suits in New York and, an aging and declining audience, those calling for reform and long overdue change, viewed Sawaya as a kind of sheriff riding into town and, knight in shining armor.

Nicole Sawaya had been approved for the Executive Director post by a unanimous vote from the Pacifica National Board in October and, had formally assumed the job that began for her on November 15th. Much to the shock of Pacifica insiders coast-to-coast, Sawaya resigned on December 13th, with less than a month spent on the job.

Long time observers of the network say there are several reasons for Sawaya's surprise move.

The Pacifica Radio Network structure is one that functions in a manner that differs radically from commercial outlets and even non-commercial radio networks like, National Public Radio. Sawaya, a former General Manager at Pacifica's KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, reportedly wanted to focus on radio and to be given a free hand in making system-wide decisions in much the same way CEOs at other radio outlets carry out their duties.

She soon found out, insiders tell us, that plans for a shake up at the troubled network would be blocked by members of the Pacifica National Board, the very body that weeks before had approved her for the job.

Those decisions and changes Sawaya had mulled over would have meant reform at 3 network owned stations in the biggest U.S. markets, that would have included WBAI-FM in New York. Sawaya was scheduled to visit New York and WBAI-FM during the week of December 10th. Sawaya had a last minute change in plans as she had canceled her visit earlier in the week and had resigned by the end of it. Is this a coincidence, staffers at the New York station are asking themselves this week as the dust settles. Such was the buzz this past Monday Morning.

Part of the structure Sawaya was up against includes a confusing array of national and local station boards that each have a hand in the way a local station will go about its funding and programming. Sawaya was looking at the current controversy and lawsuit at Pacifica's New York outlet over a recent local station board election that is now in Manhattan Civil Court.

Her resignation means there is no direction, network or otherwise, for Dan Silverman, WBAI's attorney in the civil case, that is set to go before State Supreme Court Justice Richard P. Braun, on January 21st.

Further clouding the picture said one plaintiff in the civil suit is that with Sawaya stepping down, counter arguments by the network in the civil suit becomes greatly muddied. It also means "there is no one to tell the network lawyer that Casey Peters, the Elections Supervisor, is nothing more than an independent contractor in the disputed November tally," said Mitchel Cohen, lead plaintiff in the case.

This is important as other plaintiffs in the civil case agree with Cohen, and say that Peters, under the current legal set-up may be able to execute non-electoral decisions for WBAI and, the entire network, now that there is no one in the top executive post leading policy.

One example of this is that the current position of General Manager at WBAI-FM is now open, as the Interim G.M., Robert Scott Adams, is set to set down from his job by the end of February 2008.
Staff members at the Pacifica Stations KPFK, KPFA and WBAI have told TV SPY they are watching developments closely in what is a fluid situation on both coasts
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