Monday, April 1, 2024

Good News For NYC’s WBAI 99.5 fm? Possible Financial Rescue As Pacifica Foundation, Which Runs Parent Pacifica Network, Will Get Infusion of Cash By Corporately Monetizing Historic Archives

Malcolm is super, Mr. Dylan is super, and we've always known that radio is super, and that's not just a fantasy!

Great news coming up in a minute. .  Stay “tuned” as they say in radio!

WBAI Radio, 99.5 fm is New York City’s only truly listener supported radio station.  (WNYC when its financial statements were last checked is 70% corporate capture.)

WBAI and the entire Pacifica network, of which it is a part, have been on the financial ropes for a while now.  That is partly due to an overall decline in radio listening.  Not surprisingly, that flows partly out of the “creative destruction” of the internet; the internet, which is seemingly free to its users, as it data-scrapes everyone and steers you with algorithms is insanely easy to access.  In many ways it is much easier to access now than terrestrial radio.  Of course, here at Noticing New York and National Notice, we’ve admonished that “The internet giveth and that the internet taketh away.”  Things on the internet can change in an instant and anything there can be snuffed out in an instant, as easily as blowing out a candle.

So the internet may draw you in, but then leave you high and dry.  For instance, the new TikTok legislation isn’t what many people think.  Many people think it’s about one more Big Tech company data scraping, but this time objectionable because of having ties with China.  And that’s why the legislation is rearing its head?  Some say!  Or is it because “Free Palestine” is one of the highest trends on TikTok and the head of the Anti-Defamation League (in a leaked audio) is saying that they have a “TikTok problem” with Gen Z?  Actually, let’s just get real, it’s probably the bigger picture long range plan . . . . the so-called (misnamed) “TikTok bill” allows the government, the executive branch to exercise its `discretion’ to eliminate any website or even internet hosting service.

WE REPEAT: “The internet taketh away”!

That’s why terrestrial radio stations like WBAI and the other four stations with terrestrial signals that the Pacifica network owns are an important back stop or insurance policy against greater internet censorship and manipulation.  Terrestrial radio cannot be shut down and censored in the same way as the internet or as easily.  

That’s why there is great news about how WBAI and Pacifica will likely now be saved by an infusion of cash by monetizing the Pacifica historic archives.  It will give WBAI and Pacifica another go at being the happening place for important alternative narratives.  Legacy media, the corporate, commercial media is hemorrhaging audience, driving away especially the younger audiences as they earn everyone’s distrust and as they bore everyone with establishment narratives that seem increasingly far fetched and removed from reality.

Unfortunately, Pacifica and its stations haven’t been the obvious beneficiaries of the audience shift to alternative media sources (found taking place almost exclusively on the internet).  One reason may be that Pacifica has been too stuck in the past, too tied to its heritages; it hasn’t moved fast enough to keep pace with and help make sense of the rapidly changing world.  

But now that PAST with all its troublesome ties may be what saves Pacifica.  And the answer seems to come from untying those ties. . .

Pacifica’s past and with it, WBAI’s past going back to 1960 when the station became a part of the Pacifica Network and even years back in the 50's before activist philanthropist Louis Schweitzer entrusted the station to the Pacifica network, involves a huge amount of significant activist, political, alternative media narrative, and antiwar history.  It incorporates and has embedded in it the icons of the movements that, over those years, challenged the establishment and ripped away at the propaganda that was being used to perpetrate wars and perpetuate the military establishment and the control of this country by elites dedicated to class division.

And this rich history is preserved to be delved into in the Pacifica Archives, essentially the library of the network’s preserved history, replete with performances and recorded events that can be revisited, as if by time travel.

Since New York City, WBAI’s home, was so central to the nation as a cultural, news, financial, and political capital and hub, much of the most important material in the Pacifica archive, perhaps the greatest preponderance, things like visits by Bob Dylan or coverage of Malcolm X, come from and are WBAI’s history.      

The informative history in the archives is valuable in so many ways.  It can also be monetized to infuse Pacifica with needed cash, and that is the plan.

That is the plan.

Disney has put what is understood to be a very significant sum on the table to acquire from Pacifica the rights to be able to add that history and those events so as to have them join in the collection family of Disney franchises and properties.

Pacifica has been exploring ways to infuse much needed cash.  That has involved considerations of how to capitalize on its assets in various ways.  Nevertheless, insiders familiar with the talks that brought the deal about said that it was actually Disney corporation executives who first conceptualized what was possible.  Reportedly, it came after Disney’s terrific success with the first “Black Panther” 2018 film coming of Disney’s ownership of the Marvel comic book franchise.

When the film succeeded beyond expectations, Disney execs had apparently already been grappling with the question of how to recognize, incorporate and monetize identity politics in the Disney universe, which may have been part of what put them on the path to thinking about Pacifica and its archives, as that kind of politics is something that has come up as affecting Pacifica, a concern dealt within its environment.  But the clincher was that it’s hard to think about a “Black Panther” without thinking of the Black Panther Party, coverage of which definitely has been a part of the Pacifica history.        

The archives will be added the long list of what Disney owns and controls, giving it enormous cultural reach: The original well-known Disney characters and resorts by reason of which its often referred to as the “house of mouse,” Marvel Entertainment and all its characters, Lucasfilm which is the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, The Muppets, Pixar, which is the Toy Story franchise and more, the Winnie the Pooh Franchise, the Chronicles of Narnia Franchise, National Geographic and its history, ABC Entertainment (include news), ESPN, 21st Century Fox, and more recently the rights to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.”
That’s only a partial list.  Unfortunately, providing an exhaustive list would be exhausting and hardly possible.

Disney has indicated it wants to get more involved in presenting more historical, less fantastical stories.  Disney has always presented a vision of America’s past, say with its theme park’s “Main Street America,” or “Tom Sawyer’s Island,” but the idea is to be more involved in the actual tales that are to be told about America or the world, something it did with its 1995 Pocahontas film.  “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” (1996) presented a version of France’s past and politics, but was much too complicated to tell a good historical tale. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ethically appealing “Hamilton” (on Disney 2020) is a better example of where the company wants to head.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” affords the possibility of an expanded franchise, since the United States has many founding fathers or seminal icons of equal stature, “George Washington,” “Benjamin Franklin,” “Teddy Roosevelt,” etc.  Lin-Manuel Miranda who comes from a politically involved, local newspaper owning family in NYC’s Washington Heights is likely melodically on board for future installments.

Lin-Manuel Miranda provided the songs that musicalized Disney’s animated “Moana” film
(2016- more in the franchise coming, both animated and a conversion to live action) structured around Polynesian-styled characters involved in a Disney version of Polynesian history.

Disney executives have let it be known that owning Pacifica’s archives will help it contextualize histories more easily, for instance, about certain founding fathers where there have been past Pacifica programs about native first American history critical of such figures as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Disney says it knows where to go to partner for strengthened narratives about the United States when it works on productions that it hopes will be the fruit of the Pacifica archive.  One example is where the Pentagon helped with myriad script revisions of the 2008 Iron Man film (part of the Marvel franchise) to make it friendly to, and United Stated military supporting, rather than critical of the war industrial complex as was the basis of the original script.

The Mattel toy company is waiting to fashion its Barbie bodies into whomever will be the next Disney princesses. Maybe a young Mrs. Malcolm X?

The archive acquisition is being announced as taking effect, lock stock and barrel, today, April 1st.