Public Radio Station Layoffs Encompass Sobbing Exec, Surprising Interim Hire

It’s not every day that a radio station executive cries on the air while relaying the details of a major staff shake-up. But that was indeed the case Friday afternoon at WBAI-FM in New York as Pacifica Foundation interim executive director Summer Reese confirmed a huge downsizing at the public radio station.

Although she said on the air that 75% of WBAI 99.5 FM staff was being dismissed, she later clarified in an interview with the New York Times that starting today, it is in fact 66% – or 19 of the station’s 29 employees – that are gone. columnist Matthew Lasar was struck by another aspect of the drastic WBAI cutbacks:

What I found most surprising about this impromptu [on-air] press conference was that Reese announced that she has tapped into former interim KPFA general manager Andrew Leslie Phillips as WBAI’s new interim program director. Last we checked, the Pacifica National Office had put Phillips under “paid administrative leave” at Pacifica station KPFA pending an investigation of complaints against him. According to Phillips, the probe involved charges of racism at the Berkeley signal.

Apparently all is forgiven, or at least forgotten. Reese praised Phillips as “someone who has a deep understanding of who we are politically and culturally at WBAI in particular” in the Pacifica network. Phillips was [previously] program director at WBAI for nearly four years.

Definitely a little odd for Phillips to be brought back in this fashion without any apparent Pacifica acknowledgement of the west coast issues. Lasar’s thorough recent look at the KPFA-Phillips saga generated some very interesting reader comments, including one from Phillips himself.

In addition to KPFA and WBAI, Pacifica operates radio stations in Los Angeles, Houston and Washington D.C.. By all accounts, D.C.’s WPFW 89.3 FM will be the next to experience the brunt of Pacifica’s ongoing funding difficulties.

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