WBAI FM 99.5, a listener-supported radio station in New York City that has been on the air since 1955, abruptly announced on Monday it is shutting down.

The station’s California-based nonprofit parent, Pacifica Foundation, blamed “ongoing and continued projections of further financial losses” for the abrupt shuttering of WBAI.

“We realize this news will come as a deep and painful shock, but we can no longer jeopardize the survival of the entire network,” said Pacifica, which also owns radio stations in Berkeley, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

Recent local programming has included “Democracy Now!” with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, as well as regular broadcasts by Leonard Lopate, who got a second chance at WBAI after he was fired from WNYC over allegations of inappropriate behavior with staffers.

The news surprised public relations executive Jeff Simmons, a volunteer host of two weekly WBAI shows.

Simmons said in a phone interview that he had just listened to the 6-to-7 a.m. Monday replay of his Sunday evening program before learning that WBAI’s employees had been fired.

“The note from the general manager came in about 9:40,” Simmons said. That’s when local programming ceased, he said, and “national programming got plugged in.”

In the ’60s and ’70s, the station had been a platform for the counterculture, broadcasting everything from Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” to George Carlin’s “Filthy Words.”

More recently, it hit financial turbulence, laying off nearly two-thirds of its staff in August 2013. In November of that year, musicians including Pete Seeger staged a benefit concert for WBAI at the Cutting Room.

Pete Seeger performs at a WBAI benefit concert at The Cutting Room in New York CIty in November 2013.
Pete Seeger performs at a WBAI benefit concert in November 2013.Redferns

In March 2014, after falling $1.8 million behind on rent in the Empire State Building, the station received an emergency loan to prevent the building’s holding company from seizing its assets. It then relocated to 4 Times Square.

Pacifica said Monday it would relaunch WBAI once it’s able to create “a sustainable financial structure for the station.” Until then, it said WBAI’s signal would carry “a network source called Pacifica Across America.”

The station still had about a half-dozen core staffers along with several paid and volunteer hosts, according to Simmons.

Station manager Berthold Reimers and program director Linda Perry Barr were among WBAI staffers dismissed on Monday.



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