Big real estate threatens to silence ‘people’s radio station’

By Dolores Cox
July 20, 2017

A press conference was held on the steps of New York City Hall on July 13 to bring attention to the current plight of Pacifica Radio’s New York station WBAI (99.5 FM). Among the more than 100 supporters were local and state officials calling for preservation of the free-speech radio station — and for the real estate company suing Pacifica for millions of dollars to reach a fair settlement.

WBAI-FM is a listener-sponsored, non-commercial radio station, which has broadcast for over 50 years in New York City, and is heard throughout the tri-state area. It is part of the Pacifica Foundation, a California nonprofit corporation, which has five major market radio stations in its network.

WBAI’s antenna and transmitter currently sit atop the 102 floors of the Empire State Building. After the destruction of the World Trade Twin Towers in 2001, broadcasting stations in the New York City area have had few options for antenna space rental. The Empire State Realty Trust, owner of the Empire State Building, then took advantage of its position in that market.

In 2005, the ESRT negotiated a highly questionable tower lease with Pacifica. The company has refused to release Pacifica from this contract, which is scheduled to continue until 2020.

WBAI is under threat of being silenced by ERST’s lawsuit. The corporation is demanding over $2 million for unpaid tower fees.  ESRT is “holding the network hostage” with a contract that increases tower rent annually by about 9 percent. The greedy transnational corporation held $554.4 million in cash and cash equivalents, as of last December, and owns billions of dollars worth of real estate.

WBAI is legendary in New York’s cultural and political life. The station is a strong, essential voice which advocates for economic, environmental and racial justice. It airs news, ideas, analysis and information from a progressive perspective and presents regular programming by and for diverse communities.

The station is the “Voice of the People,” unhampered by corporate or government funding. It is an important resource that keeps communities and movements connected and allows organizers and activists to spread their messages.

Of the current crisis, Pacifica’s interim Executive Director Bill Crosier asserts in a July 11 press release: “The amount being charged is over four times the market rate in New York, and threatens the future of independent radio.  Market rate for FM transmitter tower leases in New York City is now about $12,000 monthly.

“WBAI’s bill for the month of May 2017, in contrast, came to over $53,000.  We have always been willing to pay what’s fair and reasonable, but these exorbitant annual increases are killing us,” stated Crosier. “The ESRT must settle and release us from the rest of this onerous contract.”

Pacifica is calling for a fair settlement, relief from excessive annual fee increases and release from the current contract. See for updates.

Cox is a voting member of WBAI’s local station board.