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Iconic NY Radio Station Suddenly Shuts Down After 59-Year Run

WBAI 99.5 FM Radio is going off the air.
WBAI 99.5 FM Radio is going off the air. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An iconic New York radio station unexpectedly shuttered its doors and is off the air.

WBAI FM 99.5, which has been on the air since 1955, announced suddenly this week that due to “ongoing and continued projections of further financial losses,” according to its California-based nonprofit parent, Pacifica Foundation.

Claiming “the program change was necessitated by the serious and persistent financial losses at WBAI,” the Pacifica Foundation was forced to lay off the staff of its Brooklyn-based station.

“This is a painful moment for us, especially the WBAI staff and volunteers who have done their best to keep it going,” Pacifica Board Vice Chair Sabrina Jacobs said. “As soon as financially and logistically possible, a plan will be drawn up to address how we can rebuild our New York station into a vibrant local going operation.”

A New York State Supreme Court judge has signed a temporary restraining order blocking the shutdown of WBAI, but Pacifica has refused to comply with the injunction.

“As a network we hold each other together, we act in the spirit of solidarity and fiduciary responsibility,” a message on the station’s website read. “The WBAI staff has tried for several years to mitigate a ballooning debt and has been unable to do so. WBAI has accumulated $4 million debt to the Pacifica Central Services - a weight our stations, Archives, and National Office have had to carry. Additionally, we as a network of stations must secure $3.2 million to repay a loan that is due in full in 2021.”

The foundation said WBAI would instead carry what it calls the "Pacifica Across America Network," with best-of programming from the foundation's other four stations around the country. 

WBAI host Jeff Simmons said, “WOW. WBAI has been shut down after 60 years. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of the station. This is a big loss for NYC.

Even New York Attorney General Letitia James chimed in on Twitter, posting: “The closing of WBAI is a huge loss for New York City and local news coverage we all depend on. This is deeply disappointing and I hope this station is relaunched.” 

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