Posted by: Doug Henwood | November 1, 2010

The end of “Behind the News”

I just got a call from Tony Bates, WBAI’s interim program director, informing me that as part of changes to the schedule, my show would be moved from Thursdays at 5 PM to every other Saturday at 10 AM. This is clearly a considerable marginalization, so I’m going to quit. The rot of WBAI has been wearing on my nerves, and this change would bring the cost/benefit ratio into seriously negative territory.

It’s remarkable that an interim program director who’s just masterminded another failed fundraiser—this one’s fallen about 1/3 short of its goal, despite being extended by several days—should undertake a renovation of the schedule. He’s the guy responsible for the chemtrails and footpads and 9/11 nuttery during these failed fundraisers, too, so you can see what kind of vision he has. He’s got a good radio manner for hawking premiums, but when it comes to thinking, he comes in rather short. What a remarkable devolution from the days of the program director who gave me my show, Samori Marksman, a man with lots of brains and charisma.

I apologize to any of you who contributed to the station on the basis of my recent plea. If you’d like to file a complaint about the money or the programming shift, here are some email addresses:

Tony Bates, interim program director
Berthold Reimers, interim general manager
Pacifica national board, goes to entire board

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Responses

  1. It was great while it lasted – my favourite podcast, I think. Thanks for all your hard work.

  2. Doug,

    this is terrible news. I definitely plan to write to Tony Bates and the other individuals you have listed above, FWIW. I do think your decision to quit rather than take the alternate Sat 10am slot is entirely justified and more: correct.

    I know you already wrote that changing to podcast only format would be too much trouble, but what if the podcast were a paid subscription? Would there be enough interest? (can you extrapolate from LBO subscriptions?) Can you perhaps make a “call for interest” post?

  3. Damnit.

  4. Sorry to hear it. Thanks for the many years of fine programming.

  5. Hope you’ll find a way to continue the podcast, independently or under a friendly flag. Best wishes and thanks. –JD

  6. Thanks for all your great work, Doug! I too will sorely miss your show. It was my favorite podcast also. (And I wish I could get my donation back!)

  7. Thanks for the show, Doug. It’ll be missed.

  8. Please do ask for your donation back. Even if you can’t get it, it will annoy them. Ask Tony Bates and the Pacifica national board personally!

  9. What about WFMU? I bet they have more listeners.

  10. Doug,

    Very sad news. Behind the News was the only thing worth listening to on WBAI. I will miss you incisive comments. All the best in your future work.

  11. An outrage, Doug. An outrage. I’ve written to Tony, BTW.

    If there were a unified umbrella “network” fusing Black Agenda Report, The Real News, Big Noise Films, Michael Yates, Richard Seymour and Rick Wolff as well as ProPublica’s investigative reporters and other contributors, it would certainly demolish all other outlets. If Democracy Now! and Jeremy Scahill were also poached, we’d really be in business.

  12. This may not be a bad thing.

    It may free LBO/Behind the News (who ‘owns’ that..?) from the nutcase “leftism” that seems to bedevil us.

    These idiots are not useful.

    So-
    With the grand *new* media portals (read “Internet”) that Al Gore went to so much trouble to invent, I see no reason that, with a slight bump, LBO/BTN cannot continue in a new and improved format.

    I’m looking forward to it.

    Just tell me where to send the venure, *ahem*, capital…

  13. First Against the Grain and now Behind the News , I don’t know what to say, I’m really shocked.

  14. Hi Doug,

    I am, as you know, a 911 Truth Activist among other things, and a believer in and practitioner of alternatives to corporate (i.e., “mainstream”) health care — two areas that you often take what I consider to be “potshots” at on your show.

    I also think that your support for Matthew Lasar’s polemics is misplaced — both here at WBAI and at KPFA.

    If that were all that your show was about, the interim Program Director’s reconfiguration of the entire program grid (and not just your show) might be worth a try — SOMETHING needs to be done, obviously, about WBAI’s programming.

    However, in my view WBAI needs MORE Marxist analysis and critique, MORE and deeper coverage of the global economic and ecological crises, and those are the core of your show that need to be expanded on WBAI, not cut back.

    I understand that Tony Bates is trying to change the sound and politics on Saturdays — you are very mistaken to think that that would afford you a smaller audience. It would double or triple your audience, if your show was to be broadcast every Saturday morning.

    You err in portraying the intention behind this change as a hit against you and rational thought on WBAI. It’s an attempt to do the reverse — to give you a wider audience and bring the critical political analysis that you provide to the air on Saturday mornings. It’s just that 2x a month, instead of weekly, undermines its own objective.

    The changes are being made to the entire grid, not just your show. And they has absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 Truth, so-called conspiracy theories, or whatever.

    So please, let’s not jump to conclusions, and let’s see how we can expand the outreach of your show and the critical analysis that you provide.

    Mitchel Cohen
    Chair, WBAI Local Station Board

  15. I don’t see how Saturday morning would double or triple the audience. That’s not a time when people want to listen to public affairs shows.

    Tony is an idiot who’s presided over serial fundraising failures. I wouldn’t trust a damn thing he did.

  16. Look at the arbs. Saturday and Sunday mornings is EXACTLY the time that people who read the NY Times, for example, want sane analysis of the week’s news at a time when they can actually listen and not rush off to work. (Not that I value the Times ….)

    Doug, if your show were to be every week (instead of every other week) on Saturdays, would you still object?

    What are the arbs for your show now? What are the arbs for that timeslot on Saturdays?

    I believe this time-change (but making it every week) would greatly expand your listenership.

    Mitchel

  17. I’ve told you this before but it bears repeating; in my opinion you are a top-notch interviewer — certainly one of the best on radio today and better than many bigger names with dedicated shows (Democracy Now is a good show, but Amy Goodman is a *terrible* interviewer; and Terry Gross is just banal). I have always appreciated how you balance asking intelligent questions with allowing your interviewees to express themselves (even — or especially — when you don’t necessarily agree with what they’re saying). And you were always able to get fantastic and interesting people on the show. How many people are able (and willing) to get Tariq Ali one week, Reihan Salam one week, and local New York sex workers the next?

    Your show will be sorely missed.

  18. This stinks, really. I have loved your podcast.

  19. Sent a complaint to all 3 addresses, asking for a refund. Told them I felt abused.

    Mainly, though, I feel bummed.

  20. my letter:

    Tony,

    You suck big time for cutting back one of the best program on your station, LBO – a fixture of left economic thought. The US media void on progressive economic thinking is now even more bleak.

    There is enough in what we know without a reasonable doubt in the economic, political and social realms to justify complete outrage and progressive revolutionary change. What is your obsession with “maybe-maybe not” conspiracy theorists? Isn’t what we know for 100% sure bad enough for you?

  21. ‘What about WFMU? I bet they have more listeners.’

    Seconded! And a fine blog, too. I also suggest college radio stations with community membership/access. I’m not sure how widespread this is. I only have experience of MIT’s WMBR, which has half of its shows produced by MIT non-affiliates. Other college stations in the area seem semi-professionalised.

    If you don’t mind a lower power station (WFMU is 1.2 kW vs. WBAI’s 4.3 kW, says wikipedia), you might be able to stay on the air..

  22. Hi Doug,

    I will really miss your show, and I assume that your mind is made up. From your comments above you sound pretty miffed, and I can relate.

    Mitchel Cohen appears to be extending an olive branch. I agree with you and him that bi-weekly is the wrong direction to go, but I would like to give you two data points: I “discovered” BTN on KPFA, where it holds the Saturday 10AM slot. I think that’s a fine slot, in fact, Saturday and Sunday mornings are the only time I listen to the radio for more than 10 minutes. But, data point 2, once I started downloading your podcast (and a few others), I stopped listening to the radio entirely. I only donate so OTHER people can… and to support shows like yours.

    Be good to yourself, chill out, and please, stop burning bridges. It’s true, the idiots are running the asylum, but you’re not going to make it better by getting them mad at you!

    thanks
    tzf

  23. If there were a unified umbrella “network” fusing Black Agenda Report, The Real News, Big Noise Films, Michael Yates, Richard Seymour and Rick Wolff as well as ProPublica’s investigative reporters and other contributors, it would certainly demolish all other outlets. If Democracy Now! and Jeremy Scahill were also poached, we’d really be in business.

    I really think this should be explored. I know that Doug feels that podcasting would not give him the cachet he needs to gain entry to some establishment venues, but there really is a compelling need for an Internet-based alternative to what Pacifica once was. Remember that Pacifica was launched from what was once a new technology: FM radio. The Internet represents that promise for today, especially with the ability to include video as well as audio in real-time.

  24. Yo Doug,

    —for what it’s worth, Saturday at 10 am is a better time slot than Thursday at 5pm. (I did public Radio documentaries for about 20 years.) You are right that every other week is a fucking insult, and no doubt, meant as such. I don’t blame you for quitting, but if they offer you a show every week, professionally speaking, I would take it.
    —You’re show would/will definitely be missed.

    best,
    Larry Abrams

  25. Saturday at 10 may be a better time than Thursday at 5, but I’ve discovered that my best and most loyal audience is on the Internet, not broadcast, and I don’t want to work on Saturday mornings. My life is busy enough as it is. And every other week sucks, given that the show had been syndicated to KPFA as well as a weekly one. I’d just reached the end of my rope with this rotting institution.

  26. Thanks for BtN, it was my favourite podcast, hopefully it will return in another form,
    best wishes from germany

  27. Lou, I’m thinking very seriously about this.

  28. Very sorry to see BTN go; it was definitely my favorite bit of listening each and every week. I hope you’ll find some way to continue the show in a way that works for you. All the best, Doug

  29. What a shame…

    Anyway, I would gladly pay to subscribe to podcast.

  30. Another short note on the podcast option, one that’s sort of obvious but hasn’t been mentioned so far: it doesn’t have to week-to-week, just released consistently.

    The political economy/news update could be a weekly or bi-weekly thing, with interviews released whenever they’re ready. Also means really long-form interviews are possible.

    Forming an internet-based alternative network is an excellent goal, but isn’t necessarily the only way to go.

    This could be a good thing… at least in the long run.

  31. If you need the establishment credentials, then another possibility is to see if you could attach yourself to an organization, such as a university or a think-tank. There’s quite a few university departments that put out podcasts and there’s also “Radio Opensource” which transferred from NPR to Brown university.

    It could work out okay for both sides. They get a cheap way of publicizing/raising their profile, and you get the credentials plus expenses for phone calls, etc – possibly more. And currently you’re quite a catch.

    It would be a real shame if you were unable to continue this, as you are a superb interviewer.

    Who gets the money when WFMU is sold off?

  32. Hang in there Doug, please. Pacifica/WBAI has to make this right — no one could be so incredibly idiotic to let your show go away, no one. In the mean time, listeners really have to let Pacifica know how important this program is to all of us.

  33. I think you did the right thing by leaving the sinking ship rather than stay there, surrounded by mediocrity and embarrassing infomercials.

    Yes, Tony Bates is, indeed, an idiot and so, apparently, is the new interim GM. Mitchel Cohen? Well his posts say it all.

    As a former manager of WBAI and someone who spent several years as a broadcaster, I am not surprised to see that your decision is generating mail from disappointed listeners. That goes with the territory, but the loss the bemoan is a true one. I wonder how a daily dose of Knight’s skewed, vengeful “journalism” will sit with listeners—it should please the right-wingers.

    Finally, let me say that the less advantageous power and dial position of such stations as WNYC and WFMU ought not discourage you—prevailing civility and intelligent audiences more than make up for that.

  34. Yesterday I did (via email) let Pacifica know how much I treasure BtN and that they should not let the show come to an end.
    They replied that they are negotiating with Doug and that they had offered him to continue to run the show on a weekly basis.
    I hope this is true and will bring back BtN.

    Anyway, thanks for your great work Doug

  35. Oh heavens! No more straw man attacks on leftists or 20/20 hindsight analysis of the economy!

    You’ve had one decent accomplishment in your life and it was your book “Wall Street.” Your newsletter isn’t worth the electricity it costs to cut and paste the same points ad nauseum.

    And why the fuck did you marry someone 20 years younger and have a child at your age? Want your kid to grow up without having a malcontent, wannabe nationally syndicated columnist father to rebel against? (I give you 10 years max)

    Check out my radio show, This Is Hell! on WNUR Chicago & podcast at http://www.thisishell.com, 4 hours of uninterrupted live broadcasting every Saturday morning now for 13 years. And I’m doing this out of my own dime. I even had you on as a guest!

    Chuck Mertz

  36. Mertz, Henwood gets interviews that are as good as yours and definitely has better music, and I’m pretty sure you regularly ridicule 9/11 Truthers, complain about your station and also qualify as a malcontent.

  37. Plus, Mertz, personal attacks are the opposite of classy and make you sound like some random nutter with an axe to grind … Wait, what was that about 9/11 Truthers?

  38. Never heard of Chuck Mertz.
    My first impression is he’s a fucking asshole who has nothing to offer.
    Good job selling yourself and your show Chuck.

  39. I, too, never heard of Mr. Mertz until I saw his self-serving and rather idiotic letter. People of that ilk ought not bother you, and I am sure that he doesn’t.

  40. Mr. Metz sounds like he spent some time with Jim Jones and his pack of Kool-Aid drinkers. On the other hand, he must have one last atom of grey matter left in his head to observe that Doug’s “Wall Street” is the best critical look at modern financial theory and practice – bar none (and I teach the stuff for a living). The whole ‘BAI fiasco has been a long time coming. My guess is that even Samori Marksman would have been banished by this time. Not sure how the Arbitron ratings count “listening time,” but I do NOT “channel flip” when Doug’s show is on during my drive home. Good luck Doug, I’m sure there is another radio show in your future!

  41. I wouldn’t assume that “Chuck Mertz” is actually THE Chuck Mertz — any random jerkoff or vendetta seeker could have assumed a false ID and posted that scurrilous crap under cover of said false ID. In fact I bet Doug has a fair idea of who such a culprit just might be (and no, it’s not someone associated with WBAI, but rather an obnoxious former LBO-Talker).

  42. and no, it’s not someone associated with WBAI, but rather an obnoxious former LBO-Talker

    Oh well that narrows it down then…

    I hope that’s the case as Chuck Mertz’s show sounds quite interesting, but the above post left a very bad taste in my mouth.

  43. Hello Doug,

    I’m deeply disappointed to hear of the demise of Behind the News. You’ve done great interviews and fine commentary/analysis through the years, which I’ve found highly informative, thought-provoking and even, at times, entertaining. Not bad for a practitioner of the dismal science.

    Thank you for fighting for sanity, justice and good music!

    Best of luck in all your future endeavours, which, hopefully, will include some new incarnation of Behind the News.

    Au plaisir,

    Tony Kwan

  44. I am now stumbling across this for the very first time.

    THIS WAS NOT POSTED BY ME, CHUCK MERTZ!

    Nor would I ever post such a thing about Doug who is a fantastic guest and was an incredible host on his own show.

    HOWEVER, THIS DOES POINT TO SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT TO ME!

    For years, there have been those out there who are so angry over the content of our show that they have done whatever they can to undermine it. This includes people impersonating me at web sites. It’s usually very obvious as anyone who listens to the show can tell that I would never post such comments.

    So, please take this fraudulent post down.

    Thanks!

  45. [...] Tony Bates, who has removed or marginalized dozens of other programs, including left economist Doug Henwood‘s Behind the [...]


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