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Posted by: Doug Henwood | March 7, 2011

WBAI fundraiser: snake oil sells

WBAI—where I used to do my radio show until program director Tony Bates got other ideas—just finished a fundraiser. Management—meaning Bates, station manager Berthold Reimers, and local board chair Mitch Cohen—have been bragging about its success, and the station’s return to financial health. Close examination of the results make you doubt this analysis.

Management has circulated a spreadsheet showing the fundraising results by show. Here it is, for those wanting to score at home (and those are my calculations of the Null vs. ex-Null performance at the bottom of the sheet called “Details2”—the rest is the original doc):

WBAI fundraiser

Yes, the station surpassed its $800,000 goal, by almost $30,000. But the entire reason they did was the return of health pundit (and AIDS denialist) Gary Null. Null brought in over $300,000, or 37% of the total. They ran his show, live and reruns, for 99 hours—four full days out of twenty-two. If you turned on WBAI at any time during the marathon, you had a 1-in-6 chance of hearing the voice of this snake oil salesman, a man who was nearly killed by consuming one of his poorly manufactured supplements.

Had the time occupied by Null pulled in pledges at the average for the non-Null segments, the fundraiser would have fallen $150,000 short of its goal. And some of those non-Null segments did very poorly. The morning drive-time show, which should really pull it in because that’s when radio audiences are typically their largest, raised just $1,218 an hour, 60% less than Null and 8% below the marathon’s average. My replacement, Robert Knight, who was given four days a week between 5 and 6 PM, raised $1,434 an hour, which is what I used to raise on a bad day, and about half what I averaged. Bates had said that he wanted star power in that time slot, and it looks like he’s gotten anything but. And Bates’s own special, which was no doubt very special, raised a middling $1,575 an hour.

So while Null’s return looks to have saved WBAI’s financial ass, it’s not a sign of a healthy station that over a third of its income now comes from the frequently repeated exhortations of a man who believes that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for staying on this important story, Doug. I’m a longtime internet listener and I know it matters.

  2. Thank you, Doug Henwood, for taking up the reigns on this one. I knew I could not be the only person who felt that Mr. Null is a farce, a fraud, and a complete assclown. I recently did some casual research on Gary and saw some references to the faulty product and the illness it caused him. I also found that his education credentials are dubious. You can look into this for yourself, but except for a couple of semesters at a community school, he has never set foot in a college classroom. All of his higher degrees were issued by non-traditional schools that comprise of little more than some administrative offices that hand out diplomas. I miss your show, which is in a completely different league from that of Mr. Knight.

  3. Well, Null Inc. proves that stupid and evil sell – especially if they’re fueled by fear. Glenn Beck’s a bestseller. Null’s a multimillionaire who plays to the anxiety-over-illness-and-death center in the brain. It works for to make $$$. But it doesn’t work as well for organizing, for creating an enduring community of resistance and – dare I suggest – revolution. I think it’s something to ponder in relation to your recent show with Jodi Dean and the internet. I was involved at WBAI for a short time, and I’d always preface my remarks with “Well, remember: it’s only a radio station.” The factionoids’ jaws would drop, as if I had said, “Don’t worry, it’s just my mother.” WBAI is not a movement, it’s not a community, and it’s not a cause. It’s a media platform. A group of incompetants nearly killed it, and the revenge of the marketeers promises to render the station irrelevant. So, it’s time to move on to another media platform. Keep our eyes on the prize… WBAI is not the prize.

    -=-=-

    Back to Wisconsin: US Sec of Ed Arne Duncan says that some reduction in collective bargaining rights is OK… along with merit pay, increased class sizes…

    http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/state_edwatch/2011/03/duncan_talks_scott_walker_collective_bargaining.html

    All while Obama is celebrating educational achievement with Jeb Bush. I hope Joel Rogers, The Nation, and everyone else who jabbers on about “GOP this, and Tea Party that” remembers what side the national Democratic Party leadership is actually on.

  4. Doug wrote:
    “WBAI—where I used to do my radio show until program director Tony Bates got other ideas … ”

    Those “other ideas” being to move your show to a time when there would actually be people listening, as opposed to the extremely few members of the audience listening live at your old time.

    Doug wrote:
    “[During the fund drive] you had a 1-in-6 chance of hearing the voice of this snake oil salesman, a man who was nearly killed by consuming one of his poorly manufactured supplements.”

    Did you bother to listen, Doug? A number of Null’s shows dealt with support for the workers in Wisconsin, the need for free universal health care, and other such progressive topics. I know that you, too, support the workers in Wisconsin, so if you’re gonna say he was selling “snake oil” during this fund drive, then be specific, cite the items he promoted during the drive that you consider to be “snake oil”.

    Doug wrote:
    “Had the time occupied by Null pulled in pledges at the average for the non-Null segments, the fundraiser would have fallen $150,000 short of its goal.”

    This is true. In fact, I’m the one who wrote up that analysis which I sent to you and others. (A little credit where credit is due, at least!)

    My report goes on to say:

    Gary Null and his premiums brought in around $170,000 more than the average for
    the same amount of air time (around 16 percent of the total fund drive air
    time).

    He brought in approximately $306,000 to WBAI, or 37 percent of the total pledged
    of $829,475.

    There were others who performed very well too, although not quite at Gary Null’s
    rate of $3,100/ hr.

    It’s hard to ascertain whether Law & Disorder, say, could sustain its amazing
    hourly rate of $2,800 if given a larger bloc of time. I think they’re going to try it during the next fund drive.

    We do know that Dr. Gwen Scott and Nathalie continue to pull in a lot of money at a sustained hourly rate, and that Democracy Now, while still significant in terms of fundraising for the station, is not pulling in the same large amount of funds or number of pledges as it used to (around 1/2 as much per hour, over many hours, as that generated by Gary Null).

    Dr. Magid Ali brought in $17,110 in pledges over 9 hours (74 pledges), for an average of $1,901 per hour — VERY good. It is a mistake, in my opinion, to broadcast him at 11:30 at night 2x/week, and hopefully that too will change.

    Meanwhile, I am pleased to announce that WBAI will be broadcasting live from the Left Forum on Saturday, March 19th.

    Mitchel Cohen
    Chair, WBAI Local Station Board*

    *for ID purposes only.

  5. Why bother to point out the obvious when a delusionist like Mitchel Cohen to chime in with some denialist nonsense?
    One time I tried to download the one remaining WBAI show I have some residual fondness for, “Law and Disorder,” and I got instead 30 minutes of this well-named “assclown” Null. I listened a bit, horrified, to some stoopid veneration of “water” and the fully, I mean completely, discredited snake oil of “homeopathy.”
    When what remains of the left is so beholden to these anti-rationalists, there is nothing but complete boredom.

  6. “Delusionist”? Moi?

    The need to caricature and attempt to mock those you disagree with on a couple of issues is pathological.

    Oh, I get it, you’ve got it so together that everyone has to not only agree with you on all accounts but bow to the same false idols.

    Shame on you, Martin — whoever you are!

    Mitchel

  7. Mitchel,

    “False idols”? Where, in anything I said about the crackpot snake oil WBAI is now peddling, did I mention any being or cause I might bow to?
    The feigned indignation is a tiresome act. You know full well that many people aren’t buying homeopathy, or “natural” remedies that continue to stock billion-dollar GNC and lard the pantries of USA suckers. If being called out on that offends you, why pretend to “listen” to others?
    “Shame” – so that’s what you think people who aspire to learn the truth about nonsense deserve? “Shame” for the skeptics who have learned to read? “Shame” for Simon Singh, “shame” for those trying to think?

  8. I think Martin hits the nail on the head. Null is indefensible: he’s a mass-murdering marketer. Period. So Null’s partisans have to go on the attack, they have to assume that Martin and others support big pharmaceutical companies or the previous (and not all that different, just less affluent) regime of hacks at WBAI-Pacifica.

    WBAI-Pacifica is currently on a fishing expedition: it is searching for a gullible, arrogant, and well-off audience. Lifestyle “anarchists” and libertarian hipsters are wonderful covers for the real agenda of megalomania and profiteering. Current political economic circumstances are partly driving this: disparities of wealth are growing and a nice large middling donor pool of reasonable people is increasingly unavailable. It’s now desperate souls and wealthy opportunists. It’s what I observed in my last days answering pledge calls at the station during a morning Bates re-run. The people on the phone were utterly demented and begging for cures, begging for help, begging for attention. They wanted the so-called “premiums” before they could finish paying on installment. One suggested that she would die if we didn’t rush the stuff to her ASAP. Tragic. Thank goodness I had some experience as a phone counselor. I am absolutely NOT suggesting that I’m superior to these callers – I’ve been in a terrible place or two in my life. I’m just so happy that Null and Bates weren’t around to fleece and kill me. Anyway… Of course, the fulfillment rate from that fund drive was low… but the morality of management scum was even lower. I’m sure as they continue to maneuver to capture that lucrative audience, the fulfillment rate will improve – as more affluent suckers will be listening in. But after my last fund drive, I left saying to myself: I will never, ever forgive WBAI-Pacifica’s management.

  9. Stephen,

    The MEMSYS resports (database statistics on the fund drive) do not back up your conclusions.

    There are generally between 6,500 and 7,000 listeners who pledge every drive. Currently, there are around 7,700 pledging (I haven’t seen the updated final report, yet, from this just-concluded drive). The average pledge has also increased slightly.

    Yes, of course there are desperate souls out there who want Dr. Gwen Scott’s excellent compilation of herbal treatments for maintaining health, for example. (Dr. Scott, who continues to provide her services in the poorest communities, provides premiums that are a huge draw.) Her advice is very good, in my opinion. And so, for that matter, is Gary Null’s. (Tell me what is not scientifically valid in the health-related premiums he’s offering.)

    Times are very rough for many people, and the WBAI audience knows that environmental pollution, pesticides, foods containing genetically engineered material and the like cause illness.

    The entire Board, regardless of faction, wants to avoid the Madison Avenue immorality that exploits people’s desperation to make a buck. To that end, we’ve gotten the Program Director to agree to remove certain premiums — you won’t hear Kevin Trudeau, for instance, on WBAI any longer, or Cass Ingram. Both raised a large amount of money for the station (and for themselves), but the Board unanimously (and that’s hard to do!) stopped those premiums from being offered. (Those might have been offered in the fund drive you’re alluding to. If so, I share your revulsion.) Currently, we’ve been arguing over the offering of the film “Zeitgeist”, and are proposing a mechanism for reviewing premiums before they are aired.

    Once again, if you think some premium should not be offered, please be very specific. Thus far, writers here fill the space with generalities, without actually listening to the premiums being offered and providing cogent complaints.

    Mitchel Cohen

  10. I’d like to see everyone coming up with better ideas for WBAI, its outreach and continued growth, rather than simply complaining. If you’re so smart, Doug, why aren’t you raising more money for your show or offering ANY better ideas for better fundraising? What did your show do at KPFA? And for the record, I like Doug’s show and wish it was on all the stations.

  11. To offer a post-script to this snake oil madness, this is not a trivial matter. People’s health is an extremely debilitating when it is failing, catching vulnerable people at their weakest moments. So for the flim-flammers of homeopathy and the ersatz herbalist “doctors” to interpose themselves and their specious products into the lives of these sad and suffering people, as Stephen attested to, is no mere problem, but an unconscionable crime.
    History is never kind to the historical buncomb artists, those who prey upon the lives and wallets of poor people who are not given the kinds of insights into deceit and fraud that readers of worthy skeptics like Edvard Ernst and Simon Singh can receive. The public airwaves should not be taken over for the promulgation of completely unsupportable anti-medical profit. Revoke WBAI’s charter, and hold a wake for the progressive vision of Lew Hill and the Pacifica mission.

  12. Yikes, you guys had Kevin Trudeau on?

    I’m a San Franciscan so all this WBAI stuff is lost on me (but fascinating). Null was on our local PBS station a few years ago. As I recall, his special featured him creepily addressing the camera in extreme close up, a la Dr. Gene Scott (anyone remember?).

    Anyhow KQED seems to do a lot of this kind of thing — airing long-winded “self-help” infomercials of varying dubiousness. Much of this is health or finance related, with some travel stuff (nothing against Rick Steves, btw).

    The tail wagging the program director’s dog here is the demographic of elderly lefty types who Marched on Washington back in the day but now mostly wants to drop 30 lbs and get it up by drinking beet juice.

    Probably the same thing’s happening with WBAI. Not to excuse the management here or any of the execorable truther/peak-oil/Alex Jones crowd that pollute the “left”, but some of this is a manifestation of the failure to attract young people. It’s a failure to move culture.

  13. excellent analysis!

    i would also add that WBAI–like the fake-Left in general–is also awash in conspiradroid moonbattery with shows like, In Other News, which promulgates easily debunked, childish, pseudoscientific bullshit like, nine-eleven-was-an-inside-job, chem trails, HAARP weather control, New-World-Order Zionist-Occupied-Government world domination, energy vampires, secret societies, illegal fluoridated water, free energy technology, vaccines are pure evil, and a host of other crap and nonsense.

    Amy Goodman is not free of blame in such regards, as she stooped to ever-new-lows with the Loose Change “debate”.

    the cold, harsh, indifferent truth is that the fake-Left is as batshit crazy as the real-Right and nonexistent-Middle.

    conspiradroid moonbattery is an equal opportunity mind virus with no cure in sight.

    and WBAI is, i feel, a lost cause desperate to make money more than quality, scientific, reality-based programming.

    the irony is, WBAI loves to claim independence and freedom from corporate control at the same time it’s held hostage by Null, In Other News, and their odious ilk.

    we are not going to grow, consume, indebt and complicate our way out of the problems of growth, consumption, debt and complexity.

  14. I always love condemnations from anonymous writers.

    >i would also add that WBAI–like the fake-Left in general–is also awash in conspiradroid moonbattery with shows like, In Other News, which promulgates easily debunked, childish, pseudoscientific bullshit like, nine-eleven-was-an-inside-job, chem trails, HAARP weather control, New-World-Order Zionist-Occupied-Government world domination, energy vampires, secret societies, illegal fluoridated water, free energy technology, vaccines are pure evil, and a host of other crap and nonsense.<

    Got to separate the real events from the fictitious ones, like the Nazi ZOG garbage from "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" which WBAI is most certainly NOT promoting on its airwaves.

    On the other hand, some projects (labeled as conspiracies) are very real: HAARP, for example, certainly exists, and few know about it. Constructed in 1993 in Alaska, the High frequency Active Auroral Research Program has been portrayed as a research project to investigate the aurora borealis; but it's really a vestige of Reagan's Star Wars programs. It beams high frequency pulses into the upper atmosphere with the stated purpose of affecting global climate. Will it also disrupt the earth’s magnetic belts? Will it have all sorts of literally world-shaking and perhaps unintended consequences? Surely it’s all worth looking at. Yet a few arrogant know-it-alls here dismiss such discussion and other technological insanities with a contemptuous glare and wave of the hand.

    From the Bay of Pigs and the Gulf of Tonkin, to the phony incubator stories and claims of Iraq’s “mobile bacterial warfare labs” (remember Colin Powell’s speech to the UN?), to Madison Avenue’s advertising campaigns to sell us products we don’t need to fill the alienation of everyday life under capitalism, there’s no question that conspiracies — call them “planning sessions” — exist. So the question should be, What is their significance (if any) in understanding how the system works, and in fighting against it?

    But we can’t get to that with the individuals here who refuse to allow that their government would be involved in such things. Thankfully, we have WBAI to bypass such censors.

    Doug Henwood wrote to start off this thread: “Management [at WBAI]—meaning Bates, station manager Berthold Reimers, and local board chair Mitch Cohen—have been bragging about its [the fundraiser’s] success, and the station’s return to financial health. Close examination of the results make you doubt this analysis.”

    While I would not use the word “bragging” to describe my feelings on having now successfully achieved two fundraisers in a row for the first time in 7 years — I think of it more as temporary relief, as a bandage on a deep wound — I am grateful that WBAI will be able to stick around to educate all of us another few years at least, and hopefully will soon be able to broadcast Doug Henwood’s show once again, and let a hundred flowers blossom.

    Mitchel Cohen
    Chair, WBAI Local Station Board *

    *for ID purposes only

  15. I don’t know why Martin, Rojo and StoptheInsanity feel free to attack WBAI without identifying themselves. You must of read like I did that our government, NSA, CIA now has a program to attack the left on comment sites like this. They are working full speed now to infiltrate left dialogue online, so if you are attacking our listener radio station and the people who work for it, I would like you to be brave enough to say who you are. From a listener and supporter of democracy and against government repression and for free speech radio here!

  16. Oh please. WBAI deserves lots of criticism. You don’t have to work for the national security state to think so.

  17. Wow, WBAI’s highest pledge rate is only about $3000 an hour? Out here at KPFA, the highs are much higher, which is why Pacifica is bleeding us dry, I guess…

  18. Geoff Brady, the host of “In Other News” is a full-scale crackpot. WBAI has fallen into the wacko camp for sure with this guy. If you want to get the full insanity of this guy check out his website (http://newyorkskywatch.com/), and find out about the nanoworms falling from the sky and eating into our bodies, and stuff like that there.

  19. Who is this Brady character? Don’t listen to WBAI.

  20. Hi,
    I just saw this somewhat ‘old’ posting after having to listen another ‘Snake Oil Stunt’ by WBAI. They were selling Double Helix Water to treat cancer, autism, many other ailments. I wondered how they are avoiding Federal Trade Commission and FDA for these ‘crimes against humanity’, selling pseudo scientific scams to vulnerable people in the community.

    Thank you for posting this criticism of WBAI. Hope they will change!

    I also made a post at:

    http://hwijesooriya.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-letter-to-wbai-scam-artists.html

  21. WBAI is a first class Snake Oil salesman! They were selling Double Helix Water (its concentrated water by the way! according to WBAI) and wanted listeners to pay $250 per person. Most ridiculous radio act I have ever seen. I recently wrote to their Genral Manager, but no response. Here’s a copy of my letter if you guys like to see…

    http://hwijesooriya.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-letter-to-wbai-scam-artists.html

  22. Brady is intelligent and lucid. One of the best hosts and one of the most informative shows on the station.

  23. Yes I can’t say anything about his overpriced products but I did contribute 99$ for the green stuff pledge and 10 weeks never received what I was promised. Yes called and again another 4 weeks nothing. Than I do my research and Null sells mouthwash and toothpaste with sorbitol and sodium phosphate which is a preservative related to alltymers etc. So yes WBAI seems to be just another scam like every corporation that they speak of and nonstop repeats time to leave this station as Abe Lincoln would say “Fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me or ad Bush would say you can’t fool a fool


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