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):
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.