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Opinion: Listeners demand return of Paul DeRienzo’s ‘Evening News’ program to WBAI

BY MARNI HALASA | I have been a devoted listener of WBAI for decades. Whether I am listening to Michael G. Haskins explain how land-use policy is inevitably traced to close relationships between our elected officials and developers, Gary Null discuss the importance of a healthy gut biome or Jillian Jonas expose why small businesses never get the relief they deserve, I have always realized that WBAI provides a necessary and indispensable public service that challenges the mainstream ideas, and we are so fortunate to have a space where we can go to get the truth.

This is why listeners are still so visibly upset at the firing of Paul DeRienzo, the veteran reporter who hosted the popular and uniquely informative “Evening News” program at 6 p.m. As an activist for the past 40 years, Paul’s knowledge of our city’s history, his understanding of how political institutions work and his impeccable sourcing were the reasons why his stories were so compelling. He could make complex subjects easy to understand and tell a story from a balanced, empathetic point of view, which kept listeners engaged and coming back.

These qualities are gifts as a journalist, but one that WBAI managers Berthold Reimers and Linda Perry-Barr do not appreciate. During last month’s “Talk Back,” a show devoted to listener feedback, multiple callers kept asking, “Why did you fire Paul? Is this for personal reasons?” and saying, “Please put Paul back on the air” and “Why have a show for listener feedback, if clearly you don’t want to implement what listeners think?”

But listener discontent doesn’t seem to matter to management. After Paul was notified via e-mail by manager Reimers that he was fired due to “personal reasons,” he appealed the decision to the two boards at WBAI — the listener board and the management board. The listener board voted to reinstate him, but the management board did not. But instead of having an additional layer of due process to handle this tiebreaker, (perhaps mediation or an additional vote), Reimers reportedly unilaterally made the decision to cut Paul’s show.

It did not matter that listeners had been calling in for months asking what happened to the “Evening News,” and why was it replaced with “Democracy Now” (heard at 8 a.m. weekdays on the station and also accessible through archives). And is the listener board truly a sham board, whose voice and votes don’t matter? If this is the case, then WBAI needs to come clean with its listeners, rework its mission statement and be transparent about their processes and procedure. For a radio station based on progressive ideals, such decision-making is not what democracy looks like.

One of the reasons why I listened to Paul’s show is that I could count on an honest perspective of local news. It was Paul who early on, paid attention to the privatization of public housing, when Mayor de Blasio put thousands of deeply affordable Section 9 apartments into RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration), which will increase rents and evict low-income people of color.

Paul also covered how our city’s nonprofits, like Community Services Society and Legal Aid Society, supported de Blasio’s RAD plan, even though public housing tenants were and still are fiercely against such developer land grabs, and also, most recently, the Public Housing Preservation Trust, spearheaded by state Senator Julia Salazar who is known to be a flip-flopper on New York City Housing Authority issues.

Paul also covered why the Small Business Jobs Survival Act —affordable lease renewals for small businesses — never got a fair shake, even in desperate times, because of real estate’s grip on local politicians like former Council Speaker Corey Johnson. But it was also Paul who brought to listeners’ attention the very real fascist threat of Donald Trump, when mainstream media at the time found it distasteful to use the “F” word.

Our city needs reporters like Paul who tell is like it is. But we also need our city’s progressive radio station WBAI to appreciate the public service that Paul brings, especially when its listener base is clamoring for his comeback. It is no secret that WBAI needs more funding. Perhaps more funding would follow if listeners believed that they were being listened to — and that most likely would happen with his program’s reinstatement.

Halasa is an activist living near Hudson Yards. She was a candidate for City Council District 3 in the 2021 election.

18 Comments

  1. Paul DeRienzo Paul DeRienzo January 1, 2023

    Hi Marni, thanks for the kind words and support. Folks can still hear The News at paulderienzo.com, or by following on Soundcloud, Facebook, Apple podcasts, iHeart, Twitter among others. A one-hour version of The News runs on the Progressive Radio Network PRN.live every Sunday at 1pm.

  2. Paul Gilman (Bronx Greens) Paul Gilman (Bronx Greens) January 1, 2023

    Paul De Rienzo did an excellent job of covering the news on WBAI. They let him go for “personal reasons”? That’s not an explanation. It’s actually a self-accusation, in which management is pointing fingers at their own pettiness. Paul also did a good job when he took over the Thursday midnight slot. Marni Halasa is right: Restore Paul DeRienzo as the news reporter and host.

  3. Ruth Speaks Ruth Speaks January 2, 2023

    The lack of news on WBAI without incessant opinion and commentary is why I stopped listening to WBAI. And the fact that they can’t program better music shows with up-and-coming artists. It is an incredible waste of valuable real estate on the radio dial. So much potential there — and so much NEED for local news and alternative views, and they waste it all on pettiness and some kind of management nepotism.

  4. Mitchel Cohen Mitchel Cohen January 2, 2023

    I agree with the call to return Paul De Rienzo to the evening news, and not only because I’m sick of the very poor substitute of running “Democracy Now” again, and again, and again at the 6 pm time.

    Paul was doing a very good job of reporting the news from a very different angle. Whatever interpersonal stupidities and offensive words took place between Paul and management need to be withdrawn by all, and let’s return to what’s really important, and that’s the restoration of real news at WBAI. Surely management must realize the centrality of the 6 pm news to WBAI, and why people such as myself and many others tune in to the station, no?

    And while we’re at it, please put “Law and Disorder” back at its 9 a.m. Monday time slot. That, too, is a very foolish and destructive move.

    Thanks,
    Mitchel Cohen
    former Chair, WBAI Local Station Board

    • milliemelee milliemelee January 3, 2023

      Agreed!

  5. Larry Storch Larry Storch January 2, 2023

    The Village now has four supposed news outlets, none of which hold a candle to independent news like we used to hear at WBAI. We don’t need or want more press releases and coddling from Erik Bottcher or Brad Hoylman.

  6. Barbara Ruether Barbara Ruether January 2, 2023

    MARNI HALASA has clearly stated the community value of WBAI as have the other commenters concerned about the loss of Paul De Rienzo’s newscast on the station. Radio is a very personal form of communication. Listeners allow the radio host to enter their personal space. This is a very special agreement made between the two, and to have the working agreement yanked without a valid reason is wrong and a betrayal. Berthold Reimers saying “personal reasons” is a betrayal. It is the listener’s station — management does not own the relationship between the host and the listener, that is what is personal. Shame, shame on Bob Reimers.

  7. ajweberman ajweberman January 3, 2023

    They want to destroy the last vestiges of the counterculture.

  8. Allie Ryan Allie Ryan January 3, 2023

    Thank you Marni for shining a light on the void that Paul De Rienzo has left at WBAI since losing his slot almost 4 months ago. For all the problems/ issues that our public servants and commercial media raise, New Yorkers could count on Paul to deliver the news: the real news, not glorified press releases. I peruse the media every day, hoping to find comparable journalism that encompasses international, national, state and local news; Paul’s thoughtful, researched journalism is unmatched. I am grateful that Paul has moved to Sound Cloud. By now WBAI must surely be aware of their blunder and will negotiate for Paul’s return.

    • Paul DeRienzo Paul DeRienzo January 3, 2023

      Thanks, Allie, there are no negotiations. As the General Manager pointed out — and was so well covered in Marni’s letter — it was a “personal” decision on his part. I don’t know what he’s talking about, we had little if any contact for years. I dealt with the Program Director and rarely interacted with anyone else. I’m told it was an emotional reaction on his part that had little to do with me, but more to do with calls for his resignation by people on the governing board. He’s so invested in his off-the-cuff decision to end the news that he can’t back down. Even as calls for his resignation have been reverberating. There’s also an issue that WBAI may not be around in a year anyway. The Internet is the future and I invite folks to check out the news at my web site paulderienzo.com Thanks.

  9. Roland Marconi Roland Marconi January 4, 2023

    I have been following and listening to Paul De Rienzo’s reporting for many years. He brought honest, insightful, local journalism to the station, which it really needed. At a time when local news reporting is fading away, stations like WBAI should be supporting reporters like Paul who are so good at it. WBAI managment is a mess but I do hope that they clean this one up and bring Paul back. In the meantime I will listen to him on his web site.

  10. JARRETTIA ADAMS JARRETTIA ADAMS January 5, 2023

    Great article, Marnie! Another in a long line of self-destructive acts by WBAI management! Bring back Paul De Rienzo!

  11. Avera Yugen Avera Yugen January 6, 2023

    Paul DeRienzo is authentic and humane-values-driven so he wont be back on WBAI, a completely sold-out relic of its former “self.” Anyway the best of all indie media is wonderfully alive elsewhere online, Lee Camp is now one of my staples. We make our own radio stations nowadays…

    And for me Paul is always there, “Radio Unnameable” is always on somehow in the background, and people like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Rod MacDonald and all the folkies that found their muse hanging around WBAI, are still alive and well online. And all the unjustly imprisoned and suffering everywhere…are still discussed every day while we work for truth and justice and a livable future, in virtual small and large e-communities everywhere & in some fewer real ones. Can’t ever thank Paul enough for his part in keeping alive this spirit of awareness, service and community…! His influence is much felt.

  12. Marilyn Martin Marilyn Martin Post author | January 12, 2023

    AN OPEN LETTER TO WBAI
    Dear WBAI,
    I am appalled you took Paul De Reinzos’ News Show off the air. He was the best newscaster you had and that includes Amy. She doesn’t need to be on twice a day. People can go to archives for her show.

    It’s been months and important things have happened that could have benefitted from the brilliant analysis and interviews by exactly the right experts to break it down for us that only Paul could find.

    You have deprived many of all that Paul brought to the table. He made the station look good and you, too, Berthold and Linda – making it all the more a disgrace the stupidity of what you did.

    Pauls’ news show was brilliant. He explains difficult things that anyone could understand. Clearly he spends hours researching not only what has just happened but the whole long history of what lead up to these events.

    He was popular and he is a genius and you’re throwing him away. Shame on you. From what I gather, I am not alone in these sentiments. Your fine radio station could certainly use intellectually gifted people and not less. I am devastated. What? I have to listen to CNN now because of petty politics in a public radio station that is here to serve the public – not a bunch of egos with personal grudges.

    I was in the queue last month for WBAI’s monthly ‘Report to the Listener’ show to raise my concern and told I was next to speak but did not get called on because of your filibustering to prevent listeners to speak – what that show is supposed to be for. I wonder how many others in support of Paul were not allowed to speak. WBAIs’ firing Paul De Rienzo is already a clear indication you care NOT as Manager and Program Director about what the listener wants but your own power politics at our expense. The listeners know who needs to be fired here! Get Paul back so I can continue to listen to our public radio station. I miss knowing why and what is really happening in the world.

    Forlorned listener,

    Marilyn Martin

  13. Chris Flash Chris Flash Post author | January 16, 2023

    Getting rid of the nightly news, one of the very FEW reasons to listen to WBAI these days, due to ENDLESS pitching for donations with false promises of gifts that never get delivered, was one big step toward never tuning in again.

    We who gave our hard-earned money in support of Paul DeRienzo and the nightly news that Paul lovingly created EVERY night were RIPPED off by WBAI when they canceled the news show. We are entitled to having our money returned to us!!!!

  14. Sharon Woolums Sharon Woolums January 19, 2023

    Wed, Jan 18, 11:23 PM

    To whom it may concern: Mr. Bertohld Reimers, Manager at WBAI station,

    These are dangerous times. With threats of nuclear war and even civil war the dire reality of our world cannot afford to waste a minute on petty tantrums at the expense of rare independent news that everybody craves. Your blatant disrespect for Paul DeRienzo, a beloved broadcaster, clearly demonstrated by his broad base of support since your callous dismissal, has confounded everyone.

    As everybody knows, Mr. Reimers, you are not acting as the CEO of a privately owned corporation in your capacity as station manager of WBAI. If you were, you would have every right! to fire one of the top three producers…just because you could! You could even indulge in an unjustifiable, delicious revenge against that person. You wouldn’t have to explain to anyone your haphazard decisions. But you, Mr. Reimers, as manager of a nonprofit radio station — your very salary is paid for by the listeners to represent them. “Listener supported” — that’s repeated 100 times a day to solicit donations for WBAI (because it’s defunct under your leadership). So I dug up the mission statement because I thought surely Paul DeRienzo must have violated some aspect of it with his 6 PM news show to have warranted a disgraceful, unexpected and decidedly unpopular dismissal. The relevant parts I found are as follows:

    The Pacifica Mission: “…foster understanding amongst nations and individuals…promote innovative, uncensored distribution of news…to promote the study of political and economic problems…to obtain access to sources of news not commonly brought together in the same medium; and to employ such varied sources in the public presentation of accurate, objective, comprehensive news on all matters vitally affecting the community.”

    Mr. Reimers, if you would be so kind as to simply tell the listeners (who pay your salary) what aspect of the mission statement Mr. DeRienzo violated, then I am sure we can all put this issue to rest, and either you will have proven justified in your decision or just have to admit a mistake was made…and the listeners will be pleased to hear Mr. DeRienzo on the dial again. WBAI will be better for it.

    You once said on one of the listener talk-back shows, “It’s either him (DeRienzo) or me.” As for me, Mr. Reimers, I choose DeRienzo. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

    Sharon Woolums

    PS Perhaps Linda Perry, the Program Director, can help you with this request.

    • Marilyn Martin Marilyn Martin January 21, 2023

      Sharon is a community activist who cares deeply about our public institutions. It’s time other people stepped up and made their disappointment known.

  15. Jeff Wright Jeff Wright January 31, 2023

    Paul is a natural raconteur and a font of info.

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