Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sow's ear and pearl on a Sunday morning . . .

The difference in quality and content that separates the new "High Praize" program and "Through the Opera Glass" has never been more glaring than this morning.

Daulton Anderson's program—his third for WBAI—was another adulterated mixture of pseudo gospel music and the kind that makes people consider heathenism. Among the non-gospel fare this morning, he threw into the mix Edward Hawkins' unfortunate version of Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" and George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord". We were led to believe that this program would take us to church, literally, and feature weekly live remotes of wonderful choirs and soloists. That, as it turned out, was but a sales pitch from Berthold Reimers, and it isn't the first time he has colored the truth to hide his own inadequacies.

"Through the Opera Glass" has been on WBAI's air for over a decade and is hosted by several people, all of whom love the music and don't have to read liner notes and internet blurbs when telling us about it. This morning, the host was Manya LaBruja and the three-hour program was truly worthy of Pacifica's air. Ms. LaBruja presented a delightful portrait of mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, based upon her interview with the singer and produced with a professional flair that has become rare at WBAI. This is the caliber of programming that the station needed to return to, and it would have made a great premium.

A stark contrast between two programs. I recommend that you visit the WBAI archive and listen for yourself. I also suggest that Mr. Anderson's program (which is also heard in a similar version on WHCR) be replaced by a real quality presentation of gospel music.   

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The status of talk radio...

With the fate of WBAI and Pacifica up in the air, and opposing factions deciding what to do with Lew Hill's dream, and how to do it, there is much speculation as to the current state of radio, the value of Pacifica's stations, and the order in which they might be disposable.

Of course, the listeners, who pay for all of this, are left out of the equation, but I think we all want to know what the general picture is these days. Does WBAI's middle-of-the-dial position and commercial status mean much any more? It used to be the cherry on top, but that was before we could affordably fit an entire broadcast month on a card smaller than a thumbnail.

Although it does not directly have a bearing on Pacifica or WBAI, you might find the following discussion interesting, This is from Ed Schultz's radio show and the guest is media consultant Holland Cooke, who had just returned from the 2014 NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in Las Vegas.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Going over the top with that race card...

Comedian activist and sporadic office seeker Randy Credico was a call in interview on KPFA's "Flashpoints" show this evening. A couple of former co-hosts were also interviewed as Robert Knight was being remembered. The sentiment went over the top, as one might expect, but the women were relatively calm compared to Credico, who launched into a tirade against WBAI and Pacific, blaming their fostering of racism for Knight's death. Host Dennis Bernstein, made quite uncomfortable by the outburst, will hear none of this, so he stops Credico. All this is done to live piano accompaniment by ragtime player Terry Waldo, who can barely be heard due to a bad connection.

As most readers of this blog know, I have good reason not to personally mourn this departure, and I hope I don't offend anyone by being up front with it, but I wish—for the sake of Knight's family and friends—that this had been handled with some dignity. Knight had, after all, spent decades at WBAI, and they tell me that he used to do good work.

I am not posting the entire Bernstein segment, it's simply too maudlin, but here is Randy Credico:

A good Report to the Listeners

The video image of Tony Ryan walking back and forth at an LSB meeting with a sledgehammer on his shoulder is difficult to forget. However, that was in 2009 and we don't know what provoked it. Watching that meeting is painful, not so much because Mr. Ryan came overly prepared, but because the shouting by attendees, finger-pointing by a self-righteous board member, and general disorder in the room is one of the red flags that tell us why WBAI is on a downward trajectory.

Mr. Ryan conducted the studio meeting, because he was holding down Haskins' shift today—that made a very big, positive difference. Also at the meeting is Jim Dingeman, who has worked very hard to straighten out the premiums mess and, I believe, had a hand in setting up this report to inform listeners of the work WBAI's CAB is doing. He brings up the absolute necessity to change the station's programming, but this is a subject Reimers still seems to be avoiding. A call-in listener, however thinks that at least 50% of the current on-air offerings must be replaced.

Tony Ryan deserves praise for wanting to throw out a bunch of computers that were recently donated to WBAI. They are, he says, outdated and, thus, more likely to create headaches than to ease the work. This does not sit well with Jim Dingeman, who was instrumental in acquiring these machines, but Ryan is absolutely correct. Here's a good use for his sledgehammer! Reimers, who does not contribute to this disagreement, should go out in the world and get someone to donate new computers.

The unexpected death of Robert Knight last night was announced at the beginning of the report, but very casually, almost matter-of-factly. As you may know, I considered Knight a contributor to WBAI's demise rather than an asset, and found his programs to be utterly unsuitable for a Pacifica station, but he was associated with the station for decades and, just for that, should have been recalled with more dignity. I guess that will come, but here was an opportunity shamefully wasted.

Here is the actual report. Let us know what you think. I see Tony Ryan in a much different light now, but I still find his weekend music program wrong for the station, and—alas—I also continue to be skeptical when it comes to the station's future. Ryan and Reimers paint the rosiest picture yet, but we've heard that song before.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pacifica at 65

It was 65 years ago, April 15, 1949, that Pacifica officially went on the air, but FM was new, so there were probably not many people on the receiving end when Lew Hill gave KPFA's first station break and introduced the country to the grand daddy of public radio. 

Twenty-five years later, many thought it extraordinary that Pacifica was still on the air, broadcasting not only from Berkeley, California, but also Hollywood and New York City. From all appearances, the experiment had been a success, but Pacifica's stations were beginning to attract producers and hosts whose motivations were not quite as noble as  the
Lew Hill
original concept had called for. Great programs were still being produced and some of the country's most extraordinary movers, thinkers and artists embraced these voices in the wilderness. 

Most listeners were unaware of the subtle shifts taking place in programming, because the daily offerings continued to be diverse, substantive and on a high intellectual level. 

At WBAI, the most ominous change was the introduction of in-house "celebrities"—staff opportunists who engaged in disc-jockey styled chatter, often on a very low level. Shallow content and arrogant attitudes reflected the very kind of programming Pacifica was created to offer a contrast to.

Langston Hughes and Pacifica co-founder Eleanor McKinney.
As Pacifica grew older, its mission became more blurred and political agendas were thrown into a mix Mr. Hill might not recognize were he still around.

The deterioration has been a gradual process, fed by an influx of self-serving, turf-claiming lightweights and pseudo activists, a succession of mismanagement, and a "democratized" system of governance that has spawned feuding factions. Board meetings are disorderly free-for-alls that foster collusion and accomplish little that is meaningful to Pacifica. With all too few exceptions, the programming is so inferior that it has reduced listenership to an all-time low. To pay for this high cost of ineptitude, stations stoop to spending a disproportionate length of time pitching for money, offering as incentives bogus "cures" and other products of a kind usually found advertised on the back pages of supermarket tabloids.

Most readers of this blog will find all this redundant; they have heard for themselves what is bringing Pacifica to the brink of oblivion. I bring it up here, because it lends a sad perspective to the following audio, a program produced to celebrate Pacifica's 25th anniversary. The participants include Mr. Hill's widow and son, co-founder Eleanor McKinney, and others who helped bring KPFA through its early years.

I find listening to these reminiscences sad, because they really bring home how far the current Pacifica has drifted in its descent. Ironically, the narration is done by Larry Josephson, one of the people who contributed to the shattering of Lewis Hill's dream and played a major role in leading WBAI astray.  I often wonder if he regrets that—I hope he does.