Friday, May 27, 2011
In 1963, Pope John XXIII issued a papal encyclical and broke with convention by aiming its call for peace beyond his own flock. It received worldwide attention and powerful pundits spoke of it with the kind of reverence usually reserved for the Magna Carta and our Constitution, but—in the final analysis—its positive impact was not any greater than that generated by Rodney King's "Can we all get along?" Still, the Pope's encyclical inspired all kinds of official facades, and so it lingered awhile. In February of 1965, a Pacem in Terris Convocation took place in New York and we—being a Pacifica station, gave it six hours of live coverage. The Folio cover, which I dashed off with pen and water, was misleading, for it suggested a deeper focus on the event, but six hours of live transmission was somewhat special. The big event of that Folio period was our annual broadcast of Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelungs—it was something no other station would even think of offering. Rather than play commercially released material, we aired a complete recording of the previous Bayreuth Festival, and most listeners liked the idea. There were a few who found Wagner's music offensive, because it had been so greatly admired by Hitler. We apologized for our insensitivity, but reminded them of the fact that the expired dictator and his favorite composer never knew each other. The "Ring" being of unusual length, taking up the sunrise to sunset hours, we scheduled three intermissions, and one year—it may have been 1965—I decided to fill one of them with Stan Kenton's interpretations of Wagner's music. It is one of his least popular albums, but I thought the juxtaposition might me interesting. Some loved it, others dubbed it a sacrilege, but I was particularly taken by a Jewish lady who admitted that she had written us a letter protesting the very concept of airing Wagner on WBAI, but now had to confess that she found the "real thing" preferable to Kenton's.
In this Folio, you will also see exterior and interior photos of The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a think tank whose Founder/President was Robert Hutchins. Hallock Hoffman, then President of the Pacifica Foundation, was on the Center's Board of Directors, which at various times also included Bishop Pike, Justice William O. Douglas, and Linus Pauling.
An offshoot of the Fund for the Republic, the Center's home was a 43-acre estate situated on a hill above Santa Barbara. From its huge conference room one commanded a stunning view of the Pacific in a surrounding that would not have seemed out of place in a James Bond movie. It was an unlikely place for Pacifica to hold its monthly meetings of the board and station managers, but this is where we discussed our low budgets and high aspirations. Hallock occasionally sent us a taped discussion from the Center, and we usually aired them. Frankly, I don't recall why this issue of the Folio contained photos of the Center, but I guess Marcia Tompkins had space to fill.
Incidentally, the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions was very concerned over wiretapping, which made all the more embarrassing the revelation that some of its members had planted inter-office bugs. Perhaps that's what prompted Alex Comfort (a Senior Fellow, who wrote The Joy of Sex) to withdraw his considerable financial support and declare, "The center has no future—it is a fiction and a sham."
I hope you find these Folio scans interesting.
Click on an image to make it readable—a second click will further enlarge it
Saturday, May 21, 2011
If you would like to hear music while perusing the new posts, here's for a live aircheck of a performance from WBAI's second marathon: pianist Ronnie Matthews playing a blues with Michael Fleming on bass and J. C. Moses, drums. The voices you hear at the end belong to A. B. Spellman and yours truly. We called this number the WBAI Blues, or something like that.
Aside from the bland stuff that takes up so much of the station’s precious airtime these days, one glaring difference that distinguishes the old WBAI from the current one is the absence of documentary productions. Much of Pacifica’s strength used to lie in the extraordinary work of its producers, mostly volunteers, who worked late into the night and created amazing programs with inadequate equipment and little or no money. In today’s 10-hour tribute to itself, there was hardly any evidence of that. This would have been a golden opportunity for the station to create a comprehensive documentary of its first fifty years, and really demonstrate what it is that made Pacifica stations so special. Instead they gave us a lot of giggling and inanities as groups of elderly white staffers swapped painfully shallow compliments interspersed with sound bites that could have been retrieved from last week’s air checks, except for the dated references.
The anniversary celebration began at 11 AM with a lady named Janet Coleman (I think she has a show there) telling the listeners about Louis Schweitzer, the remarkable man who in 1959 gave the station to Pacifica and continued to support it even when some staffers (including Steve Post and Larry Josephson) falsely accused him of censorship. Others, who knew it to be untrue, shamefully remained silent. Sad to say, censorship was soon to be implemented at WBAI, but, ironically, by some of the finger pointers themselves. I won’t go into the details here, but it was a mess and I have a rather large file that tells the story.
Getting back to yesterdays on-the-air "celebration," Ms. Coleman’s review of Lou Schweitzer’s background and the circumstances that led to his making that generous gift could have been quite interesting if the facts had been straight, but she had it mostly wrong. I was amazed when, later on, Bob Fass—who has been at the station for almost all of its 50 years—compounded the misinformation re Schweitzer. Whatever smattering of renown this old group has managed to attain is owed to Lou, but most of them have lost sight of that, and the few who haven’t are apparently playing the “hangin’ in there” game.
The group got Julius Lester on the phone and paid him empty compliments. He was among the first African-Americans to have a regular program on the station, but he often showed an intolerance that wasn’t exactly in keeping with Pacifica's principles. One evening, as I entered the control room to thread up a tape for the next show, Julius modulated into his street speak and declared to his listeners, “I’m tired of talkin’ to white people—I ain’t takin’ no more calls from white people.” Then he cut off his microphone and revved up an Aretha record. As I was exiting, I turned around and asked, “What will you do if your wife calls?” Julius never spoke to me again. Not long after that, something that was said on his program sparked accusations of antisemitism, complete with angry demonstrators at the front door. Julius has since converted to Judaism and done very well for himself in the hinterland.
To be fair, there are some excellent voices on BAI’s air today, but—except for Earl Caldwell and Ibrahim Gonzales, they were not heard from during the backstroking celebration. There also was no mention of many extraordinary people who gave WBAI life a few years back—the forgotten foundation. For a brief moment, the old-timers stopped talking about themselves and turned to race and ethnicity. When somebody wrongly claimed to have been BAI’s first black audio engineer, no one corrected him—that distinction actually goes to Tom Tracy, whom I brought over from WNEW when I became station manager. They also forgot Joanne Grant, a black lady who became the first female News Director, and the wonderful Taña De Gamez a Spanish lady of great intellect who authored many books and whose weekly program, Latin American World, on more than one occasion brought a call from a network asking for permission to use something she had uncovered. Taña's program was eventually censored and when she complained, they fired her on the ludicrous grounds that her Spanish accent was "difficult for listeners to understand"!
The self-congratulatory group also failed to mention WBAI’s Programs for Young People, which were superb and unlike anything else offered to children on New York's air. Also no mention of the fact that we offered an amazing diversity of authoritative speakers on the air, in the fields of politics, arts and sciences: Andrew Sarris was our film critic, John Corigliano our Music Director, his volunteer assistant was a shy young lady named Yoko Ono. Gunther Schuller had a regular program, as did Ayn Rand and Marian McPartland. Jazz programs were conducted by the likes of John Coltrane, Jimmy Rushing, Eddie Condon and Toshiko Akiyoshi, to mention but a few. America’s top jazz writers were also regulars. We adapted and produced great plays, challenged convention by taking up tabu subjects and excelled when it came to documentaries. “This Little Light”, for example, was an extraordinary series of reports from the heart of the Civil Rights struggle. We received an unsolicited $10,000 grant earmarked for civil rights coverage. fIt came from something called the Taconic Foundation with instructions not to credit them. That’s not a lot of money today, but we used it well back in the Sixties and I invested some of it in wireless microphones, a pioneering move that allowed our reporters to covertly tape conversations with bigoted officials who otherwise would have refused interviews. There also was no mention yesterday of Marcia Thompson, a wonderful, brave staffer who went home to Tuscaloosa Alabama one Christmas and secretly recorded an outdoor KKK meeting as well as discussions of race that took place in her family living room. Marcia’s father was the local Chief of Police, which made it all the more interesting. We received requests for permission to air her programs from the BBC, Danish Radio, and a little old lady in Detroit whose husband had given her an FM station.
This is the sort of thing they should have been talking about, not themselves. They also should have played excerpts from some of these great programs, but this was not really about celebrating WBAI. That is such a shame.
Following this post, we move back to 1965 and WBAI's fifth anniversary. We didn't have fifty years to look back on, but I think we used the first five quite well. Please click on the images to make them readable—a second click will further enlarge them..
Back row: Dolores Hamparian (Receptionist), Chris Albertson (GM), Rob Hunter (Recording Engineer), Sammy Dunn (PR), Frank Coffee (Announcer), Mort Perry (Reporter). Second row: Dale Minor (Program Producer), Willie Ross (Asst. to Chris Koch), Marcia Tompkins (Folio Editor), Ed Ross (Production Dir.), Maria Teresa Sanchez (Traffic Manager). Standing in front: Chris Koch. Lower right corner: David Kent (Music Assistant).
You may have noticed that the Folio scans are not posted in chronological order. I choose to randomize for variety's sake. This week, for example, skips forward about a year, to our 5th Anniversary issue. You might find it interesting to compare last year's 50th Anniversary broadcast day to the live day celebration we had on January 17, 1964. The centerfold of this Folio gives you the lineup, but I doubt if tapes exist. Notice, too, that it was on this day that we inaugurated a program called "Talk Back." It introduced technology that was not only new to WBAI, but to commercial broadcasting. It was, of course,the perfect tool for a station that so intimately involved the listener, so we also used it during the weekly "Report to the Listener" programs.
Also check out the playbill on page 16. Some of our more creative people worked hard on a radio production of Christopher Marlowe's play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, and we could only air it once. If I recall correctly, it was Angela Lansbury who arranged for us to garner Hurd Hatfield for the lead role—you may have seen him in one of his many films, most notably The Picture of Dorian Gray. He was a fine actor, but he had a problem with a monologue that required him to speak in Latin. Our recording engineer, Rob Hunter, saved the day by seamlessly piecing together the Latin passage using bits and pieces from Mr. Hatfield's English dialogue—it was a labor of love, brilliantly done by one of the many WBAI staffers who went on to an interesting career. You can learn more about Rob by visiting his wonderful site.
Apropos valued staff members, as this Folio was published, we lost two of our great human assets, Robert Potts and John Corigliano. Bob, who had been our News Director, went to NET and was replaced by Joanne Grant. John, well, there's an interesting story connected to his departure from WBAI. It begins with John Cage's "Cartridge Music," which John scheduled for one of our wake-up-time concerts. If you have ever heard this work, you will understand why airing it produced phone calls from listeners who thought our transmitter had died. Cage's piece was produced by dragging live phonograph cartridges across a studio floor—need I describe further? I told John Corigliano that I thought this to be an inappropriate work to play in that time slot. His reaction was to hand in his resignation, which he said was something he had wanted to do, anyway, because he had an urge to write a violin concerto, and he wanted to do it while receiving unemployment compensation. When bureaucratic procedures got in the way of his plans, I agreed to attend a hearing at the Department of Labor. That worked, John described the Cage dispute as an "unworkable situation", the bureaucrats nodded as if they actually understood, John composed his concerto and I ended up with a new, very special LP. John Corigliano has since become a distinguished composer of concert music and an Oscar winner whose film scores include Altered States and The Red Violin. His replacement was Ann McMillan. Yes, WBAI attracted many interesting, creative people before it stepped onto that treadmill. Wouldn't it be great if—in its nooks and crannies someone came across the wonderful mini-compositions John wrote and recorded for WBAI—they put to shame the current "When I'm home in Bulgaria" series of promos.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Robert Klein, a member of the Pacifica Board, submitted the following to Foundation President Hallock Hoffman, prior to one of our meetings. It will give you an idea of what they were thinking. Click on images to enlarge them.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
May 11, 2011
I have just listened to another WBAI fund-raising rerun, this one by the insufferable Cathy Davis, who promises to free your mind for a mere slide of your credit card. Yes, she is doing her little "spiritual" thing again, this time pushing DVDs for something called The Earth Center. The asking price at WBAI is one or two hundred dollars, depending on how spiritually cleansed you want to be, but—and dear Cathy doesn't mention this—you can get the same stuff for ten or twenty bucks by calling these people directly. Hey, while you're at it, you might also want to pick up a calendar for the year 409 (or 410, which is out now), books, a magazine subscription, a variety of very special cleansing pills, or stress relievers to combat that which is "very prevalent in the modern colonial lifestyle. It's all "time-tested."
The DVDs? Well they contain calculated, skewed Afrocentricity in the form of homespun lectures by one Neb Naba Lamoussa Morodenibig, the Kemetic Spiritual Master and Healer who founded The Earth Center. He couldn't join Cathy for this infomercial, because he "transitioned" into non-existence back in 2008, when he was 48, but his shallow mumble-jumble lives on, albeit crudely recorded.
I bet these entrepreneurs just love little Cathy and WBAI. Of course, the station—having made its own transition—is a favorite spot for purveyors of cures and conspiracies, so there is competition, but Scott, Trudeau, Null, et al don't mind moving over to make room for one more. Show us your money and we will promise you the moon. Of course, Cathy's routine has worn thin by now, but Tony Bates pops in with a more energetic, equally dishonest bark.
My questions are: When are they going to show us the money? Why is there not a running tally? How is the money divided up between the charlatans and the station?
Truth and disclosure used to be an essential part of WBAI's fund-raising marathons, but that was years ago, when listeners were still regarded as a lifeline. WBAI (and Pacifica stations, in general) used to be there for the listeners—that's how we saw it. Now the listeners are there for the station—more specifically, for those who work or have turf there. Fund-raising marathons (they were annual before they became bi-monthly) are no longer a united effort to keep a vital broadcasting outlet alive—they have degenerated into an internal competition between hosts and programs. Wrong as that is, wouldn't you at least like to know if Tom Wisker has pulled ahead of the sister from another planet? I would.
And what is Reimers doing as Bates runs his show? Hmmmm
If you don't already know your way there, you can get to the NY City Metro Area WBAI Radio Listener Forums (better known as the "Blueboard" via this link.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Since WBAI is currently in what they call a "fund-raising mode," I thought this would be a good time to point out how that aspect, too, has changed.
It is interesting to note that a doctor or medical researcher in Peoria or Perugia can stumble upon a formula that appears to make mice prefer lettuce to cheese. It may, says the press release, eventually work on humans, and that's all it takes for it to become a story on the evening news. Fat cheese lovers are interviewed, we get a glimpse of happy lettuce growers, and we are told that this wonderful discovery may become a reality in a few years.
Then there is WBAI, where one can for a hundred bucks or two buy a DVD that kills cancer, leukemia, AIDS, and a number of other diseases hitherto thought to have been incurable. Amazing, but we don't hear a single mention of that on the other stations. Why?, we ask. Elementary, my dear listener, says Tony Bates, launching into a feverish explanation of how the evil pharmaceutical industry spends billions to suppress such information. God, say the gullible, it's another conspiracy! Why didn't we draw that conclusion ourselves?
Cures and conspiracies are stuff WBAI fund drives are made of—in fact, the program schedule is going more and more in that direction. Mind you, I am not trying to canonize the pharmaceutical people, who are known to do outrageous things to sell their products—even some that prove fatal—but let's be reasonable. Although we should be wary of the industry, logic tells me that if such simple cures existed, Pfizer, Johnson, Merck, Lilly, et al would have found a way to bottle them for sale rather then bottle them up. Does alternate medicine have merit? Of course it does—and has for hundreds of years—but those who peddle it for profit tend to exaggerate. Profit? Well, that was not something one expected to get from WBAI, but there's one major change: the little station that used to attract big talent and nurse creativity has become a cash cow for all kinds of charlatans, some of whom are on the staff.
|New York Times editorial|
Granted, these are desperate times at WBAI, but what else is new? There was a time when truth mattered and we proved that it would work in fund-raising, too. As we launched—at about 4 hours notice and with no real preparation—the only premium we offered was a promise to continue broadcasting the good stuff. It was all about WBAI and its programs—nothing else mattered. Well, there was that phone call from a listener who threw us a curve.
We were about twenty minutes into the marathon, begging for money, reading overdue bills on the air and predicting doom if they weren't paid. Ironically, some of the very things we threatened our listeners with are common air fare on today's WBAI (the outright commercialism of "Liquid Sound Lounge" and "Soul Central Station", the shallowness of "Heart of Mind", the bias of "5 O'clock Shadow", etc.). When we played Kate Smith or bubble gum music as examples of things one could expect to hear at 99.5, our three phones rang and the tally went up. Then came the aforementioned call from a lady said that she didn't have any money, but there was this beautiful small Oriental rug that she would give to the first person who pledged two hundred dollars. We were not prepared for that, but it sounded like a good idea and launched an avalanche of what we decided to call "barters." Apparently, there were many listeners who wanted to contribute, but didn't have the money. People started showing up with the most incredible offerings and volunteers quickly devised a system to keep them in some order. Tiny turtles found a temporary home in the bathtub of our teletype room, under the caged canaries, and my office soon became cluttered with old cameras, a Nazi helmet, a copy of Mein Kampf, somebody's evening gown, a bugle that had seen much use, autographed baseballs, penny jars, a beautiful ebony fan from a bygone era, paintings, you name it. Fortunately, the barter items moved fast.
|WBAI music director John Corigliano and his Oscar.|
We were use to receiving gifts from listeners and WBAI was a magnet for creative people. I recall the day Oleg Cassini walked into my office with one of his original dresses, suggesting that we might want to auction it off. I didn't know who Cassini was, but my secretary all but swooned. Then there was the painter, Elaine de Kooning, who brought in a couple of her canvasses. Others, from Jose Feliciano to Tiny Tim came by to contribute their talent and give us the first hint that they even existed. James Mason played records from his collection of ethnic music, and Celeste Holm read children's stories. I bring this up to illustrate yet another change.
Of course, the marathon turned out to be a perfect opportunity for generous visits, so I made full use of my contacts in the jazz world. Herbie Hancock was among the first to donate a performance, but we didn't have piano, so our music director, John Corigliano, solved the problem by bringing in his electronic keyboard. It was a primitive one by today's standards, but it introduced live music to the marathon and—if memory serves me—gave Herbie Hancock his first practical experience with an electronic instrument. By the second day, when a piano dealer offered us a floor sample upright, John's little keyboard had also accompanied Joe Williams.
The response from the jazz community was overwhelming—our new piano was graced by many great players, including Randy Weston, Ray Bryant, and Walter Bishop. And then there was Yoko Ono, asking me if she might be allowed to go on the air to sing Japanese children's songs and make a special plea for the music department, where she worked as a volunteer file clerk. The press wasn't interested in her, yet, but her request surprised me, because she had struck us all as being rather withdrawn! I brought my B&O recorder to the station and hooked it directly to a line feed, so the entire marathon is on tape. To save money I recorded it at 3 3/4 i.p.s. on four track (mono), but the quality is surprisingly good, as you can hear on the attached audio file featuring the late pianist, Ronnie Matthews.
Please note that there is 10 seconds of silence at the start.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Friday, May 6, 2011
The WBAI Folio was a program guide issued every other week and mailed to the station's listener-supporters. It contained somewhat detailed day by day listings of all the station's offerings and was meant to be an indispensable tool since it was the only source of program information other than the sporadic newspaper listing. The New York papers tended to only list "special" programs ore ones that caught the editor's fancy, so you really had to have the WBAI Folio if you wanted to know what was coming up at 99.5. Subscribing to the station only cost $12.50 annually when I started there, and it brought you the Folio every fortnight.
Joseph Binns, who was the station manager when I began volunteering at WBAI, had—in my opinion—made a big mistake when he authorized Cue magazine, a weekly NYC performing arts guide (long since absorbed and killed by Rudolph Murdoch), to carry the WBAI program listing in toto. It might have brought us a modicum of prestige and made potential listeners aware of us, but I saw it as an insult to the station's subscribers who received that information for supporting us. When I took over as manager, I informed the editors of Cue that they could no longer print our complete schedule, but that highlights would be acceptable. That inspired editor Greer Johnson to write a vitriolic editorial condemning WBAI and me—it's around here, somewhere, I'll share it when I find it. Short of having the old tapes to listen to, surviving issues of the Folio are the best way to get an idea of how WBAI's broadcast day used to be, but it can never be more than a hint. Of course, some of the programs are now in the Pacifica Archive, but not nearly as many as there ought to be.
All three stations (back then Pacifica only owned KPFA, KPFK and WBAI) placed an emphasis on original material, had excellent producers on staff, and attracted many talented volunteers. Locally produced programs were offered to the two sister stations, and that enriched all our schedules. I think it was a good system and I know that it yielded some extraordinary broadcasts.
The Folio that follows, covered the period from May 24 to June 6, 1965. All the pages are there and they should be quite readable if you enlarge them with a single click. I will scan and publish a different issue every week until my collection is exhausted. Please feel free to use the comment option at the bottom of each post.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
As some of you who have followed my posts in the WBAI Issues forum (the so-called "blue" board) already know, I left my position as Manager in 1966 and went to work for the BBC. That job had me commuting between London and New York, spending about a month in each place. I believe it must have been in 1968 that I returned home and found three letters from WBAI producers in my mailbox. They were Tana de Gamez, Bob Bisom and Barbara Dane. Each had written to me independent of the others, but they all had the same problem: Their were either being censored or their programs were denied air time by Dale Minor. Dale was a terrific producer and reporter who worked with Chris Koch on the extraordinary "This Little Light" documentary series, which covered the Civil Rights movement in such depth and with such insight that no other station could begin to approach it. When I left, Chris Koch was also gone and Dale took his place as Program Director. He had a drinking problem, but it didn't interfere with his work as a producer until he returned from Vietnam. We had managed to scrape up enough funds to send Dale into the war zone, armed with a small (for that time) tape recorder, and little else. He sent back great material—the stories we were not told by mainstream media—but it was a stressful assignment and it took its toll. Dale was drinking more when he returned, and I think the problem was exacerbated by the fact that he now spent more time behind a desk than before a tape machine. He was making more and enjoying it less, and he took his frustration out on people such as the three producers.
The manager who replaced me, Frank Millspaugh (more on him later), was new to radio and his weakness (which included a fondness for mescaline) was being taken advantage of my resident opportunists Steve Post and Larry Josephson. They had a different concept in mind for WBAI, one that centered around them rather than anything Lew Hill had dreamed of. They initiated the celebrity system that now—four decades later—is all but killing the station. I could not believe what I was hearing at 99.5, but it was the sort of shallow, ego-driven, sophomoric nonsense that we had been immune to.
I should point out that the program schedule still contained many hours that were in keeping with the original Pacifica concept, but there was enough of a departure there to raise a red flag. It is, of course, much worse now, which is why I am digging up the history. Anyway, the alarm I heard was compounded by the news of censorship taking place—that was very disturbing. As far as I knew, none of the three Pacifica stations had ever crossed that line, but here were three separate cases and a governing board that refused to hear them. Tana, Bob and Barbara came to me because they knew that I could probably arrange for the board to consider their complaints. That is a long story which I will tell in detail as this blog moves along. For now, let me just say that there was a dramatic confrontation with Dr. Harold Taylor (former President of Sarah Lawrence) and the N.Y. Board and that it bore no results.
Sometimes the WBAI NY Board reminded me of of those sinister thrillers wherein the main character
has a nightmarish treadmill experience. Taylor was a slick one and I'm still not sure what his game was.
Click on images to enlarge them.
When WBAI management and board turned down a petition to have an on-the-air discussion of this, the Committee to Win Back WBAI (sound familiar?), along with a couple of faithful, generous listener-supporters, and the Steering Committee of SDS at Columbia University decided to rent the ballroom of a midtown hotel, The Diplomat and have an open forum. Everybody at WBAI and all Board members were invited to attend and participate in the discussion. No Board member showed up (see letter from Harold Taylor), but the WBAI staff was well represented. They even flew Chris Koch in from California and planted Leonard Lopate in a front seat with a tape recorder—the station was going to air it, he said, but we knew better. Our "security" guys (Black Panthers) removed the machine from Leonard and we told him that we would be recording the entire evening and would make the tape available to WBAI provided that they aired it without any edits. That never happened, but I still have the tape (quite lively), which was made on my own machine.
The Hotel Diplomat meeting took place May 8, 1969. The East Village Other, a rebellious alternate to the Village Voice, carried the following article in its May 17th issue, and my response a week later.
I bring this up to give you a little flavor of an early WBAI battle. I hope that some of you find it interesting and will take advantage of the comment option (below). Unfortunately, I have to approve any text before it is published, but that should not be a problem, whether your comment is favorable or not. I always welcome criticism but I have no tolerance for infantile trolling, so—now that I can—I close the door on destructive silliness, such as we have seen on the blue board.
Please bear in mind that a click on the image enlarges it.