Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another WBAI Folio - April 27, 1964

Here is another WBAI Folio, this one, from April, 1964, lists our annual broadcast of the previous year's Bayreuth Festival and we even had Miss Rheingold on the cover—well, sort of. I was volunteering at the station, but about to be offered a staff position as announcer. This is the WBAI I fell in love with four years earlier. It is a far cry from the WBAI of today, but I think this schedule is of higher quality, both intellectually and artistically. It is, admittedly, a bit on the precious side, and that was something I set out to correct as soon as I was appointed to the manager's position. Still, there is much variety in this Folio, and you will note that even then—almost a half century ago—the pharmaceutical industry was under scrutiny (see Feb. 21, 8:15pm listing). We didn't give quacks air time to push their wares, but we had our finger on the pulse, as it were.

Notice, too, the program that follows at 9:30pm, Jazz In the Studio. This was a live presentation that did not require any production on our part. We simply turned over our tiny studio to some of the day's most avant garde musicians—ones whose music was shunned by other stations—and told them that the hour was theirs. This quartet, co-led by Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp, asked that the lights be turned out in the studio, and out of the darkness came amazing sounds. Not to everybody's liking, but that was how we thought it ought to be. I don't know if any of those programs was recorded by us, but it would not surprise me if someone out there turned on his or her Webcor or Tandberg. 

If you are into jazz and wish to hear a 1969 New Year's Eve interview I did with Archie Shepp, it's on my other blog and here's a direct link.

Click on images to enlarge them.

This note appeared on the back cover:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Here we go again: Another fund-raiser

WBAI's on-air fund-raising efforts used to have one purpose: to keep the station on the air—not this or that ego-stroking program, the station itself. To that end, the pitches were focused on WBAI as a whole, i.e. the concept of free speech and giving a platform to people with something to say who otherwise might not find an outlet for their expressions. A station that edified as it entertained, a station that stimulated creative thought.

The fund-raising marathons offered a golden opportunity to get that message across, to give potential subscribers a reason for contributing, and to remind current subscribers of WBAI's importance. 

Now the station is in the midst of another fund-raising marathon, but one can listen for hours on end and never hear anyone speak of the Pacifica concept or that qualities that separated its stations from all others.

There was Tony Ryan, whose Soul Central Station is a run-of-the-mill disc jockey show aimed at adolescent (in years or intellectual development) women and replete with flirtatious DJ nothings (he could be their grandfather, actually). This is a staffer who showed up at a LSB meeting carrying a sledgehammer, and obviously hasn't a clue as to WBAI's original raison d'etre. Yesterday, he was desperately trying to get the phones to ring, because—as he suggested—it is so important to keep his show on the air. On the rare occasions when he mentioned sustaining WBAI's life, it was for the wrong reason: to keep him and his soul music on the air. There were three hours of this and he finally managed to get the phones to ring by offering discs of slow-dancing music. He used the term, "buy" at one point, further demonstrating how myopic and misinformed he is in re the station. Shades of Jeannie Hopper's river outings.

I found myself wondering why anyone should pay money for such an unremarkable DJ show. Then I heard him "selling" CDs and I had to wonder about copyrights. I am still wondering about both.

The program that followed, Morning Dew, featured the Grateful Dead and was presented more intelligently, but its host, too seems to think that the future of his program hangs in the balance of the incoming pledges. Which may well be so, considering the warped priorities of Bates and the elusive Reimers. The programs I cited are but two out of many examples of this sort of misdirected thinking, which makes me wonder some more: Are instructions not given to program producers prior to a fund-drive? I am talking about instructions as to WBAI's purpose and the listener's incentive. Individual quotas are obviously handed out, so it is perhaps not odd to find that the on-air people place the emphasis on defense of their own turf rather than on the preservation of freedom of speech and artistic expression. Listeners used to gain a wealth of knowledge from WBAI, even from programs whose nature was entertainment, and they could rely on the station to give them honest reports on current events, enough information for them to form their own opinion. Indoctrination was simply not WBAI's job—the dissemination of objective information was. WBAI did not always succeed, but it made honest attempts to expand the knowledge of its listeners in a variety of fields. That has gone by the wayside as management foments internecine competition and producers see themselves as "stars". Some inject their own political notions with feigned authority and have zero tolerance for opposing views. I submit that this all-too-prevalent attitude has the effect of driving away listeners, especially those who came to 99.5 with the preconceived notion that—in terms of integrity—what once was, still is. Nobody is advocating a return to program content as it was when WBAI was a Pacifica station in more than name, but one can keep up with the times without pandering to the mindless. More and more, we see WBAI's intelligent, principled hosts moved out of the way, their air time cut. One has the feeling that they have been sent closer to the exit—as, indeed, has proven to be the case in some instances.

One cannot expect a "listener-sponsored" station to succeed if one only sees the listener as a source of income—WBAI has to go back to rewarding sponsorship with extraordinary programs rather than with bogus "cures" and conspiracy theories. The line between a commercial and what I heard Ryan do last night is very thin. Indeed, today I heard Felipe Luciano refer to a pitching break as a "commercial." He was quickly corrected by someone in the studio, but the slip was telling. 

Current management did not start this ball rolling, but it is giving it a push rather than re-directing it.

Fundamentally, the whole system is wrong and in serious need of reassessment and grounds-up revision. All that empty blather about "community" and "family" is disingenuous counterproductive hype. It does not take a lot of intelligence to see that. Yes, as I have said before, the station still has meaningful programs on its schedule, but the standard is steadily being lowered. 

There is a general manager who shuns communication with listener-sponsors while an "interim" program director plays favorites with the staff, seems bent on splitting the ranks, and shows utter disrespect for the listeners in many ways, not the least of which is by participating with faux enthusiasm in on-the-air scams. Both are unfit for the job unless the goal is to bankrupt WBAI, which some people think might be the case. I won't go that far, but it is a plausible conjecture.

Am I repeating myself? You bet I am, because I know what WBAI used to be and can again become, but I see no real move to cut out the cancer that has been eating away at Lew Hill's remarkable concept for many years. There is no "cure" for that on a DVD, but drastic corrective measures and determined, dedicated people to carry them out might turn things around. If WBAI is to sink into oblivion, at least let us hope that it does so fighting honestly for survival. 

Listen to the current pitches and draw your own conclusions. 

I don't think this is any way to run a true Pacifica radio station, or—for that matter—any station. The incompetence would certainly not be tolerated for long by a commercial company.

Monday, July 4, 2011

WBAI Folio forApril 11 - May 8, 1966

When this Folio was issued, I was both Acting Program Director and Manager. I had made up my mind to leave about two months earlier, but I deliberately waited until we were up and running with our new, more powerful transmitter installed in the Empire State Building. Once that was in place, I told Hallock Hoffman and the Pacifica Board of my decision, letting them know that I was willing to stay on with a new manager long enough to acquaint him with the job. Hallock asked me to announce my decision on the air, look for replacement candidates, and conduct preliminary interviews. The idea was that, once I had found a few promising applicants, he would come to New York and make the final selection.

I made announcements in my weekly Thursday evening Report to the Listener, a live program that was rebroadcast on Sunday mornings (unlike today, WBAI's management was highly accessible, as it should be).  As you can imagine, there were quite a few applicants and I selected three who, in my view, were eminently well suited for the job. One especially: I don't recall his name, but he was an assistant to Norman Cousins, then the highly respected Editor of The Saturday Review.

Letter from Hallock Hoffman re the position he offered me.
I called Hallock, who expressed excitement when I ran down capsule resumes on the candidates (no faxing back then). He said he'd fly to New York the following week, and asked me to schedule interviews—which I did. Imagine my surprise when Hallock walked into my office on the morning of the first interview and told me to cancel all three, because "we have found our manager." I still don't know what that was all about, but it turned out to be a disastrous decision on Hallock's part, for the man he hired so hastily was Frank Millspaugh. More on that at a later date.

That is the reason why Millspaugh is listed as "Assistant Station Manager" on the first page of this Folio, Hallock wanted it that way. I know that this contradicts the story written by a so-called Pacifica "historian" and picked up by a lovesick WBAI groupie who tried her damnedest to sully my past association with WBAI, but this is the truth.  Anyway, at this point Hallock had offered to create for me a new job with Pacifica in California, and I came close to accepting it. Hallock kind of jumped the gun, assuming that I would accept this offer (see letter above), but I wondered if they could pay this new salary, and the Millspaugh hiring episode gave me serious second thoughts—an offer to go to the BBC solved that dilemma for me.

This edition of the Folio covers four weeks, so it is over 30 pages long. On page 5, you will find an interesting article by Lorenzo Milam, whose own station, KRAB in Seattle, was modeled after Pacifica. You will also see many noteworthy offerings in this issue's listings, including jazz programs hosted by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, who had just formed their big band, Dave Lambert of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Toshiko Akiyoshi, who was married to Charlie Mariano at that time, and the wonderful Marian McPartland, who got her start in radio at WBAI, but was cancelled by Millspaugh (she, of course, moved on to wider audiences). This is also the Folio that marks Larry Josephson's debut on the air (the morning show), which turned out to be another regrettable mistake (mine, this time), and you will find a healthy sprinkling of programs from KPFA and KPFK. The three stations that made up the Pacifica network all had excellent producers among their staff and volunteers, and the exchange benefitted us all. 

So, here is another WBAI Folio. Don't forget to click on the images to make them more readable. If your browser will not allow you to zoom in further, please send me a note at and tell me where to send a pdf file.