WBAI's 50th Anniversary Program
Sunday, January 10, 2010
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 around 1965, 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 Taña 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"! There also was no mention of WBAI’s superb children’s programs, which were unlike anything else offered on New York's air, or of the fact that we had amazing expertise on the air in so many fields. Andrew Sarris was our film critic, John Corigliano was our Music Director, Yoko Ono was one of his volunteer file clerks, 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 Aliyoshi, 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. That was a pioneering move, and a necessary one, for it allowed our reporters to covertly tape conversations with bigoted officials who otherwise would have refused interviews. Neither was there mention of Dale Minor's amazing shoestring budget reportage from Vietnam—great journalism that arrived in well-worn manila envelopes by way of a WBAI- friendly Pan-Am stewardess and scooped the network coverage. There also was no mention yesterday of Marcia Tompkins, 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. Marsha’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 for their anniversary.