Sunday, April 6, 2014

Reimers' rude Sunday morning wakeup call...

The other day, Berthold Reimers had another not so bright idea: Chop one hour off Ivan Hemitz's "Through the Opera Glass" and eliminate "Cosmic Debris" to make room for a Sunday morning gospel show. Making this idea even more stupid was the fact that this show was already being aired by WHCR, from a studio down the hall. So, it was not an original program, but while the host, Daulton Anderson meets the ethnic requirements, he is an Englishman so reaching out to him for a gospel show is a little bit like shipping coal to Newcastle. I am not suggesting that black gospel shows can not be done expertly by someone of different ethnic and national origin, after all, Anthony Heilbut wrote the definitive book on black gospel music, and Leonard Lopate, a connoisseur with deep knowledge of the music once did a gospel show on WBAI—both men are Jewish. Another factor that makes this an idiotic decision is that WBAI is located in NYC, where gospel music abounds and black churches are plentiful. Consider, too, that the Anderson show is not original—it comes from a door or two down the hall from WBAI's rented studio! Not only that, but it is still aired by WHCR, every Sunday morning and, compounding Reimers' inexplicable decision, it is, over all, not a good show. Yes, there are some fine performances among the dross; Mr. Anderson obvious became aware of the criticism generated by the infringement upon Ivan Hemitz's opera program (it would end up costing him an hour of air time), so he included June E. Towne, a classically trained singer who labels her forays into the gospel repertoire, "gospera." Anderson calls it gosperia and presents it as if it were a branch genre of gospel music. It isn't that—just a made-up tag for one artist's fusion that is rather appealing, but does not fall into the "gospel" category any more than Marian Anderson singing "Ave Maria" or a hefty chorus doing a Handel warhorse.

When I first heard of this program change, I did not expect Mr. Anderson to be a scholar, but I foolishly took for granted that he would at least try for the gospel truth. The misinformation may not be deliberate, but Anderson's story of Ellington's "Come Sunday," and how Mahalia Jackson came to record it is pure hogwash. Contrary to Anderson's story, Mahalia was also not who the song was written for—she sang it with Duke's orcherstra at the 1958 Newport Festival and they recorded it for Columbia that same year, but it's premiere performance took place in 1943, with Betty Roché doing the vocal. Several other singers rendered the song before Mahalia did it. Furthermore, it is not a gospel song. Anderson obviously relies on liner notes and internet blurbs for his information, but he was batting zero this morning. Listen for yourself.

When criticism over Reimers' programming decision surfaced, his defenders were quick to say that WBAI would benefit from such a program. Based upon Reimers' own description, Mitchel Cohen, Andrea Katz, and others described a program that visited churches in the area and either recorded or presented live performances. That sounded good, but it was as off the mark as it was unrealistic. Reimers repeated his "vision" on the air a week ago, but Janet Coleman had the questions Mitchel, Katz, et al, should have asked themselves. Here's a compiled excerpt from that confrontation:

You can hear the uncut version of this impromptu meeting here. So you see, "High Praize" was not the interesting, unique church-hopping show we were led to expect. Notice also that Reimers scheduled it for Sunday morning in order that churchgoers might listen before going off to a service. This clearly validates the concern over WBAI promoting religion and you may have noticed that Janet Coleman had a good question along that order. Reimers was not prepared to handle it.

Getting back to the program's WBAI premiere, it was a rudderless mishmash of sounds aimed at black churchgoers. People who tuned in to hear gospel were cheated—what they heard was a pedestrian disc jockey stroking his ego and showing his ignorance of the subject. What they heard including this sort of thing, which might have been alright in a different context on another station. This is what he nearly killed two fine programs for: 

As a matter of fact, Anderson played more of that a couple of hours later when he did his "High Praise" all over again—sans the appeasing selections and the "z" in the title—on WHCR, in an adjoining studio. He made several mentions of his celebrating 18 years on WHCR and now also being heard on WBAI, where he just conducted the station's first gospel program. The latter claim is not true and we can only hope that the same soon applies to the former.

As I said, Reimers' impulsive program change met with some criticism from the few people who learned of it, but even some of his defenders felt that he had made a big mistake by shoving the station's only opera program aside, a program that still has faithful listeners and does quite well during fund drives.

In conclusion, let me stress that I am not against WBAI having a gospel music program. In fact, I initiated the inclusion of that genre about fifty years ago, when I gave Charles Hobson the nod to conduct a weekly hour gospel quartet recordings. He later included early black r&b and called the program "Negro Music"—yes, I know, and I'm cringing with you, but that was another time. Hobson, who moved on to become a TV producer at channel 13, loved gospel quartets and his programs were a lesson in their history—well received by the listeners and fully in keeping with the Pacifica mission. Daulton Anderson's idea of a gospel show is quite different—he likes to play a loud, rhythmic variety that owes more to pop than anything else, and his presentation is as antithetical to the Pacifica approach as are the current WBAI dj/chatter shows. Unless Anderson modifies his program to better fit into its new environment, don't expect to hear the stunning artistry usually associated with black church performances, such as Lenny Lopate used to play on WBAI—what Anderson dishes up has a lot to do with volume and less to do with musicality. It is a reflection of Berthold Reimers' insensitivity and esthetically handicapped taste. The only good news is that Berthold Reimers buckled under to  pre-air criticism this intrusive program and cut it in half. Now you can continue to get a full view through the opera glass, but the program needs to be moved out of the darkness of night.


  1. Listening to Reimers, it is striking how commercialized BAI is. If the station has been broke for nearly 15 years and you want to maintain a black radio outlet, why not go to the United Negro College, NAACP, Smithsonian, and a host of other non-profits to get the funding and develop the station as a quality cultural broadcaster for the African American community? I don't think that Reimers is that sum not to consider that option. I think that this doesn't happen, because that would preclude the marketing under the guise of pitching premiums, and the station is being run (by Reimers and possibly others) as a marketing operation.

    That would be funny, if Reimers is trying to turn the station into Gospel Radio the way Haskins tried making it into a Union Radio. Evolution of ideas. Program directors come and go, but the BAI on a stick, the BAI Buddy and now Praise The Lord Radio, ideas remain. It is the localized faction that stays.

    1. If the station has been broke for nearly 15 years, as Reimers claimed, one should ask him why he put people like Robert Knight on a salary that his previous performance did not justify. I single our Knight, because his is the most glaring case of wasteful spending. The station is in dire need of equipment repairs and replacements, including such essentials as microphones and disc players; we were also repeatedly told that the mishandling of premium fulfillments was in large measure due to a lack of manpower. That's hampering their income, alienating (and losing) listeners, and, outrageously, a task for which they were collecting extra money. Furthermore, if we are to believe Reimers and his cronies when they excuse the furtiveness that characterized his first two years as GM, we must question the wisdom of paying a $100,000,00 annual salary to someone doing a clerk's job. The fact that he did not untangle the mess makes this even more inexcusable.

      Berthold Reimers is a lying little weasel.

      As for turning to such institutions as you name for help in developing WBAI as a "quality cultural broadcaster for the African-American community," they would not get to first base, having already insulted the intelligence of black Americans with their low-level approach. They obviously equate physical blackness with mental dimness—that is evidenced by the many hours of mindless fare aimed at the "hood," for want of a better general term.

      WBAI has indeed become a station in search of a brand. Bertholization serves as an accelerant as it goes into the final lap.

  2. THIS JUST IN: I did some digging on Tony Norman, whom Reese considers ineligible, because he supposedly holds an elected office position. This is wrong. Tony Norman is a chair of the DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which is a neighborhood organization that works with the Municipal government to improve the neighborhood. This is a civics organization, not national politics. The bias here, is that Pacifica National Board members can be unelected members if extremist organizations engaging in direct action, violent or otherwise, and be active in politics, and their membership on a Pacifica National Board will not be challenged. Of the Pro-Reese faction, Janet Kobren took part in a flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip or West Bank, Luzette King is a would be UK and US based expat politician taking part in the national politics in St Vincent and Grenadies ruling party, and Carolyn Birden is an academic who signed a petition supporting a former member of the Weather Underground, a terrorist organization.

    So, according to the Rules Interpretation by Summer Reese, you will be disqualified from the Pacifica National Board, if you chair your local neighborhood improvement association, but you are okay and there is no conflict of interest, if you carry an AK-47 for peace and social justice!

    The rest of my findings to follow.

    1. It looks to me as if you are stretching things a bit.