Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Distinguished WBAI veteran: gone and forgotten.

This morning, I heard Michael Haskins in a conversation with Fran Luck, producer/co-host of the station's "Joy of Resistance" program. They were promoting the WBAI Feminist Film Festival, to be held at the station's largely wasted office location on Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue, starting September 24th and continuing over the next five consecutive Fridays.

It is a series of events into which much preparatory work has gone, and we should applaud such initiatives, as I do. Let's hope that the Commons, a space beneath WBAI's offices, will prove to be too small to accommodate the attendees.

This morning's promotion was fine, as are the recorded spots being aired, but I have another reason to blog about this event: the missed opportunity it represents.

We know that WBAI tends to overestimate the importance of its deceased program hosts when indulging in trips down memory lane. We have recently seen this in the case of Steve Post and Robert Knight—two names that don't belong on any honor roll, but wore loose-fitting rusty halos as they basked in the perpetual platitudes of those who only knew the half of it—Knight has even been made the subject of weekly idolatry via Kathy Davis' audio taxidermy.

Missing from this Hall of Hypocrisy scenario are some of WBAI's most significant program contributors, talented people whose work and dedication raised the station's standard and left indelible—albeit, apparently invisible—marks when they moved on to continue and further develop their career on a broader stage.

You can be sure that they never forgot their early years at WBAI; you can be sure that they wept as they saw the station lose its purpose to become a listener-abandoned feedbag for opportunists; you can be sure that many of them would have reached back and extended a helping hand if they thought WBAI deserved it.

You can also be sure that WBAI—with very few exceptions—no longer attracts or produces the kind of dedication that once was commonplace. It has certainly lost its audience appeal and respect while failing to address the most glaring reasons: inept management and inferior, stagnant programming.

This brings me back to the station's Feminist Film Festival and how it triggered this post.

One of the highlights of the festival is the showing of "Fund: the Story of Ella Baker," a highly acclaimed 1981 documentary film produced, written and directed by Joanne Grant.

Fran Luck gives due credit to Joanne Grant, but her praise falls short by not mentioning the early WBAI connection: Not only was Joanne our News Director, she was the first woman to fill that position, and she was among the station's first three black staffers.

When we initiated the call-in program, "Talk Back," Joanne was the host-producer. The idea of having a marathon fundraiser was developed when Joanne and I had lunch and wondered aloud how we were going to raise $25,000 in a couple of days. That night, I interrupted her news program to announce that there would be no more regular programming until we received that sum of money (a sizable one back then) in pledges. Joanne and I jointly made the first pitch.

I don't know why Ms. Luck omits mention of Joanne's alumnus status, but I hope it isn't deliberate. Do we ever hear her name called out when frantic marathon pitchers feel a need to cash in on the station's distinguished past? We hear far less accomplished people cited as examples of WBAI's importance, and I think that points to ignorance more than anything else.

When I mention Joanne from time to time, it is not because I was the one who hired her (as, gulp, I did Steve Post), but because she was such a remarkable woman—highly intelligent, talented, personable, and dedicated to the pursuit of what she believed in. I want you to know more about such people, who came to us and left us more enlightened. You can Google her name, but here is a link to a detailed obituary of Joanne.


  1. Nice to see people from WBAI's history brought up. She was before my time, but I like history. I think one of the problems is that the modern morons who listen to and staff WBAI only know it as "our station," and know nothing about what WBAI was through the decades.

    I think people forget WBAI alumni status because, frankly, WBAI is meaningless now. People really don't even know it exists like they used to.

    Anyway, don't kick yourself over Post. You brought back Fass, which was a very good programming decision for the time. Forget about the disaster he is now. In the 1960s, he was an important figure for WBAI and its place as the alternative radio voice in the NY market.


  2. Harry Truman integrated the Armed Forces. He also made the decision to drop the atomic bomb.

    So, Chris, you shouldn't kick yourself over Steve Post. You brought Joanne Grant--and other talented people--to the station.

    By the way: How are you feeling?

    1. Thank you. Justine.

      I feel fine and am enjoying amazing vision! When I close my right eye, I can see how dim and unclear everything used to be—that will be corrected on Oct. 15, when Dr. Nightingale (don't you love the name?) finishes the job. Now, if I can only finish writing this article on Lil Armstrong.... it was due in Memphis yesterday and I am usually pretty good at meeting my deadlines.

  3. It is clear from the obituary of Ms. Grant that she was a Communist. But you missed listening to the station for several decades, only to awake like Rip Van Winkle to some imagined shortcomings. Why don't you pitch in and help instead of getting a woody over WBAI's failings - you just are no good!!

    1. Perhaps I might make some sense out of your comment if you weren't uttering your thoughts from under a rock. At this point, pitching in—to use your phrase—will not do any good to WBAI, but I can see why certain individuals would want that. The "shortcomings" of present-day WBAI/Pacifica are not imagined—ask any of the thousands of former listeners to educate you on that fact.

    2. I read that and pictured the scene from The Twilight Zone episode with Billy Mumy going, "You're a bad man! You're a very bad man!"

      WBAI's few remaining fans are such morons that they can't even post a message showng WHY they like the station. All they can do is hurl invective. Amusing little mice.


    3. Which, I suppose, is why they hiss in the shadows.