Sunday, October 19, 2014

A backward glance: Sowing the seeds of destruction.

You may have seen some of my own ideas as to how WBAI's deterioration began. If so--whether you agree, or not--you know that I place much of the blame on three individuals who seized the opportunity to reshape the station into a form that suited their egos and aspirations.

A particularly ugly facet of this effort was the witch hunt that began as soon as they had command of the microphones. While they boasted long and hard of being a part of New York's only "free speech" radio station, they got busy narrowing that freedom down to themselves. The worst offender was Steve Post, a person who became widely admired by people who either never saw his nasty side or saw it and partook in his viciousness. I would rank Josephson as second, but he was also driven by self-interests and he did not allow morals and responsibility to get in his way. Bob Fass' case was slightly different for he already had access to WBAI's air and that ego was still bubbling under the surface. It was the era of the "flower children" and I used to say that Bob was quite capable of strangling you with his love beads. In the phase that I will deal with now, Bob's main flaw—a rather big one—was that he never spoke up against the, shall we say, integrity-busting "celebritizing" that the opportunists were introducing. WBAI has never recovered from that, nor is it likely to.

People who did speak up were ridiculed and demonized on the air. Remarkably, the victims included Lou Schweitzer, the man to whose generosity and love of free speech Pacifica owed its ownership of WBAI.

When Chris Koch turned against Pacifica and, to my amazement, pursued a job at right-leaning Time magazine, his trip to Hanoi brought him speaking engagements at which he never failed to suggest that he had been forced to leave WBAI because the manager "censored" his reportage. That was an absolute lie, but people like Post picked up on it--although they new better--and used it to turn listeners against me. That sort of thing is not difficult to do at a station like WBAI, where the walls of idealism are thin. I was bothered by it, disappointed to find the length to which people I once trusted and, indeed, had hired would go in pursuit of their personal agenda, but I was more upset by what they were doing to dedicated WBAI workers like Tana DeGamez, and it really upset me when Steve Post started lying about Lou Schweitzer. Soon, Lou became everybody's target--the absurdity  was mind-boggling, for here was a man whose belief in free speech was beyond reproach. 

I finally decided that we had to discuss this whole mess openly in a live, open-ended broadcast with call-ins. Harold Taylor, who headed the local board and was only seen when he could get some personal press out of it, thought it was a good idea and offered to moderate (if that is the term). Chris Koch turned down my invitation to participate, although his presence was absolutely necessary, but he gave in when Harold told him that his absence would not look good. Koch, like Fass, Dale Minor, and others who knew the truth, had remained silent, thereby seeming to be on the side of the finger pointers.

The broadcast went on at the announced time, but when--about an hour later--the questions became tough for Koch to answer, Harold announced that we had run out of time and, in very short order, ended the program. I was furious. The tapes I had ready in Master Control were never played, they contained outright lies leveled against Lou and me. This is when I decided it was time for me to leave WBAI, which I did a couple of months later. 

The attacks on Lou Schweitzer were outrageous. Susan Brownmiller wrote a shamelessly slanted piece in the Village Voice, where she referred to Louis as "Fat Cat Schweitzer," and membership cancellations were beginning to come in, all based upon the slanderous lies Post and company spread.

Herbert Biberman at HUAC hearing.
On the day of the broadcast, I received a telegram from film director Herbert Biberman who--having been one of the so-called "Hollywood Ten"--knew better than most people how vital freedom of speech is. His 1954 film, "Salt of the Earth", was deemed Communist propaganda and he was jailed and blacklisted. Congress denounced the film, and all but a dozen theaters refused to show it. That would change dramatically in later years and "Salt of the Earth" was described by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  The current WBAI marathon has the film as part of a premium, but it can be purchased on DVD for much less.

Here is the telegram Biberman sent regarding the upcoming live on-air discussion. He was reacting to the vile accusations made by Post and others of his ilk against Lou Schweitzer.  WBAI/Pacifica never had a better friend than Lou.


  1. Interesting. Now, before I say anything else, let me remind I wasn't a WBAI listener until 1978. Hence, everything I type is based on things I've read and heard and only accept as opinions.

    So, Fass, Josephson & Post were The First Cabal?

    Do you feel that you were caught in the middle regarding the Koch matter? Pacifica wanted edits, right? You as GM were employed by Pacifica and had to deliver the bad news, even if you disagreed, right? Ultimately, the end result was one edit, which Koch chose of his own volition, right? Sounds like you got all the blame (i.e. scapegoat) for nothing, ultimately.

    You blame The First Cabal as the seeds of WBAI eventual fall, but what about the Kosof/Guzman fiasco of 1977. That essentially wiped out most of WBAI's past (even getting rid of Fass) and made a new beginning. However, that new beginning was, of course, born in hatred. I guess in the end, Pablo Guzman was the ultimate winner, being a continuously employed corporate local TV news doof. So much for his hard left beliefs...

    From the 1977 come back to air to 1980, WBAI sort of floundered, but that was my personal "golden age" because it was it's most free form era post Kosof/Guzman to present. I, like many, think Samori Marksman's 1980 entry as PD was the real killer, with his attempt to make WBAI the leader of the revolution rather than a radio station. The hard left mentality became cemented with him. If you weren't a far leftist, you had your show cancelled or, at least, its time cut down.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but you were the first person to put an overnight talk show on WBAI, when you brought back Fass, correct? If so, then you were the person that made the decades long now dead tradition of night time call-in shows I loved a reality, correct? If all that is correct, then thanks, Chris.


    1. First Cabal? Yes, you might say that.

      The Koch matter did not go down that way. He returned from Hanoi with raw tapes which he immediately began producing for broadcast—editing, adding his narration, etc. I scheduled them for air (I think there were 3, maybe 4) and he brought me the first one to listen to. Mind you, just listen, because his was the final decision. No review. That tape was fairly innocuous, more like a travelogue, "As our plane made a slight turn over Paris..." that sort of thing.

      The second tape was serious reportage, which is something Chris was very good at, but I had one suggestion, every time he read something from a U.S. leaflet or letter, he ended it with, "Whatever that's supposed to mean."

      In my opinion, that was not only a superfluous tag, but it also could be regarded as editorializing. We had intelligent listeners in those days, people who were fully capable of drawing their own conclusions as to whether or not the government's message should be taken as anything but propaganda.

      Please understand, as Chris did, that I was not telling him what to do, just making a suggestion after he had asked for my opinion. Chris agreed with me and that was the end of that. As it turned out, he removed those remarks before the program aired. It did not in any way alter the story content, it just made his narrative more palatable.

      Pacifica never requested any edits, neither did anyone else. They were pissed off because Chris had made the trip which, at that time, was illegal. What worried them was that he might have put Pacifica and/or WBAI in jeopardy, so they sent him a letter asking that he make it clear that the trip was taken without Pacifica's approval or knowledge. In other words, they chickened out instead of supporting his decision. I might add that I had no idea until one of the TV networks called and asked me when and where the Chris Koch press conference was to be held.

      I went into Chris' office and asked him what was going on. "Oh, I didn't tell you, but I just made up that story about going to Paris on vacation."

      I am only vaguely familiar with the Kosof/Guzman situation, but WBAI's deterioration had begun some ten years earlier, so the new beginning you mention could not have been entirely from scratch—the seed had been sown, the departure from Hill's original concept was well underway.

      Don't give me undue credit! Even after I brought Fass back, we were not on the air around the clock, but Fass and I could stay on all night if we felt like it, so that usually meant that we stayed on way past midnight. Of course we stayed on during our annual marathon, but you may recall that Josephson turned the station on in the morning on weekdays (not always when he was supposed to), but they regarded sloppiness (lack of professionalism) as proof of their bohemian ways. It was often a strained effort to be "different."

      When I decided to have phone lines installed in the studio, that service had just been made available and, at first, we restricted it to the studio where, in 1966, we initiated "Talk Back," a one-hour Thursday (8:30pm) call-in program. A couple of months later, we expanded it to 2 hours, and I think it eventually aired more than once a week. I should add that our regular Report to the Listener was a live weekly call-in with one rebroadcast.

    2. @SDL I share your perspective on events post-1976.

    3. Agreed - The arrival of Samori(nee Stanley) Marksman was the death knell of WBAI. He was greatly mourned when he died in 1999 - 3000 people attended his funeral @ St. John the Divine. He also was greatly hated too - some producers held a quiet celebration @ his death, hoisted a few adult beverages to salute his passing. It was a RELIEF. He was a true dictator, admired Stalin and Castro openly - terrible man, not missed by many producers, except those who shared his hard-line Communist "Worldview".

  2. What were they saying about Lou Schweizer?

    As for the 'flower children' they were of course a privileged generation and right to warn 'never trust anyone over thirty' – it was as if they had seen their future selves coming in a future-glimpsing magical mirror.

    ~ 'indigopirate'

    1. They said that he had ordered me to edit Koch's tapes and that he, in general, ran the station.

      The truth is that he never interfered with any of the station's programing or business. He lent us money if we needed it and helped us get the new transmitter, but that was all. We frequently had lunch together in his office at which time he might mention that he didn't care for a program, or that he loved a program, but that was the extent of it. Lou was a very cool guy, with a big heart and a great sense of humor. He was somewhat of an outcast in his family, because he didn't want to contribute to the "family foundation," but preferred to surprise strangers who needed help. When he heard of some kids in Harlem having made a make-shift theater in a basement, he went up there and poked around, determined what they needed, and made them a gift of it. Once a day, his secretary would inform him that "the kids are ready." This meant that he went into another room where he had a ham radio setup that he used to talk to another group of kids, these were in Florida, whom he had given a ham setup.

      One night, when I was working late in my WBAI office, he called to chat. At one point, he said "You sound like something is bothering you, kid. What's wrong?" I didn't want to tell him that we were $10,000 in arrears with IRS withholding taxes (mostly something I inherited from Joe Binns, my predecessor), but he persisted. "Listen kid," he said, "I'll mail you a ten thousand dollar cheque tomorrow...but only if you cheer up."

      I hope you understand why it made me so angry to hear this wonderful old man be the subject of character assassination by punks like Post.

  3. Thanks for the info on the Koch matter, Chris. The problem with WBAI history is that being such a politically energized station, people twist stories around and about into mythology with ease. That's why I always try to find different perspectives on a situation.

    I don't think the Kosof/Guzman fiasco wiped the slate clean and started things from scratch. However, I think it got rid of a lot of old issues and planted many new ones. You could say it mixed new ingredients into the old mix. Fred Geobold told me one day when I mentioned how I liked that one period how there was lots of good radio, but " didn't make money."

    Anyway, as people say, Marksman was lucky Reagan was President because it created the right wing threat factor for the needed left wing reaction (donations, easier time putting on far left programs, firing people, cutting show times down, etc.). The mentality and politics of today came in full force with him. It has simply degraded more and more over time. Anyway, I just feel WBAI never really overcame the legacy of Kosof/Guzman. It became a new station, really, eschewing its purpose.

    Fass turned the transmitter off when he wanted? Josephson turned it on when he wanted? Adler eventually was placed between them, which meant the transmitter stayed on 24/7?

    Reimers wouldn't do a weekly Report To The Listener because he doesn't have the time, as he would say...


  4. Post looks like an Auschwitz survivor.