Sunday, January 31, 2016

A bit of marathon nostalgia...

We find ourselves on the eve of another month-long fundraising marathon. This practice of on-the-air begging began June 29th, 1965, but it was not the snake oil market that it has become. We called it a "marathon," because that's what it was, and the stations fate really did hang in the balance. Years later, someone told us that we had come up with a unique concept: suspending all regular programming and pitched uninterrupted until our goal was reached in pledges. No premiums, just a promise that listener support would keep this unusual radio station and its intelligent program schedule on the air. That was really all our listeners wanted. Born out of desperation, the idea was hatched over lunch with News Director, Joanne Grant, whom I had hired a couple of weeks earlier. 

As Joan and I discussed the problem, it occurred to me that, since our unorthodox, eclectic programming and total absence of commercials was the reason why people sent us money, we should underscore the seriousness of our situation by taking it all off the air until we have the $25,000.

By the time we had finished our dessert and coffee, we had a loosely formulated plan: I would break into the middle of Joan's 6 PM newscast and announce that we would cease airing our regular program schedule until we had the needed sum in pledges. Our phones started ringing immediately.

Seeing the overwhelming result of this experiment, Pacifica's President, Hallock Hoffman, asked me to conduct a marathon at each of our other stations, KPFA and KPFK. They, too, exceeded their respective goals and fund raising marathons became an annual event—there were no additional ones nor were "premiums" lures needed. See 

I should add that we made a few phone calls prior to launching the drive, inviting people to stop by and help us pitch for money. The response was fantastic (see paragraph 4 of Hallock's letter), especially from the jazz community, but this was all done in such haste and with preparation so scant that it fit on a cocktail napkin. Thus, when pianists Herbie Hancock and Roger Kellaway said they'd be there, we realized that we had a major problem: no piano. I managed to rent an upright for delivery the next day; in the meantime, John Corigliano, our Music Director (and not yet an Oscar winner) ran home a picked up his barebones electric keyboard—bear in mind that electric pianos were not taken seriously in 1965, for good reason, and this one was strictly for working at home—no frills. That day, Herbie had his first experience with a plugged-in keyboard, and Roger Kellaway did quite well accompanying Joe Williams on it. The following day, the real thing was delivered and, with a lot of help from a friendly piano dealer, we could keep it.

When Dave Lambert heard what we were doing, he showed up in the early morning hours, carrying wonderful airchecks of Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan (Annie Ross had left) and other Lambert groups—Dave was always assembling interesting vocal groups. At one point, he spotted the keyboard in the studio and tried it out. I think you will agree that this is a far more acceptable way to raise money, and the funny thing i that we always received considerably more than was pledged. You can do that when you have an honest, intelligent radio station that nourishes its listeners.


  1. Wonderful to hear – thank you :)

    ~ ‘indigopirate’

    ps: Really have to love that electric piano and the threat of Chris Albertson singing.

  2. Thanks, Chris. This was an exceedingly interesting piece of audio, not just for your intended purpose, but as a piece of old WBAI history. Also, it was nice to hear your voice at that time. It kind of makes you more "real" to me, if that makes any sense. If we can go back in time, I'll pledge that $74.00.

    I was thinking that maybe the current WBAI could hook up with a phone sex service and use a thirty minute phone sex session as a premium...


    1. I can hear Mimi doing that: racy uninterrupted one-hour sessions.

      Thanks to you and indigopirate for the kind words.

    2. "Oh, yes! Fuck me like I'm an oppressed African American slave in masters racist house and my offspring will receive reparations some day!"