Monday, December 19, 2011
Some of you may have seen The Last Scraps a post from September wherein I explained how I ended my on-air association with WBAI by telling a few truths in a 15-minute spot that normally would have held a montage-type weekly program of that name. That night, I put aside the tape and talked about some disturbing activities that were taking WBAI off track (sound familiar?). If you wish to read the Last Scraps post, click here.
Here is a program from 1968 that's more representative, if somewhat dated (this was one of the Vietnam years). A silly montage with no redeeming qualities, but people seemed to like it. I did not have an audio mixer at home, so I used separate—sometimes overlapping—stereo channels, which is far from ideal.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
When I left WNEW to join the WBAI staff as an announcer, the station's popular morning duo, Klavan and Finch, made what was probably the only mention of WBAI on WNEW. Part of their show was an ongoing routine in which Gene Klavan (who replaced Gene Rayburn as Finch's partner) played various characters based on staff members. He gave me a Swedish accent, as you will hear on this aircheck fragment from December 28, 1963. Notice the Coca Cola prices. It's hard for me to imagine that this was close to fifty years ago. Gene Klavan and Dee Finch are gone now and WNEW is a very different station.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
The man on the phone told me that he was producing radio spots for airing nationwide during National Radio Month—would I, as the manager of WBAI, be interested in submitting to a brief interview for one of the spots? I said, sure, thinking this could bring us some publicity.
A few days later, he showed up with a couple of audio engineers and equipment. Our studio was in use, so we found a quiet office and—after they had recorded some ambiance (room noise)—we proceeded with the interview. "Call me Hugh," he said. I thought that was a bit odd, for he had introduced himself with another name, but if I could be "Uncle Chris" on my Saturday night program, I guess he could be Hugh.
At least I was in interesting company. I bet I wasn't the only one who
felt duped. Harry Belafonte, for instance. (Click on label to enlarge)
I had forgotten all about this when my secretary, Joan Henry, brought me my morning mail and pointed to an LP that she had unwrapped. "This looks interesting," she said. It was not only interesting, but unpleasantly surprising. I had been duped by the U.S. Army—they had the manager of a pacifist station participating in an Army recruitment radio spot! "Hugh" turned out to be Hugh Downs, whose voice had been cut in as the interviewer. Downs was quite popular at that time, having worked as a network game host, talk host, and anchor (the real thing), but this
deception brought him way down on my list. I decided to talk about this on the air and apologize to our listener-supporters for having been so naïve.
I don't know how many stations this ran on, but this was during the Vietnam era, a time when commercial media worked hard to demonstrate their patriotism. There is no way that Mr. Downs was unaware of WBAI and Pacifica, so I had to assume this was a deliberate "mistake."
Here's how it sounded:
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
There is no need for me to tell you who Bob is or that Radio Unnameable is often Radio Unbelievable, and always Radio Unpredictable. Think, too, how this film will bring attention to the station you love. Here is more information about the project. You can contact the filmmalers, Paul Lovelace and JessicaWolfson at email@example.com
Friday, December 2, 2011
Today I heard Corinne Furnari and Tony Bates lay it on thick in their ongoing, shameless efforts to deceive WBAI listeners. You don't have to know anything about either of these two characters to detect the sleaze in which they wrap their pitches.
Furnari, of course, was the idiot who gave Kevin Trudeau—a certified, convicted scam artist a long interview last year (or was it this year?)—birds of a feather... Trudeau has been imprisoned and convicted of larceny and credit card fraud, among other crimes, and fined millions of dollars for making fraudulent claims. My worry is always that WBAI might lose its license or be fined out of business for the fraudulent claims routinely made by Bates, Furnari and others during the infomercials that are passed off as fund raisers for the station. Trudeau, who has spent time in prison.
I doubt if Bates or Furnari will bring Trudeau back, having learned something from the hue and cry his last appearance generated—but they continue their barefaced deception as they milk the listeners to pay for mismanagement. It is regrettable that Reimers (who obviously approves of this), Bates, and the rest of WBAI's morally bankrupt crew have not been stopped by Engelhardt or
the Pacifica Board. Add to that the sad truth that only a small number of people who are connected with WBAI have spoken up against it and you get a gloomy outlook for the station's future.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Here is another performance from the 1965 WBAI Marathon. Walter Bishop, Jr.'s Quartet was one of many groups and individual artists from the jazz community that came to WBAI's aid when we needed them. Walter's quartet arrived at the station in the early morning hours, straight from a tiring gig at the legendary Minton's Playhouse, in Harlem. Sad to say, some of the same musicians, along with Coltrane and Monk, assembled at the Five Spot only five months later to play tribute to tenor saxophonist Frank Haynes, whom cancer claimed in his 33rd year.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
WBAI is in the home stretch of yet another fund-raising marathon, predominantly preying on listeners in poor health by unscrupulously selling them DVDs that make false claims of "cures" for diseases that, so-far, remain incurable. Another group of targeted gullibles are sold DVDs of far-fetched conspiracy theories, often made by sensationalists in pursuit of attention and income. The hucksters will tell you that they aren't selling anything, these are "gifts", they say, "our way of thanking you for your support." What they don't tell listeners is that many of these items can be had elsewhere for considerably less money. Not only do they keep that to themselves, some will even claim that an item can only be had through WBAI—deliberate deception by a station that professes to stand for truth and justice.
Years ago, when we first started raising funds on the air, the key word was "honesty" and, on those rare occasions when we offered an item in return, it was something useful and pertinent. We also made sure that these items were actually received by the listeners who sent in money. Last week, I heard a caller tell Bob Fass that she never received her paid-for "gift," and that she had a very difficult time getting through to the station. When someone finally took her call, she was told that the item she had paid for was no longer available, so they sent her, as a replacement, something that she had no use for.
I will say that some of the items offered this time around are more suitable, but whether or not they will be delivered remains a gamble. The highly questionable, possibly illegal health "solutions" are still being plugged, some in endless re-runs and with an added sound effect of phones ringing.
Current management and its cronies were sent to WBAI with a mandate to clean up the mess left behind by a succession of predecessors, but the new team was an ill-chosen one that has proved to be inept and irresponsible. Their attitude toward the listener-supporter is as unhealthy as some of the outrageous merchandise they are selling. I do not use the term lightly, for what we hear on the air are infomercials pitched with the same hype and intensity as their late-night TV counterparts.
|The NY Times (july 3, 1965) noted that |
we reached our goal and ended the
station's first marathon
I have been consistently critical of the current management and its treatment of WBAI and its listeners—a persistence borne out of a long-standing love for the concept that led Lewis Hill and others to found Pacifica in the early post-WWII years. Times have changed and Pacifica ought never to stand still, but neither should it abandon the basic principles laid down by the founders. These principles are as valid and important today as they were in the late 1940s, but the idealism that drove Pacifica in the early years has been replaced by personal agendas and egotism. I don't know about the other stations, but WBAI still has a core of dedicated people who fight an uphill battle to keep the Pacifica spirit alive. That was never more evident than recently, when two staffers took it upon themselves to give coverage to the Occupy Wall Street group. An event of global interest and importance was taking place down the street from the station while management was re-running time-worn, insulting money pitches. It took two or three weeks for the Manager and Interim Program Director to recognize the importance of this movement and see that it was exactly the sort of event Pacifica was made to cover better than anybody else. Now, they have finally done something about it, but it's too little, too late, and what could have taken WBAI back into the spotlight has, instead brought it more scorn. Management and self-serving hosts are now actually and shamelessly trying to take credit for OWS. Opportunism at its ugliest.
I apologize for straying, but I really find it upsetting to see a great concept so abused. Getting back to my initial reason for adding this post, I stumbled upon an unmarked reel of tape this morning, and it turned out to be an air check of one of my mid-Sixties jazz programs wherein I make a little pitch for support. It struck me that it was quite different from the ones we now hear on what seems to have become Gary Null Radio, so I thought I would share it. We did not offer "premiums" back then, but we occasionally found or produced an item that it seemed natural to offer. Whether it was a handy little radio, an LP of Noel Langley generously reading for us his delightful children's tale, "The Land of Green Ginger," or KPFK's Annual Annual, a publication that presented in magazine form the kind of enlightenment we offered on the air. We never targeted the easily persuaded, we didn't have to, because our listeners tuned in to hear a station that told it like was and made no attempt to bamboozle them. The fund-raising marathons we invented were annual events designed to meet immediate needs, but the money we received always exceeded the amount pledged. Lew Hill dreamed of an alternative station and that is what we were, in the true sense of the word.
After all that, it almost seem dumb to give you an audio example, but here it is:
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Long after I left Pacifica, and having resigned from the BBC to pursue a freelance career as writer and record producer, I returned to volunteering at WBAI as a program host/producer. One of my weekly programs was an hour devoted to jazz, the other was a 15-minute mini version of "The Inside," my old Saturday night audio montage. I named it "Scraps," because of its brevity and hodgepodge nature.
Frank Millspaugh was still the manager and he had all but removed the jazz programs, leaving only one or two. Marian McPartland was gotten rid of (a big mistake, obviously) and brought back. The Saturday Afternoon show that had been hosted by some of the greatest jazz performers in the world was now devoted to folk music. As seems to be common practice today, volunteer hosts who were not on management's A list were often treated shabbily and eventually found their program either shortened or, in a seemingly arbitrary fashion, dropped.
At the end of one of my jazz programs, I commented briefly on what I saw as unfair treatment of music hosts and a general dilution of WBAI's jazz programming. This was, after all, New York City, and jazz formed a big part of its life. My comment did not sit well with Frank Millspaugh, but instead of picking up the phone, he dropped me the following letter:
Clicking on an image should enlarge it, somewhat.
My response was prompt...
When many attempts to have Pacifica and Harold Taylor's local Board look into these things failed, I decided to take it to the listener-supporters. Was that the right thing to do? I'm still not sure, but what's done is done. I scrapped my scheduled tape, was it were, and hastily recorded a substitute "Scraps". Frank had suggested that a jazz program is not a place for commentary, an argument that he could not apply to "Scraps"—it was a commentary program, and there was no particular subject.
I have a tape of the program, but no machine to run it on, so here is an old transcript. You will not be surprised to learn that it generated a fair amount of mail and phone calls—more on that later. I have inserted three favorable ones that did reach me following the broadcast.
Transcript of commentary delivered by Chris Albertson over radio station WBAI-FM Monday, January 27, 1969 at 7:15 PM and Tuesday, January 28, 1969 at 10:45 AM.
Good evening, this is Chris Albertson with “Scraps.” If you have listened to this program in the past, you will have noticed that it is a sort of tape montage in which I make comments with the help of various sounds, music and words. One could, in fact, call “Scraps” a commentary program. Many months ago, on my other WBAI program, “Jazz at Home,” I urged my listeners to support WBAI by becoming subscribers. I mentioned that one could not expect to like all of the station’s programs and that, for instance, I personally found certain programs to be of a quality unworthy of WBAI.
Shortly after the broadcast of this program, I received a letter from the station manager, a letter informing me that I was not doing a commentary program, and threatening to take me off the air unless I stuck to the subject of jazz.
Now, I don’t know which subject station management deems appropriate for “Scraps”, this program may, therefore, well be my last. Be that as it may… there are many things that have needed to be said for a very long time, and I am going to say some of them tonight.
I’m not going to dwell on the current controversy regarding anti-Semitism. To me, this is not the real issue… this is not a valid reason for discontinuing support of WBAI. There are many reasons for not supporting the station right now, but they are all overshadowed by a very important reason for continuing support. Nat Hentoff, several years ago, in a moment when he was disillusioned with WBAI, mentioned—after a long article criticizing the station—that it is, after all, “the only game in town.” Let’s face it, there’s no other station like WBAI in this area… for this reason, I find it essential that we keep the station alive. I also find it essential that we prevent the abuse of WBAI from within.
I began volunteering here in 1960. I took a sizeable cut in salary to join WBAI as an announcer in, I believe it was, 1963. I resigned as manager of WBAI in 1966, but I never resigned as a supporter of WBAI and the principles for which it stood.
|A favorable response to my final program.|
I use the past tense, because I no longer feel that WBAI is upholding the principles upon which Pacifica was founded. During this recent controversy, I have heard a great deal of talk on this station about the First Amendment and Pacifica’s principles. The very people who now see fit to remind us of these free-speech principles have just spent two years violating them.
A couple of weeks ago, when Don Schlitten and Ira Gitler, two faithful, long-time volunteer program producers, found that some of their weekly programs had arbitrarily been dropped, they discovered this by reading the Folio—they were never officially informed of it—they decided to discontinue their services to the station altogether. They discussed this in their last program and that program was not rebroadcast as scheduled… this is not what I call free speech.
This program, incidentally, will probably not be rescheduled for tomorrow morning, Tuesday. It might be, but I really doubt it. You are hearing it now simply because management is expecting another “Scraps” program and nobody has had time to check the tape. I admit that I am taking advantage of this, but I think this is very important.
There are many Jewish people who now urge the station to cancel Julius Lester’s program. I don’t agree with them at all, and neither does the management of the station, it seems. “It’s a free-speech station, “ they say… we must air all points of view.” They say something else when that point of view is critical of them.
There are many skeletons in WBAI’s closet and the station’s management knows how important it is to keep that closet door closed. I say the time has come to open it—perhaps not completely, but at least ajar.
The Pacifica Board is well aware of the deplorable situation that exists inside WBAI—I have made them aware of this, if they didn’t know it before, but, as one prominent member of the Board told me, “the Board is ineffective,” and he is quite right. The attentive listener must be aware of the steadily declining quality of WBAI’s programming… gone are the truly exciting documentaries that distinguished WBAI just a few years ago. At a time when so many vital issues need to be clarified and discussed, WBAI is devoting only 12 hours a week—not counting rebroadcasts—to public affairs programming. This is an average based on the February Folio and it does not mean 12 hours of public affairs programming produced at WBAI—that figure is much lower and no programs are really “produced,” I mean, going out and recording a lecture is not producing a program. That’s 12 out of 152 hours. When one considers that 45 hours a week is given over to the mostly inane rambling of the station’s three “star personalities”—and we all know who they are—whose programs have gone high on the lists of pop record promoters, it tells us something about the nature of their programs. It is quite clear that WBAI has changed its course.
WBAI has always needed funds, but never before has it so grossly abused the listener’s money. WBAI has, in fact, become a playpen for a chosen few who need to have their ego boosted and who are, incidentally, receiving some shockingly high salaries. These salaries become particularly shocking when one considers that the current staff—with a few notable exceptions, interestingly enough among the lower-paid employees—spends a minimum of time at the station, and rarely listen to it.
|Another positive reaction to the last "Scraps".|
WBAI has had over two years in which to prepare a move to a new location. It hasn’t moved, it has asked you for money for a “building fund” and you have given it money, but where is it? Why, with more subscribers than ever before, is the station broke? They certainly are not spending a great deal of money on programming… Oh, they’ll tell you about the Washington Bureau and a proposed Harlem Bureau, but that’s nothing, that’s peanuts. They are spending an excessive amount on salaries… excessive because the listener gets nothing in return.
I happen to be very fond of the current output of folk-rock music, but I can hear it on WNEW-FM and several local stations—I can hear it without the sophomoric patter of WBAI’s “in” group… so, who needs it on WBAI?
If I sound angry, it’s because I am…I am angry because WBAI has become a toy…I am angry because I see it from two sides. I see the hypocrisy, I see the exploitation of listener-supporters. I see an alarming departure from the principles that once made one proud to be a part of WBAI. There was a dignity and an esprit de corps that made WBAI very special… there was a venturesome spirit that often led to some of the most exciting and meaningful programming heard anywhere. It was all done with love and a strong belief in high principles… it was done with very little money.
Now, of course we weren’t faultless in the old days of WBAI. We made many mistakes——but we cared and we tried to do what we felt was best for the station. Once, in 1965, when we felt that management was not acting in the interest of the station, the staff—with only two exceptions—resigned in protest. I was one of the resigners, and we did it because we loved the WBAI and this was the only way we could show it. There are no resignations now, even though the situation is far worse. There are no resignations because few on the staff care enough.
WBAI has, for some time now, faced a financial crisis. They have reminded us of this constantly. Management has put the blame on the UFT, saying that many UFT members have dropped their support, because the station did not seem to favor Albert Shanker during the recent school crisis. This is utter nonsense. Even if all the subscribers who are UFT members or sympathizers should cancel their WBAI subscription, it would take a year for it to have full effect—all teachers did not become subscribers during the month of October! And now the station is blaming the Jewish subscriber for enlarging the financial crisis.
The fact is that WBAI’s support began slacking off long before most people had heard of Oceanhill-Brownsville. It began slacking because the station stopped fulfilling a need. WBAI’s programming is its product, and when a product becomes inferior, the consumer no longer buys it—it’s that simple.
Something must be done to improve WBAI’s product. It will obviously not be done by the current crew, but it can never be done unless the machinery is kept going. Therefore, WBAI must continue receive your continued support… the fire that was WBAI has been reduced to a flame, but it must not be extinguished. Let’s keep it lit and, if you are really concerned, if you really want this once vital voice to roar again, demand responsible management that will provide the kind of programming that is so urgently needed in this time of national and world crisis…. Demand it! After all, to hear what Steve Post had for dinner is neither worth your time nor money.
|Interesting comment on the then new Lite WBAI.|
When a member of WBAI’s management tells a concerned program participant that he doesn’t care if the newscaster reads from the New York telephone book as long as he or she gets “that NBC sound,” he is sadly reflecting the current attitude from within. This actually did happen.
I must admit that I have been hesitant to voice openly my criticism of WBAI. I have been hesitant because, being the former manager, my intentions could very easily be misunderstood. They might be misunderstood right now, but I can keep quiet no longer.
On the other hand, as the former manager and one who knows the inside workings of the Pacifica Foundation, and has contact with members of the Board and staff, I command a better view of what is happening. For this reason, I have often been approached by concerned staff members and volunteer program participants, asking for advice: What can we do? Will you talk to the Board,” and so on…
Well, I have spoken to two prominent members of the Board, once in the presence of the current station manager. I have been promised that something would be done to correct the situation, but—so far—nothing has been done. And now I appeal to you, availing myself of the free-speech platform upon which the Pacifica Foundation’s stations were founded, and which WBAI’s current management finds it inconvenient to support.
I could say a great deal more, I could reveal far more shocking skeletons in WBAI’s closet, but I could not do so without the risk of doing the station lasting harm. The station is innocent. It has been abused and the time has come to clean house—it is not too late, but soon it might be. Support WBAI to keep the facilities alive. I urge you to do this and to give some hope to the small group of truly devoted program participants and staff members who somehow manage to continue in spite of the almost overpowering frustrations created by an irresponsible power group.
There are many good people on Pacifica’s Board. Their problem is that they are generally businessmen who simply do not have the time to listen and who are kept in the dark by WBAI management. The current controversy might make them listen to WBAI, I hope it will, and I also hope it will be an alarm clock.
Before I leave you, let me emphasize the fact that my critique has nothing to do with the current controversy. My sympathy does not lie with the people who yesterday picketed the station. In fact, I feel that Frank Millspaugh, the station manager, should have been much firmer than he was. I feel that, when handed the demands of the picketing group, he should immediately have rejected them instead of awaiting the Pacifica Board’s decision. There is no question but that Julius Lester mkust be allowed to continue his weekly program. The station manager should have laid his own job on the line defending Lester’s rights. If the Board decided otherwise, he should have been prepared to resign in protest. He has, instead, left the door open.
The charges I have made are strong and serious. I make them now because I feel that this is a time when much attention is focused on WBAI, even by people who have long since given up listening to the station. This is a time when the listeners and the Pacifica Board must, once and for all, decide what WBAI should be. If it is to be a vehicle for Larry Josephson, Bob Fass, and Steve Post… then let it be that and stop talking about high ideals, free-speech principles, and past Pacifica policies.
On the other hand, if it is to be what it originally set out to be— a station whose purpose is to encourage and provide outlets for the creative skills and energies of the community; to contribute to a lasting understanding between nations, races, creeds and colors; to gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between such groups; to promote a study of the causes of religious, philosophical, and racial antagonism; and to promote the full distribution of public information… then I say that WBAI’s programming must be reevaluated and the attitude of staff and management closely examined.
Thank you for listening. This is Chris Albertson and these have been “Scraps.” Goodnight.
Several cards and letters came in as a result of my poorly worded but honest attempt to point out what I saw as a looming threat to the WBAI. Unfortunately, I only received the first batch, because Millspaugh was quick to issue an "intercept Albertson's mail" order, but I was told by sympathetic staffers that most mail was in my favor. Of course, tampering with my mail was a violation of federal law, but Millspaugh and co. never let that sort of thing get in their way (drugs were not only used but bought and sold on the premises, and Steve Post routinely stole and took home LPs). Now, as I look back on all this, over forty years later, I think my decision to share my apprehensions with the listeners may have been a bit rash. I think I did the right thing, but I probably went about it the wrong way.
There were, predictably, listeners who saw my broadcast as a case of "sour grapes," but that didn't bother—time spent working at Pacifica stations condition one to such knee-jerk reactions. When people who don't know you have to justify in their own minds the fact that your do not share their enthusiasm for something, or someone, they tend to attribute it to jealousy. When I first criticized Wynton Marsalis—having originally given him positive reviews—some readers of Stereo Review were convinced that I wanted his Lincoln Center office job. It never occurred to them that reviewing his music unfavorably would be a rather dumb way to fulfill such a desire. And the beat goes on: a couple of posters on the WBAI Listener Forum have suggested that my current remarks regarding mismanagement of WBAI are nothing more than an attempt to be rehired! At 80, and given the current that's all I would need to be declared a mental case!
Did I want my old job back when I made that last broadcast? Absolutely not. I had left WBAI to work at the BBC, another institution that I admired, and in 1969, when I laid my "Scraps" on the table, I had moved on and returned to the jazz scene as a writer and A&R man. What some people don't seem to fathom is that I had left WBAI physically, but it remained as important to me as it was eight years earlier, when I first volunteered to work there. I saw it being taken down a new and disastrous path, so how could I keep quiet about it?
As these recollections show, I didn't just sit back. As you can hear for yourself, the efforts of a dedicated group of WBAI supporters could not stop this runaway station. It did not start with Bernard White, Utrice, or any of the other characters who keep popping up in discussions regarding the state of WBAI. What many of these people did in later years, the warring factions, back-stabbing, board meeting fisticuffs, bad-mouthing, etc. has roots. This is my account of some of the events that shaped what I see as the steady demise of a grand experiment in broadcasting. There is a prelude to what I am telling you here, a pivotal happening that became known as the Chris Koch incident. It has never been told without outrageous distortion of the facts, but I will eventually get around to it. You may have read something about it in a deservedly short-lived book of fiction by Steve Post or in a later piece written by alleged Pacifica "historian", Matthew Lasar. I hope you can dig those stories up, because I want you to hear both versions and decide for yourself who is telling the truth.
Several years ago, I think it was in the early '70s, while the events were still fresh in my mind, I decided to commit to paper my recollections of this crucial period in WBAI's moral decline. Fortunately, I had retained many pertinent letters and memos containing details that might otherwise have faded, so my narrative essentially served to provide continuity. Pardon the redundancy and bad writing—time has improved my command of English:
Before someone points it out, I know that my blowing the dust off this early episode in WBAI's turbulent history will seem like petty payback, but I do so for two reasons: to correct some of the misinformation that still surfaces from time to time, and—mainly—to give those who follow the station's trials and tribulations a vantage point from which to better view what is happening today.
There is much more to come, but please be patient with me, for I also have to work for a living.
There is much more to come, but please be patient with me, for I also have to work for a living.
Monday, August 29, 2011
It is seven pages long and single spaced, but I think Tana de Gámez's 1969 farewell letter to Dale Minor offers a glimpse of what the Millspaugh management brought to WBAI. Unfortunately, you will be left with a "so what's new?" feeling, because the atmosphere of favoritism and "Lew Hill, who-o-o?" that Millspaugh and his gang initiated, persists. I know this a lengthy read, but if WBAI's past interests you, I think you might find it absorbing and somewhat clarifying when it comes to understanding why the station has been locked in on a downward path for so many decades.
Some of you will have experienced Frank Millspaugh up close and you probably know why I find so amazing the naïve adoration my current detractor on the blue board expresses. As I post more documents from the Millspaugh period, I think you will see why I say that WBAI's current attitude towards listeners has deep roots.
Finally, I should mention that the broadcast Tana refers to as the "Albertson bombshell" will be explained in future posts, one of which will include a complete transcript of the program.
Please don't hesitate to make comments (good or bad) and remember to click on the images for enlargements.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
As I prepare the promised facts related to my leaving WBAI's air, I thought I would give anyone who is interested an idea of what was happening at WBAI in the late 1960s—the hostility, the censorship, the u-turn regarding Vietnam.
On one of my returns from London, where I was working at the BBC, I found letters from three WBAI producers who complained of having had their programs suppress. The three were Barbara Dane, Bob Bisom and Tana DeGamez. They were, as it turned out, not alone. Here is a 1968 letter to Millspaugh from Charlotte Polin. You are probably not familiar with her, but she was on the wrong side of the State Department and, as you will see, astounded to discover that WBAI was making a u-turn.
The link below should give you some perspective on Ms. Polin, followed by a her letter to Frank Millspaugh and a second letter to me. Producers who experienced censorship at WBAI tended to come to me for help, although I was no longer connected in any official way. They saw how radically WBAI's policies changed under Millspaugh. It is interesting to note that Hallock Hoffman hired Millspaugh strictly on the recommendation of Chris Koch, who allegedly was persona non grata at Pacifica for having taken a trip to Hanoi. We found out later that Chris and Frank had both been U.S, delegates to a Peace Conference in Helsinki and that all members of the U.S. delegation were, in fact, working for the CIA. Hmmmm (am I beginning to sound like Bonnie Faulkner?)
Be that as it may, here is the link re Ms. Polin, followed by her two letters. Her experience with both Dale Minor and Bookchester (I never met him) is eerily similar to Barbara Dane's, and both had to do with the National Liberation Front. One wonders how Chris Koch's trip to Hanoi plays into all of this—there is certainly something very hypocritical and suspect about it.
And the letters (don't forget to click on images for readability):
Final note on this post, the experiences Ms. Polin et al had regarding censorship at WBAI occurred during a period Knight shill Pamela Somers has described as some sort of "golden age", a time when the station—having gotten rid of me—blossomed!
I tried, repeatedly, to instill in her the merits of telling the truth.
If you wish to comment on the above, please use the option below. There will be a slight delay for moderation, and you can thank Somers for that.
Much more to come.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Here is another WBAI Folio, this one, from April, 1964, lists our annual broadcast of the previous year's Bayreuth Festival and we even had Miss Rheingold on the cover—well, sort of. I was volunteering at the station, but about to be offered a staff position as announcer. This is the WBAI I fell in love with four years earlier. It is a far cry from the WBAI of today, but I think this schedule is of higher quality, both intellectually and artistically. It is, admittedly, a bit on the precious side, and that was something I set out to correct as soon as I was appointed to the manager's position. Still, there is much variety in this Folio, and you will note that even then—almost a half century ago—the pharmaceutical industry was under scrutiny (see Feb. 21, 8:15pm listing). We didn't give quacks air time to push their wares, but we had our finger on the pulse, as it were.
Notice, too, the program that follows at 9:30pm, Jazz In the Studio. This was a live presentation that did not require any production on our part. We simply turned over our tiny studio to some of the day's most avant garde musicians—ones whose music was shunned by other stations—and told them that the hour was theirs. This quartet, co-led by Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp, asked that the lights be turned out in the studio, and out of the darkness came amazing sounds. Not to everybody's liking, but that was how we thought it ought to be. I don't know if any of those programs was recorded by us, but it would not surprise me if someone out there turned on his or her Webcor or Tandberg.
If you are into jazz and wish to hear a 1969 New Year's Eve interview I did with Archie Shepp, it's on my other blog and here's a direct link.
Click on images to enlarge them.
This note appeared on the back cover:
Sunday, July 17, 2011
WBAI's on-air fund-raising efforts used to have one purpose: to keep the station on the air—not this or that ego-stroking program, the station itself. To that end, the pitches were focused on WBAI as a whole, i.e. the concept of free speech and giving a platform to people with something to say who otherwise might not find an outlet for their expressions. A station that edified as it entertained, a station that stimulated creative thought.
The fund-raising marathons offered a golden opportunity to get that message across, to give potential subscribers a reason for contributing, and to remind current subscribers of WBAI's importance.
Now the station is in the midst of another fund-raising marathon, but one can listen for hours on end and never hear anyone speak of the Pacifica concept or that qualities that separated its stations from all others.
There was Tony Ryan, whose Soul Central Station is a run-of-the-mill disc jockey show aimed at adolescent (in years or intellectual development) women and replete with flirtatious DJ nothings (he could be their grandfather, actually). This is a staffer who showed up at a LSB meeting carrying a sledgehammer, and obviously hasn't a clue as to WBAI's original raison d'etre. Yesterday, he was desperately trying to get the phones to ring, because—as he suggested—it is so important to keep his show on the air. On the rare occasions when he mentioned sustaining WBAI's life, it was for the wrong reason: to keep him and his soul music on the air. There were three hours of this and he finally managed to get the phones to ring by offering discs of slow-dancing music. He used the term, "buy" at one point, further demonstrating how myopic and misinformed he is in re the station. Shades of Jeannie Hopper's river outings.
I found myself wondering why anyone should pay money for such an unremarkable DJ show. Then I heard him "selling" CDs and I had to wonder about copyrights. I am still wondering about both.
The program that followed, Morning Dew, featured the Grateful Dead and was presented more intelligently, but its host, too seems to think that the future of his program hangs in the balance of the incoming pledges. Which may well be so, considering the warped priorities of Bates and the elusive Reimers. The programs I cited are but two out of many examples of this sort of misdirected thinking, which makes me wonder some more: Are instructions not given to program producers prior to a fund-drive? I am talking about instructions as to WBAI's purpose and the listener's incentive. Individual quotas are obviously handed out, so it is perhaps not odd to find that the on-air people place the emphasis on defense of their own turf rather than on the preservation of freedom of speech and artistic expression. Listeners used to gain a wealth of knowledge from WBAI, even from programs whose nature was entertainment, and they could rely on the station to give them honest reports on current events, enough information for them to form their own opinion. Indoctrination was simply not WBAI's job—the dissemination of objective information was. WBAI did not always succeed, but it made honest attempts to expand the knowledge of its listeners in a variety of fields. That has gone by the wayside as management foments internecine competition and producers see themselves as "stars". Some inject their own political notions with feigned authority and have zero tolerance for opposing views. I submit that this all-too-prevalent attitude has the effect of driving away listeners, especially those who came to 99.5 with the preconceived notion that—in terms of integrity—what once was, still is. Nobody is advocating a return to program content as it was when WBAI was a Pacifica station in more than name, but one can keep up with the times without pandering to the mindless. More and more, we see WBAI's intelligent, principled hosts moved out of the way, their air time cut. One has the feeling that they have been sent closer to the exit—as, indeed, has proven to be the case in some instances.
One cannot expect a "listener-sponsored" station to succeed if one only sees the listener as a source of income—WBAI has to go back to rewarding sponsorship with extraordinary programs rather than with bogus "cures" and conspiracy theories. The line between a commercial and what I heard Ryan do last night is very thin. Indeed, today I heard Felipe Luciano refer to a pitching break as a "commercial." He was quickly corrected by someone in the studio, but the slip was telling.
Current management did not start this ball rolling, but it is giving it a push rather than re-directing it.
Fundamentally, the whole system is wrong and in serious need of reassessment and grounds-up revision. All that empty blather about "community" and "family" is disingenuous counterproductive hype. It does not take a lot of intelligence to see that. Yes, as I have said before, the station still has meaningful programs on its schedule, but the standard is steadily being lowered.
There is a general manager who shuns communication with listener-sponsors while an "interim" program director plays favorites with the staff, seems bent on splitting the ranks, and shows utter disrespect for the listeners in many ways, not the least of which is by participating with faux enthusiasm in on-the-air scams. Both are unfit for the job unless the goal is to bankrupt WBAI, which some people think might be the case. I won't go that far, but it is a plausible conjecture.
Am I repeating myself? You bet I am, because I know what WBAI used to be and can again become, but I see no real move to cut out the cancer that has been eating away at Lew Hill's remarkable concept for many years. There is no "cure" for that on a DVD, but drastic corrective measures and determined, dedicated people to carry them out might turn things around. If WBAI is to sink into oblivion, at least let us hope that it does so fighting honestly for survival.
Listen to the current pitches and draw your own conclusions.
I don't think this is any way to run a true Pacifica radio station, or—for that matter—any station. The incompetence would certainly not be tolerated for long by a commercial company.
Monday, July 4, 2011
When this Folio was issued, I was both Acting Program Director and Manager. I had made up my mind to leave about two months earlier, but I deliberately waited until we were up and running with our new, more powerful transmitter installed in the Empire State Building. Once that was in place, I told Hallock Hoffman and the Pacifica Board of my decision, letting them know that I was willing to stay on with a new manager long enough to acquaint him with the job. Hallock asked me to announce my decision on the air, look for replacement candidates, and conduct preliminary interviews. The idea was that, once I had found a few promising applicants, he would come to New York and make the final selection.
I made announcements in my weekly Thursday evening Report to the Listener, a live program that was rebroadcast on Sunday mornings (unlike today, WBAI's management was highly accessible, as it should be). As you can imagine, there were quite a few applicants and I selected three who, in my view, were eminently well suited for the job. One especially: I don't recall his name, but he was an assistant to Norman Cousins, then the highly respected Editor of The Saturday Review.
|Letter from Hallock Hoffman re the position he offered me.|
That is the reason why Millspaugh is listed as "Assistant Station Manager" on the first page of this Folio, Hallock wanted it that way. I know that this contradicts the story written by a so-called Pacifica "historian" and picked up by a lovesick WBAI groupie who tried her damnedest to sully my past association with WBAI, but this is the truth. Anyway, at this point Hallock had offered to create for me a new job with Pacifica in California, and I came close to accepting it. Hallock kind of jumped the gun, assuming that I would accept this offer (see letter above), but I wondered if they could pay this new salary, and the Millspaugh hiring episode gave me serious second thoughts—an offer to go to the BBC solved that dilemma for me.
This edition of the Folio covers four weeks, so it is over 30 pages long. On page 5, you will find an interesting article by Lorenzo Milam, whose own station, KRAB in Seattle, was modeled after Pacifica. You will also see many noteworthy offerings in this issue's listings, including jazz programs hosted by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, who had just formed their big band, Dave Lambert of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Toshiko Akiyoshi, who was married to Charlie Mariano at that time, and the wonderful Marian McPartland, who got her start in radio at WBAI, but was cancelled by Millspaugh (she, of course, moved on to wider audiences). This is also the Folio that marks Larry Josephson's debut on the air (the morning show), which turned out to be another regrettable mistake (mine, this time), and you will find a healthy sprinkling of programs from KPFA and KPFK. The three stations that made up the Pacifica network all had excellent producers among their staff and volunteers, and the exchange benefitted us all.
So, here is another WBAI Folio. Don't forget to click on the images to make them more readable. If your browser will not allow you to zoom in further, please send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me where to send a pdf file.