AM Radio—“We can’t let the other side even breathe”

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But today, in order to create a totalitarian Lebensraum, it is no longer necessary to resort to extraordinary invasions with the motorized vehicles, tanks and stukas of lightning warfare, since one can use the ordinary penetration of the new media, the information blitz. The abundance of surrounding dangers was formerly posed by belligerent factions armed with explosives, missiles and gas. Now it can be created in our own living rooms, thanks to appropriation of the audio-visual enclosure. Shut up at home, huddled behind his alarm systems and reinforced doors, the citizen is still never safe from a televised [or radio-broadcast] aggression that composes, condenses, and reproduces at will cataclysms, assassinations and murder; which stereophonically installs the settings of distant disaster and foreign wars in peaceful homes….There is no more need for an armed body to attack civilians, so long as the latter have been properly trained to tum on their radios or plug in their television sets

—Paul Virilio, Popular Defense and Ecological Struggles, 1979

Paul Virilio could have been describing any of the contemporary media we consume, even the platforms that didn’t exist when he was writing. Virilio’s analysis also happens to be a spot-on description of the shock-and-awe format of much of AM radio, the nonstop descriptions of crime-ridden cities, shooters and looters armed and at the readya Deathwish view of the urban centers, where cops are handcuffed by anti-chokehold legislation and the Bronx is always burning.

AM is largely a swamp of fetid resentment and anger. The name of the game is right-wing politics (with some notable exceptions). Two of Donald Trump’s lawyers—Giuliani and Sekulow—and at least one of his former advisors (Sebastian Gorka) can be found hosting shows on the AM dial. People who still don’t understand the rise of Trump often place the blame on Fox News or Sinclair Broadcasting, Breitbart or Putin. But AM radio has been helping the right wing lay the groundwork for its takeover for decades. And while countless millennials and Zoomers waste time arguing over politics on social media platforms, AM hosts have been shoring up their base. We recommend a little experiment: listen to any of the speeches from the “Never Trump” republicans the democratic party hosted at its recent convention. Contrast the messages of “moderation” with the content you will hear on any conservative AM station. The line is that Joe Biden, if elected, will conveniently die within a few months, paving the way for an AOC/Socialist takeover that will “destroy our way of life.” Ignore AM radio at your own risk. Some of these people are preparing for civil war.

Much has been written about the role of AM is the right’s ascendancy lately, including at least one book on the topic in the last year, Brian Rosenwald’s Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States. None of our contributors have read the volume; stay tuned for a possible review in a future bulletin. A book we have read and wholeheartedly recommend is Hall of Mirrors by Robert Stone. The book, published in 1967 follows the life of an alcoholic DJ in New Orleans as he gets wrapped up in a talk-radio station bent on organizing a fascist coup. This prescient tome is worth reading for the prose alone. Readers who have spent some time with contemporary talk radio will find many familiar themes in the book.

And despite the high ratio of vitriol, the AM band is home to some interesting programming, including shows from various ethnic communities completely excluded from the mainstream. If you know where to look, you can also find really great music, like Guyanese Soca, on the AM dial. Who knows, you might even hear the ghost of Eugene Debs whistling through the static.

WABC, WOR: High noon in Giuliani town

WABC 770

WABC has a history of laundering hardcore right-wing views. Back in 1995, the station jettisoned racist host Bob Grant, after his toxic spew became too much for then-owner Disney. Grant, who was canned from WOR for referring to blacks as “baboons,” was also known for calling for the execution of gays. (After WABC pulled the plug, Grant went back to WOR. He died in 2013.)

The station is currently owned by billionaire Gristedes supermarket baron and failed mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis. The station, which recently announced it will be bringing racist creep and disgraced Fox News host Bill O’Reilly onboard, provides a platform for some of the most odious figures in the right-wing mediascape including Ben Shapiro, Mark Levin and Curtis Silwa.

So dense is the muck in this morass that we can’t possibly cover all of it. We will focus on just a few WABC hosts.

Guardian Angel founder Curtis Sliwa is a discredited media hound and known fraud who makes Vinny Barbarino sound like a PhD candidate. Sliwa hosts Curtis and Juliet weekdays from 12-3. Cohost Juliet Huddy serves as Sliwa’s less-conservative foil. Considering the sheer volume of aerosolized imbecility spraying out of Sliwa’s cavernous mouth, Huddy does an admirable job. Sliwa generally freestyles, with zero qualms about equating blacks with gangs or crime. He’s prone to make claims that anyone can go into a 7 train station in Queens and procure a fake passport and stolen social security card. It will be interesting to see if Huddy can emerge from this swamp and forge a radio career of her own.

Rudy Giuliani follows Sliwa with his “Chat with the Mayor.” In contrast to the general run of conservative brawlers, Giuliani comes across as punch-drunk and a bit doddery. It’s unclear if he knows he isn’t still the mayor. Callers often refer to him as “your honor.” The show is rife with warnings that the democrats are seeking to impose socialism/communism on the U.S. Guests often include members of the Trump administration (including Giuliani’s son, Andrew, a Trump liaison). We recently tuned in to hear “Joseph in the Bronx” call in to get greeted by the ex mayor like an old friend. Joseph then went on to recommend a video by the late William Pierce, author of the Turner Diaries and former head of neo-nazi group the National Alliance. Giuliani declares “I missed you,” and praises Joseph’s point as excellent, noting that he wished he had thought of it first (8/17 episode; 26:57 mark). Giuliani is prone to assert that Black Lives Matter is a “murderous” terrorist-funded group that seeks to eliminate the nuclear family. Possibly the only comedic relief is hearing Giuliani’s fumble over his ad spots and brag about how he doesn’t bother to read the news.

Giuliani also hosts a weekend show, often joined by his alleged mistress, Maria Ryan, where he touts the benefits of hydroxichloriquine, and claims Planned Parenthood “softens the kids up for the sex traffickers.” Callers chime in demanding the removal of sex offenders’ genitalia. Ryan for her part, makes comments stating she supports chemical castration and lobotomies as a form of criminal punishment.

Mark Levin, one of the bigger figures on talk radio nationwide, spins communist conspiracies that would baffle Joe McCarthy. Nightly he warns of the critical race studies professors and BLM/Antifa mobs who have seized control of the the cultural apparatus of the United States (though not AM radio, apparently). Listen to enough of this stuff, and you’ll think we are on the verge of a Maoist cultural revolution led by Joe Biden and the DNC.

Ben Shapiro A byproduct of American anti-intellectualism is that a sizeable number of people who rail against universities and eschew education in general are likely to believe someone is smart because they speak in a stereotypical “Poindexter” nerd voice and an arrogant tone. Shapiro’s helium-tinged voice is poorly suited for radio; the grating content isn’t easily digestible for non-converts. One curious thing about Shapiro is that his racist, homophobic and anti-trans views have made him the target of the campus left, which, before the Covid pandemic, essentially deplatformed him from the university lecture circuit. Shapiro (and other right-wing commentators like Ann Coulter) got deemed too controversial for the Academy, but regularly appeared on Fox, CNN, and on the airwaves across the US. The Westwood One radio corporation and other information titans seized on the mystique of such a “dangerous” figure, who can now squawk about being a free-speech martyr on some of the biggest media platforms on earth. Amira V. Moor

WOR 710

We have nothing to add about Hannity, Limbaugh and most of the rest. If you have somehow made it to reading age unscathed by the auditory halitosis belched forth by these characters, we have only this to say: Bless you, you sweet child! The future is bright after all.

And for those of whose psyches have been battered by these loutish goons, remember many of the callers on these shows are paid actors! Crisis actors, if you will.

One WOR host to keep an ear out for is Buck Sexton. This former NYPD cop and CIA agent loves to remind listeners that he is a former NYPD cop and CIA agent. He rails against the DEEP STATE and the plot to destroy the Great Donald Trump. Did we mention he is a former NYPD cop and CIA agent? He has an overbearing enough delivery to go far in this game. Unless he has some horrific skeletons in his closet, expect him to be on a Republican electoral ticket soon. AV Moor

We tuned in to a recent episode of WOR daytime host Mark Simone to hear him railing against mail-in voting. He also urged listeners to watch a video of Donald Trump throwing out a first pitch at a ball game, which he hailed as possibly “the greatest first pitch in major league history.”

Crusaders and the Lost Cause: “The Answer” and “The Mission”

The Answer 970 AM

One of two stations on the NYC-area dial owned by Salem Communications, a publicly traded Christian outfit based in California. Company executives are well-known for supporting Christian fundamentalist causes like the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in California. Many hosts have taken up the banner of “spiritual warfare,” a notion that the left is a pawn of Satan looking to enslave good Christians through secular communism. The fare on these shows is generally fawning praise for Trump, combined with religious platitudes and thinly veiled infomercials for dietary supplements. “The Answer” runs “news” clips by propaganda outlet Townhall reminding listeners what a great job Trump is doing. The station is also home to shows by Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow and “Praeger U” head Dennis Praeger.

Answer host and Evangelical Christian Eric Metaxis was recently caught on camera landing a gratuitous punch on the side of a cycling protester’s head at the Republican National Convention. The footage shows a woman, presumably Metaxis’s wife yelling, “Eric!” After landing his blow, the valiant Crusader can be seen running away from the cyclist. There isn’t much else to say about the Eric Metaxis Show: it’s exactly what you might expect from a Christian fundamentalist hypocrite who attacks someone and runs away like a scared toddler. If there’s a better analogy for the current state of the contemporary Christian Right, we’d love to see it. Camila Bernieri

Another representative “Answer” host is Kevin McCullough. McCullough comes out of the school of interchangeable Limbaugh clones. His intro montage features multiple quotes from Limbaugh. A typical McCullough tidbit: “We can’t let the other side even breathe.” On multiple occasions, McCullogh can be heard complaining about the state of “our city.” Shortly afterwards, he drops some anecdote about the “village” where he resides. Unlike homegrown NYC ranters like Curtis Sliwa, McCullough comes across as more Midwest than Middle Village. Whether or not his listeners notice is unclear—he doesn’t seem to take phone calls, a sign that McCullough’s program may be a loss leader, or an attempt to cultivate a radio personality with an audience that may not be quite there yet. McCullough has had WABC owner John Catsimatidis as a frequent guest lately; perhaps he is trying to flatter his way onto a bigger stage. (All quotes taken from 8/3/2020 episode; https://soundcloud.com/kmcradio/tracks)

Listeners can tune in on to “The Answer” (or sister station, “The Mission”) Sunday mornings to a program with the anodyne name “Ask the Lawyer.” So what did we hear when we listened on August 23? Advice on wills and trusts? No-fault divorce advice? We didn’t hear anything relating to legal advice, but we did hear a rambling interview with Lost Cause historian Samuel Mitchum making lots of excuses for the confederacy. Mitchum churns out books highlighting the German fighting forces of WWII, like “Rommel’s Greatest Victory,” and revisionist Civil War history like “It Wasn’t About Slavery.” This is a pretty good example of how these stations push their hardcore ideology in even the most ostensibly banal format (a show about “legal advice). Host Michael Connors also has a recurring segment on Kevin McCullough’s show.

Answer host Eric Metaxis caught on camera landing a punch on a cycling protestor after a Republican National Convention ceremony.

WMCA 570, “The Mission”

Another Salem-owned right-wing fundamentalist station. Many of the same hosts as “The Answer.” Best quote heard on a recent show: “You don’t need to be spiritual roadkill.” This was heard on a show hosted by the “Pathway to Victory” ministry.

One of the more pungent things emanating from The Answer/Mission airwaves is “Pastor Ernie Sanders’ Scripture & Liberty Program ‘What’s Right What’s Left.’” Ernie Sanders, a kind of a Bizarro World Bernie Sanders, seems obsessed with what he sees as “communists,” who often happen to be Black women. He slurs out all the degrading nicknames: “Camel Hair” Kamala Harris, Lori “Lesbian” Lightfoot and “Mad” Maxine Waters, who he recently compared to a Sanford and Son character, suggesting her face is ugly enough to make “gorilla cookies.” Odd language from a man whose official bio touts him as a champion of “Christianity, Liberty & Decency.” Despite his preoccupation with Black women, Sanders likes to point out that he is not racist—in fact, he claims, racism doesn’t exist because the Good Lord only created one race, just like it says in the Bible.

Listeners can also hear references to the “Synagogue of Satan” and praise for Operation Rescue anti-abortion zealot Randall Terry’s misinfo doc, “Plandemic.” Ernie Sanders is also fond of attributing made-up quotes to Karl Marx, like “Always say the opposite of what you mean”–the fabrication will likely be lost on his listeners. Sanders doesn’t appear to have regular callers, which suggests that his audience isn’t that large. He openly talks about the fact that he buys his programming, which could suggest some wealthy donors. Sanders claims to have been a pivotal force in moving voters to Trump in swing states back in 2016. The Good Pastor also claims his broadcast was instrumental in ending the bloodshed when overreaching Federal Agents ambushed Randy Weaver & his family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.” I was unable to find a single mention of Sanders in any of the endless accounts of this incident, including the thousands of books indexed on Google Books. That seems to indicate the claim is made up. CB

WFME 1560

All Christian conservative programming from the California-based Family Radio Network. Lots of straight bible readings by old-timey announcers. This station gives an interesting glimpse into some of the more complicated theological arguments. You can hear impassioned arguments linking the Enlightenment and secularism to Sartre and the Nazis. FME inhabits the frequency formerly held by the unlistenable Radio Disney, and before that, WQXR. AVM

Informational/Musical AM programming

There are some non-extreme offerings on the AM band—including WNYC’s AM feed (820). Bloomberg Radio (1130) also has excellent in-depth coverage. 1010 WINS presents rapid Less Nessman-style straight-off-the-wire news delivery. The station’s motto is still “You give us 22 minutes and we’ll give you the world.” Worth listening to for the seamless presentation and machine-gun-fire man-on-the-street interview snippets. The traffic reports and format are geared towards the car-driving public and the station is a mainstay among NYC taxi drivers.

A good deal of AM programming is paid for by the hosts, a practice known as “brokered format.” While a lot of this is dreck, there is some interesting stuff to be found. Of late, some deep jazz instrumentals have been emanating from WPAT 930 AM out of Paterson, NJ. WPAT, which has been around in some format of another since 1941, is a mixed bag. On a recent Monday evening we encountered “Roundtable China,” and “Beijing Hour,” sponsored by the Chinese government. State propaganda from repressive regimes is often a sign that a station is struggling to pay the bills. To learn about this station’s interesting history, and its transmitters, check out Jim Hawkins’ WPAT transmitter site.

WBWD 540 AM, Radio Zindagi

WBWD plays some very good Indian/South Asian music. A few years back, WBWD replaced the former WLIE, and the new owners wisely got the call letters changed.

WSNR 620 AM Davidzon Radio

WSNR out of Jersey City is another brokered format station with lots of Russian language programming. The station, also carries Jewish-interest shows by hosts like Zev Brenner and Yaakov Spivak. The latter is a very conservative ultra-orthodox rabbi who believes Donald Trump is the best friend of the Jewish people. “Is he perfect? No, but who is?” We were pleasantly surprised to hear callers from the Orthodox community pushing back on the Trump lovefest.

On a recent Wednesday night, we heard a host based in Newark talking about issues relevant to the Black community followed by a dual Arabic-English Christian show. We were dismayed to find that the station is leasing airtime to sex-assaulter/alleged end-time cult leader R.G. Stair for his unlistenable “Overcomer” broadcasts.

On weekends, WSNR features multiple Caribbean music shows. Some excellent music can be found here. On Saturday afternoons, Dj King Singh often plays amazing Guyanese music, drawing influences from Soca, Reggae and hip-hop as well as various Indian and South Asian genres. WSNR’s website does not feature a program schedule.

WCBS 880

CBS seems to have made a conscious move away from the standard far-right political fare found on the other major talk-radio outlets. The current schedule is chock full of repeat news programming by non-household names like Lynda Lopez (J-Lo’s sister and author of a book about the rise of AOC). The station has also expanded its news coverage for much of the day, in a manner similar to 1010 WINS. Its news tagline is “More than just the headlines,” but the content is only slightly more than the headlines. The CBS news team specializes in conveying superficial middle-of-the-road headline coverage. If you tuned in hoping to understand the congressional hearings on the actions against the post office taken by Trump superdonor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy you might hear a quote by DeJoy saying it was a misunderstanding and it’s all over now—end of story. This is a fundamental quirk of the soi-disant “objective,” format that somehow always allows those in power to get the last word.

WBCR 1090

Brooklyn College’s radio station. I live about 2 miles from BCR’s studio, but have never been able to catch the signal on the AM band. A healthy student station with mostly music, sports and news programming. Live stream at http://mywbcr.com/ CB

WLIB 1190

Mostly contemporary gospel with talk and news programming. For years, Imhotep Gary Byrd had a show on this station. In the early aughts, WLIB was the station that bumped its NY-based program off the air to accommodate the short-lived Air America network, the failed attempt at a liberal-left counter to right-wing talk radio.

WMTR 1250 Classic Oldies

Oldies rock ‘n roll broadcasting out of Morris County, NJ. WMTR has shows with names like “All Night Jersey Diner,” and plays the type of music you would hear in such spots: vintage rock ‘n roll with a smattering of soul/rhythm and blues. The “Classic Oldies” format hearkens back to the days before oldies radio became tepid pap. WMTR is probably one of the few places left on the dial with a Doo Wop show (Friday nights). RC

WADO 1280

WADO has been broadcasting in Spanish since the 60s (when it still carried Italian-language programming). News, sports, music, and public affairs programming.

WWRV 1330 Radio Visión Cristiana

At one time owned by the Socialist Party and later the Jewish Daily Forward, WWRV was once named WEVD after Eugene Debs. The station at various times since, has been owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and right-wing Christian broadcasting megacorp Salem Media Group. Since 1989, Radio Visión has been broadcasting Christian programming in Spanish. We have unexpectedly heard some pretty good jazz on WWRV’s nighttime airwaves. Rumor has it, if you listen closely in the wee hours, you can hear the ghost of Eugene Debs whistling right through the static.

WKDM 1380

Music and talk radio in Mandarin Chinese. WKDM broadcasts English-language instruction for native Chinese speakers.

WNSW 1430

All Catholic programming. A recent listen to this Newark-based franchise of the national Relevant Radio network turned up a rebroadcast of an old Fulton Sheen lecture.

WWRL 1600 Radio Mirchi

Indian and South Asian music and news programming transmitting out of Seacaucus, NJ. This station is part of the Zindagi radio network.

WWRU 1660

Korean-language programming out of Jersey City. On the few occasions we have caught WWRU’s signal, we’ve heard K-pop, rock and hip-hop.

1700 Radio Moshiach and Redemption

Lots of music and sermons from followers of the Rebbe. Provides some fascinating theological insights into the doctrine of the return of the Moshiach. They blow through top of the hour station identification, and rarely give out the station’s name. or call letters, a sign that this is likely still a pirate operation. Back in 1999, when Radio Moshiach used to block WBGO’s signal on the FM band, it got a write-up in the New York Times as a pirate station that was “stepping on the jazz.”

WQFG 1710

Hudson County, New Jersey’s TIS (Travelers’ Information Station). Ever drive down a highway, and see a sign saying, “For traffic/weather updates, tune-in to ____”? That is generally what TIS stations do. WQFG plays a lot of COVID-related public service announcements, and general emergency preparedness content. Fun fact: 1710 is generally a frequency reserved for aeronautical stations; WQFG is reportedly the only station granted an FCC waiver to operate there.

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Published by Frequency and Amplitude, an NYC Radio Roundup

Surveying what's left of the analog NYC-area radioscape.

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