The FM dial: Woke-hop, left factions, freeform, free jazz and more

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A modest survey of some of the things found on the FM dial.

WNYC 93.9

WNYC’s stellar, but underutilized, news department has been doing excellent coverage of the protests against police abuse and the violent antics of the NYPD (both topics on which WNYC has been historically weak).

WNYC-produced On the Media has been consistently great for at least the last few years. This show looks at the stories behind the headlines. On the Media has done some deep archaeology of toxic right-wing canards (Pizzagate/QAnon), and the way these things spread through the mediasphere. A recent segment tackled what alternatives to a policed society would look like, with a guest expounding actual anarchist concepts of community organization—content barely existing anywhere on the radio. (Even WBAI shamefully purged its anarchist program, Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade years ago.)

Reveal, Produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, does some of the best investigative reporting anywhere. Always worth listening to are Aaron Glantz’s segments on Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s role in the foreclosure crisis.

Snap Judgment is an excellent show that lets people tell their own stories, in a way that is far more interesting than the often-lackluster “Moth” format. Their recent view from the inside of San Quentin, as told by inmates is worth a listen.

The Brian Lehrer Show offers a thoughtful take on all the issues. Lehrer is one of the better interviewers on the radio, and he knows when to prod a guest for more and when to get out of the way. Weekdays 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

The BBC Newshour is always a good resource for a rundown of global issues not often included in most domestic news coverage. Weekdays 2 a.m. and 9 a.m.

The Takeaway has also had interesting coverage of current events and culture. WNYC reporter Matt Katz was heard filling in as host lately; he did a fine job. We were pleased to hear Katz, who we have listened to since he was WNYC’s New Jersey correspondent. He provided some of the best coverage of former NJ governor Chris Christie, and the “Bridgegate” scandal. Regular Host Tanzina Vega is an adept interviewer, whether getting Lou Gossett Jr. to open up about his acting method, or probing the roots of police violence and inequality in American cities.

Occasional segment, the Fishko Files consists of “sound-rich essays on art, culture, music and media—past and present.” Always worth listening to. I’ve actually gone out of my way to go check out public art exhibits after hearing host Sara Fishko discuss them. R. Cleffi

The New Yorker Radio Hour has some interesting guests, though it might be better suited as a podcast. New Yorker editor/host David Remnick comes across as rather lackluster, and would do well to take a back seat to some of the magazine’s up-and-coming writers A recent interview with Bette Midler about her flick “Coastal Elites” sounded like a Fox News parody of smug urban leftists. C. Bernieri

A note on NPR:

WNYC is independent of National Public Radio, but is a network affiliate. NPR has some strong programming that is leagues beyond the rest of the mainstream media. Politically, the network still adheres to a tepid centrism when convenient. Commentators like Fox Contributor Mara Liasson or the content on a show like “Planet Money” is so much neoliberal business as usual.

And for every band that gets exposure on NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series, it’s worth considering the network’s hand in harming independent music through its destruction of college radio stations across the country. The drill goes like this: an ambitious manager from an NPR station finds a university bureaucrat in search of a ladder to climb. The NPR station then buys the college station, promising benefits to students (usually internships for a handful of students who will then get “radio experience,” a trade-off based on the presumption that college radio stations bring no value to anyone). Much of the best programming carried on NPR is produced by Public Radio International (PRI, or more recently PRX), an entity affiliated with, but independent from NPR. RC

WNYE 91.5

WNYE is a WNYC sister station with programming that is often more grassroots than WNYC. The station carries Irish, Greek and Haitian programming and much else worth listening to. WNYE carries multiple shows from Medgar Evers College Radio, which originally held the 91.5 frequency exclusively.

WBAI 99.5

While WNYC has shifted with the recent tumult, WBAI was born for moments like these. The station has gone through eternal crises, purges, coups, infighting. Somehow WBAI survived last year’s latest takeover/selloff attempt by parent network Pacifica. WBAI’s current incarnation is better than any period in over a decade. Gone are the 9/11 denialists, and espousers of lizard-people crackpotism. The station still has way too much Gary Null (“Null n’ Void”) health quackery, and there is no excuse for abysmal programs like “Guns and Butter.” WBAI, in its perpetual need for money recently offered a special pandemic pledge premium: a “free speech radio” Covid mask that this reviewer initially mistook for a gag.

WBAI’s “Free Speech” Covid masks

Working Class Heroes is a collectively produced show that looks at current events from the perspective of those organizing to change the system. We recommend checking out their coverage of the de Blasio administration’s cynical claims that it needed to reopen the eviction courts in response to the recent uptick in gun violence. Saturdays 6-7 p.m.

Guns and Butter A conspiranoid red-brown alliance show that launders reactionary views through left rhetoric. This reviewer heard an Infowars contributor interviewed about Trump’s persecution at the hands of the “Deep State.” Guns and Butter was actually booted off KPFA in Berkeley for its odious content (the program has allegedly featured at least one holocaust denier). Wednesdays 9 a.m.

Economic Update Richard Wolff methodically dissects current events and the economic machinations behind the curtain. Wolff, an unrepentant Marxist, is upfront about his ideology, which he makes easily digestible without condescending to the audience. Wednesdays 6:30 p.m.

WBAI also has several good music programs, including Midnight Ravers, All Mixed Up, La Voz Latina and Con Sabor Latino.

WBAI has been doing some joint programming with other Pacifica stations. One recent addition to the station’s schedule is Think 100% Climate Friday, hosted by Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. Think 100% looks at the climate crisis and organizing efforts in response to the crisis through a racial/economic justice lens. Features interesting guests discussing the nuts and bolts of organizing campaigns. Fridays 2 p.m.

Mimi Rosenberg’s Equal Justice show appears to be invigorated by the uprising. A recent episode had the people’s lawyer doing what she does best, getting into the streets, and interviewing protesters. Equal Justice recently featured an interview with newly freed MOVE 9 member Delbert Africa. No tepid NPR liberalism here, Rosenberg isn’t afraid to denounce the “gulag of the capitalist plantation.” Thursdays 9 a.m.

Democracy Now is an absolutely essential news source which got its start on WBAI, but later went independent. Original cohost Juan Gonzalez seems to be back on more regularly these days. Host Amy Goodman is one of the greats, but we’d love to see her cultivate more new voices (we’d also like to hear more of cohost Nermeen Shaikh). Weekdays 8 a.m.

WBAI Evening News has been doing some very good coverage of NYC and national politics. Veteran producer Paul DeRienzo brings the stories four nights a week. Monday nights, John Tarelton of NYC’s underground newspaper, the Indypendent, takes the reins. Tarelton has been really hitting his stride lately with in-depth coverage of Trump’s assault on the USPS. Weeknights 6 p.m. CB

Justice Matters Seasoned activist Bob Gangi brings the organic perspective of someone from the Boroughs who knows what time it is. Justice Matters often features guests from the Prison Reform Organizing Project (PROP). The show regularly focuses on the connection between criminal justice, housing and economic issues. Thursdays 6:30 p.m.

Housing Notebook The Metropolitan Council on Housing’s show is the best radio program on housing and tenant issues in NYC. It’s also probably the only radio program on housing and tenant issues in NYC. Scott Sommer has been fighting for tenants’ rights for over 30 years, and helming the show for nearly as long. Cohost Vara Kilgour is also a seasoned activist. This is the place to tune in if you are having issues with your landlord. Monday nights, 8-9 p.m.

Both the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Democratic Socialists of America now have shows on BAI. To their credit, the RCP show, We only want the world, has teeth. It is at its best when dealing with systematic police violence, and at its worst when offering the RCP as a solution to the current dead-end economic and political system. The DSA program, Revolutions per Minute, seems to mostly deal with DSA electoral strategies and candidates.

Education at the Crossroads continues into its fourth decade dealing with issues of race, education and city politics. This is a great place to learn about issues completely ignored by the mainstream press. One of the few places you are likely to hear about the student and faculty campaign against mismanagement by Medger Evers College President Rudy Crew.

The legendary Imhotep Gary Byrd’s Global Black Experience tackles issues of race, politics and culture. The excellent Herb Boyd has been a regular guest in recent days. Fridays 7 p.m.

Fortune Society founder David Rothenberg often has trenchant discussions of criminal justice issues, with lots of interesting coverage of the theater world. Saturdays 8-10 a.m.

Saturday mornings at 9, On the Count—the Prison and Criminal Justice Report spotlights voices of those inside prison walls, and those working to change the system. Many of the hosts are formerly incarcerated, and offer a learned perspective almost never heard in the mainstream.

Black Seinfeld is a promising new show. Hosts have a sharp sense of humor and play good music. Thursdays 12 – 2 a.m.

What evil lurks in the heart of the FM dial? The Golden Age of Radio is the place for important and entertaining radio history. Max Schmid has access to vintage radio programs you won’t hear anywhere else. He also has extensive knowledge about the material he presents, but doesn’t overload the listener with endless information. Sundays 8 p.m.

Off the Hook, the show affiliated with hacker journal 2600 is an example of a program that could never exist anywhere other than a community-based station like BAI. Since 1988, Emmanuel Goldstein and crew have put the technocratic and kleptocratic forces on blast. The show is still one of the more interesting things on the radio, though it does occasionally suffer from too many on-air hosts at once. Wednesdays 8 p.m.

WHCR 90.3 The Voice of Harlem

Broadcasting out of City College’s uptown campus, WHCR has much good music, arts and news programming. Unfortunately, the station’s signal doesn’t carry far outside of Manhattan. Online stream available at https://whcr.org/

WNSH 94.7 “New York’s Country 94.7”

WNSH plays mostly contemporary commercial country music. Quality varies, but the station does air some decent programming occasionally. As someone who knows almost nothing about contemporary country, I found DJ Kellie Neal’s daily “Back to Back” feature of all-women artists interesting.

WPLJ 95.5

Long a schlocky pop station, after a 2019 sale to “K-Love,” PLJ transformed into one of the more insidious creatures on the dial: a “Christian pop” station. K-Love’s parent company the “Educational Media Foundation,” somehow managed to get itself 501 3 C nonprofit status, despite owning millions in radio real estate in major media markets. A recent listen revealed a song with a chorus of “Rise up,” eerily similar to Peter Gabriel’s “In your eyes” (a massive irony, given that Gabriel scored the soundtrack to the Last Temptation of Christ).

WQHT 97.1 (“Hot 97”)

NYC’s biggest commercial hip hop and R&B station plays most of the same limited fare as the other competitor in the field (see Power 105 entry below). Morning hosts EBRO, Laura Styles and Rosenberg have become increasingly political over the last few years. One of the few things Trump can be credited with is helping to transform a station that once promoted toxic consumerism and petty feuds into “Woke 97,” where voter suppression and police brutality are often discussed at length. A recent show featured an interview with Killer Mike and El-P of Run the Jewels, who somehow convinced the hosts to play some vintage X-Clan.

WWPR 105.1 (“POWER 105”)

Hot 97’s competitor. Music-wise, similar programming. Like Hot 97, Power 105’s programming has become more politically conscious in recent years, as evidenced by Joe Biden’s disastrous viral interview with morning host Charlamagne tha God. DJ quality varies—famous mixtape veteran DJ Clue and former Hot 97 host Angie Martinez occasionally play some good stuff on their otherwise predictable daily shows. Power 105 and Hot 97 have had a bit of a revolving door between them, with several DJs moving between the stations (“Breakfast Club” cohost DJ Envy is also a former Hot 97 personality).

WBLS 107.5

Though marketed as “adult urban contemporary” and “R&B,” BLS plays a lot of good music ignored by the narrower formats of the other NYC stations that play R&B. The station also airs a good amount of classic soul. 107.5 tends to allow quality DJs to mix music at length. Sunday nights, the Quiet Storm features sensual sounds for a passionate night of sheltering in place with that special someone. For years, Chuck Chillout and Red Alert held down the Saturday evening lineup. Imhotep Gary Byrd (see BAI entry) also hosted a program on BLS for many years.

WQXR 105.9

The former “classical station of the New York Times” has improved greatly over the last decade since it was sold to WNYC. Programming is no longer geared toward the easily digestible. A strong lineup featuring “resident classical sommelier” Terrence McKnight plays interesting content that eschews the maudlin and cliché. QXR has recently been spotlighting the works of composers and conductors of color. The station’s website also contains interesting discussions on the politics of the classical music world.

WKCR 89.9

A national treasure. The world’s first FM station still plays noncommercial music (with a smattering of arts programming, news, etc) 24 hours a day. WKCR is possibly the only place on earth where you can hear uninterrupted blocks of Albert Ayler or Eric Dolphy, or yearly Max Roach, John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong birthday broadcasts. It’s not unusual to tune in and find Sidney Bechet wailing with Baby Dodds behind him or rare Charlie Parker radio broadcasts.

The man who is never at a loss for words, Phil Schapp still does his Birdflight show five mornings a week. Birdflight features Charlie Parker (and Diz! And Max! And lots and lots and lots of commentary). Schapp appears on many other time slots throughout the week. He knows more than most people alive about jazz, and he is glad to let you know how much he knows. Schaap also hosts Traditions in Swing. Weekdays 8:30 a.m./Saturdays 6 p.m.

Jazz Alternatives shows hosted by Cliff Price and Sarif Abdus-Salaam are consistently great. On Monday nights, Mitch Goldman’s Deep Focus brings in guest musician hosts who pay homage to their own musical favorites. Recent broadcasts have featured members of Harriet Tubman, as well as Will Calhoun and Vernon Reid. Weekdays 6 p.m.

WKCR also features excellent roots reggae programming on Saturday mornings, followed by Across 110th Street, one of the best soul and R&B shows anywhere. The station also features first-rate Latin programming like Mambo Machine and Caribe Latino. A recent addition to the KCR schedule, Black Siren Radio is currently providing heavy political analysis, arts and culture. Some interesting poetry to be found here as well (check schedule, as the KCR lineup has been changing a bit lately).

WBGO 88.3

Newark-based WBGO plays round-the-clock jazz. Most of BGO’s fare is considerably lighter and more mainstream than WCKR, though the station has some good DJs.

WNYU 89.1

New York University’s radio station has consistently strong music programming. Three shows we have been watching for decades are the New Afternoon Show (current indie rock releases) Plastic Tales from the Marshmallow Dimension (obscure psych/garage), Crucial Chaos (a long-running hardcore show). The station plays lots of good hip-hop, international music and some news/cultural and arts programs. WNYU’s signal doesn’t reach far into the boroughs, and the station shares a frequency with WFDU, an arrangement that limits analog listening.

WFDU 89.1

The station affiliated with New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dikinson University splits the 89.1 frequency with WNYU. Some good blues/jazz/rock programming. We have heard some righteous boogie woogie, New Orleans, soul and good old rock ‘n roll sounds emanating from their signal.

WSOU 89.5

Seton Hall’s student station is top-loaded with enough metal to sink a freighter in the Port of Newark. Not unusual to hear Slayer in regular rotation. Unlike many of the college stations in the Greater New York area, SOU is mostly run by students. Journalism students often do hourly news segments. The station also features community programming and some syndicated shows like Making Contact.

WFUV 90.7

Fordham University’s radio station has some interesting fare—rock, roots, Americana. Programming and music tends to be on the slicker, well-produced side. A problem with college radio stations that don’t feature much student programming is they often lack the gritty, independent spirit that helps gives rise to new art forms.

WFMU 91.1

For just over three years now, Clay Pigeon has transformed morning radio with his Wake n’ Bake. The Pidge plays great music, and his upbeat personality brings fun and positivity at a time when there isn’t much of either to go around. Wake n’ Bake replaced FMU’s cash cow (and possibly the station’s least listenable show) JM in the A.M. That program, “Jewish Music in the Morning” consisted of host Nachum Freidman spouting off on ultra-orthodox Judaism and right-wing politics. Friedman would feature guests like loutish Brooklyn politician Dov Hikind, and the host would occasionally fundraise on-air for the terrorist Hebron settlers. FMU station management ignored listener concerns over their hard-right morning programming for years, and only replaced “JM in the A.M.” when the host left on his own accord. Unfortunately, the program still streams on WFMU’s website.

FMU’s freeform format and high caliber on-air talent make for some excellent listening. We recommend tuning in at random—the likelihood of hearing something good is high. One of our favorite FMU shows is Joe MacGasko’s, Surface Noise, Mondays 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. McGasko has great taste and knows his shit. A former incarnation of this show, Imaginary Radio, was also very good (see FMU archives).

An interesting show that isn’t on the current schedule is Adrienne’s Blind Tourist. This program was far more complex than any description we can muster. It did consist of many sound collages and radio recordings from various remote locales. Can be found in WFMU’s archive or on Adrienne’s site: http://adriene.net/

Techtonic On issues of technology/surveillance, and their intersection with capitalism, Techtonic is one of the most informative shows on the radio. Mark Hurst furthers the tradition started by BAI’s Off the Hook. Big tech gets dissected and flailed. Hurst is passionate, but never loses his shit, a contemporary Howard Beale, imploring all of us to “Forget Facebook, axe Amazon and get off Google.” He brings on top experts to show how insidious the tech monopolies are. One point he made that has stuck with this reviewer: firms like Facebook need addicted consumers to continually come back for more. These companies consider the time we spend offline—such as sleeping—as potential revenue loss, and therefore something to be minimized. Like all dope dealers, they expect full submission from their prey. Mondays, 6 p.m.

We know, we know, it’s a trite cliche to describe something as “defying description.” Take a listen for yourself to the audio collages and multitextural sound sculptures of Ken’s Last Ever Radio Extravaganza and get back to us with a better description. The show tends to pop up infrequently as a fill-in, but can be found regularly online.

Sophisticated Boom Boom brings (almost) all women musicians to the forefront. Sheila B. provides a well-thought-out presentation of artists, all of a high caliber, many otherwise obscure. Fridays 3 p.m.

The Wrestling Club is a refreshing show heard on a recent Friday evening. Lots of New Jersey wrestling history, and the hosts enjoy talking shop and discussing things like Shooting Star Presses and ring entrance moves. Guests included comedian Chris Gethard, wrestler Joey Janela, and the immortal Captain Lou Albano (from beyond the grave). The show doesn’t appear on WFMU’s schedule, and may be an occasional fill-in feature. Hopefully it will get a regular slot, as it serves as a nice antidote to the often oerly ironic and hip FMU programming. Fridays 6 p.m.—Check schedule

WKRB 90.3

Kingsborough Community College’s station bills itself as NYC’s only outlet for all electronic dance music programming. KRB gets bonus points from us for having call letters similar to WKRP, one of the all-time great stations. According to the station: “The EDM format features all types of EDM including but not limited to: House, Progressive House, Electro, Techno, Trap, Trance, IDM, Tropical House, Chillout, Tech House, Dubstep, Deep House, Jungle House, Hardstyle, Big Room, etc. Specialty Programs are created and run by students at Kingsborough Community College and air on evenings and weekends.” The station’s signal doesn’t reach too far north of the campus, but can be streamed at http://www.wkrb.org

Note: Greg Hardin informs us: “WHCR & WKRB do indeed share 90.3, covering wildly disparate parts of town with low, slow weak signals. Those signals may intersect slightly somewhere between LaGuardia and the L.I.E., for the adventurous with sensitive radios.”

WSKQ 97.9 La Mega” Commercial Latin hits of varying quality depending on the timeslot. Some good salsa and merengue can be found on off-peak times.

101.1 CBS, “The Greatest Hits of All Time”

After decades as NY’s “oldies” station, and a short foray into “Jack FM” automated pap in the early aughts, CBS FM has found a niche that works: “greatest hits.” This format is elastic enough to allow for classic disco, hard rock, lots of Michael Jackson, Hall and Oates, the occasional house and freestyle jam, and even—from time to time—Nirvana. Excepting the lengthy commercial breaks, not a bad station to park the dial on when stuck in traffic. Amira V. Moor

Classic Rock

104.3 WAXQ

107.1 WWYZ, “The Boss”

To get a handle on the arbitrary abstraction known as “classic rock,” we dispatched Brendan Byrne to see what lurks between the beer commercials and the songs that sound like beer commercials—Ed.

Entering a bagel shop in deep Queens several mornings ago I was greeted by the blare of “Fat Bottomed Girls” at levels unconducive to communicating with staff through face mask. This was almost certainly not radio: there was no DJ connective tissue between Queen & the next solid gold classic, but it brought back, with an unProustian violence, the experience of every lunch counter and mom & pop retail joint I frequented in the aughts. Highly differentiated from bars (whose jukeboxes were often overridden by pissed-off bartenders with direct access to the stereo), this wasn’t music you were supposed to listen to, it was music meant to reassure you that you knew where you were. I worked at a bookshop in the West Village for a length of time uncertain to even me, where Q 104.3 was chosen for expressly this purpose. After a time, you were able to block it out, except for the commercials, which were designed to cut through even the most strident aural defenses and penetrate the soft brain tissue.

This was nostalgia, or something like it.

Outside of B&H, which just as often has the radio off these days, I never hear classic rock radio anymore. The other lunch counters have died, and the mom & pop shops have given way to the gentrified urban-mall experience, “local” chains with the affect of start-up studio spaces, haunted by soft AI-curated Spotify playlists. And, of course, I have been in Manhattan exactly twice in the last five months.

Prompted, I exposed myself willingly to Q104.3, which is now a subsidy of iHeart, the wonderful internet radio station well-beloved for its labor practices. I was greeted with a solid 5 minute block of commercials, which I no longer have even the most modest defense against, rolling right into traffic, and then “Free Bird.” That, I felt, was sufficient.

107.1 The Boss, which did not exist in the aughts, was playing The Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979,” which was, when I was 19, the kind of music that cool kids who did drugs listened to. I assume they all have children and financial wellness newsletters now, but I cannot believe they listen to radio. Brendan Byrne

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Published by Frequency and Amplitude, an NYC Radio Roundup

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

2 thoughts on “The FM dial: Woke-hop, left factions, freeform, free jazz and more

  1. Let’s correct some frequencies, shall we?: WNYC-FM is 93.9 (NOT 89.3!), also heard at AM 820. WFMU is 91.1 (NOT 89.9!). WHCR & WKRB do indeed share 90.3, covering wildly disparate parts of town with low, slow weak signals. Those signals may intersect slightly somewhere between LaGuardia and the L.I.E., for the adventurous with sensitive radios.

    Like

    1. Good catches, Greg. Not sure how those frequencies got mixed up. I did a bunch of last-minute layout tweaking, and the numbers must have been transposed at the last minute We’ve corrected the text (We already had WNYC’s AM signal listed in the AM section.) Thanks for keeping us on our toes, feel free to send more info any time. –Ed

      P.S.: We weren’t aware the KRB signal was on a shared frequency; we’ve only been able to catch it by traveling to Manhattan Beach,

      Like

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