A site dedicated to radio? Why now? We are well aware of the paralyzing complexity of life under quarantine/pandemic, widespread social unrest and an upcoming election. We live in a time of permanent crisis. There is likely to be no “good” time to set this project in motion. Even if COVID-19 were to miraculously disappear, we are still facing the impending horror of the climate catastrophe and ascendant fascism.
We write about radio because we listen to that medium far more than any of us would admit. Radio is still a major source of information for most of the population—if we believe the numbers put forward by Nielsen, 89% of Americans over 12 listen to “terrestrial” radio at least once a week. There are few better mediums for good music and, if you know where to look, quality information. And yes, there is a sea of shit out here as well. We have surveyed the wrack and the rot. What follows is a very modest attempt to distill a small amount of what is out there. We make no particular claims to “expertise,” aside from having listened to thousands of hours of this stuff.* A few of our contributors believe we should all be listening to some degree of AM radio right now, in order to understand the ascendance of the contemporary right and its designs on power.
Our project is by no means comprehensive. We realize a radio site is of little interest to most, but we do hope we will find some willing readers, and possibly spur some conversation. If nothing else, perhaps the text contained here will offer some snapshots of a crumbling civilization.
We are primarily looking at what is too often referred to as “terrestrial” radio in the NYC area, though, as Dick Alexander notes in his roundup, there is plenty of interesting fare to be had via “DXing.” In some cases we refrain from listing the date and time a given show airs; program run times change regularly. This info can be found on the various stations’ websites.
*To read the musings of people who know far better than us, check out Radio Survivor.
Editor’s note: when Wendy Levy reached out to let us know about WVEW’s 15th anniversary, our interest was piqued. We always love a good story of community radio staying alive, but we also like to hear how people got bit by the radio bug in the first place. We asked Levy to send a bit of personal backstory. What follows is some of Wendy’s own story and a tale of Vermont low-power radio. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
BRATTLEBORO — In a national landscape of extreme media consolidation and focus-group-tested, lowest-common-denominator, homogenized radio, southeastern Vermont boasts something music- and free-speech fans in other regions can only dream about: two commercial-free community radio stations, within about 20 miles of one another. Brattleboro Community Radio WVEW-LP FM, and Black Sheep Radio WOOL-FM, run completely by volunteers, are member-owned stations where program hosts can do almost whatever they like on the air, as long as it doesn’t offend the FCC.
I feel very lucky to be affiliated with both of them.
WVEW, located in Brattleboro—population just around 12,000—celebrated its 15th anniversary in September; their first official on-air date was September 1, 2006. I have hosted a show there, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, since April, 2012.
Well, that’s not entirely true. In 2017, I left WVEW for about a year to host Choose Your Own Adventure at WOOL.
My broadcast experience goes back to 1998, when radio free brattleboro [sic], a pirate station I helped launch, clandestinely went on the air (more on that later). I don’t remember what I was calling my show back then—I changed my show’s name a lot, and it was usually something absurd. It might have been Phrenology Today. I didn’t ever talk about assessing and assigning personality traits by the spurious method of measuring the shape of a person’s head. I just thought it was a funny name for a radio show.
My interest in radio goes back much further than that, though.
Radio was a near-constant presence in my life since childhood. At my mother’s house, my grandmother’s house, in my dad’s car, and in my childhood bedroom, the radio was always on. Some of my earliest memories are of hearing a particular song on the radio. K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” in my grandmother’s chocolate brown convertible when I was three years old. And yes, she was singing along. On a very rainy day when I was four, “The Things We Do For Love,” by 10cc, on my mom’s car radio as we drove down a flooded East Clinton Street in my hometown of Dover, N.J.
The only thing I remember wanting to be when I grew up was a DJ on the radio, and that idea’s seed was first planted when I was 10 years old. I used to record songs I liked from the radio onto cassette tapes. Using the boom box at my dad’s house, I’d also record my own mic breaks. No, I don’t have those tapes now. I kind of wish I did.
A few years later, in my early teens, I started spending more time flipping around the left of the dial, where most of the really interesting stuff could be found in suburban New Jersey. Well, at least when the wind was blowing right and the balled-up foil on my antenna took on the correct shape to collect a clear signal. Then I could pick up WSOU for metal (when there wasn’t a boring basketball game on), random psych stuff on WNTI, folkie stuff on WFUV, WNYU’s New Afternoon Show, the occasional broadcast from the Morristown high school station, and the grandest radio prize of them all: WFMU. It was the best company a lonely weirdo kid could ask for.
Later on, as a young adult, I started volunteering for WFMU on and off. Then, for about 6 years when I lived in New York City and Jersey City in the early- and mid-2000s, I was a regular volunteer, sometimes going to WFMU every week to help stuff envelopes, put up gems on the station’s eBay account, answering phones for the annual fundraising marathon, and learning to edit audio files of bands’ live performances. It was a place where I actually fit in, which was rare and wonderful.
I toyed with the idea of having my own show on WFMU—and it certainly influenced my decision in 1998 to help get radio free brattleboro on the air—but I only ever got so far as submitting an audition tape right before I returned to Vermont.
Still, I was on the air at WFMU numerous times.
One afternoon in 2005, I was at work, listening to Intelligent Design, Kenny G’s show on WFMU or maybe he was calling it Hour of Pain then, or possibly Anal Magic. (This was well before he was invited to read his poetry at the Obama White House.) Kenny was reading some sort of academic text on the air. Strangely enough, it was not interfering with my work; it was enhancing it. So, I wrote an email to Kenny to tell him. It went something like, “Dear Kenny G. Your show is helping me do my job. My job is writing descriptions of cheese for the Zabar’s website. I’m not joking, so you can stop laughing.”
Within moments, instead of making fun of me, he wrote back and invited me to be a regular guest on his show. Every week I’d bring a cheese or two, and we’d eat it on the air and talk about it. This expanded to a special event, in 2006, that Kenny G. billed as “The Cheese Orgy.” I brought in a pile of cheeses, and we invited a bunch of WFMU staff, program hosts, and regular volunteers to join us and eat the cheeses on the air while I explained what made them special. And, the guests chimed in with their reflections. You can listen to it here.
More recently, I spent a few years submitting weekly cheese- and food-related segments to WFMU’s Wake & Bake weekday morning show, hosted by Clay Pigeon. If the name “Wendy del Formaggio” is familiar to you, well, that’s me.
But, up here in Vermont, at WVEW, I just play songs I like every Monday night. Just as I had wanted to do when I was 10 years old.
WVEW, Brattleboro Community Radio, is a 100-watt station, and our studio is downtown, on Main Street.
WVEW’s transmitter and antenna are on the campus of a former school for deaf children, overlooking I-91. This part of Vermont—like most of the Green Mountain State—is hilly, and putting the antenna in this location was about the best we could do to send the signal anywhere substantial. It’s high on a hill, and the antenna sends the FM signal a few miles up and down the Connecticut River valley.
The station broadcasts seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The schedule consists mainly of live, locally-produced shows featuring music, interviews, and educational and political programming one does not often hear on commercial radio or NPR. WVEW also broadcasts a selection of syndicated programs, including “Democracy Now,” and “Economic Update.”
The station’s directors encourage anyone of any age with an interest in hosting a program to apply for a spot, even if that person has no prior experience. Current program hosts train newcomers to use the equipment and speak on the air, and many of them first learned how to be on the radio from other WVEW disc jockeys. I’ve trained more program hosts than I can remember. On a somewhat regular basis, someone at WVEW will thank me for training them however many years ago. I don’t want to hurt their feelings by forgetting our sessions, so I pretend I know what they’re talking about.
As mandated by its FCC license, WVEW airs no commercials. In addition to being operated and funded by volunteers who pay membership fees to host their shows, the station is supported by local business owners who donate money in exchange for underwriting spots. These brief and simple messages merely inform listeners of the business’s existence, and that its owner believes enough in WVEW to finance its operation.
The “LP FM” portion of WVEW’s official call letters indicates the radio station holds a low-power FM license. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) began issuing LPFM licenses in 2000, in response to pressure from radio enthusiasts, artists, educators, religious leaders, and free-speech activists and organizers. What all of these groups had in common was the desire to establish an affordable radio outlet on the nation’s publicly-owned FM airwaves. WVEW certainly fills that need. One of our longest-running shows is hosted by a woman who raised her two daughters on the air; they have both co-hosted the show—playing children’s music and fables and tales from around the world—since they were able to talk. Now, the older of them, a teenager, has her own program.
Prior to the FCC’s decision to allow low-power FM licenses—which can range from 1-100 watts of power—all licensed radio stations had to broadcast at 100 or more watts. The costs of establishing a full-power FM station, which include expensive engineering studies to ensure their signal will not interfere with extant radio stations’ signals, prohibited nearly every group or organization from legally broadcasting—except for commercial radio, NPR affiliates, and stations run by large colleges and universities. One of the Congressional acts that brought LPFM to communities throughout the country was supported by Vermont’s own Senator Patrick Leahy.
Vermont Earthworks, a non-profit formed to take advantage of the opportunity to bring low-power, all-access, commercial-free radio to Brattleboro, filed for this new class of broadcast license in 2001. Four years later, the FCC granted Vermont Earthworks’s request to construct a 100-watt FM radio station to serve the greater Brattleboro area. Within about 18 months, the station’s volunteers began testing its broadcast signal. And, on September 1, 2006, WVEW officially went on the air.
The individuals who created Vermont Earthworks were inspired by the existence (and demise) of radio free brattleboro. RFB was an unlicensed station a group of us Brattleboro-area radio nerds created in 1998 as an act of civil disobedience to protest the lack of accessible space on the public FM band. We knew—as did WVEW’s founders—that some day the FCC would likely come calling and raid the station and seize its equipment. In 2005, after a prolonged court battle, that is exactly what happened: radio free brattleboro was shut down.
Thanks to the foresight of Vermont Earthworks’s first directors, and the dozens of dedicated volunteers, radio nerds, audio engineers, music-lovers, talk show hosts, and hundreds of individuals in Brattleboro and across the globe who donate money, time, and expertise to keep the signal airing, WVEW has done the improbable: it has remained on the air, providing a radio home, even for old pirates like me.
WVEW-LP, Brattleboro Community Radio, is operated by the non-profit Vermont Earthworks. WVEW-LP airs in the greater Brattleboro area at 107.7FM, and online worldwide at wvew.org. Its studios are located at 139 Main Street in Brattleboro, and its mailing address is P.O. Box 653, Brattleboro, VT 05301. For more information, visit https://www.wvew.org/.
WOOL-FM, Black Sheep Radio, is a full-power non-commercial educational station covering a wide broadcast footprint in and around Bellows Falls, Vermont. Its studios are located at 33 Bridge Street in Bellows Falls, and its mailing address is P.O. Box 110, Bellows Falls, VT 05101. For more information, visit http://blacksheepradio.org/WOOL/.
WBAI’s execrable “Guns and Butter” continues to deliver its weekly horseshit. I tuned in recently and heard a guest claiming the environmental movement was a secret socialist plot to abolish private property. The guest made up several facts and assigned new meanings to terms like “austerity.” The most recent (8/11) program featured yet another Holocaust denier. This time, the guest was Michael Hoffman, author of tomes like Judaism Discovered: A Study of the Anti-Biblical Religion of Racism, Self-Worship, Superstition and Deceit and The Great Holocaust Trial: The Landmark Battle for the Right to Doubt the West’s Most Sacred Relic. While he seemed to mostly focus on a rambling Masonic conspiracy, Hoffman did at one point praise the Nation of Islam’s noxious text, “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews,” a farcical work that claims Jews were responsible for the slave trade.
After the program, WBAI engineer Michael G. Haskins offered Hoffman’s most-recent book as a fundraising premium. I’m afraid I was a bit overly generous towards WBAI management in my last dispatch dealing with “Guns and Butter.” I naively assumed station management was unaware of the content of the show. Now I am convinced management is either cynical, or possibly shares this noxious ideology. Sources tell me the station is well-aware of the type of anti-Semitic vitriol being broadcast on “Guns and Butter.” I’ve never been able to get a response from anyone at WBAI on the matter, but some station supporters I’ve spoken with default to the tired “free speech” excuse. This defense doesn’t hold up as WBAI management is notorious for purging program hosts at will any time one of them publicly criticizes this bastion of free speech. Consider the fact that not a single current station host has publicly called out “Guns and Butter,” though a few have privately expressed outrage. Of course, these are the same people who spent the entire Trump presidency huffing about the threat of imminent fascism.
I used to think WBAI was an important community asset that could still be turned around, in spite of all its flaws. There are some good programmers working to change WBAI’s direction, but I’m hardly optimistic about the future. At some point the station’s donors (including its large low-income listenership) will get tired of ponying up money to bail WBAI out of its perennial financial crises. In the meantime, I’m watching—and listening to—the train wreck from a distance.
On Being and Nothingness at WNYC
Much as WNYC provides some really essential news programming, there’s still a good deal of dreck we can’t get down with. Take “On Being,” an independently produced show, officially distributed by WNYC. The program “takes up the big questions with scientists and theologians, artists and teachers.” Some interesting guests make their way onto “On Being.” Still, host Krista Tippett lays the treacle on heavy. She winds up each show by telling us, “The On Being Project is located on Dakota land,” though she doesn’t specify where exactly that is, or if any of her well-funded staff are drawn from the tribe. Soon after, Tippet launches into her list of funders, a lengthy list of big-money foundations, including the Charles Koch Institute. That’s the same Koch, who along with his late brother David did more to undermine action on global warming than possibly anyone alive. You can trace support for pretty much any awful political initiative, from restrictions on voting rights, to the stacking of the Supreme Court with right-wing judges back to the Kochs. Cloying performative wokeness and enlightened consumerism probably make a good deal of NPR listeners feel good, but we’re not having it.
Funk Flex draws thousands to Coney Island
Thousands of people endured an hours-long line up and down the Coney Island boardwalk to attend Funkmaster Flex’s birthday party last weekend. The Hot 97 deejay’s party, held under the auspices of the City Parks Foundation’s Summerstage, featured a handful of other famous radio deejays, including WBLS’s Red Alert. A few rappers made special appearances, including a far-too-short set by Rakim, still one of the all-time greats.
And no matter any one’s claims about the medium of radio slipping in relevance, Funk Flex, an FM disc jockey is still able to attract a crowd that only a major athlete, movie star or platinum-selling musical act could draw.
Blind Tourist back on FMU/Mahogany with Sonika and Bailey
We’re glad to report Adrienne Lilly’s “the Blind Tourist” is back on the WFMU schedule (Mondays, 8 pm). This show distills weekly themes from found audio footage, often from other radio stations around the world. Lilly wields the medium of radio as an artform. “The Blind Tourist” is really one of the more interesting things on the radio.
A rather recent addition to the WFMU schedule worth checking out is “Mahogany with Sonika and Bailey.” According to its page on the WFMU site, “Mahogany” is “a show that seeks to explore and celebrate the varied textures in which black and brown artists have expressed their experience of the world spirit over time.”Some of the textures I heard included Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Coltrane and a good amount of funk/soul with some of Amiri Baraka’s voice woven in. The show reminds me of the better late-night shows I used to catch on WKCR when I would stay up all night with the tape recorder running in hopes of catching some rare Strata East records. It’s on Thursdays from 6-7, just before Hearty White’s ingenious “Miracle Nutrition.” The energy and vitality of shows like these are a big part of the reason we listen to (and write about ) radio. You know, when the people putting it all together have really done the work and the gears align nicely and you find yourself really taken somewhere else for an hour or so.
Inching toward our one-year anniversary
We’re coming up on this site’s one-year anniversary in September. Frequency and Amplitude was born out of some late-night pandemic conversations at Brooklyn’s Parade Grounds. A few friends who listen to lots of radio agreed on the idea of setting limited parameters (mostly radio, mostly analog) and stretching the limits of our self-imposed strictures. We hoped some of the resultant prose might be of interest to others. Looking back, we think we’ve had our moments. Freq-Amp has resisted the trend of pumping out content for content’s sake. Day jobs and family have limited our ability to update the site as often as we’d like. We still haven’t lost interest yet, and that means something. In year two, we will likely be expanding beyond just radio into other areas of broader interest. There is no grand plan, we’re going to take it as it comes and see where it goes.
Thanks to all of you who have read, those of you who have emailed, those who liked the site, those who let us know what they didn’t like about the site, and thanks to all those who toil to make the airwaves a little more interesting.
Tune in to WBAI Wednesday mornings at 9 and you might hear some pretty weird stuff, maybe an occasional interview with former Infowars Washington Bureau Chief/Q Anon promoter Jerome Corsi or a rambling editor from the “Journal of 9/11 Studies” questioning the science behind Covid lockdowns. Or maybe you’ll catch the type of guests who appeared on a recent episode, one of whom engaged in Holocaust denial while the other outlined a vast Jewish conspiracy with a hidden hand controlling much of history, including WWI, the JFK assassination, 9/11 and even the fringe 9/11 “truth” movement.
“Guns and Butter”is a rather tedious show which was reportedly booted off KPFA, Berkeley, California’s Pacifica affiliate for, among other things, rampant anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. The show’s supporters see terms like “anti-Semitism” and “Holocaust denial” as catch phrases employed by “Zionists” (i.e., anyone who call this stuff out) in an attempt to stifle their free speech. Since this crowd tends to claim all use of their own words is out of context, I’m going to present direct audio clips from that recent episode of “Guns and Butter.”
The following snippets are from the June 30 “Guns and Butter,” which consisted of pre-recorded lectures given by Swedish conspiracy theorist and Holocaust denier Ole Dammegard and American conspiracist Kevin Barrett. A note on the audio: We have not altered any of these recordings. There are a few instances where Dammegard’s speech appears to have been truncated. This could have been an audio or video glitch during recording or it could have been edited for the “Guns and Butter” episode.
The shoes, the shoes, the shoes!
“People said to have been killed in the death camps”
While laying out a bizarre theory that the presence of shoes at atrocities is part of a grand conspiracy, Ole Dammegard cuts to the chase. “The first time I really encountered these shoes were when it comes to the Holocaust, where they had been used massively in history books and so on [illegible] people who are said to have been killed in these death camps and so on.”
Shoes, shoes, shoes, shoes…Charlottesville was an inside job
In this clip, Dammegard recites his boorish incantation: shoes, shoes, shoes, shoes. He must find this amusing, he repeats the phrase multiple times. Unable to keep from cracking himself up, Dammegard informs listeners that the Boston Marathon Bombing and the “Charlottesville alleged car attack” were all part of the cover up. The inclusion here of the 2017 Charlottesville attack, might surprise some of WBAI’s listeners. When a white supremacist plowed through a crowd of protestors killing Heather Heyer, WBAI’s airwaves were filled with programming denouncing the fascist “Unite the Right” march that took place that weekend. Dammegard continually absolves contemporary Nazis of responsibility for their actions. In the same segment (not included in this audio clip), the sniveling crank also dismisses a racist attack by European neo-Nazis as part of this same false flag conspiracy. Dammegard has consistently dismissed far-right terror attacks since he first got internet notoriety for his apologia for the 2011 massacre of 77 civilians by a right-wing extremist. WBAI-supporting leftists who are seduced by the allure of these conspiracy theories should note that the majority of the victims of these attacks were leftist youths who were attending a summer camp for Norway’s social-democratic Labor Party.
Dammegard and the Holocaust “lie”
Ole Dammegard sees false flags everywhere. Miami condo collapse? The shoes, man, the shoes! The murders of John Lennon and Bob Marley? All part of the conspiracy. Dammegard is also a documented Holocaust denier. In a 2017 interview with white nationalist hate outlet Red Ice on “Making Critical Thinking Illegal: Questioning the Holocaust,” he refers to the mass murder of Jews as a “lie.” On par with the “moon hoax,” Dammegard sees the Holocaust as a myth concocted with help from “Hollywood.” He claims the conspiracy is so deep that “I’ve had people killed around me” for daring to question such things.
Even plane crashes are staged (the shoes!)
Who could possibly be behind all of this?
“So who, who on earth has the power to coordinate all these things?” The answer: Benjamin Netanyahu. (I should note that I am no fan of Netanyahu, I’d like to see him behind bars, but this conspiracy mongering is insane.)
“When you look at these up comes, every single time, the Mossad is there…”
The Jews, the Jews, the Jews!
In the second half of the 6/30 episode of “Guns and Butter,” Kevin Barrett drones on about “the domination of international organized crime and secret societies, banking and politics, again by ethnically Jewish people, many, if not most of whom have some degree of loyalty to the state of Israel.”
CIA/JFK/Mossad/”Jewish Mafia” connection
In a dizzying rant, Barret ties together the “Russian Jewish mafia,” the JFK assassination, the Israeli Mossad, David Ben Gurion and former CIA head James Jesus Angelton (a “CIA Mossad infiltrator”). It all leads to 9/11, of course.
The “secret Jewish intelligence network”
Barrett claims there is a secret intelligence network consisting of “hundreds of thousands of Jewish people around the world, many in the very highest positions who are willing to volunteer free of charge to do anything for the Israeli Mossad. Then there’s media dominance. Those who run the media decide which lies stand and which lies fall. And media in the Western World is heavily dominated by people who are ethnically Jewish with some degree of loyalty to Israel…” This is some real Protocols of the Elders of Zion shit, almost as unoriginal as it is hate-filled and embarrassing.
Barrett claims the conspiracy can be traced back to “Jewish scripture.”
The National Front a victim of false flags?
Barrett dismisses the 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in France as concocted attempts to garner support for Israel. He then claims an attack by French neo-Nazis was a false flag attempt to take down far-right French party the National Front in order to boost the political career of then president Nicholas Sarkozy.
“Inside job” was an inside job
Here Kevin Barrett claims the Zionist reach is so deep its tentacles reach into the “9/11 truth” movement (the fringe that believes the September 11 terror attacks were part of a broader conspiracy).
“And another kind of hijacking that occurred is hijacking the truth movement…the inside job phrase…is a catchphrase invented by Israel precisely to threaten the American government with massive destabilization if anyone in the American government tires to come forward with the truth about 9/11, which is that it was primarily an Israeli operation. Then they’re in a position to bring down the American house by having prepared this truth movement, saying inside job, inside job, inside job, it was the Americans that did it.”
The Left Forum affair
Both Ole Dammegard and Kevin Barrett were among the speakers kicked off the roster at the 2017 Left Forum conference where left-wing intellectuals and activists present papers and talk shop. At the time, leftist journalist Dave Lindorff took to Counterpunch to decry the Left Forum’s caving to “Zionist pressure.” People like Dammegard and Barrett (and their enablers) use “anti-Zionism” to couch their hideous ideology. Some gullible supporters of justice for the Palestinians might be taken in by this nonsense. There is nothing, however, in the noxious ideology of either of these theorists, or the “Guns and Butter” program which promotes any type of racial justice, for the Palestinians, or otherwise. (The author of this post/editor of this site is decidedly not a supporter of the state of Israel, but that is not relevant to the topic at hand).
What gives, WBAI?
WBAI Program Director Linda Perry did not respond to a request for comment on this story. In Perry’s defense, WBAI’s overall programming has been much better under her tenure that at any point in the last decade or so. This website has probably written more positive things about the worthwhile programming on WBAI than anyone else (few people care enough to document this stuff anymore). I don’t think Perry shares the repugnant views expressed on “Guns and Butter.” I do think she is caught in the middle of various difficult personalities and political factions at a station that is in perpetual economic and political crisis.
At some point post-9/11, the conspiracy theorists took hold at WBAI. The worst of this period occurred under the leadership of program director Tony Bates, when WBAI aired excerpts from fundraising premiums by conspiracy peddler David Icke, who believes the world is run by a secret cabal of “lizard people” who all just happen to have conspicuously Jewish surnames. Thankfully, programming under Linda Perry has largely eschewed this sort of thing (though the station is still far too reliant on soylent green health cures and Gary Null infomercials).
We’ve devoted much space on this website to right-wing programming on the NYC airwaves. Nothing we’ve heard on the AM dial is as far right as some of the content on “Guns and Butter.” During his brief 2020 stint on WSNR notorious Nazi Hal Turner didn’t even engage in the type of rhetoric heard in the clips presented here. Paradoxically, the most far-left station on NYC radio is broadcasting some of the most far-right content to be found on the airwaves.
Maybe “Guns and Butter” brings in a good yield at fundraising time. Or maybe someone on the station’s board loves the show. Regardless of the reason, the inclusion on WBAI’s airwaves of a program broadcasting Holocaust denial and unhinged anti-Semitism is inexcusable.
For more of our take on conspiracy theories on the radio,
Q 104.3 Celebrating 25 years of playing the same ten songs
In-between the commercials and the usual Led Zep/Skynyrd/Foreigner tunes, iHeart Radio’s Q 104.3 has been airing happy birthday greetings to itself on the occasion of 25 years of playing “classic rock” (a loose, arbitrary term). It’s unclear if the station has played any songs less than 25 years old since its first decade. The winning formula in corporate rock radio is to play the same 10 or so songs ad infinitum. Why they still employ deejays at these outlets is anyone’s guess. Tom Petty had a song about this, “the last DJ,” which pretty much sums up the whole situation: “As we celebrate mediocrity the boys upstairs want to see/how much they can’t get you to pay for what you used to get for free.”
WAXQ actually has an interesting history. It was founded as the station of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and later had a succession of owners, including the Starr Broadcast Group. Under the direction of Starr’s chairman, William F. Buckley (yes, that William F. Buckley) the station moved away from its then-classical music format to one of rock ’n roll. In true 1970s fashion, the switchover to rock was marked with a ceremonial airing of “Roll Over Beethoven.” That’s the period when the “Q” in the call letters was adopted, short for “Quadrophonic sound,” a novelty which is aptly archaic and irrelevant in 2021. I found all of this info on the WAXQ Wikipedia page. It’s more interesting to read about the station than it is to listen to. This quote from the Wiki puts it bluntly: “In sharp contrast to their respective tenures on other NYC area radio stations, the DJs now have little creative input into what music gets played, as is common nowadays at most major-market radio stations. The playlist is narrower than that of classic rock radio stations of the past, due to results from audience research, and songs that were once staples of classic rock radio such as ‘Eight Miles High’ by the Byrds are now only played during infrequent segments…”
Happy Birthday Q 104.3! Here’s wishing you another 25 years. If we live long enough to tune in then, we look forward to hearing “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Stairway to Heaven” on infinite repeat.
Heshy, Sliwa and the Death Wish III election
Editor’s note: we’re coming out of yet another period of extended silence. To the end that this website was started to give us a chance to write during a grim time, our founders made a promise: we would only give space to things we found interesting, or worth reporting on (with all-too-frequent exceptions, see Q104.3 write-up above). A reader recently emailed to ask why we haven’t covered the mayoral campaign of Curtis Sliwa, or Heshy Tischler’s city council run.
Thankfully, Tischler landed dead last in his race, with around 300 votes total. He is reportedly insisting the race was stolen from him and has embraced the cause of the January 6 Capitol rioters. As we’ve been saying all along, Tischler never had mass support, even among the very conservative residents of his neighborhood. The same bully who threatens any perceived enemy with violence folded without a fight when a random stranger punched him in the head. After he was elevated by the media for his role in a mob attack on a journalist, Heshy briefly made the run of several alt-right media platforms. He was so desperate for attention, he even appeared on a Nazi podcast where callers made holocaust jokes at his expense.
He’s also up to his neck in legal troubles: Tischler recently got off with ten days of community service after pleading guilty in his role in the assault on journalist Jacob Kornbluh. But he’s still got this alleged mortgage fraud scandal involving a $650,000 collateral-free loan and, according to the Daily News, “wresting control of a Borough Park address from his sister Esther Tischler, who has Down’s Syndrome.”
Curtis Sliwa on the campaign trail is even more painful to listen to than he was on the radio. He will likely face a resounding defeat in the general election. While that’s a good thing, the bad news is he will lose to Eric Adams, who shares many of Sliwa’s views on police reform, cuts to education, and the like.
Sliwa, for his part is running a Death Wish III campaign. What is Death Wish III, you ask? I just made It up, the series never got past Death Wish II. If it did exist, it would be yet another bad 70s remake with limited demand. Death Wish, for the younger readers, was the Charles Bronson franchise in which the protagonist, a hard-working architect was continually victimized by thugs, creeps and goons. The police, handcuffed by liberal legislation, are unable to help the hero, so he takes matters into his own hand and exacts revenge. That’s Sliwa’s campaign in a nutshell: crime is out of control! The subways are overrun with switchblade-wielding gangs! The cops are powerless to help! Only one man has what it takes to fight back! Sliwa can’t take down the thugs and criminals in an election (he didn’t even do much of that during his vigilante days). What he can do is elevate the Law and Order rhetoric to the point where it plays on the public’s fear of crime.
The histrionics of Sliwa, his AM radio peers and the tabloids aside, New York City is still relatively safe. The uptick in murders over the pandemic is horrible, no one will deny that. Though, as media critic Julie Hollar explains, the 194 murders recorded in the first half of this year put the murder rate “just a hair higher than the 191 to this point in 2012—a year when murders reached a record low, and then–Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted it [NYC] as ‘the safest big city in America.’” Hollar writes: “Looking just a bit farther back, you can see that New York is nowhere near its ‘bad old days’ of crime. In 1993, the earliest year for which the NYPD provides year-to-date crime numbers, there were 718 murders at this point in the year—3.7 times higher than today.” This isn’t to say crime isn’t a serious concern for voters. Any violent crime is significant to its victims and people want to feel safe. Fixing this takes actual solutions and policy proposals that address the root causes of crime while providing communities with a sense of security. This approach is lost on nuance-free Curtis Sliwa who has nothing to offer aside from “Refund the Police!” catchphrases.
Sliwa was already a corny 70s movie remake when his Guardian Angels first came on the scene in the late 70s. Then, as now, Sliwa was more interested in publicity than combatting crime. If he needed to fake a major exploit or two—or six, that was just part of the grift. The routine was played out in no time. The Guardian Angels quickly lost the public’s trust. Sliwa never quite adapted to the times, remaining an archaic relic, similar to a staticky VCR tape of one of the more notorious NYC public access cable tv shows like Robin Byrd or Midnight Blue, where viewers could potentially see the aging red beret sandwiched on a couch between Bernie Goetz or even Donald Trump. The schtick got stale a long time ago. Unlike Trump, Curtis Sliwa doesn’t have a major network propelling him into reality TV stardom. He only has NYC Republican party boss and WABC radio owner John Catsimatidis.
So what does any of this have to do with NYC radio? Sliwa won’t be back on WABC until he loses the election He does share one important trait with Q 104.3, though: they are both stuck in the 70s and they keep playing the same predictable tunes over and over and over again.
I always preferred Taxi Driver anyway.
Read past Freq-Amp coverage of “classic rock” and other types of rock here. Past writings on Curtis Sliwa can be found here and coverage of Heshy Tischler is here
Two friends of this website are making moves on the audio-visual tip. Peter Rugh (whose radiofiction story, May He Rest in Peace appeared last year) has a new single out. The Old International is a lament to a Covid-closed dive bar and the “wild and lonesome renegades who drink and work there.” This isn’t some corny Cliff Claven, Theme from Cheers jingle. It’s a good listen. Rugh honed his gravel-throated delivery inhaling Marlboro smoke and bourbon in some of the last places a working stiff can go to tie one on. The production is sparse and ethereal. Rugh’s plaintive lyrics are propped up nicely by Malcom Elvy’s keys and the ghosts of many a shuttered dive bar.
The Old International was recorded by Derek Brown at the Slipper Room, a burlesque club that was also closed during the pandemic. You can listen for free at Bandcamp. The Kingcrisp Records Bandcamp page also features a video produced by Freq-Amp’s illustrator, Showband Era. (It’s also viewable via youtube. Keep in mind, though, that none of the revenue from mandatory commercials makes its way to the artists.)
In the bleakest days of lockdown, when work was scarce and the libraries were closed, I took solace searching through online repositories. One of these in particular offers some interesting insight into the history of freeform radio and the role of the underground press in promoting high energy music. The Independent Voices project at the Reveal Digital Archive contains many issues of the East Village Other, an important underground 60s newspaper. From a May 7, 1969 edition, in the “Kokaine Karma” column, we learn that after a 10-month run, the authors’ namesake radio show had been kicked off WFMU. Readers are informed Kokaine Karma’s “estimated 50,000 to 60,000 listeners…were ignored to placate the America Legion, college alumni, the radio board and a tyrannical, hypocrite station manager.”
The column is worth a read for the writing style alone. It also gives a nice view into the creative boundaries being pushed at the time: “Critics are pompous, snide and out of touch with the people…The Kokaine Karma radio show is a product of the youth culture. Rock and roll records, through the explosive blast that avant garde jazz musicians [sic], are interspersed with the sounds of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, John Sinclair, Adrian Mitchell, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman. Raps are spontaneous, informal and high-energy, concentrating on the evolving new society and satirizing the bizarro American death culture. The sudden cancellation of the Karma Kapers has the thumping bark of cultural repression. It is the latest move to preserve the bland, plastic honky world and leave the new culture stillborn.” The authors go on to blast the station manager who “tried to tie up the facilities by producing his own skonko-cum-chompo 45 record.” (Note: in a recent interview, surviving Karma co-host Dennis Frawley insists the name was a play on words and cocaine was a drug the hosts never indulged in, stating “it was overpriced and overrated.”)
It’s hard to find much fault in the Kokaine Karma writers’ contention that, when “responsible to advertisers and stockholders, radio has a lifeless, unchallenged existence—a bland, formularized state that affords no opportunity for creativity and denies the involvement of radio in contemporary culture. With the concern for programming, radio could be a springboard for new music, comedy, drama and thought, rather than being relegated to a graveyard showcase of Muzak, plastic rock, ugly commercials and right-wing rhetoric. Babylon has indeed developed mindless radio for the honky housewife…The disc jockey personality is low-energy, pseudo-hip, holier-than-Thou and as ignorant of the music and community as Billboard, Cashbox, and the N. Y. Times.” Where, as the youth like to say, is the lie?
Kokaine Karma probably did offend plenty of influential people whose kids happened to tune in. Or maybe the show got booted off the air for more mundane reasons. At this point, it’s almost impossible to verify the facts behind the myth. WFMU station manager Ken Freedman and Liz Berg, in a 2008 blog post, recount how an airing of the non-radio-friendly version of the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” led to the station losing access the Christian-station-owned transmitter WFMU then utilized. MC5 singer Rob Tyner’s use of the word “motherfucker” provided the “unintentional catalyst for an early step toward the station’s independence,” as WFMU was forced to eventually build their own transmitter. It’s unknown if the offending DJ was one of the Kokaine Karma hosts. It’s a wonder such a show could exist anywhere in the late 60s.
It would be hard for a similar show to get airtime in 2021. Co-host “Righteous” Bob Rudnick would get kicked off station after station, retiring from radio forever in 1975 and dying 20 years later. As his friend John Sinclair recalled, Rudnick had been “living a life of utter penury, staying in crash pads or people’s basements and scrambling for what he called turd money enough to put something in his belly to hold the beer, wine and spirits which dwelled there in such abundance. His drug use was cut way down, he’d definitely cop every two weeks, though,” and “in the summer of 1991, Bob had started having trouble with his liver.”
After getting thrown off WFMU, Rudnick and co-host Frawley relocated to Michigan, at the behest of MC5 manager John Sinclair. The two began working at WABX in Detroit, but were reportedly fired for “playing too much jazz” and announcing a benefit show for (then-jailed) Sinclair on the air. In the face of pressure, station management offered to rehire both deejays, but Rudnick moved on. Frawley stayed on at WABX, and continued doing vital radio for a few decades. He can be heard on one of the bootlegs of final Stooges material and he surfaced for an interesting Radio Dayz podcast interview in March of this year.
The beginnings of Kokaine Karma
In 1967 Rudnick got fired from an editorial job at a PlayboyVIP magazine for taking off to attend an anti-war march before a deadline. This provided the peripatetic Rudnick an impetus to move to New York, where he worked as a chauffeur and fell in with old friend Dennis Frawley. The two got involved with the East Village Other newspaper, and their column, Kokaine Karma was born. They expanded to the airwaves in 1968, with a slot on WFMU, which had recently pioneered its freeform format. Rudnick and Frawley immediately took to the MC5, regularly playing the band’s first single. Elektra records’ Danny Fields, who would sign the MC5 and the Stooges) had a show in the slot after Kokaine Karma. Frawley and Rudnick would host the band live in WFMU’s studio. (The performance, which occurred shortly after the MC5’s disastrous experience at the Fillmore East—also set up by Frawley and Rudnick.
The first part of the MC5’s December 1968 performance can be heard courtesy of the MC5 Gateway.
One really interesting thing here was the emphasis on Black music and White rock and roll together. It should be obvious that the music that is credited as giving birth to punk rock was heavily influenced by free jazz and the Black power movement. (This wasn’t just the case with the MC5. Iggy Pop, generally apolitical , started as a blues drummer in Chicago clubs.) In the Kokaine Karma MC5 broadcast, MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer replies to a caller asking for musical recommendations with: “Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, MC5, the Stooges.” As Rudnick told the Ann Arbor Sun in 1972: “For instance you start playing jazz; some people never heard it before or it’s alien to them, so you try and put it in a context so it’s not too weird. You fit it in so it’s easy for people to hear it at first and get into it. I talk specifically about jazz, because what I play is mostly rock and roll and avant garde jazz, free music, high-energy music, cosmic music…The thing is not really to play music that people know, but to play music that they WILL WANT TO KNOW once they get a chance to hear it.”
Rudnick, presaging the World Wide Web by decades saw the role of radio “not to just reflect what’s happening in the community but to try and turn people on to what’s happening so they can be a part of it. The radio station should tie the area it reaches together. It should be a web, an information network.”
This approach is still radical today. Few radio programmers still venture into such territory, with a small number of exceptions. A show like Kokaine Karma, despite its indulgences, illustrates the most radical of what was possible in 60s freeform radio. 1960s FMU was one of a few stations in the country pursuing freeform. In the Greater NYC region, BAI and FMU were the only two places to consistently access alternative viewpoints and culture. There was always a schism between the two. The WBAI politicos thought WFMU was too loose and undisciplined. In a 1969 Eye magazine article gleaned from the WFMU website, WBAI’s Steve Post is quoted as saying “There is a generation gap between our audience and WFMU’s, but there’s some overlapping too. We at BAI feel like immigrant parents who had to fight and struggle and then have a kid who has a silver spoon in his mouth. But look, they’ll have their struggles too. They’re a little naïve, a little immature, but they’re sincere.”
Rudnick and Farley did not share this view. In their East Village Other missive against WFMU’s management, they declaimed the tedium of “Pacifica’s WBAI, [which] with a great deal of social involvement, has become stagnant presenting the same consciousness, discussions, and folksy music night after night, year after year.”
This type of freeform radio had some other outposts across the country, Rudnik would work at, and get kicked off a few of them. Most of these stations would either be subsumed into commercial stations or carry on as some form of college radio. The network of underground newspapers like the East Village Other largely floundered as large music publications like Rolling Stone allegedly colluded with record companies to starve the underground press of music ads, a major revenue source. It’s no coincidence that Rolling Stone (and FM radio with it) quickly turned away from coverage of the vital high-energy music championed by Kokaine Karma, especially the Blacker variants.
High-energy music/life, culture
Former MC5 manager John Sinclair, explained the high-energy ethos shared by the MC5 and Kokaine Karma in a 1970 interview with the East Village Other. Sinclair, at the time serving a sentence for giving (not selling) two joints to an undercover cop, explained:
“Why drink alcohol and not smoke dope? Because alcohol makes you go along with all that low-energy bullshit for the straight life-style and job structure. Young people who work in the factory are doing that because essentially they don’t see anything else to do. And along with working in the factory goes all the rest of the stuff: bowling, hunting, buying furniture, getting married, a new car, sharp clothes, beauty parlors. Or else you go into the army for a few years and then into the factory. Or some other job.
When I was coming up that was all there was. Ten years ago. You just accepted that shit. And if you went to college you rejected rock and roll as a teenage thing. In college you listened to Dave Brubeck or Peter, Paul and Mary…The more high-energy our music got, the more the establishment tried to kill it: they sent out Frankie Avalon and Fabian, exemplars of honky culture Lawrence Welk.
“Listen to Little Richard and then listen to ‘Venus’ by Frankie Avalon (to see the difference between high and low-energy music.) The establishment was trying to sell the low-energy thing to white youth. Or listen now to CKLW: the same awful shit; songs about boys driving around in cars trying to pick up girls or vice versa. Most pop music is still low-energy music…The contradiction I’m trying to point out is between low-energy life and high-energy life. Low-energy culture prepares people to fit into the consumer (passive) system. (And it has to do with death: consume—kill and shit out; consumption, the poets’ disease.)
A high-energy culture prepares you for revolution…”
Asked about his prison music listening, Sinclair explained, “I listen to Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills, Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced. The MC5’s Kick Out the Jams, which is the most high-energy record ever made—too high energy for anyone except stoned freaks and 16-year-old maniacs. And John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra.”
Reviewers often praised The MC5 for their music while mocking their bombastic politics. Yes, some of what they were saying is terribly dated and silly. There is, though, much to be salvaged from the high-energy philosophy. It’s important to remember this was happening while the US government was pushing an unwinnable war in Vietnam and as riots burned large parts of several major American cities. When I was a kid in the 70s everybody had an older brother or a cousin or father who had fought in Vietnam, and everyone knew someone who didn’t come home. Or came home, but never fully returned. This was the “Human Being Lawnmower” the MC5 sang about, the system that grinds youth and life into mulch. The same forces are still in place. Old farts knock the contemporary youth as “having it easy.” The kids have been dealt a lousy deck—a life of debt peonage, lack of meaningful work, a warming planet they had no hand in wrecking, racial and economic injustice and so on.
There isn’t a lot of programming in the old freeform/high-energy tradition these days, but if you listen in the right places you can hear glimpses. WFMU still admirably carries the freeform torch. While there’s nothing anywhere near as wild as the Kokaine Karma on WFMU (or any other station), there’s still a lot of great music. As I get ready to post this dispatch, Clay Pigeon is delivering his high-energy treatment, as he does every weekday morning. There are too many other FMU deejays doing great work to mention here. WKCR plays John Coltrane marathons and you can still tune in and hear Albert Ayler or Sun Ra.
John Sinclair, in the East Village Other interview quoted above, laid out his beef with mainstream culture: “People used to look on their music listening as separate from their other life. Aristotle’s triumph of separation. I want to say, no to insist, that the music that you listen to shapes your life… You listen to high-energy music, and then when people come to you with low-energy forms, you just can’t stand it. That’s why kids hate school so much: school is the ultimate low-energy trip.” Even the better culture and politics shows on BAI or any of the local NPR affiliates lack teeth. Much as I rely on these stations’ deadly sober news programming, so many of them are a low-energy trip. It would be nice, even occasionally, to hear something a little less Plato’s Republic and more Plato’s Retreat. You know, a little more bacchanalia in the Apollonian/Dionysian balance.
Hopefully at least a reader or two will come away from this dispatch inspired to check out the Other Voices archives. Or maybe you will carry some element of high-energy music/lifestyle into your daily existence. Better yet, why not create your own high-energy art/music/radio?
For more info…
Readers interested in pulling on some of the strands presented here and learning more about freeform radio, the underground press, high-energy music, the MC 5 and the like will find a good starting point at any of the links below.
East Village Otherarchives can be accessed directly at the Independent Voices repository. Some background on the Other can be found at the 2012 site put together at NYU.
The Arcane Radio Trivia site did a nice write-up on Rudnick back in 2012; some of the above biographical info on Rudnick was culled from links on that site. This 1970 Creemrundown of the Motor City Scene provides much useful context.
The 1970 John Sinclair interview with the East Village Other contains the best explanation of the theory of high-energy vs low-energy culture.
The Ann Arbor District Library has great archival material on John Sinclair, Bob Rudnick and the Detroit scene online.
This Eye magazine feature on WFMU is essential history. The article is dated November 1969, and places the Kokaine Karma show on FMU at that time. Frawley and Rudnick were already in Detroit by then—this oversight is likely a result of the slow pace of print publications. The article can be accessed via WFMU’s website.
This Dennis Frawley interview on the Radio Dayz podcast interview is well worth listening to.
Looking through the New York Times archives, I came across some interesting radio announcements. The one I’m sharing here, from June 14 1966 shows how much quality content was available on New York radio on a single day. Among the things listed here, we have a notice for a Bob Fass show with guest Muddy Waters and Otis Spann followed by an interview with sociologist Jerome Skolnick discussing his recently released (and now classic) book Justice Without Trial. Jazz legend Billy Taylor hosting a show on WLIB. Classical music all over the dial, including spots on WABC and FUV. Studs Terkel on WRVR and a two Martin Luther King associates and a Life Magazine editor on WMCA.
An interesting snapshot into one of radio’s many golden ages. Stay tuned for more archival content coming soon.
Radio pioneer Bob Fass has died at aged 87. Fass’s “Radio Unnameable” show on BAI evolved coevally with the 60s counterculture. If there was an important demonstration or new musical act, Radio Unnameable was the place people in the New York are tuned in to get the information.
The show was an environment where Bob Dylan might drop in unannounced, or where Abbie Hoffman would call in to brief listeners on the Chicago 7 Conspiracy Trial. Fass pioneered a free-form type of radio that he managed to keep going for over 50 years.
There isn’t much we can add about Fass that won’t have appeared elsewhere already. Instead, we are republishing a 1977 article written by Fass for the Yipster Times in the wake of a lockout of WBAI staff by station management. This short piece is a bit rambling, but it captures Fass’s speaking style pretty well, and includes some valuable tidbits of his own and his show’s history. The original Yipster Times introduction could be describing any of WBAI’s internal tumult, which still continues.
Here’s a text-only version for those of you who don’t like reading yellowed newsprint:
To people outside the New York area, the story of the struggle at New York’s Pacifica Radio Station. WBAI—replete with worker’s takeovers. management lock-outs, charges of racism, counter-charges of corporate mendacity-seems almost impossible to unravel. Even New Yorkers who’ve followed things minutely have by now become immensely weary of recounting the story in depth. Frankly, we deferred treatment of the WBAI story until now because even as you read this, there may be some new wrinkle, a new development requiring yet another update.
Don’t be fooled.
As we go to press, news-feeds are being censored and the community bulletin board—a listing of events indispensable for community organizers—has been dropped. Obscured by the staff union’s thrust for self-management and management counter claims of staff “white skin privilege,” the fact remains that radio WBAI, once a subscriber-supported force to mobilize people, is losing out to a new, more commercialized approach.
Some say it comes from secretly taking foundation grants.
To give you some insight, then, we decided to run the following by Bob Fass. one of the original YIP collective, and an innovator of free form radio.
It was inevitable that Bob Fass be at the station, on the air, the day the management told the staff to go home, and then pulled the plug. He was also amongst those arrested when a court finally succeeded in ending that staff union’s occupation of the station.
For a month after WBAI came back on the air. under new and firmer management, they played cat and mouse with Bob. implying but not really confirming that he was suspended. Now they want him back, to do the marathon and to raise money.
That’s the problem. The way of the new, Carter-style liberalism is not to fire you if you ‘re too popular. But are the Bob Fasses and other dissidents slated to wind up like Winston Smith, in 1984. their intellectual labor completely alienated in service of Big Brother?
When I first came to work at WBAI I was 29 years old.
A dropout from the Class of 1955 at Syracuse University, I was a graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse School where Sanford Meisner (Guro-OM) gave me instruction in the art of telling lies from truth. (It strikes me that T.L.F.T. could also mean to make theatrical art from truthful feeling.)
I filled my time with as much nervetingle as I could. In New York of the 1960’s, that meant acting classes and love and shared meals in the back of my friend Conrad’s jewelry shop on MacDougal Street where 1 learned to pierce ears and argue anarcho-communism with Terri and Dave Van Ronk, and Phil Ochs. 1 worked one night as a waiter at Jon Mitchell’s Gaslight and nine night-time months in misery in a paper cup factory in College Point. I travelled three hours a day and worked nine. I climbed five flights to my East 5th Street pad, where I turned on the radio, fed my cat Charlie Parker, and fell asleep and dreamt of Angels and Lorelei.
One Sunday, my only day off, my friend Angelica introduced me to Wendell who was living with two women. When Angelica’s mother, a hard-working sewing machine operator asked in her sweet rippling Greek accent what it was like, he said, “Great!”
Wendell and Ojos-De-Viecha (Eyes of Glass), who was later to be the hero of a movie called “Don Peyote in New York” tried to turn me on to grass but I was too frightened and decided to bide my time. I took a seed and planted it.
I read the Realist and the Village Voice and wrote Angry Alienated Poetry between naps on the 3 hour subway ride. One of Wendell’s roommates sublet me her W. Broadway pad and while my brother Dick and a strong, young French visitor, Jacqueline were helping me move my possessions, the nicest and heaviest of which was Nancy Fish’s yellow and pink chest of steel drawers, we rested in Washington Square Park and listened to the folk singers. Two enormous hands slipped under my armpits, lifted me from the edge of the circle where I sat, and dribbled me like a basketball. Steve Pearlman, tall as Dr. J, an aspiring Chialiapin and a student of Stella Adler, basso-profundo-ed “You fit the costume! I knew it!” We had met a year before in a Stella Adler Orestian Trilogy and he was a working actor in a hit off-Broadway show. Three Penny Opera. I did fit the warden’s costume and so for two years I was immersed in Bertolt Brecht as I worked as Actor General Understudy and Assistant Stage Manager. I can still recite most of the songs and give the light cues.
In my free time I volunteered as an actor and reader on WBAI. When Three Penny closed, I collected all my fellow actors’ signatures on my unemployment insurance booklet as a memento and applied for the first open announcing job at WBAI.
When I first began to send messages over WBAI in New York, and I began to get them back, I felt like a radio-astronomer discovering a periodicity in a distant star that spelled out “Come here Mr. Watson, I need you.” People in the audience, the body of supposedly passive listeners, became my informants, my confidants, my friends, and my lovers. I would have long conversations off the air as well as on. They read me their poetry and taught me about music. And I tried to encourage them to dig on each other.
“Good Morning Cabal”—those were my first words four out of seven days a week. Why? Because the Cabal voted on it, that’s why. “Good Morning” because it was a beginning, a new Fresh Start, Cabal because we were a group of secret Plotters getting together in the mid-night, our faces unknown even to each other. “Come on People, Now Get Together” was our unofficial theme song. Collective efforts have been the Cabal’s beauty part. The Cabal named itself, deemed the radio unnameable, insisted on its form and called itself Free. Free Form radio meant collective consciousness and collective efforts from the beginning.
The Cabal has saved lives, given milk to babies, acted as a lynch mob to Presidents and Tyrants, ransomed Prisoners, conspired to foment music and peace. It harbors chetnicks, and fugitives from money, tolerates and tries to educate racists and other fools. It sees itself as an electronic community of Prisoners and Poets and Prophets and lovers and mystic mothers, bakers and growers out on a spree. It is one of the few gangs on earth that have never shed blood. Its own has been spilled, but mostly at parties: Chicago and Grand Central to name only two.
In 1967 the Cabal saw the arrival of 1984, in what the New York Times called “A Club Swinging Melee”, as thousands of Cabalists, Hippies, Witches, Night Workers and day-time bankers gathered at midnight in Grand Central Station to have themselves a mingle and see themselves smile, the smile of a job or two of work and play they could be proud of.
The first physical manifestation of the Cabal was at New York’s Kennedy Airport at Midnight on April 7, 1967. Five thousand people gathered to celebrate the architecture, breathe the Calder into motion, welcome international arrivals and exchange grins. It slowed traffic to a smile and said welcome to this beautiful midnight city. 5,000 Grover Whalens wailin’ in the midnight, in Kennedy Airport, so beautiful and gentle even the Daily News didn’t get uptight. There was only one arrest, and that one was a false arrest, by two plainclothes narcs wearing leis around their necks who would have felt themselves in a way of being charged with malfeasance if they hadn’t ruined someone’s party!
Bemused and excited by the power of touching hands, we decided next to put our hands and backs to work picking up the garbage. We picked East 7th Street, the slum block that bisected that part of the Lower East Side that was beginning to be called, by journalists and real estate brokers, “New York’s East ‘Village.” It contained St. Mark’s Place and the theatre that became the Filmore East, the Gem Spa, and the B&H, and Ratner’s and the Paradox and the Electric Lotus and the Peace Eye and the Balloon-farm and Cooper Union, a great free art school—where Lincoln had spoken and years later the Butcher of Attica, the Successor of Agnew, was prevented from speaking, in part by the Cabal.
When the Public Relations arm of the Sanitation Department heard that the Cabal planned to clean up after them, they asked us to come to a meeting, requesting us to desist from besmirching their image and then tried to cut us off at the pass by getting the automatic sweepers there before us. When the Cabal arrived and found 7th Street clean they smiled because they knew it would be, and went to work on 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd. Rock bands played. Banners of welcome were hung out and the commissioner of sanitation, the first of the Lindsay Administration to go to jail, came down to pose for the press. And that night Paul Krassner, who had been part of the “Hasn’t Scratched Yet Scouring Powder Committee,” gave a free show at the Filmore for the Cabal and the community.
Back in February, WKCR’s Phil Schaap marked his 50-year broadcast anniversary. As anyone who has listened to Schaap for any length of time knows, he hasn’t just been doing a radio show for 50 years. He has been putting every bit of his physical/psychic/emotional/mental energy into programming. When he’s on, he’s on. And he’s always on (or always on the air, it seems). We know, Schaap isn’t for everyone. The man believes the music of Charlie Parker, and the jazz tradition itself (going back to its beginnings in New Orleans) is one of the most important things on earth. And he is possessed by desire to share his knowledge of this music with the world. This is someone who has found his calling, and lives it on the radio.
There’s a rumor that if you took recordings of Phil Schaap’s radio appearances and strung the tape together, those 50 years would cover the length of the Manhattan Bridge. At least half of the distance would reportedly consist of Phil playing alternate takes of Bird.
Another Schaap story holds that WKCR once dispatched a Columbia ethnomusicology student to archive all of Schaap’s recorded programs. The student mysteriously disappeared, resurfacing years later in the Catskills, very thin and heavily bearded. His only possessions consisted of some clothing, a bowl, water jug and a reel-to-reel tape player. The student could be heard mumbling: “I tried, but he just keeps going!” Blurting out: “BIRD LIVES!” he then ran off into the mist.
Deep, deep focus on KCR
On a recently rebroadcast Deep Focus, host Mitch Goldman laid out his vision for the show. This is a paraphrase, but his idea seemed to be to give the music the heavy listening treatment you would get when you started getting really into it; you have a friend or two come by, plop that album you finally found on the turntable and just get lost in the sound. This is what I think he was saying, anyway. Or at least, that’s what I get out of the show.
Since the plague still rages, Goldman has been drawing from his vast reserves. Recent episodes we’ve heard have included sax player Jorge Sylvester talking about Jimmy Lyons, drummer William Hooker discussing Larry Young and bassist Melvin Gibbs digging deep into the work of Lester Bowie. These guys don’t just talk about the importance of these artists and play songs anyone can now find online. They listen to unreleased recordings from the KCR archive (and sometimes from their personal collections). It’s not unusual for Goldman to announce a song by mentioning the recording has never been played publicly before. Often, as in the case of Gibbs, the musician will detail their personal experience playing with the featured artist; listeners get an additional human element. There’s nothing like this anywhere. Catch it on WKCR, Monday nights 6-9 pm, or via Goldman’s website or on podbeam.
George Grella on the lack of new giants in jazz
The Red Hook Star Revue newspaper has been running some interesting music writing these days. George Grella (who also edits the Brooklyn Rail’s music section) recently wondered, “Where have all the giants gone?” In an essay well worth reading, Grella looks at the current state of the music, and the limitations placed on the form by the institutions that allow musicians to grow and survive:
“The music is a niche now. Institutions and academic programs have stepped in to keep it alive, but institutional support in general and pedagogy in particular means a shadow conformity, if not something more explicit and pernicious—money comes in to departments and institutions, and how it is spent is a reflection of institutional values, the money becomes the way. The meanness of America has meant taking money away from public schools. If you’re not at a private school, or one in a wealthy zip code with an active PTA, you’re not likely to get quality music instruction before college. That already pre-selects the kids who might have a chance to go to music school, even before the cost of college. Graduate school, which has become a prerequisite in a society that sees credentials as the single most important heuristic in professional life, further narrows the field, which has already been built on those who can most afford all the training, not on those who have the most musical talent and promise.”
New York’s main “classic rock” station, Q104.3 has been deviating from their usual ten-song format on weeknights to play live versions of a few of those same ten songs. Weeknights at 8, host Carol Miller fires up some Led Zep bootlegs. Miller often says these things are “audio and studio enhanced for quality,” but that doesn’t help much. I used to own some Zeppelin boots, and some of this stuff is excruciatingly bad, sound- and performance-wise. What is it about the Zeppelin brand that whoever programs this stuff would rather play an incoherent take of Ramblin’ On than take a chance on anything else? Some of this stuff sounds like a bad Zeppelin cover band with the members simultaneously playing four different songs at different tempos. Apparently the surviving members of Led Zeppelin haven’t done anything in the last 50 years? Even the musicians whose body of work these stations bleed into infinity can’t get their current music played. Take Paul McCartney, he’s got this acclaimed new album. Maybe they play one song from the thing early in the morning on a Sunday, or something. The programmers at these stations are so afraid of deviating from the market-tested approach that Paul McCartney can’t get even airplay. The format holds that there are ten important bands in the world, with ten important songs between them. With lots and lots of songs about being young and free and driving fast, the perfect soundtrack for being stuck in traffic.
WFMU’s Joe Belock has been doing interesting music trivia segments on Clay Pigeon’s Wake and Bake morning show. Belock, a first-rate DJ in his own right asks listeners to try to refrain from using google, and then presents background on various musicians. One of the segments featured a song from Madonna’s initial punk band. Belock’s good enough that he can still provide enough interesting context on someone like Madonna to keep it interesting. This week’s bit on Buck Owens had us searching out the singer’s early session sides.
McGasko delivers the goods
The only other thing we have to say about WFMU today is that Joe McGasko consistently turns out high-quality radio. I caught a recent post-fundraising-marathon set of JM’s consisting of all Billy Joel covers (he was fulfilling a promise to listeners). Drawing on obscure international records from his collection, he made even this sound interesting. I’m sure this isn’t an original idea: now that so much music is available online or on the phone, good music radio serves an essential role in distilling the good stuff. McGasko is a pro at this, he clearly puts in a lot of work putting his show together, and it shows. A DJ like McGasko will always be relevant anyway, since so much of what he plays isn’t even available online. This is kind of the opposite approach to the stuck-in-traffic “classic rock” format we talked about earlier. Mondays, 9 am – noon.
Vaccine “breakthrough” infections and side effects on WNYC
Brian Hill did a very informative in-house bit this morning (4/13) on “breakthrough” covid cases. These are the infections that occur in vaccinated people. This segment isn’t available online, but the station did carry an NPR story on the same issue. No vaccine is fully effective, but your odds of getting Covid are still much, much smaller if you are vaccinated. Listen to the full story here. This morning, the FDA recommended the Johnson and Johnson vaccine be put on hold following reports of blood clots in some recipients. Brian Lehrer responded with a look into the differences between the available vaccines, and their potential side effects. If you have any concerns about vaccine safety, this is a great place to start (stay off youtube!). Later in today’s show, Lehrer dealt with the challenges of vaccinating incarcerated people. He opened up the phone lines to people who have been incarcerated during the pandemic. The word from inside is that the bureaucracies running the prisons and jails have been focusing on public relations rather than safety of staff and inmates.
Tom Robbins Deadline NYC on Minnesota police and the newspaper business
Tom Robbins is one of the all-time greats in the newspaper game. His BAI show, Deadline NYC: Tales from a Veteran Reporter, Mondays, 5-6 pm, often features thoughtful interviews with other reporters. This week’s show features a discussion with Ruben Rosario, recently retired from the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the trial of Derek Chauvin, and the latest high-profile police shooting in Minnesota. The latter part of the interview delves into Rosario’s time as a NYC newspaper man. The two reminisced about Rosario’s tenure at the NY Daily News, where he delivered a Son of Sam letter to Jimmy Breslin and his time going undercover in a crack den. Robbins and Rosario talked about their days out on strike against the News. Robbins has an easy, laid back conversational tone that gets guests to open up. He never puts himself at the center of the story or displays any type of hubris, which is all the more commendable, considering how good the guy is.
BAI: first the good news, and then Gary Null
Under the tenure of program director Linda Perry, WBAI has really stepped up its in-house news game in the last few years. In addition to Deadline NYC, the station now runs its own programs by writers/editors from news sources including City Limits, the Gotham Gazette, the Indypendent, the Queens Daily Eagle, and Celeste Katz Marston, who has written for countless publications. Paul De Rienzo has been doing a commendable job with daily news reports for at least the last year. It would be great if WBAI could replace the health quackery programming like Gary Null with local news/public affairs coverage. Null is reportedly a major source of listener revenue for this perpetually cash-strapped station, and BAI is unlikely to cut the huckster loose any time soon. It is unfortunate that a station that prides itself as a champion of regular people against nefarious interests has a flim-flam man fleecing people with his suspect nutritional products. Null does deserve credit for pioneering this field. Nowadays every two-bit podcaster has their own line of miracle supplements. The Freq-Amp credo regarding miracle nutrition supplements is simple: never touch the stuff. That’s also a pretty good approach to Gary Null’s radio show.
Flatbush, Brooklyn-based pirate station Crossroads Family Radio(105.5 fm) has been taking the artform to new levels with their country show. Tuesday nights at 7, you might catch all sorts of country classics along the lines of Patsy Cline or Waylon Jennings. Or some of the sentimental stuff, like Kenny Rogers or schmaltzy 70s classics along the lines of “I never promised you a rose garden” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.” The thing that really sets this show apart is the delivery: the DJ mixes up the songs full-on reggae style. Crossroads mostly plays reggae and soca, and the DJ approaches country songs as living music to be enjoyed. Following an airhorn blast, or a reverb-soaked “Actually,” the emcee is prone to break in over the steel guitar twang with tidings from the “radio station for the entire nation.”
There are still plenty of interesting things out there, if you know where to look. Crossroads country show is one of them.
Here are a few interesting audio clips from recent shows:
The Radio Station for the Entire Nation (Rhinestone Cowboy).
ACTUALLY! Chopping things up with a funky transition.
Attention! You are about to enter another dimension! Last week’s show intro.