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.
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 string 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 change 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.
In 1980 WNYU 89.1 FM began broadcasting a radio show called the New Afternoon Show from 4 pm till 7 pm every weekday with a different DJ each day. That radio show was the brainchild of station programmer and DJ Sal LoCurto with the help of station manager Vincent Montuori, both NYU students who pretty much invented the format of what we consider today to be college radio. Back then when LoCurto started the New Afternoon show WNYU ’s signal had a very large broadcast range taking in Manhattan and the entire metro area. And because of its antenna in the Bronx the signal reached all the way up into Westchester and Connecticut, not exactly a local college radio signal. In those days the power of corporate radio including the rock format stations was all-encompassing; they wrote the rules and controlled the airwaves. Sal made a deal with the powers that be, he wouldn’t step on their toes the New Afternoon Show would not play any music that could be heard on any commercial radio station in NYC, the show would only play new alternative music and nothing else. While the music on the show would be new and unconventional, Sal saw to it that the actual format of the show would be not the loosey goosey rambling format of prior college radio. On the New Afternoon Show the DJs were to play no more than two songs and then back announce the songs just played, DJ segments were to be tight, informative and to the point.
The timing of Sal’s arrangement was right on the money and coincided with the birth of an independent music scene with an explosion of independent record releases both here and in the UK and Europe. This new era of promoters, record companies record stores venues and new music fans had organically sprung up in the metro area with the help of the New Afternoon Show and other cultural factors. Independent music would never be the same, this new and exciting music culture had suddenly appeared out of nowhere so indie music and independent radio lovers tip your hat to Sal LoCurto and his excellent invention the New Afternoon Show and its innovative formatting. The show still runs to this very day starting at 4 pm every weekday at 89.1 FM and at wnyu.org
While the landscape of independent music may have entirely changed from what it was back then one of the DJ’s from that original and great early New Afternoon Show era is still broadcasting on the NY metro area airwaves today: DJ Evan “Funk” Davies is still delivering the goods on his radio show Wednesday nights on WFMU 91.1 at 9 pm. Many broadcasters whose careers started at the same time back then have come and gone, but Davies is still here and still kicking out the jammy donuts and with that same youthful enthusiasm of his WNYU days.
He possesses an unending insatiable love of new music, championing young up-and-coming bands week-in, week-out on his excellent show. His background music between sets is one of the greatest I have yet heard. Davies, a very talented broadcaster with impeccable timing leaves a pause of dead air after the last tune of the set and then there is the sound of a scratch of a vinyl record, the kind vinyl lovers hate to hear as it sounds like it probably involves physical harm to a vinyl platter. Then begins an explosive hip-hop loop by Lordz of Brooklyn over which Davies delivers his dry, humorous and very distinctive patter. His knowledge of music and bands and his enthusiasm for new, up-and-coming and underground music is awe inspiring and is a joy to listen to each week. Watch out for his annual New Afternoon Show throwback when he plays all the hits from his New Afternoon Show heyday and even features audio segments of himself on WNYU back announcing tunes or even announcing the gig calendar for the upcoming week back in the day.
Criss-crossing the FM band recently on a Sunday evening I came across a very interesting radio show; UKNY broadcasting on WFUV 90.7 Sundays 11 pm. An excellent hour of radio that showcases new sounds from the UK hosted by Kara Manning who has an ear to the ground for very interesting new sounds bubbling up from the underground across the pond. While WFUV, a listener-sponsored station broadcasting from Fordham University, generally deals in more mainstream if slightly left of center music, Manning’s show is gutsier and has a broader palette, playing anything from jagged post punk to folk-tinged indie and on to urban electronic deep bass beats. She rounds out her great tune selections with an abundance of up-to-the-minute bio information on the artists and labels she showcases. Well worth a visit on a Sunday evening.
On The DX front this time out, I’m highlighting a radio show that does indeed involve distant listening but unfortunately and heaven forbid not available on an analog radio. 606 is a weekly call-in sports radio show on BBC Five Live that deals with football i.e. the game where the players play the ball with their feet. Broadcast generally on a Saturday evening in the UK at six minutes past six as most of the day’s games have just ended, it originally involved call-ins by fans on their way home from the games. These days, as fans are not allowed in to the football grounds it is basically a call-in show where fans discuss the days games and the travails of their beloved teams. While Premier League clubs are generally the topic of discussion, lower league teams are also part of the discourse. What makes this show so entertaining are the two hosts, Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton. Both football legends in the UK, they both played at the highest level of professional league football i.e. in the Premier league and they both know what they are talking about and as it should be stated, do the fans that are calling in. Savage and Sutton have one of the best repartees on the radio that I have heard in a long, long time. As professional athletes they were highly competitive individuals and nothing has changed there. So this makes for a highly spirited dynamic between the pair, their banter is hilarious with ribbing and slagging going on constantly between the two. They have a weekly quiz show call the Wanderer where they alternate asking and answering each other the questions, testing their knowledge of professional football players past and present. This is just another excuse for rivalry and ribbing between the pair and adds to the greatness of the show as does the feature where Robbie Savage’s mum Val calls in and the three of them predict the following week’s match results. While 606 is generally on every Saturday, some weeks it is not on at all or is moved to a Sunday, and some weekends it is on both Saturday and Sunday. Note: for listeners on the East Coast of the USA, we are five hours behind the UK so it starts at 1:06 pm East Coast time A must for lovers of the Premier League and professional football in the UK in general.
In the last three days, both the New York Times and the Washington Post ran articles on conservative talk radio. The February 9 Washington Post story, “Rush Limbaugh is ailing. And so is the conservative talk-radio industry,” gloats at what it thinks is a likely collapse of the medium. Author Paul Farhi makes some good points about the aging demographic: “Fewer than 8 percent of those who regularly listen to talk radio (including public radio) are 25 to 54, according Nielsen’s research.” That’s still 8 percent of 123 million people. There isn’t any comparable competition to conservative radio from a left/liberal perspective. And while the younger audience might be more enticed by newer and slicker media like podcasts and video, the Post doesn’t explore what could happen when the more popular hosts eventually migrate to other formats: in this scenario, the more extreme voices might find more room to grow. A similar thing happened to shortwave radio in the 80s-90s, as more spaces opened up, the lack of regulation attracted all manner of virulent and bizarre voices
The piece ends by quoting media historian Nicole Hemmer,who warns: “Right-wing media is still a massive growth industry . . . When Limbaugh’s show goes dark, it will be the end of an era. But it’s hard to imagine that too much will change: It will take a while for [new] outlets to gain the type of trust that Limbaugh has . . . but all in all, we’re living in a political culture Limbaugh helped create, and it’s likely it will continue to exist long after his show ends.”
The New York Times piece (2/10) on conservative radio, How Right-Wing Radio Stoked Anger Before the Capitol Siege deals with the influence the medium had in influencing the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The Times dispatched five reporters (!) to tell us “Talk radio is perhaps the most influential and under-chronicled part of right-wing media, where the voices of Mr. [G;enn] Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and other star hosts waft through the homes, workplaces and commutes of tens of millions of listeners.” And: “Before the riot, the shows were often unrestrained forums for claims of rigged voting machines and a liberal conspiracy to steal the presidency for Joseph R. Biden Jr.” This is all true, though it’s hard not to be skeptical of claims that the format is “under-chronicled,” considering the Times, itself one of the most influential news platforms on earth, has largely ignored the format. (Our own recent take on this same issue can be found here).
The article also states, “Unlike cable TV, talk radio is difficult to monitor — broadcasts often vanish into the ether and transcripts are scarce.” Radio is one of the most accessible media formats in existence, anywhere. People listen to the radio in hospitals and prisons, on park benches, in cars. Or, as one prophet once put it: “in the dime stores and bus stations”—pretty much any place where people can be found.
The Times’s recent forays into conservative radio have been pretty good, if over-reliant on automated transcripts. (How hard is it to turn the radio on and listen, or is that seen as a uncouth, a potential source of contamination?) What outlets like the Times largely miss is the reasons so many people are drawn to right-wing radio. They do consult a professor (of course) to explain the appeal. But they really miss much of the nuance, the dialogue, the language itself—all the sticky, messy bits that keep listeners coming back. Some degree of the appeal of this stuff is that the hosts and callers seem relatable on some level. I listen to outlets like NPR and Pacifica quite a bit, and huge portions of the programming teeter between sanctimonious and dreadfully boring. The NPR coverage of the latest Trump impeachment is a case in point. There are good people working in radio bringing crucial information to listeners in a vital, non-condescending manner. Just don’t expect to read about them in the Times.
This dispatch won’t be too extensive. If you follow this stuff, an obvious pattern begins to emerge: the right-wing radio hosts will largely defend Donald Trump at all costs. We will present the more notable moments, and the notable exceptions. Curtis Sliwa and Juliet Huddy, for instance broke from the normal narrative, with Huddy displaying a refreshing courage.
We are focusing on NY-based hosts here, including a few with a national audience. We aren’t looking at national radio figures like Rush Limbaugh, who claimed the mob action was manipulated by democrats and sell-out republicans who “want a political coffin” for Trump. Aside from the predictable rhetoric, his response was near-identical to most of the hosts we survey here. We also aren’t including Ben Shapiro’s reaction, as he isn’t based in NYC, and no longer appears in the New York radio market. As we were getting this dispatch ready to go up, the New York Timesreported that Cumulus media warned its radio roster to stop “dog-whistle talk about ‘stolen elections,’ ‘civil wars’ or any other language that infers violent public disobedience.” (The Times article used info from the paywalled site, Inside Music Media, which reported Cumulus’s actions as an act of censorship.)
While all the hosts condemned the storming of the Capitol building, almost all of them engaged in whataboutism (“What about Black Lives Matter?”). Several hosts openly worried about the optics the mob actions would have on “the movement.” We heard this sentiment expressed by Buck Sexton, Brian Kilmeade, Lidia Curanaj, Sid Rosenberg and Bernie McGuirk. Much effort was made to understand the “legitimate” concerns of the DC protestors, who were repeatedly referred to as law-abiding “victims,” driven to the boiling point by the left. We were told repeatedly that as bad as the mob was, at least they didn’t burn any buildings, they were all Antifa anyway, and whatever nonsense helped run down the clock at any given moment. Many of the groups participating in last Wednesdays protest, like the nefarious Proud Boys are violent thugs. This was an attempt to overturn a democratic election. The deluded throngs chanting “Stop the Steal,” as they attempted to steal an election are only slightly less despicable than the mob that stormed the Capitol building. It’s beyond disingenuous for conservative radio hosts to claim the Capitol-storming mob was out-of-character for a pro-Trump rally.
This argument is especially absurd coming from the likes of Rudy Giuliani, whose radio show attracts callers who rail against Jews and promote white supremacist groups like the National Alliance (see audio clips below).
Some of these same radio hosts bear some degree of responsibility for the mob action at the Capitol building. Rudy Giuliani actually spoke to the crowd shortly before the barricades were breached. Many of the other hosts have been egging their audiences on since November, telling them the election, and the country itself had been stolen from them.
On Wednesday (1/6) Rudy Giuliani addressed the crowd in DC, imploring to engage in “trial by combat.” Within hours, he was back on his “Chat with the Mayor” slot on WABC. We only caught the last 20 minutes of the show, which was mostly a rehashing of the same “stolen election” conspiracy theories; he’s got video, there is still evidence no one has seen! Same old same old. At the very end a caller denounces an earlier caller who called Giuliani a coward. “Giuliani offers to meet the caller “in an alley somewhere.” The former mayor and the caller proceed to paint the DC mob as a Soros plot. For some odd reason, this program does not appear in the WABC archive, perhaps there was some concern that Giuliani’s rhetoric could be potentially actionable? We recorded the final chunk of the show (see excerpt below).
On Thursday morning, WOR’s Len Berman and Michael Riedel brought on former New York governor (and former WOR radio host) David Patterson. Patterson struck a measured tone, calling for Joe Biden to respond to divisions in the country by “maybe taking a couple suggestions by Mitch McConnell,” and pushing for “legislation that conservatives might like.” In short, by taking a centrist tack. Berman and Riedel also brought on photojournalist Michael Nigro, who detailed how lax Capitol security was compared to the many other DC protests he as covered.
On Friday, the two hosted former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, who approached the DC mob from a tactical perspective. He blamed the Capitol Police.
Mark Simone (WOR) blamed Washington DC mayor, Muriel Bowser who he claimed, “defunded the police.” He then then insinuated the mayor let the whole thing happen to make Trump look bad. Simone blamed Antifa infiltrators, and engaged in the usual whataboutism, asking why Black Lives Matter is praised by democratic politicians. He also repeatedly played the last few words from Joe Biden’s speech denouncing the mob. The audio sounded slowed down. Simone pointed to this as evidence that Biden is unfit to serve. As an example of Democratic Party double standards, Simone pushed the fake story from 2000, claiming the outgoing Clinton administration trashed the White House and removed the letter W from all the computer keyboards.
WABC’s Sid and Bernie engaged in their usual blowhardism, claiming the DC protests, like Charlottesville were hijacked by the far right and Antifa, and that “99.9 percent of the protestors had legit concerns.” Like WOR’sBuck Sexton, they asked, “What’s next for the movement?” they opposed the excesses or the bad coverage. The two also interviewed MAGA organizer “the Real Tina,” who spouted about the DC protests, and promoted an upcoming anti-Covid-restriction rally in NYC.
Brian Kilmeade (also WABC) pushed the narrative that the wannabe insurrectionists were pushed to take action. “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson from Wisconsin who loves [sic] the president have never been a problem. In fact they’ve been victims. They show up with their families to support Trump, to be at a rally, a lot of times they end up getting beat up or threatened. This is the first time, right? Where were the riots November 4th? They didn’t happen because Trump people don’t riot. This time they snapped, many of them. No doubt there was probably some infiltration there, but so much went wrong leading there.”
Over on WOR, Buck Sexton expressed this same sentiment: the protestors went too far, but they were pushed. Sexton, an old money Manhattanite who claims to have been in both the CIA and NYPD, portrayed the Trumpers as the forgotten working class being punished by the elites. He claimed the democrats were “using lockdowns as a tool against Trump….There’s a sense among many Trump supporters that there was a willingness to…use lockdowns as a tool to make the country miserable and vote for Biden and they made people suffer more than they had to so that Joe Biden would win…” Like most of the other hosts, Sexton spent much time delving into the DC protestors’ “legitimate” grievances. For what it is worth, we have never heard any of these guys pose the same question regarding any other group, especially not the Black Lives Matter protestors they complain about daily. Sexton interviewed Will Ricciardella of the Washington Examiner, who omitted the fact that the DC protests were held to demand the overturning of a legitimate election. Ricciardella claimed the protests were responding to the pain inflicted by “Democratic governors [who] hijacked the economy” to hurt Trump. “…look at the past 5 years, these are the people that elected Trump…the opposition party created a dossier with no evidence, basically there was a coup…the people felt like they voted him in…then you get into the Ukraine debacle…and when they were fighting against masks, they mocked them…this was a big giant powder keg, they feel frustrated, they don’t feel like they are being heard.”
WABC’s Lidia Curanaj alternately condemned the Capitol storming and attacked Black Lives Matter. She warned not to allow the mob to “tarnish the entire movement, the push for democracy…job growth, making America great again.” Immediately after a caller referred to the DC mob as “patriots” protesting a “stolen election,” Curanaj compliments the caller on his “excellent point,” asking “how many stores were looted yesterday, how many buildings were burned?” The DC rioters did kill a cop, and smeared feces all over the walls of Congress, but when your entire career has been predicated on defending Donald Trump, you learn to make excuses.
Credit where credit is due department
Curtis Sliwa and Juliet Huddy, hosts of WABC’sCurtis and Juliet show consistently criticized the DC mob action without engaging in whataboutism. We have criticized Sliwa multiple times on this site, but we must credit him with a principled response to this situation. What does it say when NYC AM radio is so over-the-top that Curtis Sliwa comes across as one of the few voices of reason? Juliet Huddy, for her part rose to the occasion, actually pointing to the infiltration of various law enforcement agencies by white supremacists and other far-right groups (audio below).
On WCBS, the tone was also much different from the usual AM talk radio blowhardism. Marla Diamond, reporting from Downtown Brooklyn, got a quote from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, comparing the police response in DC to the treatment dished out to Black Lives Matter protests last summer: “Where were the rubber bullets yesterday? Where was the tear gas yesterday?” Adams, a former NYPD officer was speaking outside Department of Justice headquarters alongside Black clergy and other electeds. He called for “a commission like we had after 9/11 to be convened to determine how these people were able to easily breach the Capitol yesterday and who is responsible.” Diamond also recorded NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who said the responsibility lies with the president.
Bill O’Reilly, also on WABC, flipped the DC riots back on the Democrats. “Ok let’s get to the political aspect of this. There is a major villain emerging and that man’s name is Senator Chuck Schumer from New York. He now is calling for the removal of President Trump using the 25th Amendment, the 25th Amendment is that the president is unfit for office.” O’Reilly used this occasion to engage in one of his favorite activities, plugging one of his books, by mentioning that he wrote about it extensively there. He then asks, “Why would you put the nation through another hateful exercise? Why? Because Schumer doesn’t care about you or me or the country, he is and always has been a rank ideologue who worships at the altar of power, he has been senator here in NY for decades, he has done nothing, nothing, to help this state which is in a disastrous position right now, so Schumer publicly is calling for Donald Trump to be removed using the Constitution, That’s not going to happen, ok, now President elect Biden should stop this immediately and show some leadership, he should come out today and say ‘We’re not going to do that because that divides the country even further and creates hatred, Donald Trump will serve out the next thirteen days and then I’ll take over.’ I would respect Joe Biden if he did that, will he do it? No, unless he sees me right now and he may get a transcript and then changes his mind and wises up a little bit but if he did that if he shut Schumer up as he should, if he really want’s—Biden—to represent all of the people, points his finger at Schumer and says, ‘Button it!’”
This dispatch was compiled by Jim Rawls and R. Cleffi.
Brian Kilmeade of WABC painting the overall protestors as peaceful (“Mr. and Mrs. Johnson from Wisconsin…who snapped”)
This clip of Buck Sexton of WOR interviewing the Washington Examiner’s Will Ricciardella is a good example of the way conservative radio covered the Capitol building riots. Sexton (who condemned the riots) puts the onus on the Democratic governors and Covid restrictions. Ricciardella claims protestors were “working class Americans,” responding to Covid restrictions, saying “stop laughing at us, stop mocking us…they feel they have no voice.”
Here, Sexton asks Ricciardella what the protestors want. While Sexton asked about the election certification results, Ricciardella omits mention of the fact that the protests were demanding the election results be overturned.
Here’s Juliet Huddy calling out far-right and white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement agencies.
Rudy Giuliani responds to a caller railing against “perverted Hollywood,” and George Soros the “international Jewish communist.” Giuliani questions the use of the term “Jewish,” saying Soros’ “connection with Judaism is questionable,” but that it shouldn’t be used against Soros. Claiming “This is the first time I’ve heard that.”
Here’s Giuliani saying, “we can meet in an alley somewhere” in response to an earlier caller who criticized him. He also claims Trump rallies, and “the so-called bad boys did nothing,” that the Capitol storming was a “left wing provocation,” which goes back to “Engels and Marx,” and of course, George Soros.
We present to you a clip from a few months ago, in which a regular “Chat with the Mayor” caller, “Joseph in the Bronx,” gets greeted like an old friend by Giuliani (“I missed you!”). Joseph recommends a video by the late Nazi William Pierce on “gun control” (the video is light on gun control, and heavy on eugenics). Giuliani responds, “Once again, you’re making a point I forgot to make, and it’s an excellent point!”
WABC’s Lidia Curanaj pulls a “both sides” on the Capitol storming. This clip is pretty indicative of Curanaj’s time on WABC’s airwaves: rantish, uninformed bloviating.
Fire catches up with everything in time—Herakleitos
…Yet it is a great mistake to suppose that the only writers who matter are those whom the educated in their saner moments can take seriously. There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility. And it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history…
—Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide, 1966
No matter how much we would like to wish them away, conspiranoid Q-Anon crackpotism, antivaxism, election-result denialism, Covid denialism, climate skepticism and other general insanity have fully burrowed their way into the American discourse. The above quote, taken from a history of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, holds much truth for our current moment. The dismissal of the “half-educated” reeks of elitism—this website for instance represents the toil of underground thinkers. There is much familiar, though about “pathological fantasies disguised as ideas,” which are “churned out,” and embraced at the expense of sound thought. The Q-Anon theory, in many ways is a rehash of the Protocols—in both form and substance, a plagiarized forgery concocted of ludicrous conspiracy theories. (The major crackpot theories circulating today have all been amplified and spread by Trump associates, if not by the president himself.)
The Internet is rife with debates about free speech. What’s less discussed is quality of speech, and quality of information. While free speech, and access to information is something to defend, it’s worth asking, what happens when the quality of information available has no basis in reality? Sure, there is the question of who gets to decide what constitutes quality information, but as a starting point, we can work from a definition of things that are factually true and things that are blatantly false.
When trying to make sense of this mess, it helps to go back to the writings of the late media critic Herbert Schiller. This was someone who devoted much of his life to a critique of the impact of government-aided corporate consolidation of the media. He repeatedly documented how giving away a public resource (the airwaves) shaped the limited content available. Schiller saw the few independent voices allowed into the mainstream eclipsed by apologists for corporate power. In the introduction to his 1996 book Information Inequality, he warned: “As independent voices in the national political theater are eliminated or ignored, unabashed antidemocratic views and practices proliferate” (p. xiv).
A perpetual degradation machine
Schiller wasn’t naively calling for a return to some nostalgic golden age. He was fully aware of the media’s history and its inherent limitations. The scholar did witness a shift from information that helped inform democratic decision-making to a different type of cynical content. “Increasingly the voices that reach national audiences are those that secure the support and the financing of the moneyed crowd. Not surprisingly, therefore, a growing number of radio and television broadcasters. reviewers and writers for the most influential newspapers and magazines, novels selected for the big promotions, films given the blockbuster production budgets, and social theories popularized in the media exhibit a marked preference for detailing the flaws, imperfections, and antisocial behavior of human beings” (p. xiv).
“A mean and dark view of human nature,” he continues: “one that emphasizes its rigidity and inherent defects, underpins a current unwillingness to entertain even minimally the prospects of social cooperation and human solidarity. Crime, delinquency, broken families, political and economic corruption—whatever the social ailment—are explained by pointing to individual weakness and inadequacy. Such a diagnosis conveniently removes malfunctioning institutions from scrutiny and discussion” (p. xiv). Informative media programming gave way, first to endless television shows about cops and criminals, and later, reality TV, a perpetual degradation machine, several steps below pornography in terms of quality. (The type of content prevalent on YouTube or popular websites like World Star Hip Hop take the debasement to new levels still.) In this context, the outgoing reality TV star president is less an abomination than a culmination of decades of these destructive forces.
To get a sense of the toxic cynicism at play here, you only need to tune in to your average conservative AM radio host during a natural disaster. When the California wildfires hit last fall, AM radio hosts near-unanimously blamed the fires on anything other than climate change or poorly regulated land-use policies. It was an Antifa plot. It was Black Lives Matter. It was whichever convenient enemy that would prevent listeners from taking a nuanced view of the situation. These same radio hosts have been as deliberately irresponsible throughout the entire pandemic, often telling their overwhelmingly high-risk (retirement age) listenership that Covid is a hoax.
“A sheer lack of common reasoning”
There’s this feeling of disbelief we sometimes encounter, knowing the right thing to do, and watching the national response. The great American cultural observer Luc Sante discussed his own take on the situation last summer: “I feel shamefully naïve. I guess my version of ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’ was ‘when the flood comes, everybody helps pile the sandbags.’ It’s true that the whole course of the Republican Party since Reagan has led to this moment, and the last four years have been non-stop catastrophe. Even so, I didn’t expect quite that combination of ideological rigidity, radical selfishness, and sheer lack of common reasoning—lack of a sense of cause and effect. I thought that the instinct for self-preservation would win out over the delusion of ‘individual rights’ in a pandemic, that the right would be forced to see that we are all connected.”
It hardly takes someone as smart as Luc Sante to see that something’s wrong here. The problem is more easily identified than articulated, that’s where these philosophers and poets can provide some illumination for the rest of us. And the problem doesn’t just lie with the wretched Republicans. None of our political establishment has any real solution to the current crisis. The religious hypocrites are all the more loathsome for their inability to comprehend such communistic doctrines as “I am my brother’s keeper,” and whatever other nice-sounding shit so many of us had drilled into our heads in Sunday school. And the Republican mainstream has abetted fascism right up to the storming of the Capitol. Yet the status-quo worshipping corporate Democrats provide little alternative to these cynical zealots.
Herb Schiller noticed this problem decades ago. In an earlier book, Information and the Crisis Economy (1986) he laid out his observations on the transition to an information-based economy. He provides a prescient quote from the then-rector of the UN University in Tokyo: “Today, the whole international system itself is in a state of crisis and the cohesions—political, economic, social and otherwise—which have held it together, are coming unstuck at an alarming rate” (p. xii). Shiller also shared a quote from Indira Gandhi that now seems both obvious and prophetic: “I entirely agree that we can’t solve our economic and financial crisis within existing international structures. I go further and say that none of the present structures or even thought-processes are capable of providing satisfactory answers to the large crisis of our civilization” (p. xii). Ghandi wasn’t exempt from her own critique, as her legacy shows. Still, the message was valid then and more valid with each day as the two major political parties have shown an absolute inability to provide a worthwhile relief package for a country with 20 million unemployed.
Call it “capitalist realism.” Call it what you will, the message pushed on down from the elites and echoed so loudly on the airwaves is “You’re on your own.” It’s rugged individualism for most of us, juicy bailouts for a cynical smidgeon of elites.
When Herbert Schiller was writing, there was no serious organized opposition. There are currently several competing tendencies, though few have had any serious impact or have exhibited any ability to slow the economic and environmental free fall. As Schiller wrote in the 90s, without this opposition, “…the belief is cultivated that there can be no alternative to what exists….National governors, experiencing no apparent need to improve the quality of life and lessen the glaring economic and social inequalities that are increasing across the nation allow the already existing social fissures to deepen.” Deepening inequality has risen coevally with the prevalence of junk information. The airwaves are still, to some extent a public good—with the exception of the large chunks auctioned off to private interests for a pittance. The corporate elites and their political handmaiden who sold the spectrum don’t believe in the notion of “public good.” Or as Schiller warned: “Instead, in a myopic pursuit of still greater private return the corporate-directed economy, methodically is eliminating the institutions, structures, and the very idea of the common good…The larger purpose, and its supporting practices, which hold the social enterprise together, are being down-sized. In the drive for private gain, functions that require and enlist the support of the full community are being privatized and stripped of their social characteristics. Activities once community-based and identified as public are being detached from their social moorings and either turned into “profit centers,” left without adequate maintenance, or eliminated” (p. xv).
Schiller saw some of the uglier aspects of the “gig economy” two decades early: “In the United States of the 1990s, the notion of community has become mostly nostalgic. Every facet of living is being, or has been, transformed into a separate, paid-for transaction. The development is especially observable in the media/informational sphere…”
In the above-referenced interview, Luc Sante was asked about a possible worst-case scenario. His replied: “What we have now—a police state, a corporate economy, a ruling class indifferent to the fate of the rest of us, systemic racism, gun culture, galloping idiocy—further exacerbated by the climate emergency moving toward its end-stage, as low-lying cities are abandoned and hundreds of millions of displaced people search for safety. That we will enter a state of continual daily street-level war.”
Things don’t have to go this way, though it seems more likely than not. American history is filled with examples of segments of the population embracing nonsensical horseshit when facing a steep cliff. In the period following the Civil War, gold and silver currency theories became a substitute for the “great war-nurturing issues of racial and state-federal relations [such as]…the absorption of immigrants, the mushrooming of large businesses, the dissatisfaction of farmers, workers, and city-dwellers, the headlong growth of cities.” For a significant chunk of the population, “Convoluted states-rights arguments became a gigantic euphemism for slavery before the war; convoluted monetary rhetoric became a surrogate for social problems after the war” (Nugent, p 21). Less than ten years ago, such an analogy would have seemed fanciful—at the very least a bit of a stretch. Would anyone doubt the pertinence to our current moment, as we are all really, really glad the year 2020 is over, yet at the same time we are terrified at what each successive day could bring?
Your average ten-year-old has more access to information than could be found in the great libraries of previous eras. Yet, remedying a perpetual political/social/economic/climate crisis with junk facts is akin to treating a cancer patient with Twinkies and Big Macs. It’s not unusual for those of us who have spent much of our lives engaged in serious research and study to have our arguments dismissed by people who have “done the research” of watching a few unhinged YouTube videos. And while the absurdity of these types is stultifying, such people are no worse than political party hacks, or any others who uphold any of myriad ideologies, whether of the ossified Leninist cult variety or any of the tired know-nothingism so prevalent these days.
Instead of an ending
It’s easy to feel paralyzed by powerlessness. I write this from a worn table, listening to the slosh of traffic down below, the juncture between one of the major corridors for truck traffic from Flatbush Avenue to the Prospect Expressway in one direction, and the road that leads to JFK airport in the other. The truck route is terribly outdated, a narrow street with a propensity for gridlock every few hours. The street suffers from an outmoded design; the weight of the trucks causes the blacktop to buckle, with snaking berms up to two-feet tall appearing on the side of the road. The things have the appearance of something you might have seen in a cheap sci-fi flick, like the early stages of monster larvae that breaks the surface and eats the city whole. The real monster is the outdated design, so ingrained in the way things are that no politician would dare ever challenge the set-up. Every year or so, the city replaces the road, merely shaving the bizarre bumps under the surface, only to have the things reappear a few months later. They make cycling near-impossible and are the cause of regular traffic accidents. When the city most recently repaved the road, truck traffic was stalled for hours. A routine bit of infrastructural maintenance effectively crippled a good chunk of the supply chain that relies on that very infrastructure. From my perch, the disruption mostly manifested itself in prolonged horn blaring, a symbolic cacophony that continued long after its useless pleas were ignored by the work crews. The honking was, predictably, drowned out by the ubiquitous ambulance sirens, which soon gave way to police sirens. I did what anyone would do. I closed all the windows and turned up the radio. Much of what I heard was useless garbage, though some of it was good. In the end, it was a deafening racket. Sometimes that’s all we’ve got to work with.
Life circumstances have kept us from updating this site as often as we would like. As long as we are required to spend a large portion of our waking hours chasing money, these labors of passion get relegated to the backseat. In our ADHD-addled age, content often takes priority over quality prose. In 2021, we’re hoping to increase our output while continuing to improve our quality. While sticking to our original mission of analog radio, we’re going to be incorporating other features, including some music reviews, more radio-related prose and verse (including fiction, and other texts). In the meantime, we present our latest dispatch.
Now that the election has come and gone, we’ve been focusing less energy on AM talk radio. Your editor has logged enough hours on that medium to last a lifetime, and a good break can do wonders for one’s sanity. With Donald Trump receding into a non-presidential role, the news cycle feels a bit more banal. No central figure exists that can singlehandedly command as much media attention. Neither the Covid crisis nor the economic crisis are able to inspire the chatter like Trump did. Joe Biden sure as hell isn’t taking that kind of focus. Democracy Now (WBAI) has been looking at Biden’s cabinet picks, which are pretty much what you would expect, corporate democrats and Blackrock types down the line. Conservative AM radio hosts will need to adapt a new line from the old saw that Biden is pushing a total socialist takeover, a canard completely removed from reality.
How bad is it?
Things are bad right now, with mainstream politicians unable to offer any solutions to the current economic malaise. As this NPR spot shows, the number of Americans relying on credit cards to make rent has increased by 70%.
If the commercials on commercial radio are any kind of indicator…
Heard advertised on WABC’s Cousin Brucie show: “Newgenix,” some sort of testosterone enhancement. Someone has got to realize the similarity to “eugenics,” right? Or is that part of the appeal?
This past Saturday (12/5) a caller requested Cousin Brucie incorporate old commercials into his show. The legendary DJ responded, “I think we have enough commercials already!”
Heard on WBLS: a McDonald’s commercial toting the fast-food chain as an ideal stop between your 2nd job and your side hustle. WBLS has also been running a Heineken spot suggesting a six pack as an ideal Christmas gift. Stations like WBLS are a far better barometer of the dire economic reality experienced by millions of people than you are likely to hear about on any NPR Marketplace segment.
David Rothenberg devoted much of his Any Saturday show on BAI to an interview with human rights lawyer Steven Donziger. The case of Donziger belies the argument that fossil fuel companies will gradually transition to a non-extractive economy out of their own rational self-interest. These companies are willing to expend unlimited resources (in this case, over a thousand lawyers and countless money) to keep themselves from being held accountable. The lawyer, brought up on racketeering charges in retaliation for suing Chevron in Ecuador, has been disbarred and under house arrest while awaiting trial. This show doesn’t appear in BAI’s archive, but more info on the case can be found on Donziger’s website. 99.5 FM, Saturdays 8 – 10 a.m.
But enough. We already know things are bad, let’s get to the good stuff.
Musical gems, “lost,” gone, and way out
WKCR’s Mitch Goldman rebroadcast (12/7) his “Deep Focus” program that had drummer Billy Cobham giving context to rare Tony Williams Lifetime bootlegs and other gems. Hearing some of the best musicians in history describe the work of their peers is one of those things that provides much sustenance during a bleak plague winter. Fortunately on WKCR, this is the standard Monday night fare. Mondays, 6 – 9 p.m.
Some great attention to lost/obscure musical recordings has surfaced on NPR and WFMU. The first, a piece by NPR’s Peter Breslow focuses on Pastor Juan D. Shipp, former DJ at KWAM in Memphis. In the early 70s, Shipp began recording unknown gospel acts at a local studio and launched two record labels Some of the recordings from these imprints are finally being reissued, under the title The Last Shall be First. Shipp and music historian Michael Hurtt were able to rescue some of the original master tapes from a dilapidated shack on the verge of foreclosure. This piece has it all: Memphis radio, vital gospel-soul, a search for lost recordings and some wah-wah pedal.
John Allen at WFMU recently ran an interview with Hasan Shahid of the Black Unity Trio, coinciding with the reissue of that group’s 1968 album, Al Fatihah. This independently released album operates at a Coltrane-inspired intensity few artists achieve. You just can’t fake this stuff. As Shahid explains to Allen, his drumming replicated the sounds of the times: the National Guard gunfire, the cities burning, the war. Shahid’s voice and speaking style transmit the same urgent depth as the music. The Al Fatihah recording was a bit legendary, but I had never actually heard it before Allen’s show. Sometimes “lost” albums don’t live up to your expectations; this one really shines. Allen’s interview with Shahid covers his time at Howard University, the importance of John Coltrane, the formation of SNCC, and the legal difficulties faced by the percussionist resulting from his resistance to the Vietnam War. This program is exactly the reason we keep listening to, and writing about radio. JA in the AM, WFMU, Fridays 9 a.m.-noon.
Also heard on FMU: Billy Jamfeatured as a guest the militant hip-hop pioneer Paris this past Saturday (12/6). Billy played tracks from across the rapper’s career, going back to the Scarface Groove days. He had much to say about the challenges of toiling as an independent artist in a hyper-gentrified city (Oakland). It’s good to hear Paris continually expanding his musical and lyrical styles. His militancy isn’t of the touchy feely encounter-group variety. The new album title, “Safe Space Invader,” isn’t the work of someone worried about pissing off the easily offended. Fridays, 7 – 8 p.m.
Contrast this with Busta Rhymes, recently featured for an entire 3-hour Saturday night slot on DJ Bent Roc’s show on WBLS. Busta is doing a full-court promotion for his “Extinction Level Event Pt 2” album. The music’s not bad, but it sounds exactly the way you’d expect for a sequel to a 22 year-old recording. Basically, Busta Rhymes made a 1990s NY hip-hop album. Perpetually pigeonholed as a sideman, he’s actually a talented rapper. The record has some moments, and its share of high-caliber guests (Rakim, M.O.P.). If nothing else, it proves that Busta isn’t irrelevant. He’s appeared a few times on BLS and Hot 97 to talk about the album, but it’s unlikely either station will give much airtime to Busta’s new songs, which don’t have the same type of commercial appeal as most of the stuff they’ve got in heavy rotation. The youth-obsessed culture industry doesn’t really have much need for aging rappers. Before the plague hit, you could occasionally catch the Sugar Hill Gang playing at a park in the Bronx or something. At some point these artists get reduced to novelty status, so much Grand Funk Railroad at the county fair. The occasional anomaly with an independent distribution network and unique social relevance who pushes new musical boundaries can avoid this fate (see Paris above).
Todd O-Phonic Todd has been doing a nice job filling in for Clay Pigeon, weekday mornings on WFMU. It’s interesting hearing Todd away from his usual slot, playing to a more general audience. He seems to be enjoying himself. Steering away from excess showmanship, he keeps the delivery lean, with just enough artist info to set up the track. There’s a certain command of the craft at work here that comes from really knowing one’s shit and having the timing and ear to pull it off.
Brilliant forgeries, better than the real thing?
Reveal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX’s stellar show on WNYC recently re-aired its brilliant expose of the biggest artworld scam in recent history. This story details how an enterprising operation in Queens churned out masterful forgeries that were then sold through Manhattan galleries for over $ 80 million. Reporter Giselle Regatão masterfully grills some of the biggest art-world phonies, catching them lying about their culpability on tape. Predictably, the only person sentenced in the scheme was the person who brought the paintings to the galleries, a Queens woman who now works in a restaurant. Don’t miss this trenchant takedown of the world of galleries, and art-as-a-commodity. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for a banker distraught over shelling out $ 6 million for a fake De Kooning. I’d like to hear more from the artists who pumped this stuff out in Queens, that takes a real mastery of craft.
It’s Christmas time, over and over and over again.
At least two NYC stations are thoroughly saturated with 24/7 Christmas tunes (mainly 106.7 in NYC and 97.5 on Long Island). I like the schmaltzy, wall-of-sound stuff with the Bing Crosby-type crooners at the helm. It gets old quickly, as they repeat the same handful of songs, over and over and over and over again.
Hail to the king?
DJ King Singh continues playing some unique tunage on WSNR (AM 620) on Saturday afternoons. This past week, he was introduced as “the world’s most interesting DJ.” That’s a bit of a stretch, but we do keep going back to the joint Saturday broadcasts with 89.1 NTN Radio in Georgetown, Guyana. Singh spins a lot of Caribbean dance and Soca, with a good deal of Indian sounds working their way in. WSNR, 620 AM, Saturdays, 11 am – 2 p.m.
Editor’s note: we present our first piece of radiofiction, May He Rest in Peace by Peter Rugh. There is much to chew on in this tale of love, loss and a community radio fund drive.
Mother always complained Father was a loudmouth. He wouldn’t shut up when he was dead either.
He enjoyed making noise, you see. He was like a kid in that way, like a problem child who gets a thrill out of negative attention. I suppose it was his way of refusing to grow up, despite all his responsibilities. He got a big kick out of walking back and forth through the sliding glass doors of the Dollar General and triggering the automated greeting.
“Hello, we are happy to serve you. Hello, we are happy to serve you.” It pleased him to no end to set off that voice, which announced your arrival whether you were coming or going, and never lost its gusto.
The staff—dejected old men, immigrants and pregnant teenagers—must of heard it all day. They kept their mouths shut. They were numb to it. As far as they were concerned it was one more insult at a job that was full of insults. The pay was insulting, for one, the work beneath anyone with a prefrontal cortex, and the customers curmudgeons, penny-pinchers and thieves. They weren’t happy to serve anyone. At least the disembodied voice saved them the trouble of having to muster the enthusiasm they so vigorously lacked. Sure they heard it again and again, the taunt, the mantra, but what is one more prick in the ass, one more nail in the coffin, another bit of edging off the soul when the soul is already dying a slow death, pickled under halogen, amid aisles of carpet-by-the-roll, single-ply and stale Sour Patch Kids?
I started dreaming of that place after Father died. I’d wander the aisles, trying to remember what I was looking for. Father asked me to get it for him. He was waiting by the cash register. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what it was. If I didn’t find it, I was a dead man.
Father always said I would wind up working at the Dollar General. Any grade below an “A” would set him going.
“You’re casting your die in with the Dollar General lot,” he’d say, shaking my report card in my face, spit flying everywhere. It landed in my eyes, my inner earlobes. It would have landed in my mouth but I was taught to keep my mouth shut in Father’s presence, as much as the things he did might have set it agape.
It got so Father could imitate the Dollar General voice perfectly. He must have practiced in the shower. Once a year he manned the grill at the company picnic and he’d parrot it for his employees while he slapped burgers on their buns. “Hello, we are happy to serve you,” he’d say.
Ground beef was either a mass of myoglobin or a pile of ash in his charge. When he wasn’t looking, his workers either slipped the foul fare into the garbage or under the picnic tables where their dogs didn’t deign to lick it. Father didn’t pay attention. He didn’t care. He wasn’t eating the filth he fed his people.
He himself had more expensive tastes. He’d skimp on toilet paper and splurge on food. The anus was of far less importance to him than the mouth. But Mother always said he was too loud to make the most of the instrument. He had so much to say he couldn’t wait to swallow. Half-noshed duck, beef Bourguignon, gratin dauphinois accompanied his every opinion and complaint. He had lots of those. Dental floss, for instance, was just a scam to pedal surplus thread on the masses. Each meal found Mother and I wiping bits of his discharge off our persons while we digested his take on world affairs. We didn’t interrupt. Servants came and mopped up.
After dinner one night, I found Father dead.
I was delivering his polished wingtips for his inspection when I came upon his lifeless body in the smoking chair he loved so well. His fly was open and so was his mouth. It was twisted in a grin, as if in ironic regard for the plot of the program on the television. It concerned a clique of crime-solving strippers. The strippers lived together in a mansion with a jacuzzi that they bathed each other in. They were hot on the trail of a sociopath who was out to kill strippers because the only woman he ever truly loved left him at the altar. She was a stripper. She was the first to go. He threw her in a fifty-gallon steel drum, welded it shut, and rolled her into the Pacific Ocean. The tide carried her away.
I zipped Father up, folded his hands over his death erection and laid his shoes at his feet. We watched the rest of the film together, even though I’d seen this one before. I sat beside him, cross-legged on the marble flooring, as I often did when he was alive.
The strippers nabbed their man using the power of seduction, along with a bit of cunning and luck.
The first stripper, you see, the one that broke the killer’s heart, it turned out she was alive and well. A kindly fisherman heard her cries for help and fished her out of the barrel. He and his wife nursed her back to health. This involved a lot of ointments. Then the three of them rolled around together a bit. Once the stripper was well she found the other strippers and they hatched a plot together in the jacuzzi but we didn’t know what it was until it came to fruition.
One of the strippers lured the killer back to their mansion. The killer made like he was reaching for a condom in his wallet but instead pulled out a razor blade. He was about to strike when the stripper he’d sent to sea called his name. She was made-up pale to look like a ghost and was wearing a wedding dress. This confused and bewildered the killer. Another stripper, one who had previously expressed a lack of self-confidence to her housemates because she thought her glasses made her look ugly, brought a vase down on the killer’s head.
The tender caresses of her housemates had done little to reassure the stripper who wore glasses of her beauty, but delivering that decisive blow sure did. Together they bound and gagged their prey.
The police soon arrived at the mansion. They criticized the strippers’ unorthodox methods but complemented the results and hauled the culprit away. Another case solved. The credits began to roll. I shut Father’s eyes for him. I tried to close his mouth but it wouldn’t budge.
The cops came to our house too. And paramedics. Nobody was in any rush. There wasn’t anything anybody could do for him. Everybody knew Father’s end was near. We expected what there was to expect. Mother, me, the local P.D. that Father kept in his pocket, and the shareholders in the bank that he possessed a majority stake in and which he ran for forty years.
He was proud of that bank and zealously guarded it like money under a mattress from threats internal and external. He was widely respected in the industry for being among the first to discover that you could charge your poorest customers the most exorbitant overdraft fees. “A deadbeat can be a cash cow,” he’d say.
A bit of a hullabaloo followed Father’s death. You can imagine. There was the funeral, the wake. Notices submitted to the press. Mistresses and long-lost relatives, rheumy-goggled, greedy and sentimental, came out of the woodwork. A feast of tears, veils, valium. Lawyers and event planners, oppressively attentive. It was a good thing Father’s wingtips were polished, I thought. They were on his feet when we lowered him into the ground.
Once the circus was over, I went back to visit him by my lonesome. His plot was on the outskirts of Queens, the graveyard quite dignified. Rows of gothic angels and women in Nasarean gowns rose from the grounds in weather-worn stone. They mourned the certainty of death in the shade of weeping willows and of cherry blossoms that cast their pink petals on the dewy green where the expired reclined, filed and catalogued.
It was a sunny September day, the cemetery empty, the sun busy at work burning away the last of the morning’s fog. Father had opted for a tombstone free of accouterment with a simple inscription below his name and dates. “What’s robbing a bank compared to owning a bank?” his grave asked the visitor.
I knelt on the soft, soggy grass, bowed my head, clasped my hands and began an “Our Father.” It was then that the voice came to me, a great booming voice, cheery, dripping with dedication and confidence, not unlike the voice that greets you at Dollar General. It came from the bowels of the earth and interrupted my prayers.
“Can you hear me Nassau?” it spoke. “Where are you Throgs Neck?”
I put an ear to the ground. “Father is that you?”
“Are you out there Boonton?” the voice replied. “Gerritsen, Gravesend, Bullshead, Sheepshead, Ridgewood, Norwood, Spuytin Duyvil? We’ve got a transmitter on top of the Empire State Building broadcasting far and wide. We’re in every crack and crevice of the New York Metropolitan area, spreading the word. Uncle Barry Bowles, M.D. knows you can hear him, Seagate, Tottenville, Monmouth Junction. I’m depending on you Totowa, Pompton Lakes. Let Uncle Barry Bowles, M.D. know how much you appreciate programming like this, how much you appreciate WEFU. Right now, for a limited time only, we’re offering the rare herbs and phytonutrients you need to stay young and spry. Make the most of this special offer and pledge today. Call up and give now and Uncle Barry Bowles, M.D. will send you his personal wellness pack. It’s chock-full of ginkgo biloba, turmeric dust, sea buckthorn flakes, nopal cacti, mangos teen and raspberry ketones. An army of volunteers is standing by to take your pledge right this instant.”
The voice recited the station’s telephone number several times slowly.
“Support this station and make a commitment to health, life and longevity now and I’ll even throw in my special DVD,” it said. “The wellness tips on this special DVD will last a lifetime. You won’t learn of them from any other station. The pharmaceutical industrial complex sees to that. This wisdom and these healing properties are not available in stores. This limited offer is only available to EFU members. Give now, and we’ll even include an EFU tote bag for you to carry your extracts, distillations, and essences everywhere you go. Operating a transmitter at the top of Empire State isn’t cheap, folks. The Food and Thug Administration is chomping at the bit to silence us. We will not be silenced. I repeat, we will not be silenced!”
I called up the cemetery’s front office from the highway back to Westchester. A fugue by Bach played in the background while I waited on hold. Finally, I got through to the cemetery’s warden.
“Father chose his plot because he thought it would offer peace and respite,” I told him. “Instead he’s stuck listening to a community radio station during pledge drive week.”
“Ah yes, yes” the warden said in a heavily affected mid-Atlantic accent. I’d met him twice before. Once when I’d accompanied my Father to pick out his grave and once when my Father was buried in it. He was a rather corpulent fellow, I recalled, attentive as a small dog. There were always plenty of small dogs in Father’s orbit, hoping to sit on his lap or to fetch a few scraps that might fall from his table. I didn’t not want to look at the man, otherwise I would have visited him personally. I could hear him on the other end of the line cracking nuts and putting them in his mouth. He mumbled and huffed through his nostrils while he chewed.
“Yes, I’m aware of the matter,” he apologized. “We’ve received several complaints about your Father from other customers already. The dear ones of our customers, that is. The boys are quite fond of that Uncle Barry Bowles, M.D., you understand. They have nothing but praise for his moringa pulp and lychee concentrates. I have half the mind to ask them for some of the doctor’s cat’s claw capsules myself. They tell me clinical trials conducted in Argentina have produced miraculous results in reducing blood pressure in rodents. The boys have been quite distraught since the loss of their radio. It seems they allowed your father to take it with him into the afterlife, you understand. Once they realized the gravity of their error, they have taken their lunch at your Father’s tombstone every day since just to sit and listen.”
“They’ll have to dig it out of there.”
“Would we if we could, my son. That was their first impulse, and, I must confess, mine as well. Upon a period of reflection, however, it occurred to me that surely this isn’t a matter worth disturbing the perished over any more than necessary. Tell me, what sort of music did your father enjoy in life?”
It was a baffling question. “if you must know, he was a Ted Nugent fan,” I said.
“Splendid. My suggestion is that before you retire this evening, light a candle and put on an Amboy Dukes record. In this way, pay tribute to your father. Think not of the voice from beyond his grave. The batteries in that thing will perish eventually as all things must. Soon your father will meet the silence of eternity that finds each and every one of us at the beginning of our next journey.”
The warden shoveled some more nuts in his mouth. Peanut, I’m guessing. “Believe you me, the boys will have to wait a while before they earn back their radio privileges,” he said.
Rather than listening to the Nuge, aka Motor City Madman, I turned the dial to EFU. I listened to it from my Buick all the way home and put it on in the house after I parked. I was up much of the night and the days that proceeded listening. In a strange way, it was the only remaining link between Father and me. Knowing we were both tuned to the same station made him feel close once more. I tried to channel his spirit.
In addition to Uncle Barry Bowles, M.D. the station offered an array of programs catering to different ethnic groups and constituencies. Haitians, Irish, Filipinos, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Arabs, and North Africans each had a program. There was a show for Marxists, anarchists, feminists, Black nationalists, hackers, queers, for listeners with legal problems, money problems, sexual problems, computer problems, for Rastas, necromancers, birdwatchers, and finally, at three a.m., for fans of the Grateful Dead. All the people Father never associated with in life were keeping him company in his grave. They were bringing Father and I together.
I sat in the dark with the radio on, losing track of the dawns and dusks coming and going past the curtains. Gospel followed by low-budget, left-wing news programming greeted the day. Then Uncle Barry Bowles, M.D. was at it again. He had something like a six-hour slot.
Periodically, Mother wrapped on the door with a plate of something in hand. As soon as Father went she became just as attentive and resentful toward me as she’d been toward him. She fired all the help in order to fully devote herself to the task. Even with the radio on, I could hear her mouse-like footsteps approaching from down the hall, accompanied by the familiar stampede of her pack of Lhasa Apsos at her heel. Whereas Father had people pawing at him, she contented herself with pooches.
“No, thank you,” I’d whisper if I was conscious. I was busy considering what Father would do were he able to aid his own plight. Channeling him through the airwaves, I drifted in and out of a trance-like state.
Either way, Mother left the food at my door. There was a stack of it, rotting on the china, waiting for me when I emerged from my cerebrations. The plates were smeared around their gilded-edges with the tongue prints of Mother’s Lhasas who, once she was asleep, returned night after night to lap up the opulent helpings she’d deposited at my altar.
One thing was certain, I’d decided by then, Father was a man of action and would therefore act decisively. I gave Garthright a ring, or, as Father used to call him, Barfright. Barf for short. There was heavy breathing on the other end of the line. “Barf, are you there?” I said.
A wearied, guttural “yes” came back after a pause.
“You really ought to announce yourself.”
“I’m here, man.”
Barf was the neighbor kid, only by now he was the neighbor man, if you could call him a man. He still lived with his mother. Father would give him a quarter to perform odd jobs around the house, little tasks that I couldn’t do or couldn’t do alone for one reason or another. Once Father gave him a nickel on accident. Barf never complained, so Father just kept giving him nickels. I started giving Barf nickels myself when Father assigned me chores. The night Father died, it was Barf who shined his shoes. Barf wound up being one of his pallbearers. He nearly dropped him.
Working with Barf was a little like fucking yourself. On the one hand, it was convenient because he was always around. On the other, you were still just fucking yourself. Yet he only cost a nickel.
The day before the funeral, I employed him to pack some of Father’s belongings into a warehouse that I procured beside an Olive Garden in White Plains. I parked the U-Haul by the loading dock, handed Barf the keys to the warehouse and walked next door where I ate shrimp linguine accompanied by a lovely white zinfandel. When I returned, the truck was empty, the warehouse stuffed. It looked as if Barf’d done a bang-up job. Orderly too. The medieval weaponry and Victorian sex toys Father purchased from the most prestigious auction houses in Europe, the dozens of appliances he’d ordered from Sharper Image and never removed from their packaging, his National Geographics and vintage smut rags—it was all stacked and organized.
Father’s big-game kills, the full-body stuff jobs, not the ones already mounted to the wall, were given a pile of their own. Predator cat mounted cowboy-style upon predator cat. Mother was glad to see those go. They frightened her Apsos. She’d pleaded with me to get rid of “all this gewgaw” the morning after Father keeled. It was no skin off my back. This way, I and I alone would know where Father’s treasures were hidden.
Naturally, I gave Barf a nickel and was so pleased with his efforts I would have thrown in a twenty-cent tip, were I not afraid of reversing the precedent. I sang Barf’s praises until I dropped the steel curtain to lock the place up. I felt in my pockets for the key and recalled, with trepidation and dread, that I’d left it in his care. A tragic mistake. It took us hours to uncover it among the parts of a disassembled trebuchet against a back wall. The sun was setting by then. I bought Barf dinner. What was I supposed to do? Sit there and eat my Lasagna Classico while he stared at me?
Strange to think the kid in the ringer tee who sat across the table—heaving unctuous morsels of pasta, dripping with milt-textured white sauce, into a hole in his face—was only maybe a year or two younger than me. Maybe we were even the same age. Nonetheless, I always think of Barf as a kid. Always have. Always will. Maybe cause he’s always calling me “man.” It seems a childish thing to do. Come to think of it, Barf is something of a younger brother to me.
“I got something for you, kid,” I told him over the phone. “You’re going to help me find something, and I hope to God you do a better job then you did with that key. Meet me at my place and bring a shovel. We’re heading to my Father’s grave tonight. There might be a quarter in it for you.”
“You people,” he scoffed. “It’s always something with you. You think I come around for the money? This shit is going into my memoir, man.”
The Rastas kept interrupting the music while we dug, me with my shovel, Barf with the trowel he’d turned up with. Before we could start shoveling to the rhythm, the disc jockeys would whip the volume down on the music and start babbling over the bass beat. This went on every twenty seconds or so. Then they’d throw on a new track and interrupt that. I could only guess what Father must have been going through in there. We were interrupting the ground, I suppose, intruding upon the work of its insects and garden snakes. It was hard to understand what the Rastas were saying but evidently they were fans of the good uncle-doctor’s berry bowls too. The pledge drive was ending and they really pushed the stuff. They were just $8,000 shy of their goal. It went on for an hour. By the time they finished they were just two grand shy.
Next came an old man who played opera music on a wind up gramophone, followed by a jockey who must have known everything about Charlie Parker there was to know. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew what color drawers the Bird was wearing on June 7, 1944. He knew so much, that he hardly got around to playing any of his music. This programming failed to bring the station any closer to its goal. We were still pretty far from ours, as well, what with Barf pecking away with his meager instrument.
Then came punk music. Awful stuff, yet it somehow made Barf work faster. I smiled at the prospect of locating the racket before daybreak. I relished the thought of smashing the radio to smithereens. But something funny began to happen. The more we dug, the fainter the abrasive malodies eliminating from below became. There was more distortion too, but I couldn’t tell if that was the music or the radio itself. Perhaps the batteries were giving out. I mentioned something about it to Barf.
“It’s freakin’ weird that this thing is picking up a signal at all,” he said.
He had a point there.
“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Barf,” I told him, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“I believe in the church of Heaven on Earth, man,” he snorted, whatever that meant.
The more we dug, the more elusive the object of our digging became. I began to become concerned our labors were for naught.
“Alright,” said the disc jockey, as the garbled sounds of guitars screeching and jackhammer drums faded out. He kinda sounded like Barf, half-awake and dissatisfied, only his voice gurgled static. “Did we meet our goal?” he asked. “Brad’s telling me, ‘No, we didn’t meet our goal.’ You guys know Brad. He’s the night manager around here. He’s shaking his head. How far we got to go, Brad? Oh, yeah, Brad. That’s a lot of scratch to round up in the ten minutes we have remaining in this pledge drive. I’m not going to tell you how much scratch we need because if I did it would just depress you. What I will say is every little bit counts. If you listeners wouldn’t mind getting up and turning over your couch cushions, please write us a check for any change you find. We promise we won’t cash it right away. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already given. I’ve still got plenty of Descendants ’84 van mixtapes to handout, and, for you big money givers, a pair of tickets to my annual pub-rock-pre-punk-post-punk-rockabilly-rocksteady-new-wave-two-tone-mod party. It’s next Tuesday at that craphole on Delancey.”
He recited the number to call like a sardonic prayer.
“Or don’t give a dime,” he said. “Me and myself will go together. Now back to the—no, Brad’s telling me I have to pitch some more. Well, I will say this, if you listeners want to know what the sound of EFU off-the-air sounds like do yourselves a favor. Go into the bathroom, draw a warm bath. Stick your head underwater and scream at the top of your lungs. That’s the sound of the voice of the people being silenced. How’s that, Brad? Good enough for you, Brad? Okay, that was good enough for Brad.”
The disc jockey sounded like Barf alright, caustic and lackadaisical, but he had more to say than Barf ever had. Well, he spoke more, at least, although he might as well have been coming through on a dusty VHF out at sea as far as he reached us. Soon the lazy voice and the auditory violence it summoned would die on us. My shovel might as well have been a paddle if that happened, since I’d be up shit creek.
“Here’s a little ditty from Thee Headcoats off their Messerschmitt Pilot’s Severed Hand record,” the jockey informed us. “I’m going for a cigarette.”
I gestured to Barf for him to quit pecking at the ground with his trowel so that I could better trace the clangor.
“Punk rock ist nicht tot, punk rock ist nicht tot,” went the refrain. The singer’s German, if you could call him a singer, was an insult. There was no hiding his cockney accent, despite the foreignness of the words he hollered and the crackling, imminent death of the charge behind them.
Barf propped himself up on the edge of our hole, broke the seal on an energy bar and began chewing at his leisure while I bent my back toward the furtherance of our goal. How like a chimp Barf seemed, peeling back the wrapper like the peel on a banana. I was chin deep in Father’s final resting place. “Punk rock ist nicht tot,” the ground beneath me proclaimed with a religious fervor that was becoming swiftly inaudible, despite its vehemence. “Punk rock ist nicht tot, punk rock ist nicht tot.”
“I’m coming, Father,” I whispered, barely louder than what I was hunting for. It was close at hand. If I didn’t find it now, it would be there forever. Barf took a final bite from the energy bar and tossed the packaging below. Peanut butter, oatmeal, raisin. His legs dangled over the hole we’d accomplished. He looked comfortable up there above me, watching me struggle. I almost envied him. I dug a heel into the shoulder of the spade. “Once and for all, Father, I’m coming.”
Editor’s note: This latest hardware review by Dick Alexander comes with an appeal. For years, the Grundig S350 was my main radio, until the adapter died a decade ago. If anyone reading this has an extra 6V adapter they are willing to sell, please drop a line at email@example.com.
In my last dispatch, I reviewed a Bluetooth receiver. This time out it’s a Bluetooth transmitter: The Miccus Home RTX 2.0 Long Range Wireless Audio Transmitter. This unit can also function as a Bluetooth receiver, here we are focusing on its transmission abilities. If you are interested in a Bluetooth receiver that we recommend, see our review here.
A Bluetooth transmitter is a useful piece of equipment and can be used for a variety of purposes including wirelessly linking a TV to a pair of Bluetooth headphones, allowing family members or roommates quiet time while you watch TV. It actually allows simultaneous pairing to two sets of headphones, so a couple of gamers can do battle without the sounds of explosions and other audio intrusions killing the living room for others and there is also an option for listening to your TV via wired and wireless Bluetooth speakers simultaneously. I use it for hooking my turntable to my portable Bluetooth speaker allowing me to listen to my vinyl tunes anywhere in the house.
The RTX 2.0 is tiny: 4 1/2” wide, 1” high and 2 1/4” deep. It is supplied with a variety of cables to enable all hookup options. At rear are the hookup ports: 3.5mm audio output/input and optical audio output/input. Hookup and pairing are easy, I ran the RCA outs from my turntable pre-amp to the 3.5 mm audio input on the Miccus with the supplied cable. Following instructions in the manual the pairing process with my speaker took thirty seconds. The Miccus range is up to 300 ft line-of-sight and up to 160 ft through walls. While an audiophile may balk at the idea of listening to vinyl via Bluetooth, the audio quality of this setup is crisp-clean and sounds great. If you love vinyl and like to listen to your tunes throughout the house via Bluetooth, then this unit is perfect for you, add to the list the other options mentioned above and you have a very handy (and tiny) piece of gear at a reasonable price.
What we love here at Freq-Amp is an analog radio, we also like food, and seeing as it’s holiday season, we will be spending a lot of time in the kitchen accompanied by our trusty sidekick and kitchen receiver: The Grundig S350 FM/AM/SW. According to eHam.net this radio is still in production. It is certainly widely available on eBay. I got mine on Craigslist for $40. The S350 is powered by a 6v dc transformer or by four D cell batteries, among its features are an LCD digital display w light plus alarm clock and a host of controls including: two band select knobs, volume and separate bass & treble. The large tuner dial is dual functioned for slow and fast tuning. On the side panel are separate mono/stereo audio outs, and a headphone jack plus an SW low-pass filter switch. At rear is a coaxial jack for an external FM antenna and jacks for AM/SW antenna and a ground.
The S350 has an excellent ability to pull in FM signals, it has a very long whip antenna for this purpose and for shortwave (42”). Listening to WFMU in Brooklyn which is out of Jersey and doesn’t have the strongest signal it gets perfect static free reception. This is also a well-respected radio for its SW abilities, while shortwave is not my thing a quick spin across SW1 the other evening brought in many stations including a number of religious freak shows including one beaming in loud and clear from Glendale, CA. I generally only listen to Mets games on the AM band on this radio, I do my AM listening and AM DX’ing on other radios elsewhere in the house and while not known for its AM DX abilities it does have a very handy feature: the RF Gain knob below the tuner dial allows tightening of the signal reception and volume boost on AM/SW bands. When atmospheric conditions allowed I have tuned in Zoomer Radio out of Toronto Canada on occasion. The S350 is regarded as a portable radio but at 11” Wide by 7” tall it’s another radio you won’t be sticking in your pocket, but solid, sweet and a very good radio it certainly is.
Editor’s note: As we were getting ready for this dispatch to go out, the New York Times ran a short blog on how conservative radio hosts are covering the contested-election story. The Timespiece largely relies on the number of times certain terms like “fraud” appear in a show’s transcripts. They contrast Limbaugh and Hannity with NPR. This is interesting, but we find it helps if you actually listen to this stuff, get the rhythm down. It’s a shame that most newspapers cut their radio columns years ago. A paper as influential as the Times doesn’t even have a reporter covering the format millions of Americans rely on as their main source of information. The elite newsrooms could save a lot of money on sending reporters to cover the mysterious Trump voters in coal country by just tuning in to AM radio.
Contested election? Or contested reality?
Nothing illustrated the stark divisions between radio at its best and worst more sharply than Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump.
No sooner than it was clear Donald Trump had no real path to an electoral college victory, the conservative talk radio hosts began spinning any false narrative they could find. Conspiracy theories were floated and quickly discarded for the next made-up claim. Some hosts put forward multiple contradictory claims at the same time. States that had finished counting votes needed to continue the count. Other states that were still counting ballots needed to stop immediately. It was the voting machines! Dead voters! Whoever coordinates the daily messaging failed to get out a coherent narrative. As bizarre as the entire spectacle was, it was fascinating to hear the narrative forged in real time.
None of this should be surprising for anyone who listens to AM radio. The tone for most AM hosts is set early in the morning when members of the Trump administration appear to suss out talking points. Rush Limbaugh (WOR 710) helped get things rolling on Monday when he said: “if presented in the right way,” the various conspiracy theories could have a real impact. Buck Sexton attacked Fox News. Ben Shapiro and Brian Kilmeade asked leading questions to Trump campaign officials. Predictably, this continued undeterred, even as officials from Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security declared the election to be “the most secure in American history.” We have been listening to Rudy Giuliani’s radio show regularly for long enough that we have heard and evaluated all of the Trump campaign’s arguments. We have found the former mayor’s claims to be yet another meritless attempt to stay relevant. The whole spectacle was more excruciating than several months of MSNBC Russiagate coverage condensed into a single week.
No station had as much at stake in the election outcome as WABC 770 AM. Station owner, billionaire-landlord and NYC GOP boss John Catsimitidis pushed the voter fraud line on his Sunday morning “Roundtable,” a show whose opening theme consists of multiple people talking about how great the bossman is. Catsimitidis continued this during a special Veterans’ Day co-broadcast with “The Answer” AM. Months ago, we predicted Answer host Kevin McCullough was auditioning for a spot on WABC by having Catsimitidis as a frequent guest. On the Veterans Day segment, the two spun election-fraud theories while Catsimitidis railed against an “algorithm” responsible for Trump’s defeat, announcing that ”People who don’t believe fraud exists are dumber than dog doo doo.” There is something odd about a guy who owns a station that appears to exist solely as a campaign arm of the Republican Party being too tepid to use a term like “dog shit.” Bill O’Reilly, in his own I’m not saying the election was stolen, but it was probably stolen bit on WABC noted that the 70 million Trump voters said a collective “Blank You!” to the political establishment. The FCC and FEC are so unregulated, these guys should give up the phony G-rated shtick. For what it’s worth, Catsimitidis, who may be running for Mayor of NYC again in 2021, was introduced as “the man who is New York.” The billionaire brought out his new weekend host Tony Orlando to talk about their friend “Donald.” As excited as we were for Orlando’s arrival on WABC as a music jock, his debut was lackluster. There is really no excuse to play the same handful of songs you can hear on any of the other “oldies” outlets. Oh great, “Life in the Fast Lane” by the Eagles. At least Orlando has a pretty good delivery. Catsimitidis, on the other hand, has the distinction of being only slightly better than Heshy Tischler.
One of the more bizarre shows on WABC is the new “Lidia Reports,” with Lidia Curanaj, who is billed as the station’s “investigative journalist and Editorial Content Manager.” Curanaj started her Sunday evening show by playing Queen’s “We are the Champions,” and then saying Trump couldn’t have possibly lost because his rallies were so enthusiastic. She would carry on about the stolen election, and then revert back to the whole “I’m not saying it was stolen” line. Curanaj has been appearing on the Curtis and Juliet Show as a news commentator. Curanaj’s spots contain about as much “news” content as a can of tuna fish, which is to say not much at all.
Juliet Huddy actually countered false election narratives on the Curtis and Juliet Show. That didn’t stop Curtis Sliwa from repeatedly insisting countless dead people helped throw the election to Biden.
WABC morning hosts Sid and Bernie claimed that once the election was called for Biden people were “dancing in the streets” in Beijing. Sid Rosenberg went on to complain that he would probably have to start paying more to fill the tank in his SUV.
Rudy Giuliani, now in charge of Trump’s entire election legal strategy, has been approaching the contested election line the same way he approached the Hunter Biden laptop story: nonstop, and with vague, conflicting information. Giuliani pushed examples of fraud from people who have since recanted their stories. He rails against poll workers delivering “ash cans” full of ballots. Giuliani also claims that the voting machine company beams vote results overseas, where they are then tabulated on foreign soil. Iran, China, Spain and other countries have been hinted at as possible locations. Like the Biden laptop story, Giuliani gives snippets of information, dashing from point to unrelated point—claiming the election was stolen by Dominion (a voting machine manufacturer), the Chinese government, Nancy Pelosi, the Deep State—usually ending his rants with a plea to tune in at a later date for the real juicy evidence. Giuliani’s treatment of the Hunter Biden laptop largely revolved around an email the Biden son had sent to a sibling complaining that he paid more than his share in the family. I don’t think any high-level politicians should be trading in their connections for lucrative jobs. But Giuliani failed to deliver the evidence, and instead wound up having callers weigh in on pictures on Hunter Biden’s genitals. Giuliani has never uttered a peep about Donald Trump’s family using the office of president for self-enrichment. The airwaves at WABC will never broadcast foul words like “Hatch Act,”and “Emoluments Clause.” Since Giuliani is working for Trump and his campaign, his show is essentially an infomercial for the president, yet another in-kind campaign contribution by John Catsimitidis. Tune in and hear callers tell Giuliani he was sent by god to save Trump (yes, this happens).
Rudy Giuliani audio. Caller blasts Rudy: “You lied about the air quality at the World Trade Center. You cross-dressing perverted drunk”
Let’s take a brief respite from the unfunny clown show for some comedic relief. Here’s Rudy Giuliani, shortly before the election getting blasted by a caller identifying as a retired NYPD detective. The caller demands Giuliani present actual evidence of the Hunter Biden laptop allegations before saying: “Our unions got you elected and reelected, you rewarded us with zeroes. You lied about the air at the World Trade Center. You cross-dressing perverted drunk.” Giuliani dismisses the caller as “probably sort of a Biden fan of some kind of another.” (For the record, we don’t oppose Giuliani for his alleged “perversions,” we oppose him for his bottomless venality, his hypocrisy and his disastrous tenure as mayor of NYC, when he effectively banned dancing, yet traipsed around in drag performances).
More Giuliani audio: Rudy “both sides” Trump’s attacks on John McCain
And here’s Giuliani dismissively responding to a veteran who suggested Trump may have turned off voters. Rudy “both sides” Trump’s attacks on John McCain, who he claims was a good friend of his.
Brian Lehrer and WNYC bring clarity in a time of crisis (yet again)
To see the opposite approach of how radio can be done, we can turn once again to Brian Lehrer at WNYC. Lehrer has featured multiple top election-law experts to make sense of the Trump campaign’s various lawsuits. On Monday, Lehrer interviewed Richard Hasen, of the University of California, Irvine. In response to Lehrer’s questions about the merits of the election-fraud cases, Hasen responded: “Let me just say the fact that Rudy Giuliani rather than one of the A-list Republican election lawyers is in charge of this that tells you all you need to know. If there were a credible legal case that could be brought the people who’d be out front would look very different.”
WNYC’s On the Media—excellent as always—takes on the alternate-facts hype machine yet again. The latest episode, “Another World Entirely,” distills the Trump administrations attacks on data and democracy. The episode is worth listening to in its entirety. Brooke Gladstone’s conversation with former conservative journalist and Newsbusters founder Matt Sheffield is at once a look at the rot at the heart of contemporary conservatism and a scathing critique of out-of-touch elitist coastal media outlets whose condescension towards regular people alienates much of the population.
Reveal, heard on WNYC talks with a Black election worker in Detroit, who breaks down the hostility she faced from poll watchers attempting to disrupt the vote-counting process. When asked if she felt there was a racial element to the poll watchers’ work, she asks, “Why didn’t they go to Ann Arbor?… Why Detroit?” This same episode has a segment produced in conjunction with 100 Days in Appalachia which follows a Black legislator in West Virginia who faces so many death threats, she is forced to wear body armor. The audio footage of heavily armed counterprotesters shouting the n-word and other epithets at that state’s Black Lives Matter protest is chilling. Reveal carries some of the better reporting found on the radio.
For your consideration
WNYC has a new daily 20-minute podcast, “Consider This,” featuring selected NYC-based and national stories, sourced its own pool of reporters and NPR. (We have not yet heard this show, look for a possible future review).
WBGO steps it up
WBGO has been running some great segments on its website (it’s unclear if these also air on the radio). This piece (with audio) by Greg Bryant and Nate Chinen on Herbie Hancock’s visionary Mwandishi unit is great read/listen.
Play it again and again and again
WFMU’s Put the Needle on the Record has been top-notch, every Friday night. If you haven’t caught the show, check out Billy Jam’s recent revolutionary rap special. DJ Fine Wine’s Downtown Soulville, followed by NY Underground with Ray Boogie keep the good beats flowing up till midnight. On the commercial end of the FM dial, WBLS has been playing some great stuff. This past Saturday night, DJ Bent Rock did a tribute commemorating Notorious B.I.G’s induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It was nice to hear special guest Lil’ Cease of the Junior Mafia back on the NYC airwaves again.