Pirate Transmissions

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Image from the Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map, courtesy of David Goren.

Many interesting pirate stations can be found on the radio. Most of these pop up in different frequencies, usually at the very low end of the FM dial. In Brooklyn, listeners can find pirate stations broadcasting in multiple languages including Russian, Yiddish, Kreyol, Spanish and English. Unfortunately many of these pirates often knock out some of the better stations, like WKCR. This reviewer has reconciled himself to living without FMU or KCR, in favor of excellent Haitian folkloric programming, only to have the pirate signal suddenly disappear. For awhile Radio Liberté out of Haiti could be heard through a local relay transmitter out of Flatbush. Most of the programming was in Kreyol, with an occasional English-language show giving scathing Marxist critiques of nationalist ideologies.

We have also heard various pirate hip-hop and reggae stations. Some of these get played in dollar vans, surely one of the best ways to hear music. In Flatbush Brooklyn, we have recently heard pirates broadcasting at 99.3, 99.9, and 95.3 FM. Just as this site was about to go live we learned about the Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map, where you can lots of valuable information on these stations. R Cleffi

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

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

—Paul Virilio, Popular Defense and Ecological Struggles, 1979

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

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

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

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

WABC, WOR: High noon in Giuliani town

WABC 770

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WOR 710

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

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

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

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

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

The Answer 970 AM

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

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

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

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

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

WMCA 570, “The Mission”

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

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

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

WFME 1560

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

Informational/Musical AM programming

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

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

WBWD 540 AM, Radio Zindagi

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

WSNR 620 AM Davidzon Radio

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

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

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

WCBS 880

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

WBCR 1090

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

WLIB 1190

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

WMTR 1250 Classic Oldies

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

WADO 1280

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

WWRV 1330 Radio Visión Cristiana

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

WKDM 1380

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

WNSW 1430

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

WWRL 1600 Radio Mirchi

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

WWRU 1660

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

1700 Radio Moshiach and Redemption

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

WQFG 1710

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

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

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

WNYC 93.9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A note on NPR:

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

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

WNYE 91.5

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

WBAI 99.5

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

WBAI’s “Free Speech” Covid masks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHCR 90.3 The Voice of Harlem

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

WNSH 94.7 “New York’s Country 94.7”

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

WPLJ 95.5

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

WQHT 97.1 (“Hot 97”)

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

WWPR 105.1 (“POWER 105”)

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

WBLS 107.5

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

WQXR 105.9

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

WKCR 89.9

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

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

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

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

WBGO 88.3

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

WNYU 89.1

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

WFDU 89.1

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

WSOU 89.5

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

WFUV 90.7

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

WFMU 91.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WKRB 90.3

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

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

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

101.1 CBS, “The Greatest Hits of All Time”

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

Classic Rock

104.3 WAXQ

107.1 WWYZ, “The Boss”

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

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

This was nostalgia, or something like it.

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

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

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

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Local and DX Dispatch by Dick Alexander

Dick Alexander’s rig, the Walkman SRF 59.

Lately I haven’t been getting much sleep so I lie under the covers trawling the waves aided by my tiny radio, the Sony Walkman SRF 59. This is a small and inexpensive radio that is suited to DXing and radio listening in general. DXing is a radio culture term for long-distance listening, i.e. seeking out and listening to radio stations hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away.

In these unusual lock down times and with time on our hands DXing is a good way to get out there without actually going anywhere. This column will endeavor to give a roundup of interesting local & long distance radio shows and stations.

I was doing some late night scanning on the FM band recently when I happened upon the excellent Wednesday night/Thursday morning host DJ Small Change with his Nickel and Dime radio show on WFMU out of Jersey City NJ, Midnight to 3 a.m.

Small Change is a rare species, not only does he have excellent radio chops he is also a brilliant mixer, it’s often impossible to tell when the last track ended and when the next one begins. His wide range genre proof programming from early R&B to funk, ska, dub, jazz, hip hop, salsa, electro and ambient is just an all-around joyful experience and If you’re not a night owl then you can catch his shows on the archives at https://www.wfmu.org/playlists/ND. WFMU broadcasts at 91.1 and 91.9 on the FM band.

On Sunday mornings I like to listen to an entirely different kind of music. From 8 to 10 a.m. Chris Whent’s Here of A Sunday Morning on NYC’s WBAI FM 99.5 is a wonderful radio experience. He specializes in European Classical music from before 1800, what he calls Early Music. This is the most chilled-out of radio shows. His excellent music choices paired with one of the calmest and pleasant radio voices I have had the pleasure to listen in on, makes for a good place to point your radio dial of a Sunday morning. https://wbai.org/program.php?program=137.

On the DX front after dark when the AM signal travels wide and far, I have recently come across a station broadcasting out of Washington DC. This station is WFED at AM 1500, it is an official US Government news talk station that basically deals with the day-to-day running of the government, not from a partisan point of view but the actual issues and challenges facing employees of the government. There are interesting interviews with scientists, bureaucrats and computer boffins that you would not generally hear elsewhere. The station also covers local sports, and in normal times is home to the Washington Wizards basketball team. Long distance AM reception is subject to various atmospheric conditions including weather, so sometimes I can get this station clear as day and at other times I cannot receive it at all. Such are the travails of the late-night trawler.

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An Introduction: Why radio, why now?

Dumpster diving the wreckage of the NYC-area radioscape. If you dig enough, you might find some gems among the detritus.

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.

Info on contributors/contact info here.

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