If you have followed my posts regarding WBAI, you already know that I once worked there, became the manager, and left to go with the BBC. You will also know that I recently tuned in for the first time in many years and that I find much of what I heard to be cause for alarm. Why? Because WBAI is beginning to sound like other stations, rather than the alternative that Pacifica meant for its stations to be. Having thoroughly surfed the radio dial and found nothing of substance, pacifist Lewis Hill created the Pacifica Foundation shortly after WWII, and started KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California. The concept was unorthodox and simple: No commercials, no unreasonable time restrictions, just a live microphone for free discussions and disparate worlds of thought, a place from which emanated unbridled artistic and political expressions, a radio station unaffected by current trends or ratings. The impossible dream? Of course not...or was it? Today, WBAI is a little bit like a fine vintage of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild into which cherry Kool-Aid is being dripped. Albeit barely so, the wine is still discernible, but its bouquet is gone.
One might say that Bob Fass, who was first heard on WBAI in the early Sixties, is the personification of Lew Hill's concept. By the mid-Sixties, when I became the station manager, he had been fired by my predecessor, but that was a big mistake for Bob was born to be heard on WBAI. No other station would find acceptable his free-flowing ad-lib approach to broadcasting and no other host could come close to making that concept work as well as it has for almost half a century. Yes, Bob survived his firing. He heard my first Report to the Listener and concluded that my idea of broadcasting might differ from that of the former manager. He was right and, thus, reinstated as the station's voice in the night. Back then, we usually signed off at midnight and fired her back up in the morning. It was not the law, nor did it make much sense, so we shelved the Star Spangled Banner tape and became nocturnal.
Things have not gone smoothly for Bob in the past decades. He was arrested and placed on some kind of probation for something silly that displeased a clueless management or board, and he survived at least one coup, but he is still there, still not getting paid a penny for his work and still not appreciated by the ever-changing powers that be. Bob's show, Radio Unnameable, has not changed much except that it is more predictable than it used to be, but we can chalk that up to an era where things are more foreseeable. There was a time when people like Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, Arlo Guthrie, and most wanted radicals popped in to do things that only a Pacifica station would allow—sometimes things that only could be done on Bob's show. Actually, that term. "show," doesn't cover it—Bob turned his airtime into events, we used to call them "happenings," and how fitting a term that was!
I've said enough here. I hope you can tune in tonight, April 22nd, at midnight (New York time) and hear me stumble down memory lane with Bob and whoever might pop in. Well, popping in isn't as easy as it used to be—now one has to produce an ID and get the nod from security, but I have my passport ready.
Whether you are in Times Square, Teaneck, Tacoma, Toledo, Tokyo, Timbuktu or Oz, you can hear Bob's Radio Unnameable at midnight on any Thursday, streaming around the globe at WBAI.org.
Of course you know it sounds best on a Mac!