The New York Radio Archive's Archive
The End of Broadcasting
April 1, 2016: CBS Inc. has announced that they intend to sell or spin-off the radio group...Cumulus Media's stock price target is cut to 75 cents from $3 at Capital...iHeart Media is trading at $1.11, down from a 52-week high of $8.00.
April Fools D...oh, wait a minute. That's not a joke, that's real.
Ron Jacobs dies at age 78
Ron Jacobs, a giant of top-40 radio, died in Hawaii on March 8th. While his name is not all that familiar to New Yorkers, he was one of the people responsible for "Boss Radio" and the sound of KHJ, which he started programming with Bill Drake in 1962 and where he was also a featured DJ. He also produced "The History of Rock & Roll" and was involved with Watermark's "American Top 40". He also produced the series of LPs called "Crusin': A History of Rock 'n Roll Radio" which re-created the sound of various top-40 radio stations, including the songs, jingles and commercials. He started his career in Hawaii and has lived there for many years. He'll be missed - he was one of the more talented people who worked in top-40 radio.
The History of Rock & Roll may be heard at this link.
Record Store Day: Countdown
Countdown until record store day:
In spite of the vinyl hype, great record stores are an endangered species, so instead of complaining about their demise, go visit one and buy something. NYC isn't the same since we lost Tower Records, Virgin and J&R as well as Vinyl Mania and the Times Square Record Shop in the 42nd st subway station and was famous for the collection of vocal groups and doo wop. And it's really tough when one thinks back to the days when almost every neighborhood had a record shop and records were also sold in most appliance and department stores. Each record store had their own vibe. NYC-based baby boomers will also remember the original Sam Goody's, Record Hunter, Disc-o-Mat and the record departments at Alexander's and Korvette's department stores, among many others. For me, growing up in the Bronx, it was Spinning Disc records on the Grand Concourse near Fordham Road as well as Cuzin's and another shop across the street on the south side of Fordham Road that still had listening booths and an outdoor speaker that sounded so incredibly good, it actually used to make me sweat.
The largest record shop in NYC is Rough Trade in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
While it might be a chicken-and-egg syndrome, anyone who thinks we don't need physical retail should take into account that the U.S. music market is now 1/3rd its former peak size, adjusted for inflation, in spite of the incredibly deep stock available on e-commerce sites. And that includes downloads and streaming.
And if you're interested in some great gently-used vinyl: LP Vinyl Music is our sister site where you can buy great vinyl, including unique and rare radio documentaries and interviews, as well as some DVD and Blu-ray titles.
Radio Love Fest will be held March 10-12th at BAM
Radio Love Fest is a multi-day festival presented by WNYC and BAM featuring live tapings of shows like "Wait Wait....Don't Tell Me!", "Death, Sex & Money" and "The Moth"; curated film screenings; live music; and more.
Information may be found here.
Bob Elliot dies at 92
While not a music or progressive rock jock, we felt we had to pay tribute to the great Bob Elliot, who died Tuesday (Feb 2nd) and was half of the great team of Bob & Ray. The team of Bob & Ray appeared on radio for more than 40 years, from 1946 to 1987, and their understated subtle humor (which I'm convinced half of the audience didn't even get) is one of the things that made radio great.
We don't hear much humor like theirs today - their brand of humor was very quiet and subtle and today we have hysterics and vulgarity. Bob & Ray first appeared on Boston's WHDH and after five years moved to NBC radio. During the 1950's they were featured on NBC's "Monitor" and also appeared on the TV shows of David Letterman, Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, Johnny Carson and others. Bob's son Chris also became a regular on the original Letterman show and Chris' daughter did a stint on "Saturday Night Live".
Bob & Ray were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1984 and into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1985.
They also appeared on progressive rock radio. While it didn't really work all that well, here's "Bob & Ray's Music Factory" which appeared on WNEW-FM in 1968: Bob & Ray.
52 Years Ago: February 7, 1964 begins Beatlemania
This photo was taken by my father 52 years ago this month. This is not when the Beatles first landed from England, but rather when they returned to NYC from Washington some days later. As a teen, I was upset with him for not getting all four Beatles facing the camera, but he claimed that his life was in serious peril from the teen girls who were waiting at the airport for the Beatles. However, facing the camera or not, this photograph had high value in terms of my relationship with the young girls in my junior high school class who didn't pay too much attention to me before I proudly showed up with this print. Unfortunately, the original negative has been lost. This image has been restored from a time-worn print. (Click for a larger version.)
Dennis Elsas recorded a special about the Beatles for WFUV on their 50th anniversary of arriving in America. Unfortunately, the complete show is no longer available in the WFUV archive, but you can listen to a preview of it here: "It Was 50 Years Ago Today" link.
ICP Exhibition: The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues:
Photographs by Benny Joseph
The International Center for Photography is hosting an exhibition of great photography by Benny Joseph at the Mana Gallery - 888 Newark Avenue in Jersey City from now through January 10, 2016. The gallery is open Monday - Friday from 10-5.
It features portraits of such celebrated performers as B.B. King, Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, and Junior Parker, as well as non-R&B singers Mahalia Jackson and Della Reese. Photographer Benny Joseph worked at KCOH radio in Houston.
Link: Exhibition Info at the ICP site.
Record Store Day: Black Friday
Record store day happens only once a year, around April 15th, but there's also a special edition on Black Friday.
Click the image to open a PDF of all of the Black Friday special Record Store Day offers.
And if you're interested in some great gently-used vinyl: LP Vinyl Music is our sister site where you can buy great vinyl, including unique and rare radio documentaries and interviews, as well as some DVD and Blu-ray titles.
Rocktober is always a big month around here as DJs joined WOR-FM 49 years ago and WNEW-FM launched their rock format 48 years ago. (WNEW-FM always claimed in marketing that it was Halloween, but it was actually the night before).
WOR-FM started playing rock on July 30, 1966, but without DJs. The DJs joined on Saturday, October 8, 1966. You can hear some airchecks of that first day by going to the WOR-FM page. When they finally did make it to air, we heard a simulcast of John Gambling until 9am, Scott Muni holding down two shifts from 9am until noon and from 3-6pm; Johnny Michaels from noon to 3pm, Murray the K from 6pm to midnight and Rosko initially from just midnight to 2am. Shortly afterwards, Johnny Michaels would move to mid-mornings, Muni from 1-6pm, Murray the K (Murray Kaufman) to 11pm, Rosko (Bill Mercer) until 2am followed by a Barry Farber simulcast from the AM side.
After WOR-FM gave programming responsiblities to Bill Drake the following summer, all of the original jocks left the station. Rosko resigned from WOR-FM on Monday night, October 2nd, 1967. On Saturday, October 7th, 1967, he appeared on Pete Fornatale's "Campus Caravan" show on WFUV to explain why he resigned. A very rare aircheck of that interview is posted here.
Execs at WNEW-FM listened to that show and decided to pick up Rosko. Alison Steele was already a member of the airstaff, having been part of the "all-girls" middle-of-the-road format. Rosko's first show was on October 30, 1967. Management actually tested the rock waters relatively slowly: Jonathan Schwartz would join on November 16th and Scott Muni on December 18th. The rest is radio and rock history. More on the WNEW-FM page.
And October 5th is another great anniversary: On this day in 1962, exactly 53 years ago, the Beatles released their first single in the UK, "Love Me Do".
Dennis Elsas' "Rock 'N' Roll Never Forgets"
Dennis Elsas is bringing his live multi-media show "Rock 'N' Roll Never Forgets" to the RCC Cultural Arts Theatre in Suffern, NY this Saturday, October 3rd at 8pm. Along with highlights from his history-making interviews with John Lennon, Elton John, Jerry Garcia and others, he will revisit the sights and sounds of the NY Top 40 stations he grew up with, the progressive evolution of FM Rock and his years on-air with WNEW-FM and currently WFUV and Sirius/XM. More info and a video at Dennis Elsas.com (Posted 9/28/15)
July 30th Marks the 49th Anniversary of the WOR-FM Rock Format
WOR-FM started broadcasting their rock format on July 30th, 1966, 49 years ago.
When they first joined the air, they did so without DJs, due to a union dispute over setting a new minimum wage for FM DJs.
Their initial advertising was via a Milton Glaser design.
But it was hard to tell from the design whether it was going to be a true rock station or an FM station playing "beautiful music" versions of rock songs.
While today we would decry their jockless programming as a jukebox, it was a revelation back then. We were all used to WABC-AM, which never segued one track into another and almost always played at least one spot between each song.
WOR-FM gave us much higher audio quality (although few tracks in the early days were actually in stereo), few commercials and continuous music and we loved it. Standing near the Coney Island boardwalk with a transistor radio, we would high-five each other each time they played another track without a spot inbetween. It seemed miraculous (and ideal for taping).
The station would simulcast John Gambling until 10am, play music until 2am and then simulcast Barry Farber until 5:15 am.
In the early days, there were few spots, but one I remember that they played quite often was for Hohner Harmonica. In those formative months, it still sounded like WOR-FM was going to be a top-40 radio station, albeit a slightly quieter and more mature one than what we were used to. The DJs wouldn't join until October 8th and the station would slowly evolve into a free-form radio station that played as many album tracks as singles. That would be a different revelation. But it lasted less than a year when Bill Drake was given responsiblity for programming all the RKO-General stations except for WOR-AM. But that's a different story. For more about the history of WOR-FM, click the WOR-FM page here. (Posted 7/29/15)
Music Radio WABC died 33 years ago today
WABC became a talk station on May 10, 1982 after 22 years as a pop music station. On May 16th, WNEW-FM paid tribute to the groundbreaking AM station and we'll be posting that aircheck on that day.
RadioLoveFest at BAM May 5-10
RadioLoveFest returns for a 2nd year to the Brooklyn Academy of Music May 5th to 10th.
This year's festival includes live broadcasts of Radiolab; Terry Gross being interviewed by Marc Maron; "Don't Look Back" with Molly Ringwald; a WQXR trivia night; "Wait Wait. . .Don't Tell Me!"; Hillary Frank; Razia Iqbal and a panel in a discussion about Islamopobia; "Snap Judgement" live; "Death, Sex & Money; BAMcafé; Bullseye Comedy Night; Selected Shorts; a WQXR Beethoven Piano Sonata Marathon; John Schaefer with an evening of music by Morrisey; a celebration Richard Rodgers with Jonathan Schwartz; and Leonard Lopate discussing food and Brooklyn as a brand.
RadioLove Fest info online
April 7, 2015: Stan Freberg dies at 88
The great Stan Freberg, who's generally given credit for creating the funny commercial and who was a great satirist as well as a voice actor in his own right, died today at 88.
Freberg started his career as a voice actor in 1944 for Warner Brothers cartoons, where he was frequently paired with Mel Blanc (but only Blanc got on-screen credit.) He also did work for Disney. In 1951, he appeared on-screen in the comedy "Callaway Went Thataway" and he also appeared in 1963's "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."
He started creating satirical recordings in 1951, beginning with "John and Marsha", which contained only those two names repeated over and over with different emotions, a routine not dissimilar to a later one created by Nichols & May. He also produced a Dragnet parody with cartoon voice actors Daws Bulter and June Foray. Other recordings satirized Elvis Presley, the Platters and Harry Belafonte.
Freberg's 1954 radio show, "That's Rich", satirized the Cold War and McCarthyism and his 1957 "Stan Freberg Show" was a replacement for Jack Benny's radio show. Freberg refused to permit cigarette advertising on his show long before the Surgeon General's report.
Freberg was instrumental (along with Bob & Ray) in adding humor and satire to advertising and he produced commercials for Great American Soups, Sunsweet, Jeno's Pizza, Butternut Coffee and many other advertisers.
Freberg also made many TV appearances on such shows as "The Ed Sullivan Show", "The Girl From Uncle", "The Monkees", "Roseanne" and the short-lived "Weird Al Show".
Freberg was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. One of his most famous radio creations was a spot intended to encourage advertisers to buy radio time. It demonstrated how radio could make one believe that you could create an ice-cream sundae the size of a mountain. That spot still sounds brilliant today and is included in the below YouTube video.
The jingle in the above spots features Sarah Vaughn on vocals and a Quincy Jones arrangement.
March 28, 2015: Vin Scelsa announces his retirement
Vin Scelsa first appeared on the radio in 1967 at the Upsala College radio station, WFMU. Over the last 48 years(!), he has also appeared on WBAI, WABC-FM, WNEW-FM, WXRK and WFUV as well as Sirius and Sirius/XM satellite radio. Vin is probably the only DJ in New York commercial radio to have maintained his independence and freedom over his entire career.
Many artists owe at least part of their success to Vin's willingness to bring unique and independent sounds to the attention of his listeners.
Vin appeared on WABC-FM in 1971, initally holding down the 5:15-7:15pm shift. By September of 1974, he was doing weekends on WNEW-FM. In 1988 and 1989, he shifted to WXRK, but returned to WNEW-FM after where he continued his weekend show until WNEW-FM changed to a Hot Talk format in the fall of 1999. His last edition of "Idiot's Delight" will be broadcast on 90.7 WFUV on Saturday, May 2nd.
March 29, 2015: Pat St. John to leave WCBS-FM
Pat St. John, who's been on New York radio since the 1970s, has announced that he's leaving CBS-FM, where he's been holding down the Sunday 11-3pm airshift, in order to spend more time with his west-coast based family.
Originally from Detroit, Pat joined WPLJ in 1973, held a regular shift from 1974 and stayed until about 1987. From 1988 to 1993, he did 10am-2pm at WNEW-FM after Dave Herman moved to drive-time and he held other shifts on the station through 1998. He also spent time as Program Director. He has also frequently appeared on CBS-FM from at least 2003 and is heard on several different shows on Sirius/XM. His Sirius/XM shows will continue.
Pat is still a big fan of rock and roll and has terrific insights into the artists and music. He's known for being informative on the air and for playing that rare but great track that you didn't know existed.
Paul Leslie Interviews
Since Les Paul is the patriarch of everything, when a guy named Paul Leslie contacts us, we perk up. Mr. Leslie has a very interesting website filled with interviews of people involved in music, media and radio.
Of particular interest to us are the interviews with WBAI's Bob Fass and with Joe Franklin, who has been active in radio since 1951:
Bob Fass Interview
Joe Franklin Interview
The Bob Fass interview is particularly interesting and delves extensively with Fass' upbringing in New York City, his experiences at WBAI, the music that he loved to listen to and some tidbits about Bob Dylan.
Steve Post Tribute
There will be a public tribute on Steve's Birthday, March 20, 2015 at 6pm at Symphony Space's Sharp Theater: 2537 Broadway, at 95th St.- video, audio, speakers.
Steve Post was a freeform radio pioneer in the late 1960s and early 1970s at WABI. Bob Fass, drawing inspiration from Jean Shepherd, initially transformed and redefined the form and Fass, Post, and Larry Josephson then embraced the idea and pushed it to new extremes.
Post didn't care about fairness, objectivity or balance -- he just said whatever the hell came into his mind. But he formed deep connections with his listeners.
Post was certainly curmudgeonly. If Will Rogers had famously said that he never met a man he didn't like, Post said no such thing - indeed, he quoted Hobbes as an influence, saying "I believe people are essentially brutal, murderous, lying bastards who put on masks of civility to make society work."
Post was brilliant at on-air fundraising and raised millions of dollars.
In the course of his on-air career, Post was host/producer of "The Outside" and "Room 101" on WBAI and "Morning Music" and "The No Show" on WNYC.
Post died this past August 3rd, age 70. He influenced almost every FM freeform jock of the late 60's and 70's - even those who had never listened to him, but were influenced by those who did.
(The above is paraphrased from the WBAI website posting).
WBAI and WNYC-FM Personality Steve Post Dies at Age 70
Steve Post, who was one of the first practitioners of what would later be called free-form radio, died Sunday, August 3rd, at the age of 70.
In the late 1960's and early '70s, Post hosted "The Outside" on WBAI after midnight on weekends (Bob Fass hosted weekdays). pst would play music of all genres - music that would not be heard on commercial radio - woven with stories and complaints about living a modern life.
From 1973 to 1980, he hosted the WBAI morning show, "Room 101".
From 1982 to 2001, he hosted the "Morning Music" show on WNYC-FM. He returned to WNYC in 2002 to host "The No Show".
One of our favorite oft-repeated Post stories was the time he got locked in the bathroom at WBAI and had to climb out the window to get back to the studio so that there would be no dead air.
Post was also the author of "Playing in the FM Band: A Personal Account of Free Radio" (Viking Press, 1974).
Post broke every rule of conventional radio and was a great contrarian. So there was never any chance that he was going to work in commercial radio. But both Post and Fass had great influence on the early FM commercial free-form DJs. (Posted 8/4/14)
Dave Herman Dies
Dave Herman, one of the greatest air personalities of the free-form and progressive rock eras, has died at the age of 78. WABC Channel 7 news reported Herman's death apparently from "suffering an aneurysm of a major blood vessel near the heart".
Dave had worked at WMMR-FM in Philadelphia, a sister station to WNEW-FM, before coming to New York and joining the new air staff at WABC-FM around May of 1970. The staff also included Tony Pigg, Jimmy Rabbit, Jimmy Fink and John Rydgren late at night. Dave initially had a morning and an evening show on the station. In February of 1971 the station changed its call letters because it was afraid that WABC-AM was getting credit for its ratings in surveys. Legend has it that Herman came up with the WPLJ call letters, based on the old song, "White Port Lemon Juice". But by August of 1971, the station became highly formatted and Herman was unhappy. He left WPLJ in late 1971 and joined WNEW-FM in March of 1972, taking over the morning show on May 22nd of that year.
In late May of 1982, he took over the nightime slot, which was held by Alison Steele for many years. In 1983, he moved into Pete Fornatale's morning slot and in November of 1986, he returned to the morning show. From about early 1992 to 1996, he moved to K-Rock, where Howard Stern commanded AM drive and Pete Fornatale followed. Herman followed Pete. In January of 1996, K-Rock changed to a "Modern Rock" format and all of the former WNEW-FM jocks left the station. Herman and Fornatale returned to WNEW-FM with a "Classic Rock & Classic Jocks" format, but WNEW-FM never returned to its former glory. Fornatale was let go in the Summer of 1998 and Herman that November.
Herman was involved in many syndicated radio efforts including the "King Biscuit Flower Hour" concert series as well as a series of interviews, the most famous of which was probably his interview with Ringo Starr.
On the air, Dave had a wonderful presence, always sounding both incredibly friendly and incredibly important. He had an incredible knowledge of music and would frequently sneak in an off-format track, like a Louie Armstrong recording.
In late 2013, Herman was accused of soliciting sex with a young child by federal agents who set up a sting operation. We'll now probably never know the truth of those accusations, but there was word last week that the feds were reconsidering charges. Since there was no actual child and Herman never got his day in court, my preference is to remember the decades of joy that he gave everyone on the air. But regardless of the merits of the charges, I have no doubt that Dave actually died of a broken heart. (posted 5/28/2014)
Link: Vin Scelsa announces the death of Dave Herman.
Great new record store: Rough Trade
Rough Trade is a branch of a British record store that opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on November 25th, 2013. It's located at 64 N. 9th Street and sells both new LPs and vinyl and will also have a large performance space to be booked by Bowery Presents, once they add some more soundproofing. The store is an amazing 15,000 square feet. I've noticed a lot of criticism online that they're not planning on selling used vinyl - it will be interesting to see if that changes over time.
Stan Brooks interview
CUNY TV will rebroadcast Michael Stoler's half-hour interview with legendary WINS Radio reporter Stan Brooks, who passed away on December 23rd (2013), as part of the "BuildingNY-New York Stories" series, on Thursday, January 2nd (2014) at 11:30pm.
The interview was recorded on April 10, 2012, and looks back on Brooks' remarkable career and highlights. It is also archived for viewing anytime on CUNY TV's website, www.cuny.tv
CUNY TV is broadcast over the air in the New York metropolitan area on digital Ch. 25.3, and is cablecast in the five boroughs of New York City on Ch. 75 (Time Warner and Cablevision/Optimum Brooklyn), Ch. 77 (RCN Cable) and Ch. 30 (Verizon FiOS).
It's been 33 years
Thirty-three years ago tonight we got the devastating news that John Lennon was shot to death. His death was a loss for the entire world. But it was a night in which some radio stations demonstrated just how powerful radio could be in bringing a community together. I doubt highly whether there are many stations in a position to accomplish the same today.
As each year passes, I fear that younger people no longer realize the greatness of the Beatles in both their group and solo configurations and the genius of Lennon in particular, especially since most were born after Lennon left us. I still miss his presence, but I also wonder whether he'd still be a powerful creative force in music and in his devotion to world peace. Lennon would have been 73 this year. (Posted 12/8/2013)
Dave Herman (revised)
Obviously, the news reports about Dave Herman's alleged behavior are devastating, if true. While the evidence seems overwhelming, we'd like to withhold judgement until all the facts are in, but the response which was released today (October 31, 2013), which is "the woman said she'd only meet me if I SPOKE to her about her daughter in this way" seems bogus and ridiculous. Why would anyone want to meet a woman who would only meet up if you talked about her young daughter having sex with an adult?
Luckily, there was no real mother or child involved, so no one got hurt (except for Herman's legacy). While I still can't believe that Dave Herman would behave in this way, it's sure looking bad In some ways, I'm glad that most of the legendary WNEW-FM jocks aren't around to have seen this.
The Left Coast
From RadioInfo.com: Bonneville classic rock KSWD, Los Angeles '100.3 The Sound' is presenting a "Mighty Met Weekend" beginning tomorrow (11/1/2013) and running through the weekend. DJs from historic Los Angeles rock outlet KMET-FM will grace the station's airwaves starting at 3:00 pm PT.
Personalities include: Dr. Demento, Jeff Gonzer, Ace Young, Jack Snyder, Paraquat Kelley, Rick Lewis, Rick Scarry, Billy Juggs, Dr. Leon, Frazer Smith, David Perry and Jim Ladd. Bonneville says in a statement, "KMET was the flagship station for FM rock radio and 'ground zero' for the cultural revolution of the 1970s. 'The Might Met' hit the air in 1968, and for much of its run was the #1-rated radio station in Los Angeles, thriving from innovative music and quirky personalities with a take-no-prisoners attitude. The station's 'A little bit of heaven 94-point-7 KMET-Twiddle Dee' jingle will forever remain stuck in the ears of Southern California's baby boomers."
Happy Birthday Pete Fornatale
August 23rd, 2013 would have been Pete Fornatale's 68th birthday. While not always credited, Pete was among the first air personalities to play rock and electric folk music on FM radio in New York on a regular basis (along with Bob Fass and Steve Post on WBAI). That doesn't sound like a big deal now, but in 1964, rock on FM was akin to walking down the street naked smoking dope.
In April of 1964, just over 49 years ago and just three months after the Beatles invaded America, he hosted the "Friday Musicale", which quickly became the "New Friday Musicale" and then "Friday in New York". In September of 1964, he hosted a show called "Swing Easy" and in November of that same year, he recorded a pilot for a Saturday morning show to be called "Campus Caravan". The first "Campus Caravan" was broadcast on November 21, 1964.
He premiered at WNEW-FM on the eve of the Woodstock Festival in 1969 (44 years ago last week). Pete held down various shifts on WNEW-FM over the years until about 1988 when he moved to WXRK where he stayed until January of 1996 when WNEW-FM moved to a "Classic Rock and Classic Jocks" format and he returned. That lasted until late summer of 1998, when WNEW-FM moved to a hot-talk format. Pete returned to WFUV in 2001, where he presented his "Mixed Bag" show every Saturday until his untimely death in April of 2012.
Pete was also a prolific writer, having written a number of books on media and rock & roll, the most recent being about the Rolling Stones ("50 Licks: Myths and Stories from Half a Century of the Rolling Stones") which was completed by his son Peter; the Woodstock Festival ("Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock"); and Simon & Garfunkle ("Simon and Garfunkel's 'Bookends'").
But most of all, Pete was a great person who donated much of his time to charities, such as "Why Hunger?" and he was a good friend to many. He's missed by everyone that grew up listening to him on the radio.
RADIO UNNAMEABLE Bob Fass Documentary
Unless you're Ken Burns, it's almost impossible today for serious independent filmmakers to get documentaries completed because it's so hard to obtain funding. There are a number of documentary projects of interest to us that have been underway for years, with no signs of completion. Unfortunately in the United States, most have to be abandoned.
But I'm very happy to announce that a documentary we told you about last year, RADIO UNNAMEABLE, about Bob Fass of WBAI, has been completed and just finished a run at the Film Forum in NYC.
Directed by Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson, RADIO UNNAMEABLE is a documentary film about legendary radio personality Bob Fass, who revolutionized the FM dial on listener supported New York station WBAI by serving as a cultural hub for music, politics and audience participation for nearly 50 years. Long before today's innovations in social media, Fass utilized the airwaves for mobilization, encouraging luminaries as well as ordinary listeners to talk openly and without commercial considerations, taking the program in surprising directions. RADIO UNNAMEABLE is a visual and aural collage that pulls from Bob Fass's immense archive of audio, film, photographs and video that has been sitting dormant until now.
RADIO UNNAMEABLE played for two weeks at New York's Film Forum and many other venues around the country.
Click herefor more information about the movie.
Click herefor the New York Times review of the movie.
Click herefor a New York Times article about Bob Fass' archive which includes several short air-checks.
When Paul and Jessica contacted us over a year ago to see if we had any WBAI material, I had my doubts about the success of such an effort. After all, there aren't that many people interested in radio these days. Take those people and filter them down to those that care about New York radio. Then take those people and find the ones who still care about 1960s-70s radio. (Well...OK, those are the people who visit this site.) Now take those remaining and find the ones who care about Bob Fass and WBAI. I thought that number would be about nine (me being two of them).
Then I thought that even if there was such interest, how much archival material, especially visual material, could possibly be available? After all, the peak of Fass' radio career took place in the 1960s and 70s, before the age of portable video.
I couldn't have been more wrong. This film has been selling out at the Film Forum. It is filled with wonderful visuals and audio. As it turns out, Fass saved about 7000 reels of tape from his shows. (Not the least bit organized or cataloged, but at least they were kept).
This film is about far more than one late-night radio personality. It's about a city, political and social movements, the best use of radio to get something positive accomplished, and how Fass (and a few others like him) created a comfortable environment for new artists to explore their art and present it to the public before the age of complete and crass commercialism. But it's also about how internal politics and the segmentation of political movements came together to destroy even the most utopian environments and the resulting fallout.
While no commercial radio station was ever as free-form as Fass (and Steve Post) was on WBAI, it's easy to see the influence he had, especially on personalities like Vin Scelsa, who appears in the film. Also appearing is Judy Collins, the voice of Joni Mitchell, Paul Krassner, Steve Post, Abbie Hoffman, Marshall Efron, Dave Van Ronk and many other luminaries of the era.
We always knew there was a core of people who listened to WBAI, but I don't think many outsiders today believe it had all that much influence. The reality, as shown in the documentary, is that Fass could get thousands of people to show up for a "Fly-In" at Kennedy Airport or the equivalent of a flash-mob at Grand Central Station (which ended in violence) and many other such events.
One of the surprises of this documentary is that it's so damned entertaining - it's simply a delight to watch. It brings us back to a time of great social movements as well as silliness and excesses. But you walk away from this film thinking, "Radio was really important then, wasn't it?" And it mostly seems so trivial and unimportant now.
Listeners to his show were constantly trying to seek ways to help people. One woman called-in distraught because of an apartment fire. People called in offering her a free hotel room. Fass got listeners (or his "cabal", as he called it) together to clean the streets during a garbage strike. Fass himself kept a guy on the air who claimed to be in the process of committing suicide and saved his life. Can you imagine any radio station, commercial or non-commercial, that could accomplish these things today?
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! It won't be playing long...don't miss it. And if you don't live in New York, keep looking for it at your favorite art house (or call them up and demand that they program it).
Radio Unnameable is now available on iTunes, Amazon, Playstation Network, Xbox, Nook and Movies on Demand via your cable provider (Comcast, Cox, Time-Warner Cable and Verizon).
Richie Havens dies at 72
We've just learned that the great Richie Havens has died from a heart attack earlier today (April 22, 2013) at the age of 72. His first major album on Verve Records, "Mixed Bag", released in 1967, was synonymous with the rise of free-form, progressive rock radio and the first track of that album, "High Flying Bird", was the first track played by Rosko when he joined WNEW-FM in October of 1967.
That album also heavily influenced DJ Pete Fornatale who used it as the title of his weekend radio show for many decades. That show is still on the air today, hosted by Don McGee on WFUV.
Havens is also well known for being the very first act to perform at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969.
WFMU 2012 Radio Festival
On October 20th, 2012, WFMU will present a full day of presentations and panel discussions about radio's future as it takes on new forms in the digital age. Featuring:
- Mark Frauenfelder: Maker culture, Zines, Digital Culture and Podcasts
- Joe Richman: on his Radio Diaries project with kids
- Panel: Radio Free Radio on walking tours, immersive apps and onine sites.
- Tim Pool: on using a smartphone and external battery to live-stream protests and conventions
- Kenyatta Cheese
- Piracy is the New Radio!: with Anna Troberg, Alexa Clay and a special guest
- Maria Popova's Brain Pickings: she spins art, design, science, technology, etc.
- New Voices, New Formats, New Business Models panel with Glynn Washington, Roman Mars, Jesse Thorn and moderator Liz Berg.
The event will take place at the Scholastic Auditorium, 557 Broadway (Prince/Spring), NYC
Here's a link to more information about the event: RadioVision Web Info
WNEW-FM air personality Thom Morrera has passed away. Thom mainly did weekends and overnights in the late 70s and early 80s and was always a welcome voice. Thom also played softball with the WNEW-FM all-stars during the same time period. He was also the director of music programming at Madison Square Garden, was the PA announcer for the Rangers from 1986 to 1993, for the Islanders in 1995 and he was the PA announcer at the U.S. Open from 1991 to 2001. He joins Scott Muni, Pete Fornatale, Rosko and Alison Steele at the great radio station in the sky. (posted August 12, 2012)
Hal Jackson dies at 97
It's another sad day for New York radio. One of the nicest guys in radio, Hal Jackson, passed away on May 23rd, 2012 at the age of 97. Jackson was one of the first African-American sports announcers and in 1939, he became the first minority host at Washington's WINX.
Jackson moved to New York City in 1954 and to this day, we believe he was the only New York City DJ (and maybe the only DJ anywhere) to appear live on three different radio stations in three different timeslots: on WNJR from 4-6pm, WMCA from 8 to 10pm and on WABC midnight to 6am! As they say, "the hardest working man in show business." In 1967, he still had a show on WNJR from 1 to 6pm daily.
Jackson hosted many shows and events from Palisades Amusement Park, where I met him in 1968. You could talk to Hal for just a few minutes and it was as if you had been lifelong friends.
In 1971, Jackson and ex-Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton co-founded the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation which acquired WLIB and WLIB-FM, which eventually became WBLS.
In addition to his executive duties, Jackson still remained a broadcaster with a Sunday show on WBLS. He is an inductee into the Radio Hall of Fame and the NAB Hall of Fame. He was given a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 2003 and in 2010 he was named a "Giant in Broadcasting" by the Library of Broadcasting.
I'll admit to not having listened to Jackson on the air in a very long time, but he will definitely be missed.
Pete Fornatale Dies at 66
We have the very sad job of letting you know that we've lost our very good friend Pete Fornatale, who died earlier today (Thursday, April 26, 2012). Pete Fornatale had been involved in New York radio for almost 50 years. He began as a student air-personality on WFUV 90.7, the Fordham University Station. In April of 1964, almost exactly 48 years ago, he hosted the "Friday Musicale", which quickly became the "New Friday Musicale" and then "Friday in New York". In September of 1964, he hosted a show called "Swing Easy". In November of that same year, he recorded a pilot for a Saturday morning show to be called "Campus Caravan". The first "Campus Caravan" was broadcast on November 21, 1964.
Pete, along with such WBAI personalities as Bob Fass and Steve Post, created what would later be known as free-form radio. They played rock music, but presented in a style that was suitable for adults. No screaming, no jingles, no crazy sound effects, no echo chambers, no hysteria. And they taught us about the music as they were learning it themselves.
It wasn't necessarily apparent from those early shows that Pete would become a legendary New York DJ. Playing any rock on WFUV at that time was revolutionary, but Pete's taste in those early days was fairly conservative, leaning towards groups like the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. He also played a lot of middle of the road music such as Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. And at first, he didn't like Bob Dylan much.
In the Fall of 1966, when Scott Muni, Murray the K, Johnny Michaels and Rosko joined WOR-FM, Pete became a big fan, especially of Rosko, and Rosko (Bill Mercer) eventually became Pete's mentor. When progressive rock moved to WNEW-FM beginning in the Fall of 1967, Pete set his sites there and eventually was invited to audition. But he was so nervous that he failed his first audition. Before trying again, he worked at a number of local radio stations and taught media at the college level. He successfully auditioned again for WNEW-FM and he premiered on the station on the eve of the Woodstock Festival in 1969.
By July of 1970, Pete was doing early mornings and when Rosko left in March of 1971 and Jonathan Schwartz took Rosko's spot, Pete moved to the 10am-2pm slot, which he held until about 1982. By this time, Jonathan Schwartz and Alison Steele had left the station. It was becoming much more commercialized and formatted. Pete decided to devote his energies to a show where he could still have creative freedom, so he moved to weekends and created his "Mixed Bag" show, which premiered in December of 1982 and was named for the first album of another one of his heroes, Richie Havens.
From around 1988, he moved to WXRK, where he followed Howard Stern, staying until January of 1996 when WNEW-FM returned to the "Classic Rock & Classic Jocks" format, where he resided until late Summer of 1998, when WNEW-FM started to evolve to a hot talk station.
Pete returned to WFUV in 2001, where he held down a four-hour shift reviving his "Mixed Bag" show on Saturday evenings. The program featured thematic song selections, live studio performances and amazing interviews with such musicians as Brian Wilson, Graham Nash, Tony Bennett, Richie Havens, Cyndi Lauper, Lyle Lovett, Carly Simon and Regina Spektor. Eventually, many of the interviews were spun-off into another syndicated show called "Mixed Bag Radio" which was also heard on XM Radio.
Pete was also a successful author, having written such titles as "Radio In The Television Age", "All You Need Is Love: And 99 Other Life Lessons from Classic Rock Songs", "Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock" and "Simon and Garfunkle: Bookends", among others. He created a number of multimedia shows in conjunction with those titles. At the time of his death he had been working on a new book about The Rolling Stones.
Pete Fornatale was also involved with many charitable ventures: he has been associated for decades with WhyHunger, an organization co-founded by Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres. And he could be frequently seen on WNET-TV 13, hosting many rock & roll and folk music shows during fund raising.
In late 2011, Pete was honored as a recipient of the AFTRA Foundation's 2012 AFTRA Media and Entertainment Excellence Awards (The AMEES) (see below).
We will all miss Pete. If you wish to leave a message for Pete's family, you may do so at Pete's website: PeteFornatale.com.
Here's a link to the NY Times Obituary: NY Times website
There are already many airchecks and other ephemera about Pete on this site. But over the next few weeks, to celebrate Pete's life as a broadcaster, we will be posting many more airchecks from throughout his career.
Rock 'N' Roll Never Forgets: Dix Hills Performing Arts Center: Dennis Elsas
WFUV, Sirius and ex-WNEW-FM DJ Dennis Elsas presented his multimedia show about his radio career a few weeks ago at the Dix Hills Performing Arts Center. Click the image for more info.
Pete Fornatale Honored with a 2012 AFTRA Foundation AMEE Award
Veteran New York air personality and friend of this site, Pete Fornatale, was honored by AFTRA at a gala benefit held Feb. 6, 2012 along with the actress Phylicia Rashad and singer Rosanne Cash.
Shelby Scott, AFTRA Foundation President and former AFTRA National President said, “Pete, Phylicia and Rosanne have each made significant contributions to their fields and continue to do so with integrity, a commitment to excellence and admiration for their audiences and colleagues. We are thrilled to be able to honor them.”
Legendary disc jockey and respected rock historian Pete Fornatale has been a fixture of New York radio for almost half a century. He started his career in 1963 as a Fordham undergraduate hosting “Campus Caravan” on WFUV 90.7, which many cite as the first regularly-scheduled program to play rock music on FM radio in New York. He joined WNEW-FM in 1970 where he stayed until 1988 when he moved the K-ROCK. He re-joined WNEW-FM in 1997 when the station returned to its "classic rock and classic jocks" format, where he continued on the air until the Summer of 1998. He currently hosts his weekly show, “Mixed Bag.” on 90.7 WFUV.
The program features thematic song selections, plus in-depth interviews and live in-studio performances with some of the world's most historically influential musicians including Tony Bennett, Ben Folds, Richie Havens, Cyndi Lauper, Lyle Lovett, Graham Nash, Neil Sedaka, Carly Simon, Regina Spektor and Brian Wilson.
Fornatale is the author of several books focused on media, pop culture and music including “Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock,” “Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends” and “All You Need Is Love: And 99 Other Life Lessons from Classic Rock Songs.”
Fornatale co-hosted the 1991 HBO telecast of “Paul Simon Live in Central Park, ” and has regularly served as an expert guest commentator on PBS specials featuring legendary performers such as Bob Dylan; John Fogerty; The Grateful Dead; Jimi Hendrix; Roy Orbison; Peter, Paul and Mary; James Taylor and others.
His work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the coveted Armstrong Award for Excellence in Musical Programming. He is a board member of WhyHunger and an honorary board member of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
Fornatale grew up in the Bronx and graduated from Fordham University. He currently resides on the beach in Rockaway and is the proud father of three grown sons.
We congratulate Pete on this great honor.
While we're talking about Pete, he frequently gives multi-media presentations based on his books. Perhaps some of you caught his show about Woodstock. More recently, he created a new presentation around his book about the making of Simon & Garfunkle's classic “Bookends”. That was followed by a Richie Furay concert and of course Pete introduced that show. Pics here: Richie Furay show
Update: On December 4, Pete gave this presentation again at the Irvington Town Hall Theatre. Only this time, someone very special showed up as well: Art Garfunkel. Story and pics here: Pete Fornatale with Art Garfunkel
WNEW-FM's 44th Anniversary
We celebrated the 44th anniversary of WNEW-FM on October 30th, 2011. So we posted tons of newly found airchecks of WNEW-FM, especially from their anniversary shows, largely thanks to contributor Ken Tullipano. Click here
Click hereto jump to the list of all the latest additions.
Long time New York radio engineer Richard Koziol passed away suddenly on October 15th. Richard worked at many New York radio stations and production houses including Cinema Sound Ltd, WNCN, WRFM, WAXQ, WKCR and WNYW.
He was recognized by many as not only an engineering genius, but an all-around nice guy. Condolences to his brother Jim (another engineer) and the entire Koziol family.
Norman Corwin 1910-2011
Golden age radio genius Norman Corwin has passed away on October 18, 2011 at the age of 101.
While Mr. Corwin had nothing directly to do with free-form and progressive rock radio of the 1960s and 1970s, you can hear his influences in much special programming of that era.
He was best known for working at CBS Radio in the 1930s and 1940s and was responsible for “We Hold These Truths,” which was produced for the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights and broadcast just eight days after the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Upon the German surrender in World War II, he presented “On a Note of Triumph” to celebrate the victory. It featured a score by Bernard Herrmann, who later produced soundtracks for Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese.
He was “graylisted” during the McCarthy era and he no longer worked regularly in radio after 1955. He later wrote a number of screenplays, including “Lust for Life,” featuring Krik Douglas as Vincent van Gogh.
Halloween Special: Zacherley!!
Here's an aircheck for Halloween of the great John Zacherley sitting in at CBS-FM.
Solomon Burke dead at 70
1960s Atlantic recording artist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Solomon Burke died on October 10th, 2010 in the Netherlands.
Burke first hit the charts with "Cry to Me" and he wrote and performed the rock and roll standard, "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love". He recorded for Atlantic Records from 1962 to 1968, but also recorded for Bell, MGM, ABC, Chess, Savoy, Rounder, Shout! Factory and other labels since.
In the early part of his career, Burke was known for frying up pork chops backstage and selling them to the band and crew. He began life as a preacher and he also had a mortuary business in Los Angeles. He has 21 children and 90 grandchildren.
Burke was a giant of a man, both literally and figuratively. In recent years, he performed mostly sitting on a throne. He never achieved the fame of label mates Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, but his unique combination of soul, R&B and blues makes his work part of the rock & roll canon.
Scott Muni Tribute
Scott Muni passed away six years ago on September 28th, 2004. Dave Herman and others have commented on Muni's great legacy on the New York Radio Message Board:
Herman on NYRMB
And Matt Craig of Big Apple Airchecks has produced a Scott Muni tribute, which can be downloaded here (scroll down about half way): Scott Muni Tribute
John Kluge dies at 95
John Kluge, who created Metromedia (parent of WNEW-FM in its prime), has died.
I met Kluge only once and very briefly about a business that had nothing to do with radio. But Dave Herman, who worked for Kluge, has posted his memories about the man on the New York Radio Message Board and it's well worth reading: Herman on NYRMB
And here's the New York Times obit: NY Times
*Long-time New York DJ Pete Fornatale is also a writer of numerous books on media, music and radio. His latest is "Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock and How It Changed A Generation", which has done so well, it has just been released in a new paperback edition.
What I like about this book is that Pete sought several sources for each "fact" mentioned to confirm its accuracy. Disclaimer: I'm briefly quoted a few times in the book.
*Posting a mention of the paperback release of Pete's book has given me an idea for a new section for this site: we're going to create a new page that details great books about radio and music. Look for it..umm..sometime. (Posted 5/17/2010)
Great radio wasn't destroyed only in the U.S....
I was in London a few months ago (one of the reasons why there weren't any site updates that week) and I happened to catch a TV documentary about "Channel 2", their pop-music radio station. Although a bit more like a U.S. top-40 station than a prog rock station, they faced many of the same issues as progressive rock stations here: initial freedom, followed by censorship, firings, DJ ego problems, centralized control, etc. But it was fun to watch. It was like being in a parallel universe. One thing I noticed was that the station used jingles that sounded exactly like PAMS jingles. (Posted 5/17/2010)
Fornatale article at the Huffington Post
Check out this article about WFUV (and former WNEW-FM and K-Rock) DJ Pete Fornatale.
Breaking News April 1, 2010
Because of frustration with the current economics of radio, the relationship with the record industry, the demands of air personalities to make more than the minimum wage and because as one industry veteran put it, "Everytime I see an iPod, I'd like to rip it off their evil little necks and smash it to the ground," all commercial music radio stations in New York simply ceased broadcasting as of today. Nobody noticed.
Here's a recent article about John Zacherley, who is 91 and appeared at the Chiller Theatre convention in New Jersey April 16-18,2010, as he's done twice a year for many years. Thanks to Bernard Ente for the link.
Cool Stuff: The still cool ghoul
Chiller Theatre Convention
Bernard also let me know that Zach recently attended his 70th (!!!) college reunion. My bet is that he still looked better than half the people in the room. (Revised post 5/18/2010)