Blog Archive

Blog Archive – July, 2019

Radio on Tap: The Power of the Human Voice

July 15, 2019

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Heard “Trader Joe’s” podcast yet? I don’t know who might listen to a 22-minute corporate ad. But, given how cool podcasts have become: hey, that sounds inviting. The idea is also an implicit endorsement for radio-- because that’s where podcasting originated. Yes.

            I don’t want to disenchant young progressives for whom podcasts are their go-to listening medium today. It likely wouldn’t concern them in any case that in fact these phone-friendly popular audio items are little more than archived radio productions. They follow basic principles developed by radio hosts and editors over the years-- many years.

            I’m not here to knock podcasting; not at all’; podcasts are a welcome advance, a real boon for radio broadcasting. Still evolving, radio has conscripted a generation who twenty-five years ago listened to sound productions only in a car, or (as teenagers) from a boom box at the beach.

            Today’s listeners don’t dial into 99.5 FM or 800 AM. Through iTunes or another app, they locate an amusing podcast among a list of hundreds (thousands?) of podcast subjects or sites. Many of those are original radio productions adapted to a podcast format, packaged into serials that can be subscribed to, listened to for a while then picked up later. Everything’s portable—not only in your car, but in your pocket phone while traveling to work by train or subway car.

            So the medium of radio not only survives; it’s evolving too, using the latest technology to reach into every phone.

            How has radio’s appeal endured? Simply because radio builds on its quintessential feature-- intimacy. Besides its proven versatility, radio invites us in. Yes, it may stimulate us with flute solos, sitar ragas, blues and R&B, Brahms sonatas or inventive hip-hop poetry. More poignantly, radio taps our deep human need for the voices of others. It’s often a very private experience, attested by the ubiquity of slinky earbuds and chunky wireless headphones that envelope each wearer in his and her personal world.

            Many are unfamiliar with a piece of household furniture known as an FM radio receiver -- like the Jackson Bell 1930s ‘cathedral’ style countertop item . You’ll find other classics such as Bakelite radios and transistors on vintage radio sites for broadcasting aficionados from the era bypassed by the current generation-- like the dial-up phone that was plugged into a wall!

            I learned about the dispensability of these FM home receivers when visiting the apartment of a fellow producer thirteen years ago. She quietly answered my challenge-- How can a radio producer not possess a radio, the medium we work in?-- by opening her computer and tuning into our station’s webpage! “It’s called streaming”, she informed this old-timer.

            Today every station live-streams and offers a phone app through which you can subscribe to listen live and search archived shows and podcasts. Thanks to phone apps radio’s reach extends far beyond the kitchen table model or the car receiver. For a few intervening years when television dominated home entertainment, the car was where most radio programs reached listeners. Then cars acquired SiriusXM (launching 22 podcasts soon, I’m informed) whose plethora of channels competes with television.    

            Sixty years ago, apart from the toaster, a radio was the only electronic device in regular use in a home. When television came along, oh the woes and warnings: radio was finished. How would it complete with live picture transmissions? Chatty comedians like Arthur Godfrey  eschewed radio for TV, as did sportscasters. (Imagine fans gathering around a sitting room audio receiver cheering on their team! But they did.) Then there’s drama; drama was once a mainstay of radio, offering employment for writers, actors and sound effects specialists. “The Lone Ranger” and “The Shadow” were two serialized shows I recall hearing as a child. (One can still find those early dramas on programs like “The Golden Age of Radio” which my WBAI colleague Max Schmid began producing in 1976.)

            Radio dramas provided evening family entertainment and were adapted for children too. I belong to the generation of schoolchildren who walked home for lunch where we heard a daily episode of some short children’s drama airing at 12:30. This was in Canada where radio always had a special status. Maybe it still does.

            The still popular broadcast “Selected Shorts” [Image result for selected shorts radio] based on recorded performances began in 1985. Today radio drama is enlivened by productions like “The Moth Radio Hour” launched in 2010 (from Woods Hole, MA) inspired by Atlantic Media’s www.atlantic.org commitment to “the art of the story, in the power of sound and spoken word”. (Atlantic Media introduced a fresh ambiance into radio broadcasting.)

            For decades after television was a household fixture, in defiance of expectations, radio held his own. Television sets were initially one per household, dominating the sitting room, with the radio receiver consigned to the kitchen for morning news and weather.

            Radio’s role in the music industry was advanced by “American Top 40 Countdown” introduced in 1970 by Casey Kassem. 

            And what about political radio? Perhaps as a corollary to growing opposition to the Vietnam War, alternative voices carved out their space on the FM dial. The Pacifica Network  surged in popularity during the 1960s (giving birth in 1996 to “Democracy Now” which has largely eclipsed the mother network). Pacifica’s early commitment to vigorous debate and a space for dissenting voices fostered the talk-radio format where lively hosts brought listeners on-air by phone. Talk radio’s widening influence is now associated with extreme conservative advocates Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Mark Levin. Their radical views may appear risible to some, but their deep impact into American politics is unarguable. One of the founders of talk-radio lies at the other end of the political spectrum--“RadioUnnamable”’s  Bob Fass who originated “free form” radio which also revolutionized late night FM listening. 

            The podcast revolution notwithstanding, regular FM broadcasting is attracting print news sources to the air, from “Counterpunch” to “The New Yorker Radio” and New York Times’ “The Daily”.  Stay tuned for more.

 

[ Radio on Tap: The Power of the Human Voice ]

What to The Slave is 4th July? (excerpt of a letter by Frederick Douglass, 1852)

July 05, 2019

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

"Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

An excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s July 4th1852 Independence Day address in Rochester, New York. Presented by James Earl Jones, part of a performance of Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

 

[ What to The Slave is 4th July? (excerpt of a letter by Frederick Douglass, 1852) ]

Abu Graib At Home in America

July 04, 2019

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“This is not what America is about” argues a U.S. reporter referring to revelations of misogynist, violent, racist behavior by employees of the U.S. Border Patrol ‘guarding’ migrants held in detention centers.

            Sorry Mr. Thompson (the "Propublica" reporter who broke this story); THIS IS what America is about. Vulnerable people, i.e. women, men and children held in secret or without legal representation:-- undocumented migrants, Americans in detention or serving sentences in prison, our indigent and our Black and Brown citizens in general, and foreign prisoners. We witness their abuse, beatings and killings by ‘authorized’ armed personnel every day--every day-- most of it carried out by our local police officers.

            But that’s another long, sad story. Let’s get back to those border guards and their contempt for their wards. Where did we last see this shameless conduct on the scale of these recent revelations? Was it not Abu Graib in 2004? And Abu Graib was just one Iraqi prison where American excesses were exposed. One can find more references to extreme cruelty and sadistic acts by American and allied troops (all under earlier administrations) directed against prisoners in Afghanistan.

            As much as our naïve public and the noble liberal wing of our press may wish to assign this newly revealed shame to the Trump administration, the ‘problem’ is much deeper.

            I suggest it exists within the training of U.S. troops today and to the license given them in the Iraq and Afghan wars-- a license to humiliate, mutilate, shame, torture and murder with impunity— over people they have been taught to despise. Recall the report of an American verbally attacking a Muslim woman in the street not long ago proudly proclaiming: “I killed people like you over there!” (This week we had one U.S. veteran tried for just one murder by U.S. troops in Iraq; and he was acquitted.)

            The U.S. is home to more than two million Iraq-Afghan war veterans who, when they announce they are veterans, we are obliged to hail with “Thank you for your service”. A huge percentage of these veterans are ill—little wonder, given crimes they have witnessed and committed. Of those, an undocumented number have become abusers and killers at home. Too often, if one searches through a news story we’ll find that many killings-- of families by out-of-control husbands or fathers, or the perpetrators of mass shootings-- are by veterans. A local New Hampshire paper carried a story in May about the murder of two enlisted women by a fellow soldier at their military base.

            One threat of a mass shooting, by a military veteran, was thankfully intercepted more recently in Dallas, Texas.

            A "Mother Jones" investigation of mass murders in the US and contributing factors (updated May 31, 1019)  offers no analysis about killers’ experiences in the armed services and in foreign wars.

             What we need is a thorough, honest tally of the number of our prison guards, our border patrol guards, and policemen who’ve been in the U.S. military--policemen like those threatening the family in Phoenix .

            Videos exposing this kind of terrorizing American urban police behavior may shock our largely white population. It will not shock Black Americans. Nor will it shock Afghans and Iraqis who doubtless witnessed countless such shameless, unrestrained murderous conduct by U.S. and other occupation troops in their neighborhoods.

            A closer examination of prior military experience of those involved in the recently revealed activities towards would-be-migrants by border guards may well reveal a) racism, Islamophobia and misogyny perpetuated by our military establishment, and b) the culpability of all American administrations. The ugliness that faces us today cannot simply be laid on the shoulders of the current White House occupant.

[ Abu Graib At Home in America ]


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