Sunday, July 14, 2019

Radio Free Alcatraz


Radio Free Alcatraz is one of my favorite things that happened in all of radio history So lets start at the beginning. Almost everyone is at least passingly familiar with the iconic Alcatraz prison.  The actual Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum security federal prison on Alcatraz Island. The 22 acre island is 1.25 miles off shore from San Francisco. Spanish naval officer Juan Manuel de Ayala charted the island in 1775 by as one of the three islands he identified as "La Isla de los Alcatraces." The name was an error. Alcatrace is Spanish for Gannets, a North Atlantic bird. Ayala had more likely seen Pelicans. More here.

You might be wondering about it's Native American history. Well, there doesn't seem to be much. The island was mostly bare rock, possibly with coastal grass and scrub. In 2001 The Alcatraz Island Historic Preservation and Safety Construction Program wrote "There is no record or remaining evidence  of prehistoric usage of Alcatraz Island by Indian Tribes." Lets discuss. It's possible that Native Americans determined that the bald rock in the bay wasn't very useful. The first Indians to "live" on the island would have been the 19 members of the Hopi tribe imprisoned there for seven months in 1895 for refusing to allow their children to be taken to government-run boarding schools.


Things got way more interesting in 1964 when five Sioux Indians: Richard McKenzie, Allen Cottier, Martin Martinez, Garfield Spotted Elk, and Walter Means landed on Alcatraz in March 1964 and tried to seize it. They invoked the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie as a legal precedent establishing their right to reclaim surplus federal land and filed a claim. This may have technically been Native Peoples first to attempt to settle on the island. Regardless of the legal merits of the claim Federal Marshals kicked them out.  Five years later they returned in much greater numbers. More here.

In 1969 a fire destroyed San Francisco’s American Indian Center. After the fire, Native American activists proposed re-establishing one on the now vacant Alcatraz. Their proposal was denied.
In multiple phases in November of 1969 Native American activists "colonized" the island anyway. The primary landing was on November 20th with 89 men, women and children. On Thanksgiving, 1969, an estimated 400 Native Americans gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving. The occupation would last another 18 months.

Prominent members of the movement included: Richard Oakes, Katherine (Jody) Beaulieu, Adam Fortunate Eagle, chairman of the BANAC (Bay Area Council of American Indian Affairs), Verna Clinton Tullie, Dean Chavers, Stella Leach, LaDonna Harris, Jerry Hatch, Allen Miller, Ron Lickers, Mickey Gemmill, and Gerald Sam, Carol Miller, Daniel Bomberry, Larry Benegas, Elaine Dempsey (Wintun), Ross Barden, Grace Thorpe, and both LaNada Boyer Means and Leman Brightman of UNA (United Native Americans). LaNada, was actually the first Native American student at U.C. Berkeley.

On December 22, 1969, KPFA began its first live broadcast from Alcatraz, hosted by spokesperson John Trudell, a Santee Sioux from Omaha, NB. Trudell had studied radio and broadcasting at San Bernardino Valley College and was a natural for the role. He interviewed residents of the island and visitors.  Al Silbowitz, then manager of KPFA got a grant and with Trudell installed some borrowed and donated radio equipment, on the main cell block building on Alcatraz.  Their programs aired on the Pacifica Network which consisted, at the time, of KPFA in Berkeley; KPFK, Los Angeles; and WBAI, New York. The program was somewhat irregular in schedule but was 15 - 30 minutes long.

The vision for Alcatraz was an egalitarian society. But due to the press attention some people naturally rose to prominence such as Richard Oakes and John Trudell. Oakes left the island with his family in January 1970 after his step daughter fell from a stairwell and died. His departure created a leadership vacuum. Vagrants and hippies began to settle on the island. Eventually non-Indians were prohibited from staying overnight. The native population at this time was about 50 people, 40 of whom were women.

Each episode of Radio Free Alcatraz began with a recording of Buffy Sainte-Marie singing "Now that the Buffalo's Gone." Buffy Sainte-Marie visited the island in person in May of 1970. But by June of 1970 the program was being recorded in the Pacifica Studios. The final program aired in September of that year.  More here.

In May 1970 the federal government began to transfer Alcatraz to the Department of the Interior and the National Park System. That's when the government shut off the electricity and telephone service. The same week the government removed their water barge. This left the occupiers with a small generator for power, butane stoves cooking and a severe water short age. When the barge was removed, different sources cited that they had either 70,000 or as little as 4,000 gallons of water. Then on the night of June 1st, 1971, provocateurs set a fire which destroyed several buildings. On June 11, 1971, Federal marshals invaded the island to remove the remaining residents. At the time, the residential population was just six men, five women and four children. More here.

The results were good and bad. In the years that followed, members of AIM (the American Indian Movement) organized occupations and protests at Plymouth Rock, Mount Rushmore, Wounded Knee, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and dozens of other sites across the country. Richard Nixon ended the Federal policies of termination and assimilation and implemented the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. But Richard Oakes was murdered by a white supremacist in 1972 and John Trudell's family were killed in a suspicious fire in 1979.

Today the Pacifica Radio Archive houses many recordings of Radio Free Alcatraz on 1/4” reel tape. Not all of these tapes are digitized yet. If you want to donate go here.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Fate of WGSA-AM


1310 WGSA-AM is an obscure little AM station. It existed for about 30 years but it's difficult to find any information on it beyond a few radio boards. It's listed in a Radio Annuals with varying sign-on dates in 1955 or 1956 under the ownership of Gardenspot Broadcasters. The real date is July 26th 1955. The American Radio History website even has a QSL letter [LINK] from September 1955 which refers to it's recent sign on. It started with 500 watts and jumped to 1,000 watts in 1956. It was operating at 5,000 watts by 1964.  Gardenspot also owned WIOV and WCBG-AM in Chambersburg. A 1962 issue of Broadcasting Magazine specifies that Samuel H. Youse (of Gardenspot) owned 33% of WABW in Annapolis, 25% of 1590 WCBG-AM and 90% of a then-unnamed application in Lebanon, PA.

Publication list WGSA as in directories as late as 1990, but it appears they went dark prior to 1988 while owned by Joel Michaels Media. LNP Columnist Larry Alexander described their playlist as "All elevator music, all the time" but he also praised their local programming. It's unusual for the era,  but Sam Youse had started out at 104.1 WLAB-FM in Lebanon, PA. He was there as early as 1950., possibly earlier as that station signed on in 1948.  Pennsylvania celeb DJ Dave May worked there from 1958 to 1972 and has great first hand information in the following account:
"The station went on the air in July 1956 as a 1KW directional day timer located on top of Ephrata mountain with a two tower array. The original owner was Garden Spot Broadcasters and the managing partner was Sam Youse. Sam was an engineer (1st class phone license). In that time, it was required to have a First Class License physically on duty whenever the station was broadcasting. The chief engineer was Ralph Haneman, a WWII vet with myriad experience in all phases of electronics. The two of these persons manned the station in shifts whenever the station was on the air. Some early personnel included Johnny Wells, Lee Scott, and Ed Loder, who along with Ralph comprised the announcer/DJ staff. With great support from local business advertising, the station was profitable from the start but the workload on the staff was enormous. I was hired in January 1958 when the station was but eighteen months old."
Early staff in addition to Sam Youse, and Dave May also included chief engineer was Ralph Haneman,  Johnny Wells, Lee Scott, and Ed Loder.  I don't know that it's related but after Dave May left WGSA, Sam Youse posted a help wanted advertisement in Broadcasting Magazine "Immediate opening experienced broadcast engineer to assume duties of chief AM/FM/Stereo knowledge able automation and solid state electronics. Need good technician, good maintenance. Call or write Samuel Youse, General Manager WGSA/WIOV Ephrata PA 17522"

The station had limitations from the beginning. In 1962, the daytimer was able to increase power form 1,000 watts to 5,000 watts with a three tower directional array. But their new more powerful signal was directional to the West to protect co-channel 1310 WEMG-AM in New Jersey.

I want to state for the record that "Entertainment Radio" is not a good brand. But it was 1975 so there's some context there. Though only a minority owner, Sam Youse was still managing the station until the sale of WIOV in 1984. By then WGSA-FM had been WIOV-FM for 15 years and had dropped Easy Listening for country at least 10 years earlier and their transmitter moved to a new site to accommodate their 50k watts.

In 1984, WGSA was sold by WIOV Inc. (then owned by Brill Media) to Joel Michaels Media. Brill had only purchased WGSA and WIOV in August that same year, only waiting 4 months to dump the aging AM station. At the time Brill was more focused on getting WAGO-AM up and running in Reading, PA. That enthusiasm eventually was recorded in case law as the WAGO Vs. WEEU legal kerfuffle which is also worth reading. [LINK]
Whatever Joel Michaels Media may have planned for WGSA, they had difficulty keeping the station on air. It's listed on an old tripod site as "Off Air" [LINK]  Then in the May 1997 issue of R&R is the following sad announcement:
"Condolences to the family of Mike Rubright, who was killed in a motorcycle accident Sunday (5/11). His wife Patty who was riding with him, is in critical condition at Reading Hospital. Rubright is survived by three teenage sons."
Dave May summed up the fate of WGSA as follows:
"[The] sale of the stations and deregulation of the industry probably spelled the decline and demise of WGSA AM, and indeed the continued success of WIOV made it the desirable station purchase. AM went dark and the transmitter and towers were dismantled. WIOV continued to use the studio space and eventually scrapped the automation system... I'll always have a soft spot, though for WGSA and WIOV where I got my first full time radio job in January 1958."

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Nielsen Radio Survey (Part 7)

And after it's over you receive a postcard thanking you, and again reminding you to return the diary for your long-promised $10. Mine was slightly mauled by the post, but the gesture remains clear.
My only afterthought these weeks later is how the diary system subtly prompts you to favor terrestrial AM and FM radio.  The instructions  specifically direct you to label stations as AM, FM, Internet or satellite. There are check boxes for AM and FM for you to do that, but none for Internet or Satellite.

The notion of podcasts not even addressed. TV content is routinely time-shifted now with DVR technology etc. Radio programs are as well in the form of podcasts, and other pre-recorded programs etc. But this minutia may not matter in the grand scheme of their survey system. The Nielsen survey seems geared toward live terrestrial radio, perhaps to the detriment of the other content providers.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Nielsen Radio Survey (Part 6)

Nielsen has it down to a science. Before I even completed the survey, I got a reminder letter with more crisp dollar bills, explaining the importance of the data, and reiterating for an Nth time that I have $10 coming to me if I can return the diary in under 3 weeks.

It's hard to imagine that there are people that get this far but fail to mail a postage-paid envelope to collect the $10. But I am sure it happens.


Friday, April 12, 2019

Nielsen Radio Survey (Part 5)

So here's the diary itself. The instructions are simplicity itself. Over the last 50 years Nielsen has made these more or less idiot-proof. I prefer to use the term idiot-resistant, as virtually nothing is truly idiot-proof.

Here's a page from the diary itself. Note that it is identical to the instructions. I'd be curious to know how many respondents know the correct brand, call sign and or frequency of the station they're listening to. I do, but I'm a radio geek. In this survey I am what statisticians refer to as an outlier.
Here's the last page. Basic demographic data: age, gender, education, ethnicity, employment status, children, and income. Interestingly it also includes an opinion section. The hilarity that must contain most of the time.


On the very last page, beside the edge that seals the diary for mailing, it further says "We sometimes recontact people for special studies. Returning this diary does not commit you to participate in these studies." I would guess this is more specific to ethnic groups who under-represented in the sample. Sadly Radio geek is not a recognized ethnicity.