Monday, April 24, 2017

The Man Called X

First, lets distinguish between the radio serial and the TV series. The original radio series, The Man Called X aired on CBS and NBC from 1944 to 1952. The TV series was adapted from the radio series, and it's 39 episode syndicated series ran from 1956 to 1957. But in many ways, it's creator was more mysterious than Mr. X himself.

That radio series originally aired from July 10th, 1944 to May 20th, 1952. There were 108 episodes. The lead character, was Agent Ken Thurston, who was portrayed by Herbert Marshall. His sidekick, Pagan Zeldchmidt, was played by Leon Belasco. The Zeldchmidt character was a bit of a comedic foil for the more stoic Thurston. Like any good cold-war spy series they took on dangerous cases that took them to a variety of exotic locations: Greece, Hawaii, India, Guatemala, Australia, Italy, Philippines, Egypt, Antarctica, Venezuela, Luxembourg, Mexico, Turkey, Peru, Austria... the list goes on.

The series was created by Jay Richard Kennedy, [LINK] who later adapted it for the television series. Kennedy was a mysterious figure, even for a Hollywood screen writer. His real name was Samuel Richard Solomonick. At different times he claimed to have been born in Chicago, Russia or the East Bronx, alternately in 1904, 1906 or 1911. I favor the East Bronx origin because his Surname is uncommon everywhere in the U.S. except New York City, and he appears in the book The FBI and Martin Luther King, in that neighborhood in 1934.

In 1934, he quit his job managing the Ritz theater to become a full-time anti-fascist organizer. In 1938, He became the full-time circulation manager of the Daily Worker. In August of 1939, when Hitler and Stalin formed a non-aggression pact he walked out on the communist newspaper. He found it hard to get new work, possibly because of burned bridges at the paper.  That when he began using the pseudonym Jay Richard Kennedy.

So far as is known, his first radio-writing for a Spanish language radio show called "El Mysterioso" that was only broadcast in Latin America. It was basically propaganda with it's pro-American and anti-Fascist angle. It was funded by the state department. He re-worked the show to air in the U.S. and those scripts were the beginning of The Man Called X. He followed that up by producing a anti-drug propaganda film for the Bureau of Narcotics, called To the Ends of The Earth.

The house band for The Man Called X was the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra. It may have been through Jenkins that Kennedy met Harry Belafonte and Frank Sinatra. Jenkins composed extensively for Sinatra in the 1950s. In 1953 he managed Harry Belafonte, and published a novel, titled Prince Bart. On the dust jacket of the book, Kennedy claimed to have already been a plasterer, a share-cropper, a munitions maker, an investment broker, and a brick layer.  But Belafonte changed managers not because Kennedy wasn't experienced enough, but because he believed that Kennedy was an FBI informant. [Spoiler: Belafonte was a communist] In 1961 he published a second novel, Short Term. In 1965 he published another novel, Favor the Runner. In 1966 Kennedy became vice-president of Sinatra Enterprises where he headed the record and music-publishing divisions. In 1969 he published another novel The Chairman, It was a return to his anti-communist schlock. That didn't stop it from getting made into a feature film of the same name.

In the 1970s, Kennedy studied psychotherapy and founded a strange cult around his Center for Human Problems Inc. He held no medical degrees, nor did he hold any license to practice psychotherapy in the State of California. Nonetheless he told patients they couldn't leave, but could live to be over 100 in his care. He was eventually was sued by some of his former patients.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Radio Paris in WWII (Part 2)

Back in 1936 there were three primary radio stations in France: Tour-Eiffel, Paris-PTT and Radio-Paris. In 1940 they were all either shut down or repeaters for Radio-Paris.  On May 8th, 1942 the Radio Vitchy transmitter in Bourges was blown up by the Resistance. In November of 1942 the Avis occupied even the the zone libre. The French government, such as it was, became less independent, and more controlled by the Nazis. Radio-Londres, was even less popular with the fascists. More here

Starting in 1942, Jean Herold-Paquis broadcast daily propaganda news reports on Radio Vitchy, in which he regularly called for the "destruction" of the United Kingdom. His catch phrase was "England, like Carthage, shall be destroyed!" It's broadcasts were pitched directly against the BBC broadcasts of Radio Londres by Free French figures like Pierre Dac, who sang the taunting refrain "Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris est allemand."  That roughly translates to "Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris is German.") He set it to the theme of 'La Cucaracha'. (The song dates back to the 1700s) More here.

Listening to the BBC was outlawed and after 1942 it was punishable by death. Nonetheless the ban was regularly flouted. The BBC was more trusted for news than the propaganda outlets. In December 1943 Philippe Henriot was appointed Secretary of State for Information. During his career he created propaganda programs and broadcast through Radio Paris, becoming the government's spokesman. He waged a war of propaganda against the Free French Forces and in particular the BBC. For his efforts, Henriot was nicknamed the "French Goebbels". More here.

Source claim that about 45% the daily output of Radio Paris was devoted to music. The rest was news and propaganda. But even the music was often propaganda... numerous parodies of popular songs were composed with new pro-fascist lyrics. More here. This is not to say that every DJ was a fascist. Many resisted passively by avoiding pro-fascist music. Pierre Hiegel at Radio Paris, for example, did not collaborate but also never alluded to political affairs. He played primarily French composers, avoiding Germans but also Jewish composers. (After the war he became "Monsieur Musique" for Radio Luxembourg.)

Radio Paris was shut down on the evening of August 15th, 1944 by French Forces, as part of the liberation of Paris. In September 1944, The Vichy government fled, and became a government-in-exile in Sigmaringen, across the border in Germany. Herold-Paquis advised collaborators at Radio Paris to leave France. They piled into a truck and headed for Germany. They claimed in their final broadcast that Germany would win because of their 'secret weapons.'  Germany was no permanent safe-haven and some subsequently fled to Switzerland, or further afield.

On June 28th, 1944, Philippe Henriot was assassinated by members of COMAC (Comite d'Action Militaire). After the war, Petain was tried and convicted for treason. He was originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Petain died in 1951. Jean Herold-Paquis was captured in Switzerland. In 1945, he was handed over to the French, who executed him for treason on October 11th, 1945.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Radio Paris in WWII (Part 1)

After a topic like freedom fries, it feels necessary to defend the French. When it comes to the size of their military they come in behind Greece, but ahead of Spain, Germany and most of their other European neighbors. Nonetheless they retain, at least in the West, a poor military reputation. Despite the nature of their loss in WWII, a portion of their population remained engaged in resistance through out the war, and that includes propaganda efforts. As you may have guessed, in the 1940s that would include radio.
France declared war against Germany in September of 1939 in response to their invasion of Poland. But there was little fighting between 1939 and 1940. Winston Churchill called this 8-month period the "Twilight War."  The Germans agreed, calling it the sitzkrieg or "the sitting war."  In France it is referred to as the drĂ´le de guerre the "strange" war. U.S. Senator William Borah [R] called it the "Phoney War" [note the British spelling] and many historians continue to use that term today. In May 1940 Germany invaded  Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg definitively ending this 8-month interregnum.

So let's back up twenty years and we can get back to our strange, phoney, twilight sitters. Radiola was a privately owned French radio station founded by  engineer Emile Girardeau. It broadcast under that name from November 6th, 1922 until March 28th, 1924 with the intention of promoting the sale of domestically produced Radiola brand radios. This Paris-based station made its first test transmissions on June 26th, 1922. Ownership was eventually transferred to the French Government, and it was renamed Radio Paris on March 29th, 1924. More here.

Back to 1939. In the so-called Twilight War, not all of the French were aligned with the Allies. In may of 1940 German invaded France and the country was divided into German-occupied France and a free zone in  Southern France. But the new government under Philippe Petain in Southern France was very authoritarian and committed to appeasement with Germany.  So it's not surprising there were collaborationists even in Vichy France. Jacques Doriot was a staunch pro-German and supported Germany's occupation of northern France in 1940. Radio Paris became a propaganda outlet. In the unoccupied zone Radiodiffusion Nationale became another propaganda outlet, Radio-Nationale de Vichy.

Doriot was so pro-fascist he actually moved from Vichy France to German occupied France to espouse pro-German and anti-Communist and anfi-British propaganda on Radio Paris. More here. State-run broadcasting suffered in the first months after the Strange War. But the transmitter of the Eiffel Tower was sabotaged on 6 June 1940 so that the Germans could not use it and on the 10th, the public radio station was relocated to Bordeaux where the programs resumed. On October 30th, 1940, Petain made state collaboration official, declaring on Radio Paris: "I enter today on the path of collaboration."

*****More in Part 2 Next Week*****

Friday, April 07, 2017

CFRC: Calls From Home

If you hadn't heard, Kingston, Ontario is Canada's Prison Capital. That reputation isn't new. The book God's Plenty, (2011) by William Closson James points out their first prison opened in 1835. The 1989 book Crumbling Walls by Ruth Morris uses the same phrase describing Kingston. It is that reputation that probably led to the creation of the radio program "Calls From Home." Kristiana Clemens, operations officer at CFRC was quoted in 2012 as saying "...the announcement of proposed prison expansions in Kingston provided added impetus to begin focusing on prison issues more regularly,”

Calls From Home is a weekly radio show from 7:00 - 8:00 PM on 101.9 CFRC that connects friends and family with their loved ones inside Kingston’s prison walls. Prisoners are encouraged to contribute poetry, essays, letters, or other content. If that weren't remarkable enough, the program also broadcasts messages from prisoners inside to their loved ones on the outside. Friends, family, and supporters can leave a message on a special voicemail. These messages are screened and then broadcast on the last Wednesday of each month. Their programs are also stored on

The 3,000 watt signal of CFRC can be heard inside six prisons in the greater Kingston, ON area and one in New York State including:
  • Millhaven Institution 
  • Collins Bay Institution 
  • Joyceville Institution 
  • Bath Institution 
  • Frontenac Institution 
  • Pittsburgh Institution 
  • Quinte Detention Centre 
  • Cape Vincent Correctional Facility
Text book descriptions of the program seem stiff and disconnected from the emotional reality of being forcibly separated from people you care about. For example the book Historical Geographies of Prisons describes the program in it's end notes
"CFRC 101.9 Kingston's community and campus radio station, airs a weekly program called CFRC Prison Radio (CPR), whose activism-based programming features prison justice issues and "Calls From Home," a segment in which inmates can communicate with community members through song requests and messages."  
The description is accurate but narrative details help you get more of a feel for why people care about the program. Take this quote from an article on their 2012 Christmas Special published in Queen's University Journal:
"You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” echoed in seven Kingston-area prisons over the holidays, after an anonymous caller dedicated the Eagles’ “Hotel California” to those spending time behind bars... Erin is waiting for her partner Pat to finish his sentence at Millhaven Institution. In the meantime, she uses Calls From Home to connect with him. “You’re the most important person in my life and I would never have been able to get to where I am if it wasn’t for your love and support. Hang in there and always remember, after the rain,” she said in a message that aired on Dec. 21."
Similar programs air on three other Canadian radio stations: Prison Radio on 90.3 CKUT in Montreal, QC Guelph Prison Radio on 93.3 CFRU in Guelph, ON and the Stark Raven Media Collective produces a monthly prison radio show on 100.5 CFRO in Vancouver, BC.

Friday, March 31, 2017

DJ Freedom Fries

In France they're pommes frites.  The same taters in Spanish are patatas bravas. Italians call them patate fritte. In Poland they are placki kartoflane.  In England they call them chips, and the rest of their former colonies call them hot chips, finger chips, steak fries, french fries, and potato wedges to name a few. ...Except in the USA in 2003. That year, freedom fries was a political euphemism for French fries in the United States. For that particular lexicographical misdemeanor we can thank DJ Jerry Agar.

On March 11, 2003 Republican U.S. Representatives Bob Ney and Walter B. Jones directed the three cafeterias serving the House of Representatives to change all references to "French fries" and "French toast" on menus, and replace them with "Freedom fries" and "Freedom toast."  I am sure the head fry cook thought they were kidding the first time they asked.
Our key man here, Jerry Agar isn't even American. He's Canadian and was born in Gilbert Plains, Manitoba actually. Unsurprisingly, he spent his early radio career in Canada. His first gig was in 1973 fresh out of high school at at 730 CKDM-AM. In 1976 he went to 980 CJME-AM in Regina, Saskatchewan to do morning traffic and a midday two hour show. Just a couple years later he went to 880 CKLQ-AM in Brandon, MB for the PD slot at the long-time country music station. More here.

Then his career changed. He married an American woman and was able to emigrate to the USA and begin working in radio stateside. His first US gig was at 1480 WFXW-AM in Geneva, IL (now WSPY) In the mid 1980s he moved over to his first FM station, 96.7 KKSR  (now KZRV) in St. Cloud, MN. In his own recounting, he got fired a lot. So he relocated again for a morning slot in Toledo at soft rock 1470 WLQR-AM. He was fired again and ended up part-time at 107.9 KQQL in Minneapolis. He relocated all the way to Tucson, AZ for a full-time gig at 94.9 KMXZ in 1996, and was fired again.  From there he went to 102.1 WMYU-FM in Sevierville, TN (they did a call swap with 93.1 WWST in 2001)... anyway he was fired again.

It was in January of 2000 that he was hired by 680 WPTF-AM in Raleigh, NC for an afternoon slot. This is where the sliced fried root vegetable hit the fan. It started with a small, local, right-wing publicity stunt. Innocently enough, a Prof. Crystall at UNC-Chapel Hill warned her studnet, Tim Mertes, in an email for  harshly criticizing homosexuals in class. The Professor rightly stated she would not tolerate "racist, sexist and/or hetero sexist comments in class."  Unknown parties shared that email.  Mike Adam, a Heritage Foundation alum, and UNC Wilmington professor and his pal Rep Walter Jones, began milking a politically correct professor for political capital. It became a meme in the war against political correctness.

While it can be excessive, political correctness is just another word for courtesy and politeness. It's the heart of the golden rule, reciprocity, the foundation of civilization. But in a culture war right and wrong are just ideas used to exploit the politically ignorant. Jerry Agar jumped on the story like a hungry DJ with a bad resume. He interviewed student Tim Mertes on air. Rep Jones heard the interview and sent a bitchy press release and a letter to UNC's chancellor.  Agar milked the story from every angle. He even interviewed Neal Rowland, the owner of Cubbies restaurant in Beaufort, NC because he changed his menu to read "Freedom Fries" as well.  Cubbies fared worse than Agar, they are listed as closed on Yelp. More here.

In response most Americans yawned. A 2005 Gallup poll 66% of respondents called it "silly." By 2006 Rep Jones was regretting his escapade, he commented in one interview "I wish it had never happened." The House cafeteria menu was quietly changed back. Nonetheless Jones remains in his 3rd district seat today. In 2004 Agar left for 980 KMBZ-AM in Kansas City, and in 2006 he relocated to Chicago for a morning slot at 890 WLS-AM in Chicago. There he managed to also do an evening show for WABC in New York from studios in Chicago. He did a stint at WGN-AM around then as well.

But Agar tired of our American way of life and the unending French Fry jokes. He moved back to Canada in February 2010. There Agar joined 1010 CFRB-AM in Toronto to host The Jerry Agar Show on weekday mornings. He remains there today, but the Toronto Sun quietly took down his nutty blog in 2014.