Sunday, June 06, 2021

Radio Burma

In the book Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin was a single passage about radio. [It's quite a good read by the way.]

"By far the most trusted source of news are the daily radio programmes broadcast to Burma by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Voice of America (VOA and the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). To try to prevent people from listening to these, the government occasionally jams the signals. A few years ago a 70-year-old man was sentenced to two years in prison for listening to VOA in a tea shop."

Larkin's book was published in 2004 and the situation in Burma has changed significantly since then. But lets talk semantics. In 1989, the military government officially changed the English translations of many names dating back to Burma's colonial period or earlier, including that of the country itself: Burma became Myanmar. The renaming remains a contested issue nationally and internationally. More here.

Many opposition groups and countries continue to use "Burma" because they do not recognize the legitimacy of the ruling military government. So choosing to call it Burma or Myanmar is a political decision. I'll use the name Burma for consistency and as I too choose to see dictatorships and other authoritarian governments as inherently illegitimate. But the change occurred in 1989, and even the U.S. State Department's website lists the country as "Burma (Myanmar)".

The DVB started as a non-profit media organization operated by Burmese expatriates based in Oslo, Norway. They started the operation in 1992. It made radio and television broadcasts aimed at providing uncensored news and information about Burma. They operated in defiance of the authoritarian military government. The news outlet has long been one of the only credible sources of news from Myanmar.

The DVB brought a highly charged air of defiance to the country’s heavily censored media, with reports detailing human rights abuses, oppression, corruption, and the perspectives of ethnic rebel armies. DVB states that it has four primary goals:      

  • The provision of accurate and unbiased news to the people of Burma.
  • To promote understanding and cooperation among Burma's religious and ethnic populations.
  • To encourage and sustain independent public opinion and to provide for social and political debate.
  • To impart the ideals of democracy and human rights" to the Burmese people.

2012 was a pivotal year for the DVB. In 2010 Burma held it's first elections in 20 years. Following the election, the military government formally gave control of the administration to a quasi-civilian government. In March of 2011, Thein Sein, a retired senior general was sworn in as president. Somewhat unexpectedly the Thein Sein government scaled back other media restrictions even allowing privately owned newspapers to operate. DVB gradually moved back into Burma, where it became an independent media company operating openly. In March of 2018, DVB started broadcasting on digital terrestrial television.

Then came the coup of February 2021. Myanmar's military seized control,  declared the results of the last general election invalid and revoked the licenses of several media outlets... including DVB. Burma reverted to a pre-2012 state virtually overnight. More here.

The the arrests began. On the behest of Myanmar, the police in Thailand arrested three DVB journalists. They were trying to flee to Thailand. The group included Min Nyowho had been reporting on the coup. On May 9th, Thai authorities arrested more of Min Nyo’s DVB colleagues in Chang Mai. The group are being detained pending a court decision. More here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Polari on BBC's Round the Horne

Round the Horne was a BBC Radio comedy program starring Kenneth Horne. The format was an old fashioned revue, mixing music and comedy. The BBC aired weekly episodes over 4 seasons from 1965 into 1968. Counting specials there were a total of 68 episodes. (Some sources list 71 inexplicably)  The series was created by Barry Took and Marty Feldman. The cast consisted of Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee with writer Feldman alternately writing and/or performing in some seasons. [You may recognize Marty as Igor) The show's announcer Douglas Smith also appeared in some skits. More here.

Music was provided by the singing group the Fraser Hayes Four, backed by the BBC Radio Orchestra, but was billed as Edwin Braden and the Hornblowers. In the final season the Max Harris Group managed those duties. Round the Horne hit the air at the BBC at a time when television had already become the dominant broadcasting media. Nonetheless it pulled in a very respectable audience of 15 million listeners. Even in a 2019 poll in radio times, Round the Horne was voted the BBC's best radio comedy series ever.  Despite that, the series is totally unknown in the U.S. More here.

Series 1
March 7
Series 213
 March 13
 February 12
 February 25
July 22
 Christmas 2**


*The special episode is a re-recording of The Man with the Golden Thunderball, with a slightly modified script. 
**Christmas episodes were aired on Dec 25th 1966 and Dec. 24th of 1967.

It's worth pointing out that the cast wasn't a group of randomly selected auteurs.  Kenneth Horne had previously been the host of a Saturday evening comedy and music radio show Variety Playhouse starting in January of 1957. Beyond that notoriety, there was a lot of continuity in the writers pool. Horne's next project Beyond our Ken, began with a pilot co-written with Variety Playhouse writers Eric Merriman and Barry Took. It's cast included Kenneth Williams, Ron Moody, Hugh Paddick and Betty Marsden. You might already recognize some names there. The music even included the Fraser Hayes Four. That was first broadcast in October of 1957. That troupe stayed together for 7 seasons even before starting Round the Horne.

Series 1
July 1
Series 2 20
March 19
Series 3 14
April 19
Series 4 20
October 20
Series 5 20
October 12
Series 6 13
 December 27
Series 7 13
 November 24
 Christmas 2**
1958 & 59

Pilot 1*
 October 2 1957

 *The Pilot episode was recorded Oct. 1957
**Christmas episodes aired only with Series 1 & 2

But the writing for Round the Horne in the 1960s was different than Variety Playhouse  or Beyond our Ken. It's an over-used phrase, but it really pushed boundaries. The show endured regular scrutiny from BBC censors for its very naughty double entendres, but in 1965, having LGBT characters was genuinely risque. Homosexuality was not decriminalized in the UK until 1967. Gay and queer people obviously existed before then, but on the BBC, the closet door had to remain at least ostensibly shut. The series of skits with the characters Julian and Sandy, played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, but written by Barry Took and Marty Feldman broke ground.

The characters Julian and Sandy were two cheerful but campy homosexual men. Their first appearance was in episode four of the first series, and they proved so popular that they appeared in every episode thereafter. The gag was that straight man (in both senses of the term) Kenneth Horne was oblivious to their increasingly gay innuendos. But interestingly he did sometimes pick up some of their Polari... More on Polari in a bit.

Their Julian & Sandy routine ultimately outlived Horne and his eponymous program. They published a book The Bona Book of Julian & Sandy: Leaves from their Round the Horne Journal, and an LP/Cassette released in 1976 The Bona Album of Julian and Sandy. The BBC repackaged that in multiple formats often with the title The Bona World of Julian and Sandy. In 1987 they revived the bit for an appearance on the Wogan program. Then in 2003 then Round the Horne... revisited aired on  BBC Four, the characters were revived by actors Nigel Harrison and Robin Sebastian. More here.

But a little more on Polari. It was quite literally a secret language (more property a creole) used by the gay community in the UK from at least 1890 into the 1970s. It was mostly a mixture of  Italian, Romani, and British slang. Julian & Sandy took that underground language of gay subculture, simplified it and exposed it to the mainstream. While they did provide relatively positive role models, and an archetype for innumerable other camp characters, they also inadvertently helped to kill off Polari through that very same exposure. (You can read more about the language in the book Fabulosa! The Story of Polari by Paul Baker.)  So how did all that "secret" Polari terminology make it into the scripts?  I don't think it was the writers. Some of the content was ad libbed, and both of the actors, Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams were gay. Sadly Williams killed himself in 1988 with an overdose of barbiturates. More here.

Kenneth Horne died in 1969 of a heart and the BBC decided that Round the Horne could not continue without him. A faith healer had convinced him to stop taking his blood thinners. He had already survived a similar to a brush with death in 1958. Horne had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed with a slight limp. His long recuperation from that stroke led to the BBC putting Beyond our Ken on hold. So in some ways Around the Horne was his swan song. He was 61. More here.

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Highway Stations

Vibe Highway radio is a trimulcast targeting drivers on I-15 and I-40 from San Bernadino to Las Vegas. That target isn't a single community per se, but travelers, commuters, lost campers, tourists, truckers, desert rats and tweakers in the great nothing of the Mojave desert. After all, Barstow is a town whose crime rate is only overshadowed by it's appearance in the opening line of Hunter s. Thompson's book  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold..." If you've ever been to Barstow then you know...

But it makes it all the more peculiar that the news stories insisted on referring to Highway radio as based in or from Barstow. In July of 1999, The Daily Press in Victorville, CA referred to the trimulcast as "Highway Stations 98 & 99 FM based in Barstow."  Of course none of the three stations are based in Barstow.  KRXV, KHWY, and KHYZ are licensed to Yermo, Essex, and Mountain Pass, respectively. Today they broadcast a hot adult contemporary playlist branded as Highway Vibe. The stations are currently owned by the Heftel Broadcasting Company, whose studios are in Barstow, CA. But they weren't always part of Heftel. That's a recent development.

Heftel Broadcasting was founded by Cecil Heftel in 1943. His son Richard later ran the company.  Cecil focused initially on the AM radio Top 40 format: KGMB, KSSK, WMYQ, WZTA, WSHE, WZPL, WLLT, KIMN, WJAS, and WHYI to name a few. Later he ran some of the nation’s top Spanish-language stations. The network was sold off to Clear Channel in 1996 who rebranded it as Hispanic Broadcasting Corp and then later Univision Radio. Heftel got out of the radio biz. Cecil Heftel got into politics; he died in 2010. 

The Highway stations were born in 1980. Howard Anderson was a VP of marketing at the Desert Inn.  The Desert Inn was founded in 1964 by Moe Dalitz, of the Maceo crime syndicate. Wilbur Clark ran out of money building it and Dalitz bailed him out. Dalitz owned the Desert Inn until he sold it to Howard Hughes in 1967. [I know he sounds like the Character Robert DeNiro played in the movie Casino but that was actually Frank Rosenthal] More here. But back to Anderson. He knew that a lot of Las Vegas tourists came from Southern California, and he envisioned a radio station that targeted those drivers and advertised Las Vegas casinos and hotels. Originally it would have been a project for Hughes, but he died in 1976. Anderson pushed forward without him. He scouted transmitter sites and launched 98.1 KRXV and 99.5 KXVR in 1980. The call signed pay homage to Route 15 with the roman numbers "XV" in the call signs. Their playlist was heavy on the Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra. The Mighty Fybush did a deep dive on this back in 2005, More Here.

But the radio model that worked in 1980 didn't work forever. Even when Fybush wrote that article for RW Online the station was on the wane. Sirius and XM Satellite Radio, and other in-car entertainment cut into their market. In February 2021 Anderson devided to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. On Monday, April 3rd, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Nevada auctioned off the assets of The Drive LLC and KWHY, Inc.. Educational Media Foundation lost out to the $620,00 bid from Richard Heftel's reformed Heftel Broadcasting. In addition to the original two Highway radio stations he got KHYZ, KHWY, KHDR, KHRQ, KHWY, KIXF and KIXW. He tweaked the brand name to Vibe Highway Radio, and added KHYZ to create the trimulcast. More here.

All that would be interesting enough but Highway Radio did generate exactly one national news story in it's whole history. To tell that story we have to go back to 1979, a year before Highway radio even signed on. Skylab, the first United States' first space station orbit decayed, and it disintegrated in the atmosphere on July 11th 1979. The debris landed about 300 miles east of Perth, Australia stretched over a 100 mile area between Esperance and Rawlinna. The Shire of Esperance, in a cheeky moment of local government, fined NASA $400 (AUD) for littering.

30 years later, DJ Scott Barley co-host of the program “Barker and Barley in the Morning” discovered that NASA's fine had never been paid. He used his program on the Highway Stations to raise that money and pay the fine. A local gym pledged that they’d match anyone that sends in a $50 donation. After raising the funds, Barley mailed off a check to Esperance, zipcode 6450. Two months later the city of Esperance contacted Barley and invited him to be the guest of honor at their 30th Anniversary celebration of the Skylab crash. At the ceremony he presented the $400 payment in the form of an oversized check. Today parts of Skylab and the oversized check itself remain on display at the Esperance Municipal Museum. More here and here.

Monday, May 03, 2021

The Fall of Michael G. Hubbard

Football is a hell of a drug

November 5th 2020 The Montgomery Advertiser opened an article with the sentence "Once one of Alabama's most powerful politicians, former House Speaker Mike Hubbard [R] is now one of thousands of prisoners incarcerated in state prison." New republic Magazine rhetorically asked in a headline "Is Mike Hubbard the Most Corrupt Politician in America?" [LINK] Ugly actually had a good article on it as well. [LINK]

Hubbard's radio career starts at the age of 15 on 980 WKLY-AM in Hartwell, GA. But Hubbard's political career really started while he was still a student at the University of Georgia. There he led a successful a 1982 PR campaign for Herschel Walker’s Heisman Trophy. After graduating, the journalism major went on to work for Auburn University where he did the same for Bo Jackson in 1985. The South loves it's football.  Hubbard left Auburn U. to become the GM of Host Communications in 1990. Then he formed the Auburn Network in 1994 which won the exclusive broadcast rights for all Auburn Tigers sports. Hubbard rapidly became a millionaire off college football.

Hubbard took to politics like a hog takes to mud. In 1996 Hubbard managed PR for the congressional campaign of Bob Riley [R]. The former used car salesman was successfully elected to the U.S. House. In 1998 Hubbard ran for the Alabama House of Representatives and won in no small part due to the support of Riley. Riley in turn became Governor of Alabama in 2002. They were inseparable. Hubbard even named his youngest son Riley. After that his ascension was fast. The elder Riley named Hubbard the leader of the Alabama Republican Party in 2002, and he naturally became the House Minority Leader in 2004.

Felons are not permitted by the FCC to hold licenses nor sell them for profit. But Hubbard had owned the auburn network since 1994, and had only expanded it in the years since. So for the FCC the felony convictions of Hubbard were a major problem, despite the fact that he was the former Speaker of the House.  So in February of 2021 the FCC started a Hearing to Show Cause. This put the onus on Hubbard to demonstrate why they should not strip Hubbard of all six licenses and his CP. In short things looked grim for the Auburn Network Inc. The FCC wrote "Based on the record before the Commission, there is a substantial and material question as to whether Hubbard, and thus, ANI, possesses the requisite character qualifications to be a Commission licensee."

Opelika AL
WGZZ-FM 94.3
AL 15283
W242AX 96.3
AL 146140
W254AY 98.7
Auburn AL 138347
W294AR 106.7
Auburn AL 14119
Auburn AL 185816
NEW 103.9
Auburn AL 201389

But by 2016, Hubbard was sentenced to four years in prison for felony violations of state ethics laws. In fact, Hubbard was convicted on 12 of the 23 Class B felony ethics charges brought against him by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. WTVM did a nice job detailing them [SOURCE] but as long as we're on the topic, let's list off those charges:

  • Four counts of using of his office as Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party for personal gain;
  • One count of voting for legislation with a conflict of interest;
  • Eleven counts of soliciting or receiving a thing of value from a lobbyist or principal;
  • Two counts of using his office as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives for personal gain;
  • Four Counts of lobbying an executive department or agency for a fee;
  • One count of using state equipment, materials, etc. for private gain.

But the big money wins out. Despite showing no remorse whatsoever, his lawyers subsequently managed to get 6 of those charges overturned by 2020. With the total charges dropped from 12 to 6, Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker agreed to reduced Hubbard's sentence from four years to 28 months. So the Auburn Network Inc. asked the FCC for consent to assign ownership of the network to Auburn Networks, LLC; an entity wholly owned by Frank Lee Perryman. [SOURCE] Perryman has been operating the stations since October 2020 under an LMA. But this maneuver does not entirely resolve the issue before the bureau.

"The Commission’s Jefferson Radio policy generally prohibits the assignment of a license where character qualifications issues are pending against the assignor.  This is because, as the Commission has explained, “there is no authorization to assign” if the seller ultimately is found unqualified.  The policy’s underlying purpose is to prevent licensees from evading responsibility for wrongdoing by selling their stations."

So Hubbard had 20 days to file in writing his intent to appear at the hearing and present evidence. Should he fail to file and appear the presumption would be that he loses everything. He even loses his right to a hearing. So of course he filed. A virtual hearing was held on March 16th. That produced an order with the ground rules and a schedule. The matter is not yet resolved so this story ends on a bit of a cliff hanger.  What will happen to Hubbard the jailed Republican speaker? What will be the fate of the Auburn Network?  Who the hell is Frank Lee Perryman?

Deadline for Completion of Discovery
May 14, 2021
Affirmative Case Due Jun 28, 2021
Responsive Case Due Aug 12, 2021
Reply to Responsive Case Due Aug 31, 2021
Deadline to Request Oral Hearing
Sept 14, 2021
Deadline to File Motion to Accept Additional Pleadings Sept 14, 2021

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Bible Healing Hour

In some ways, Rev. William B. McKay was the original Florida man. Faith healing is, and always was, a bald huckster's scam. But back then just like now, successful scams are big business. But not every "faith healer" was a robber baron of the genre. If Aimee Semple McPherson was Queen of the industry in the 1930s, then William M. Branham was it's King in the 1940s. By comparison, W. B. McKay was a small fish. 

The stories of 740 WORZ-AM  and 1360 WOBS-AM add a little more context here. WORZ was founded in 1947 as a 1,000 watt and was NBC Red affiliate. They operated with those calls until 1957 when it became WKIS. That call sign continued until 1988. They have been using the WYGM calls since 2009 airing sports talk. WOBS first signed on the air in 1948 and stuck with those calls until becoming WCGL in 1976. But a note on the Jacksonville Broadcasters page indicates that it was mostly R&B by 1956.  WORZ had a trifle with the FCC over a permit to build a TV station in 1957. From that decision we also learn a few amusing anecdotes:

  • WORZ, Inc. was originally founded as The Dixie Awning Co.  
  • In 1952 wattage increased from 1k to 5k watts
  • Company VP, Eugene G. Hill was GM of 1050 WAUG-AM brefily in 1953
  • In 1957 their President, and primary stock-holder, Naomi T. Murrell submitted a written statement to the FCC which stated that "...she did not know whether or not a dog-racing program carried selections, which, in fact, it did."

But perhaps what is more relevant to the Bible Healing Hour than the Murrell's degenerate gambling, is  that she also "Planned and organized the inauguration of the Orange County Ministerial Association "Church Service" over WORZ, a program in which all churches in the area have an opportunity to broadcast their Sunday service on a rotation basis."  So we know McKay was not alone in his religious programming on that station.

From a single undated hymnal we see that his program was heard over WORZ-AM

in Orlando, FL daily at 1:00 PM and on Sunday from 9:00 - 9:30 AM. But also on WOBS-AM in Jacksonville, FL daily at 12:30 PM and then on Sunday at 1:30 PM. With that scheduling it's clear that these programs had to have been pre-recorded. So somewhere out there are (or at least were) transcription discs of the program. Copyright dates on the music range from as early as 1824 to as late as 1947, so the book could only have been printed after that date. A novelty even in that era, the hymnal's tablature is written in shape notes rather than standard musical notation. But frustratingly the hymnal itself is undated. So we can only place the radio program from secondary sources. 

McKay appears in many issues of in the faith-healing magazine "The Voice of Healing", which was founded by Branham in 1948.  [You can find a database of pdfs here] He started appearing in the magazine no later than July of 1950. On the cover of the June 1951 issue were seven new associate editors, all members of the profitable faith model; all obscure names today: W.V. Grant, Richard R. Vinyard, Raymond T. Richey, Jack Coe, H. E. Hardt, Velmer Gardner, and Clifton Erikson. But not McKay. Apparently he wasn't in the club yet.  But he does appear in their directory of "...those we believe have proven divine healing ministry."  In 1949 he's listed simply under the "M" section, filed right between Harvey McAlister and Owen Murphy. The modern Voice of Healing website does not mention his name in it's whole history.

Yet it's through the July 1950 issue that we find the only corroborating date for The Bible Healing Hour on WORZ

"Brother [Rev F. F.] Bosworth sends us a report that Evangelist W. B. McKay has been holding healing meetings in Orlando, Florida, and has been having very successful services. People came from all over central Florida to attend the meeting and many remarkable healings took place. They now have a Bible Healing Hour over WORZ in Orlando each day Monday through Friday at 1 P.M."

Elsewhere in the June 1951 issue, McKay appears under the events section holding revivals in Winchester, VA June 8th to 24th, and then in Marion, IN from July 13th to 29th. The Nomveber issue has him in Staunton, VA,  that same Summer. The Pentecostal Evangel lists him holding a revival in Winchester  from June 25th to July 9th the prior year.The September 1952 issue has him at a June revival in Erie, PA, followed by one in Laurel, DE.  In a 1953 issue he's holding a June healing campaign in Seaford, DE, and another in Branford, FL in March. The impression here is an evangelist touring like he's in a Def Leppard cover band. This would have taken McKay well outside the range of WORZ and WOBS for months at a time. From his consistent Summer touring schedule, I suspect his radio program ended by 1952, possibly earlier.

In a 1954 issue he appears again, this time with a full page sermon exhorting the "wilt though be made whole" mythology. His appearance at their convention names his wife as Edith Evelyn McKay. The John Wesley Methodist Church lists journal him on the board of hospitals in 1954, also noting he joined in 1931. These citations land right in the 1951 to 1954 time frame. His pastoral record adds a little color to that time line:

South Carolina Conference Journal 1954

The book All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America, by David Edwin Harrell gives the peak years of the healing revivalism as 1950 - 1956,  and specifically states that "The healing-deliverance revival probably crested around 1952." Harrell further references a 1953 book Men Who Heard From Heaven, by Gordon Lindsay which includes sketches of 22 ministers, one of whom was McKay. This is no coincidence. 1952 was his peak of fame, at the peak of the movement. But after the mid-1950s McKay fades into the background.

McKay reappears in South Carolina in the 1970s.  A 1971 issue of the Sentinel lists him as "Interdenominational Rev. W. B. McKay, Pastor" in their religious services calendar. A website for The Sentinel news lists him as serving at the Canaan United Methodist Church sometime between 1970 and 1983.  In the Orangeburg, SC Democrat newspaper, he pops up officiating at a funeral held at the Prospect United Methodist Church in Rowesville, SC in June 1974 —only an hour away. In 1981, The Sentinel wrote that Rev. W. B. and his wife Edith McKay had returned from Canada celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary. After that the written record drops off.