Thursday, April 02, 2020

The Jazz KNOB and the Lighthouse Cafe

 103.1 KNOB, which may have been the first all-jazz radio station in the world. I am always wary of broad claims of being "first," but Stein bought KNOB in 1957. Most other all-jazz stations claim much more narrow firsts. 88.3 WBGO claims to be the first Jazz Station to "webcast day and night" in 1997. In 1966, WLIB-FM claimed alternately to be the first jazz station in all of America programmed by African Americans and/or New York's only all-jazz radio station. It was almost certainly both, at least in 1966. Even WHAT-AM's all-jazz format only goes back to 1958, though their overnight jazz programming goes back to at least 1956... courtesy of Sid Mark's program.
Alex "Sleepy" Stein was a jazz DJ and owner of the infamous

If you are thinking of other Los Angeles area stations, KBCA only flipped to jazz in 1960, then dropped it in 1966. If you were thinking of the Alameda-based 92.7 KJAZ, it was founded in 1959. Despite their claims, it was not the first commercial jazz station. [More here] And what about KLON? It was founded in 1950 which is before most of these other claimants, but they didn't change to an all-jazz format until 1981! The station changed its call sign to KKJZ in July 2002. A 1958 article in Broadcasting magazine (below) firms up the KNOB claim. It appears that KNOB was all jazz but WHAT may have them on total operating hours:

"Southern California's KNOB began operation with a jazz format on 25 August 1957 in Long Beach, though the station only gradually increased its hours of operation to twenty-four hours as the station increased power and moved from 97.9 to 103.1 MHz a year later."

Stein for his part, didn't start in jazz. Stein was born in Georgia, then lived in Miami and Havana, Cuba. He even graduated from the University of Havana with a degree in languages. He moved to New York for a job at CBS. He later moved to Chicago for an announcing job on WIND. There he got his nickname "Sleepy" for a slot he inherited from Russ "Wide-Awake" Widoe. Later Alex was station manager and program manager at KARV in Phoenix. He moved from there to Long Beach, CA for a gig at KFOX-AM. It was at KFOX that Alex started doing remote broadcasts from the Lighthouse, a legendary jazz club in Hermosa Beach. More here. His show was called Mahogony Hall. Stein brought Niles, Jim Gosa and other early jazz DJs to KNOB. Ray Torian hired him as Program Director, then Stein bought half of the business and it flipped to all-jazz. Torian wasn't a jazz fan but he gave it a go.

But it was Howard Rumsey who brought jazz to the Lighthouse. Rumsey convinced John Levine, the owner The Lighthouse Café, to host a series of Sunday jazz jam sessions. Levine purchased the bar in 1949, Levine was skeptical but on May 29th, 1949 he gave it a whirl. It was hugely successful. Those live jam session broadcasts from the Lighthouse built Stein's reputation in the L.A. jazz scene. Jazz was popular but live jazz was a rare bird on the radio.

At the Lighthouse, the house band was Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars. Rumsey was a local. He was born in Brawley, CA near the Salton sea. He first began playing bass with Vido Musso and Johnnie Davis, then became part of Stan Kenton's first band. He played with Charlie Barnet and Barney Bigard then returned to Los Angeles and founded the Lighthouse All-Stars. Contemporary records recorded Rumsey's All-Stars with it's various line ups multiple times between 1952 and 1960. Their regular Sunday gig became Stein's bread and butter at KFOX. More here.
In the end, the Lighthouse All-Stars outlasted jazz on KNOB. In 1966 The Jazz Beat column of Billboard remarked that the "...Sleepy Stein and Ray Torian interests, who became involved in internal fighting, and hindered the stations growth." In 1966 Stein sold his interest in KNOB and became a stockbroker. The station flipped to an “adult request” music format. KCBA bacame the top jazz station in Los Angeles by default. Live jazz continued at the Lighthouse Cafe until John Levine's death in the early 1970s. That brought an end to Rumsey’s time at The Lighthouse. Howard Rumsey himself continued to write and record for decades. He died on July 15th, 2015. He was 97. He lived long enough to see the formation of Woofy Productions. Between 2003 and 2007 they released nine different jazz LPs in their "Sunday Afternoons at The Lighthouse Cafe" series.  More here.

I strongly recommend reading the paper Jazz and Radio in the United States by Aaron Joseph Johnson. He dives into this topic than even the Peretti text. You can download it [HERE]

Monday, March 23, 2020

The John Fahey Half Hour

c) 1983 Sally Cruikshank used by permission
Elliott Swanson  is a madman, perhaps the best kind of madman. A mad scientist, a mad musician and a teller of mad tales. He's the kind of madman that Kerouac wrote about admiringly "...the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles..." We met by chance, introduced by Chuck Reinsch at the KRAB archives. I was researching tribute radio programs. These are ongoing radio shows dedicated to the recorded works of a single band or musician. There are very few in the whole history of radio, so perhaps Swanson was the progenitor of it all. Back in 1971 he created a radio program dedicated to the works of the brilliant, iconoclast guitarist John Fahey. After several months Swanson abandoned the program, like an impatient genius moving on to his next invention in the laboratory.

There are parts of his career that for reasons of national security we cannot discuss. There are parts of his career that we cannot discuss because he cannot remember. Let's not read into that. Mr. Swanson was kind enough to give me some of his time for an interview and numerous follow up questions by email. The questions were obvious: How did this come to be? Why KRAB? Why at that time and why at that place.  Above all, perhaps 'Why John Fahey?' is the biggest question of all. In the pursuit of those answers our conversation wandered across time, space, endless digressions and the near infinite permutations of possibility. It was the most fun I had with an interview in a long time. So for the sake of brevity I've taken some liberties with the text. I've also added material where he's answered follow up questions via email. A compete interview transcript will go to the KRAB archive.

JF: Can you tell me how you first discovered the music of John Fahey?

ES:  I heard things on the radio. I know I bought some records. I was in the army 1962 through '65 and so when I got out I was then in school for 6 years. I did hang around radio stations some. I did a little bit of work then, but I just was not on the air.  I listened to a lot of FM. We had kind of a little Fahey cult going in early in the game, not back in the black and white label days but just after that. So that's probably where I first heard about him.

The first time I met him was kind of interesting. He had to have already been out of U.C. Berkeley, so he must have come back for some reason, and this had to have been sixty something...  I was living around the Haight Ashbury in 1968 and I used to go over to Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue. I would also go over to the U.C. Berkeley campus. I was walking along and I heard this guitar music and, wow that sounds really familiar.  So there's this guy sitting on a bench with a guitar out playing --nobody listening to him at all, just people walking around. So I sat down, sure this is John Fahey. I got a half an hour concert live sometime in the mid sixties at U.C. Berkeley.

Then I kind of moved around, ended up in the Seattle area which of course is where KRAB is. Let's see I moved up to Seattle probably in '69 and there was some guy that wanted me to get some records down in Venice, California. We must have known each other socially from somewhere or other. But like I said I don't have super clear memories of all that time for various reasons. I think it was George [Bigley] and I think the company might have been Orwaka [Distributing] that was in the Northwest area in Seattle or Tacoma or somewhere like that. Anyway I had access to a car. So I borrowed the car and said well sure I'll go down to Venice and pick up a couple cases of records for you. You know I like the guy's music. That'll be interesting.

So I steamed down to L.A., to Venice California and I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't what I found. Fahey was living in this little cheesy place in Venice. I think it was stucco and it was a little tiny house.  You always have this vision of your heroes, artists and icons living palatially well. That wasn't the case here. He was living on the low end of Venice in kind of a tough area.  I found it kind of fascinating. Anyway I went up and knocked on the door and Fahey opened it and we sat down and talked.

The pathway through his living room  was an interesting trip because there were turtles everywhere, walking all over the floor, shitting everywhere. You had to be very careful not to step on the turtles or in turtle shit because it was like free range turtles and tortoises, just a bunch of them.

Anyway he got me the records and we continued talking for a while. Again I have no idea what we talked about. We found a few things in common as I recall. I loaded up the records and headed back on a high speed run to Seattle and dropped off a couple cases of Takoma records up there. Chuck can verify the operation, but like I said they went to a guy named George. I think he owned a record shop or was a distributor or whatever.That's the second time I met John Fahey.

JF: And not the last?

ES: Not the last. I got in at University of Washington in Library and Information Science, a masters degree program. On the campus was the KCTS studio-- the PBS affiliate in Seattle. I started working for them, about 1970 would be by guess. It was perfect because I just had to walk across Red Square between the Library classes and the studio because they were on campus at the time. They aren't now. So that's where I had access to all this hardware and recording gear. At KCTS I was running camera, the audio board --whatever they needed--  lighting sets, floor directing, yadda yadda.

JF: So that was KCTS-TV?

ES:  KCTS-TV, yeah.  I had a whole bunch of these Fonotone Records that were individually cut and I recognized the technique. When I was a little kid, I grew up about the same time period as John Fahey did. He was born in '39 and I was born in '44. So we kinda went through the fifties in much the same way. At home we had this radio record player thing that if you lift up the secret lid on the top there was a record cutter. You could buy these blanks set it to cut mode, and it would create this big pile of curly black thread as it transcribed whatever you wanted on to the disc. Fonotone must have had a very similar system because their were identical...I'm kind of guessing, maybe 7-inch roughly?

JF: Wasn't' Fonotone owned by Joe Brussard in Maryland?

ES: Yeah, and you know I associate Ed Denson as the person I bought them from, but again I am mis-remembering because I know the name Joe Brussard. It must have been him that I got them from, because I bought them all.  And that will digress the digression because when I found out that they existed I said I have got to have 'em, they're too nuts. There were a lot of Blind Thomas recordings. Blind Thomas was John Fahey. I can even give you a little bit of dialog. He'd do things in the songs like this "Here come Blind Thomas, he got the blues again."  Then after that he'd go "Here come Big Fydor Dostoevsky, he got the blues too." Shit like that all the way through. What Fahey told me at one point, when we talked the last time, was that Denson or Broussard or whoever was faking old Blues recordings. That's what these things were. At our final meeting we discussed the Fonotone sessions a little bit and he called them two things. One of them was his "wages of sin" and the other one was "that Fonotone shit." Those are direct quotes.

JF: They don't talk about that in Joe Broussard's documentary.

ES: I bet not!  Anyway I got all these Fahey things and nobody has heard a lot of it, so I called up people at KRAB. I said I know you do a lot of weird stuff on this station and I like it; I could add to it and they said well sure. So I fired up the 10-inch deck at KCTS, the editing turntable there, and I started doing a little bit of jabbering and playing records. Between the liner notes and the music you've probably got a years worth of material that you can play with. I rolled off half an hour of reel-to-reel tape. I don't have any of the recorded shows anymore. I gave Chuck all the rest of the Fahey LPs my son hasn't taken. I think there were timing notes on one of the sleeves. That's in Chuck's archive, he's got that stuff. That is as close as we're going to come to a reel-to-reel recording because I don't have any of those 10-inch tape recordings and they evidently don't at KRAB either.  None of that stuff was saved.

JF: What format did you deliver your show in since you were pre-recording it?

ES: Specifically, metal 10" reel-to-reel tapes. I think it was a quarter-inch Maxell tape. I did it all in mono. If I remember correctly, KCTS at that time was pretty primitive. I don't think they had the ability to record in stereo. It didn't make any difference you know, for what I was doing and actually the quality of the Fonotone records was dreadful. It wasn't essential to have this show in super high fidelity, although I did clean recording. I mean I used studio mics and I tried to sound reasonable on the air. Anyway that's what they were on and I can't remember the recording speed. It was whatever I could fit the half hour show on. They had compatible gear at KRAB. I'd just get on my bicycle and go over there, or take the bus sometimes and drop off the tapes. They'd give them back and I think I'd record over the top of them when I was doing the next show-- with a low-paying job and GI Bill to live on, money for things like blank tapes was very scarce.

JF: Do you know how long you did the show? When did it start?

ES: [Chuck Reinsch] sent me the program guide with what he thinks is the first show. He thinks it's Friday June the 11th, at 5:00 PM, 1971. It aired right before "Krumhorns and Kings, with Dick Palm, with early Western music." He means really early, because a krumhorn is a renaissance instrument.

JF: We know it to the hour?

ES: We know when it started, I don't know how long I did it. I can't remember when the last went out. It probably didn't go exceptionally long because after I got out of library school it would have been '71.[Note: Charles Reinsch puts the final airdate as January 9th, 1972.]  I had a job so I left the area to go work. It had to be less than 6 months on the air.  I remember being really saddened when I heard what happened to KRAB and the sale of the license and all the rest of it. It was a radical station, and people did freeform things.

JF: There were other stations founded by Lorenzo Miliam... but KRAB was unique.

ES: Anyway, I met John Fahey one more time.

JF: How'd that happen?

ES:  I can't remember precise details, but it was in Oregon somewhere.  I heard through the grapevine he was around and looked him up. We hung out in his hotel room for a while and talked. That's when he told me the Fonotone stories I mentioned earlier. He’d changed hugely. He had a big scraggly beard. It looked like... kind of a low end hotel that he was in. I was just thinking you know this is not right...  you deserve more than this.

JF: When you mentioned the army, 1962-1965, you said that you were involved in radio? Was that AFRTS?

ES: No, I have to be careful about this. I was working for the Army Security Agency in Germany. It involved huge antenna fields and Warsaw Pact countries, and I really can't talk about it. I'll get in trouble. They get very tense about ELINT communications and SIGINT stuff.  Anyway I don't know that anybody cares, or that it makes a difference anymore but that it probably something I should not go over in huge detail. I didn't have access to a radio station until I got out of the army.

In 1967 when I was going to Santa Rosa Junior College I worked as a clerk at a mall record and musical instrument store, and may be misremembering studio info. The events took place but the station data is hazy. [Highly likely this was 1350 KSRO-AM.] I used to hang out at a Santa Rosa, CA AM transmitter every now and then.  The transmitter was also where the disc jockey was located, in the middle of nowhere. That was early radio exposure, then came radio KRAB. Then, when I was Library Director down in Astoria at Clatsop Community College, I did children's bedtime stories.

JF: What radio station was that?

ES: KMUN.

JF: When you were recording your show did you play only recordings of Fahey or was there other material?

ES: Only Fahey. Fahey, and me talking —and that was it. I wanted to be true to the concept. I didn't play anything else by anybody else. I didn't play [Robbie Basho], I didn't play [Leo] Kottke, none of that —just John Fahey.  I think once in a while I would get erudite and talk about how something sounded like something else, where the root of it came from, but I never played the root recordings. I just played Fahey.

JF: Do you have a favorite song and/or a favorite album?

ES: Favorite song is easy to pick, "In Christ there is no East or West" and I'm not a religious person. The version I most like came from the Blind Joe Death LP that has the old woodcut. That song sounds best to me rough and without polish.

JF: What about that song does it for you?

ES: It's so emotionally powerful. I don't know that Fahey was hugely religious, I definitely wasn't. But there is a spirituality factor. It's just stunning. Literally stunning. It knocks me out every time I hear it. It catches something I don't know how to describe. I don't have the words for it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

WGAL - November 1943

When doing construction it's not uncommon to find bits of old newspaper in the walls. Recently during some demolition at the Columbia Market House [LINK] a construction crew found a newspapers in a bathroom wall dating back to November 15, 1943. Thanks to them, we have a 1490 WGAL-AM schedule from both Thursday and Friday, November 18th and 19th 1943. It's a peek back in time 76 years.  At the time WGAL was an affiliate with Mutual, and NBC Blue so some of these are syndicated programs where others are definitely local.  So let's take a look at that schedule.

THURSDAY, NOV. 18th
4:00 --Songs by Les Barclay
     *This is not Les Barclay the radio wave communication expert. While he was also a member of the National Council of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, it's just can't be him.
4:15 --W.W. Chaplin
     *William Watts Chaplin was a journalist for the Syracuse Journal, AP and the International News Service. He became an NBC as a War correspondent in 1943. WSYR has some of his archives.
4:30 --Full Speed Ahead
     *There was a variety program of this name on WEAF in 1952 which came from the Waves traingin school in the Bronx. But in 1943 this had to be the short lived music & variety show hosted by Colonel Manny Prager and His Cavaliers. He was a saxophonist with a popular novelty song "The King's Men".
5:00 --Sidney Moseley
     *Probably Sydney Moseley, a WMCA commentator who began doing segments on the Mutual network in 1942. His program "Headlines of Tomorrow" was syndicated by August of 1943. He previously worked for the Daily Express and New York Times newspapers.

5:15 --Dancetime
     *This is not Lucky Lager Dance Time. That didn't air until 1957. A 1941 issue of Movie-Radio Guide oddly describes the show as "comedy."
5:45 --Superman, Kellogs
     * The well known radio serial. Mid November would have been either the "The Mystery of Prince Philip" story arc or the start of the "Military Espionage" 16 part series.
6:00 --World News, Beneseh's
6:15 --1490 Club:-- Sports Army & Navy Store
     *This program continued to air at least into 1963.
7:00 --Fred Waring
     *More on Fred here.
7:15 --News of the World
7:30 --Horace Heidt Orch.
     *Big band leader, started on NBC in 1932 and moved into TV in 1950. He began on the NBC Blue Network in 1932 with Shell Oil's Ship of Joy. He went into TV in 1950.
8:00 --Maxwell House Coffee Time
     *A comedy/variety program then hosted by Fanny Brice and Hanley Stafford.
8:30 --Aldrich Family
     * A popular radio teenage situation comedy that aired 1939 - 1953.
9:00 --Kraft Music Hall
     * A popular variety program on NBC radio from 1933 to 1949
9:30 --Allen Roth & The Symphony of Melody
     *Roth was a conductor on multiple programs, and also music director for KMOX. The program was part of the NBC Thesaurus collection of pre-recorded programs.
10:00 --Abbott & Costello
     *The long-running radio comedy, aired in various formats starting in 1938.
10:30 --Penna on Parade
     *Probably The New Cumberland Army Reception Center's musical variety show. They toured PA in 1943 selling war bonds.
11:00 --Raymond Gram Swing
     *Raymond Edwards Swing, a newspaperman from Ohio who moved to Europe and became a foreign correspondent for a series of newspapers through both WWI and WWII. He wrote for the Chicago Daily News then the Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Public Ledger, The Nation, and the London News Chronicle.  In 1936 he got the slot at Mutual.

11:15 --Harkness of Washington
     *A series of news broadcasts featuring reporter and political analyst Richard Harkness, an NBC correspondent from 1942 - 1972. He was previously a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
11:30 --Music of the New World
     *Part of NBCs University of the Air public Service Program.
12:00 --War News--Sign Off

FRIDAY, NOV. 19th
7:00 --War News
7:05 --Musical Clock
     *There was a Musical Clock program hosted by Stu Wayne on KYW but it only began in 1947. But this may have a connection to Gambling's Musical Clock. That program ran on WOR from 1925 - 1959.
7:45 --Reveille Round Up
     * Reveille Round Up with Greg Donovan and the Hometowners was an NBC program. It was mostly folk and Western type music by the Hometowners orchestra: Betty Bledennett, songstress; Larry Wellington, accordionist; Earl Randall, vocalist, and Kenneth Carbonel, guitarist. You can hear an episode here.
8:00 --World News
8:15 --Lopez Orchestra
     *In 1943 this has to be the Vincent Lopez Orchestra. They started out on WJZ in 1921. The timing is odd however as he was mostly performing at the Taft Hotel by 1943. But he was also recording a 15-minute program AFRS in 1944 called Luncheon with Lopez.
8:30 --Devotions, Rev Ranck
     *Probably Rev. J. Allan Ranck, active evangelist in the Allentown area in the 1940s.
8:45 --Listen to Liebert
     *This is a mystery MBS syndicated show. IT hit the airwaves no later than 1941. and continued through at least 1946. The Al Leibert out of WINZ. I've never seen so little written about a program in syndication.
8:55 --United Press News
9:00 --Music From Manhattan
     *This is not Sammy Kaye's Music From Manhattan TV program. That started in 1958. This is some other mystery program.
9:30 --Daytime Classics
9:45 --El Capitan Money Man
     *I wish I knew what this was. Possibly related to the El Capitan theater.
9:55 --Women in the News
     *Faye Emerson's 5 minute news segment sponsored by Old Dutch Coffee. Emerson moved to TV in the 1950s and hosted her own late night talk show.
10:00 --A to Z in Novelty
     *Aired on KFDMKMJ and WLNH in 1941, and still on WHLF in 1948. Because of KMJ I am sure this was a syndicated NBC program.
10:15 --The Open Door
     *A CBS soap opera that aired 1943-1944, staring Charlotte Holland and Erik Hansen sponsored by Royal Puddings.
10:30 --Shady Valley Folks
     *An MBS hillbilly variety program out of KWK St. Louis. It ran through at least 1947.
10:45 --1st Piano Quartet
11:00 --Road of Life
     *A soap opera starring Irna Phillips that aired  on radio from 1937–1959 and relaunched on TV in 1954.
11:15 --From Algiers
     *This is probably NBC and/or CBS correspondents reporting from Algiers.
11:20 --Kentucky Karnival
     *A variety show that started in 1939 originating at WGRC in Louisville via MBS.
11:30 --Happy Joe & Ralph
     *A kids show hosted by Ralph Binge and Joe Gentile starting on CKLW in Detroit (Windsor, ON). They moved to WJBK in 1948 and moved to TV in 1951, closing up shop in 1956. More here.
11:45 --Luncheon Club
12:15 --Dolly Madison News
     *Aired at least 1939 thru 1951. Probably an NBC program. (Not President Madison's wife.)
12:30 --Mirth and Madness
     *Airing from 1943 - 1946 this was a variety show of music and comedy emceed by Jack Kirkwood backed by the Irving Miller Orchestra
12:45 --Luncheon Club
1:00 --U.S. Marine Band
     *The first Marine Band radio program was broadcast in May of 1922 over NOF in Anacostia, D.C. Weekly broadcasts. By June it became a weekly broadcast.
1:30 --Carol Sisters
     *A female singing quartet who replaced the Dinning Sisters in November 1943. Actively performing until at least 1953.
1:45 --Carey Longmire: Crystal Rock
    *Longmire was an NBC news analyst and foreign correspondent. He covered London during the blitz,  Paris in WWII, and Spain during the Franco regime. He was state-side and based at WHAS by about 1945. WOR picked up his program in 1947.
2:00 --Guiding Light
     *Another soap opera created by Irna Phillips. Aired as 15-minute segments. Starting in 1937, on NBC, it was transferred to CBS Radio during 1947
2:15 --Lonely Women
     *Lonely Women was a radio soap opera very focused on WWI. The theme was women separated from their men by war. It's another one conceived and written by Irna Phillips.
2:30 --Light of the World
     *Another soap opera. This one ran from 1940 to 1950. Strangely I've only seen it described as Bible stories dramatized in contemporary settings. It was sponsor General Mills.
2:45 --Easy Listening
3:00 --Women of America
     *This was an NBC program sponsored by Procter & Gamble. It ran at least into early 1944. The agency was Benton & Bowles. A June 1943 Billboard referred to it as a serial. Child actor Rosemary Garbell appeared on the program in February of 1943.
3:15 --Ma Perkins
     *Yet another soap opera which heard on NBC from 1933 to 1949. CBS picked it up from 1942 to 1960. Yes from 1942 and 1949, the show was heard simultaneously on both networks. Originally sponsored by Oxydol detergent. Oxydol was the laundry soap for which soap operas get their name.
3:30 --Yankee House Party
     * A variety show featuring organist Frank Cronin and the Bobby Norris Orchestra. Originating on the Yankee Network on the FM side. It was also picked up by the Mutual Network.
3:45 --Right to Happiness -Adv.
     *Another Irna Phillips soap opera. It started in 1939 and continued until 1960.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Blues for M.F.

The LP "Soul Battle" was released on Prestige records in 1961, matrix (7223). It lands on Track 2, Side A. It featured three tenor sax players King Curtis, Oliver Nelson, and Jimmy Forest, Roy Haynes pick up drum duties, Gene Casey and George Duvivier sound out the session on piano and bass respectively. The John Handy Quartet covered it in 1962 for Roulette records with a burning bebop infused solo, which is what first brought it to my attention. For years I had assumed that MF stood for motherfucker, but the original Soul Battle LP spells out in parentheses that the M.F. stands for Mort Fega. The back of the LP spends a mere 26 lines describing the song, So I'll quote a bit of that as it's relevant to our story here.
"Blues for M.F. is a tone poem with a fine set of altered blues changes which lend themselves to distinguished soloing by all three of the reed men. The tune certainly captures the intensity, the sincerity, and the quiet humor which have made Mort Fega one of the nations most popular jazz announcers..."
The song is an exploration of a blues scale replete with flatted thirds, but woth a very steady meter to provide a platform to hold all nine minutes and thirty seconds of soulful sax solos. Each is worldessly singing the praises of Mort Fega who was at the peak of his career at the time. Unusually this wasn't even the first Jazz tune dedicated to Mr. Fega. In 1959 The Red Garland Trio Plus Ray Baretto recorded Manteca for Prestige (7139). Donald Fagen testified in a 2006 obituary for the man that the song was played on Fega's show regularly
"I looked forward to Mort’s between-track commentary as much as to the music itself. With Red Garland’s “Mort’s Report” playing softly in the background, Mort, with the grace and enthusiasm that reveals itself only in the most bona-fide jazz lover, would carefully list every soloist and sideman."
It was the New York jazz scene that brought all these people together. Red Garland moved to New York from Dallas in 1946. Oliver Nelson went to College in St. Louis, but moved to New York in 1958 after graduating. King Curtis was from Ft. Worth and moved to New York to become a session musician in 1952, and both George Duvivier and Ray Barretto were a native New Yorkers. These jazzmen all undoubtedly listened to Faga and knew his as a mover in the jazz biz. You couldn't be a jazz head in in New York and not know 1330 WEVD-AM in the 1960s.

Mort Fega, was from New Rochelle, NY which is where he had his first show at 1460 WNRC-AM on Saturday afternoons. New Rochelle was New York City suburb, so it's signal reached parts of New York City. The popularity of that show grew such that in 1962 he was able to jump to WEVD and launch a  "Jazz Unlimited" which aired six nights a week simulcast on 97.9 WEVD-FM. His show aired opposite Symphony Sid Torin, but by the 1960s Sid was old hat. While he was a His hep cat jazz delivery was decades old.  Fega was all about modern jazz he pushed artists like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk alongside jazz classics.

Fega left WEVD in 1966, and continued broadcasting jazz from WBAI, WRFM, and WTFM in New York City. His departure from WEVD is a bit mysterious but he debuted on WRFM in June of 1965 while he was still on WEVD and Cue Magazine lists him in January of 1966 already hosting Jazz in Stereo on WTFM. In August of 1965 Billboard specifically spells out that on his new station that Fega beat out Sid for the top spot.  Then he showed up on WBAI in June of 1966 with a Friday night program.
The quick shuffling around the dial came to an end three years later when in 1969 Fega and his wife Muriel relocated to Phoenix where he quickly got a radio show on 1400 KXIV-AM named simply "Night." That program continued midnight to 4:00 AM six nights a week until at least 1974. He moved to Connecticut in 1976 and started a program that aired twice a week, one on Saturday afternoons and one Tuesday evenings on college radio station 91.3 WWUH. He then added on a program at 1230 WINF-AM in Manchester and in 1979 a Sunday morning program on 1550 WMLB-AM in West Hartford.

Then finally the workaholic jazz man retired to Delray Beach, FL in 1986.  But the itch came back and he picked up a weekly show on 90.7 WXEL-FM. It was only once a week but it was five hours long! He also taught a History of Jazz course at Palm Beach Community College and wrote a weekly column for the Palm Beach Post newspaper. Mort Fega died on Jan. 21st 2005 due to complications from a recent back surgery. He was 83.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The History of LGBT Radio (Part 7)

As we explore early gay radio programs you have surely noticed the year 1973 repeating. It's important to note the relevance of that year. 1973 was the year that American Psychiatric Association reclassified  homosexuality in the DSM-III. Pursuant to that change, homosexuality was no longer clinically considered a mental disorder. (It wasn't removed entirely until 1987.) The World Health Organization (WHO) didn't catch up util 1990. For young people today, it's hard to even conceptualize what that era was like.
Most of the early LGBT radio programs pop up in population-dense, major metropolitan areas. But there are some exceptions. Inexplicably, western New York state was a hot spot for gay radio with at least 5 programs on three different stations airing concurrently in the early 1970s.
  • GREEN THURSDAYS. Wednesday midnight. WCMF-FM, 96.5 Mhz. 
  • LESBIAN NATION. Wednesday midnight. WCMF-FM, 96.5 Mhz. 
  • GAY WAVES. Thursday 5:30 – 6 p.m. WRUR-FM, 88.5 Mhz. 
  • SISTERS OF SAPPHO. Thursday, 9:30 – 10 p.m., WBFO-FM 88.7 Mhz. 
  • STONEWALL NATION. Thursday, 9 – 9:30 p.m. WBFO-FM 88.7 Mhz.
The first of these programs was almost certainly Stonewall Nation on WBFO. The radio show Stonewall Nation was created and hosted by SUNY Buffalo students and covered topics “informative to anyone ‘happy, sad, gay, or interested.’” It aired through at least 1979. In 1974 it started at 9:30 and by the late 70s been pushed back to 10:30 PM, still on Wednesday nights.  It was run by a collective, and in the late era it was primarily produced by Heddie Swanson and Jim Neil. In 1978 they even interviewed poet Allen Ginsberg. A tape of that interview is possibly the only audio we have of the program.

The first reference I've found was from 1972. The September issue of The Empty Closet reads "WBFO Buffalo broadcasts a gay radio program "Stonewall Nation" Wednesdays at 8:45pm. WBFO is at 88.7 on the FM dial." The July issue also mentions it, but only as "A new weekly radio program  centering on gay news and events on Buffalo FM station WBFO 88.7 Wednesday nights." I believe this is the earliest print reference and the debut of the program.

The name is a reference to the Stonewall Riots also known as the Stonewall Uprising, which began on June 28, 1969. But it also originates in an early gay rights anthem by Madeline Davis. She taught at the University of Buffalo and participated in her first gay rights march in 1971 in Albany, NY. At that time she had already been a performing musician for 20 years, having sung in University and church Choruses, and performed as a folk singer in coffee houses in the 1950s. She wrote the song "Stonewall Nation" in her notebook on the return drive from the protest, and first recorded it in 1973. More here. Despite the fact that the song hadn't even been recorded yet, the radio program was named for the already notable local gay anthem.
Sisters of Sappho came slightly later. In a March, 1973 issue of the 5th Freedom it pops up following Stonewall Nation on WBFO at 11:00 PM. It's still listed in June of 1974. Host Marge Maloney later hosted Women Power on WBFO. But in 1975 the program ran into trouble. The format had always been varied including discussions, call-in segments, comedy, poetry, prose, music, and drama. On November 3rd of 1975 they featured a "porno spoof show, complete with "bleeps", romantic music and other satirical devices." Station Manager Marvin Granger was not amused and they received a polite but tersely worded letter, threatening to cancel the show. The ladies published it, along with a thoughtful rebuttal letter in an issue of The 5th Freedom... with Marvin's mailing address.  The show seems to have ended between then and January 1976. Still, that's some impressive chutzpah. More on 1970s  WBFO here.


Green Thursdays debuted shortly after. That program first broadcast on February 14th 1973. The name of the program came from a now obscure historical reference to color symbolism.  The show was hosted by Bruce Jewell, Geralyn.  The 1972 Broadcasting Yearbook lists the station as "Progressive Rock" still owned by Community Music Service Inc. who founded the station in 1960. Mr. A. George Malmgren was president, James Trayhern, GM; Richard Warner, coml mgr; Tom Teuber, prog dir; Jacob Z. Schanker, chief engr. I do wonder how they felt about these specialty programs. Teuber for his part was very political and wrote some left-leaning journalism. Jewell  said in an interview that WCMF management had merely hoped to create some controversy which might be good for ratings. Instead they made history. But even in a 2013 interview, Jewell said they had been very supportive. He did news segments, interviews, and played music.

Robert Crystal succeeded Bruce Jewell as producer of the program in 1974. It's unfortunate but most of these early programs are lost forever. WXXI producer Kevin Indovino [LINK] spoke highly of the program 40 years later in hopes some history might be found:
"...Back in the ‘70s WCMF hosted a radio show, Green Thursdays, which was produced by early activists like Patti Evans and Bob Crystal. All of those shows have been lost – probably were never even recorded. There’s a huge chunk of history that is gone. We have no idea what those shows might have contained."
That said we do have back issues of the Empty Closet. The University of Rochester's Gay Liberation Front (GLF) launched the Empty Closet in 1971, it embraced the program early and it's schedule is listed in many of the issues archived at their Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and digitized online here. In the February 1973 issue it merely lists "GAY RADIO SHOW WCMF-FM 96.5  MHz. MIDNITE." But in the January issue it listed a new program, "GLF ON THE AIR. Planning our weekly radio program. Music Lounge 7:30 PM."  This was the preamble to the radio program Gay Waves which debuted later on WRUR.


Each Thursday night from 5:30 to 6:00 PM the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) produced a half-hour program called Gay Waves.  The format included gay music, straight music, news, announcements, interviews and talk segments. By 1976 it moved to Monday nights. If you find the flyer (above) that Gay Waves is on 2SER an unrelated station in Australia.  Our WRUR Gay Waves staff included Jay Stratton and others.
Alternating with Green Thursdays was Lesbian Nation, a radio program hosted by Patty (Patti) Evans and Bruce Jewel on WCMF in the 1970’s. It aired Midnight to 1:00 AM. The programs plugged each other and shared production staff. In February 1975 the closeout of Green Thursday segued as follows:
" This has been Green Thursday for February 6, 1975. Any comments or questions about the preceding interviews, please direct them to Green Thursday, WCMF, 129 Leighton Avenue, Rochester, 14609. Views and opinions expressed on Green Thursday. Views and opinions expressed on Green Thursday don't necessarily represent those of WCMF, its staff or management. Green Thursday is an hour long program produced by WCMF and by men from Rochester's gay community and will be on the air again two weeks from tonight at 12 o'clock on Thursday morning, next Thursday morning Patty Evans will be in with Lesbian Nation, a program produced by CMF and women from Rochester's lesbian community."
In the June 1974 issue of the Empty Closet there is a good short article on Patti. A native of Brooklyn, Evans was 17 years old when the Stonewall riots began. She attended the candlelight protest on the 2nd day. She attended the university of Rocherster in 1969 and became friends with student activists Bob Osborn and Larry Fine who launched the Rochester Gay Liberation Front which she joined. A later transfer to the S.U.N.Y. at Brockport brought her in touch with the Gay Freedom League there. She returned to Rochester in 1973. It was then that she started up the radio program Lesbian Nation on WCMF. " She and Kathy Thurston worked on the program with Bruce Jewel. Thurston died in July of 1975.  The show continued into 1976. At it's peak the program ran from Midnight to 3:00 AM.