A Rain of Frogs ~ The Folio of Dorian Gray

The WBAI days
by Rob Hunter

Latin Reconstruction and John Cage Backwards

WBAI F0lio 1964

Back row: Dolores Hamparian (Receptionist), Chris Albertson (GM), Rob Hunter (Recording Engineer), Sammy Dunn (PR), Frank Coffee (Announcer), Mort Perry (Reporter). Second row: Dale Minor (Program Producer), Willie Ross (Asst. to Chris Koch), Marcia Tompkins (Folio Editor), Ed Ross (Production Dir.), Maria Teresa Sanchez (Traffic Manager). Standing in front: Chris Koch. Lower right corner: David Kent (Music Assistant).

This week our 5th Anniversary issue. You might find it interesting to compare last year’s 50th Anniversary broadcast day to the live day celebration we had on January 17, 1964. The centerfold of this Folio gives you the lineup, but I doubt if tapes exist. Notice, too, that it was on this day that we inaugurated a program called “Talk Back.” It introduced technology that was not only new to WBAI, but to commercial broadcasting. It was, of course,the perfect tool for a station that so intimately involved the listener, so we also used it during the weekly “Report to the Listener” programs.

Also check out the playbill on page 16. Some of our more creative people worked hard on a radio production of Christopher Marlowe’s play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, and we could only air it once. If I recall correctly, it was Angela Lansbury who arranged for us to garner Hurd Hatfield for the lead role — you may have seen him in one of his many films, most notably The Picture of Dorian Gray. He was a fine actor, but he had a problem with a monologue that required him to speak in Latin. Our recording engineer, Rob Hunter, saved the day by seamlessly piecing together the Latin passage using bits and pieces from Mr. Hatfield’s English dialogue — it was a labor of love, brilliantly done by one of the many WBAI staffers who went on to an interesting career. You can learn more about Rob by visiting his wonderful site.

Apropos valued staff members, as this Folio was published, we lost two of our great human assets, Robert Potts and John Corigliano. Bob, who had been our News Director, went to NET and was replaced by Joanne Grant. John, well, there’s an interesting story connected to his departure from WBAI. It begins with John Cage’s “Cartridge Music,” which John scheduled for one of our wake-up-time concerts. If you have ever heard this work, you will understand why airing it produced phone calls from listeners who thought our transmitter had died. Cage’s piece was produced by dragging live phonograph cartridges across a studio floor — need I describe further? I told John Corigliano that I thought this to be an inappropriate work to play in that time slot. His reaction was to hand in his resignation, which he said was something he had wanted to do, anyway, because he had an urge to write a violin concerto, and he wanted to do it while receiving unemployment compensation. When bureaucratic procedures got in the way of his plans, I agreed to attend a hearing at the Department of Labor. That worked, John described the Cage dispute as an unworkable situation, the bureaucrats nodded as if they actually understood, John composed his concerto and I ended up with a new, very special LP. John Corigliano has since become a distinguished composer of concert music and an Oscar winner whose film scores include Altered States and The Red Violin. His replacement was Ann McMillan.

Yes, WBAI attracted many interesting, creative people before it stepped onto that treadmill. Wouldn’t it be great if — in its nooks and crannies someone came across the wonderful mini-compositions John wrote and recorded for WBAI — they put to shame the current “When I’m home in Bulgaria” series of promos.

— Chris Albertson (for more see Chris Albertson’s omnium gatherum on the corrosion of free speech through the years, WBAI — Pacifist Battleground)

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