As venues close and radio hosts retire, it gets harder to keep America’s Golden Age music alive

The quiet but terribly important battle to keep popular standards playing in our contemporary culture has just suffered a couple of setbacks. This past Friday, Jonathan Schwartz left SiriusXM satellite radio after more than a decade as its most prominent popular standards host playing the music and songs of the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. “SiriusXM, which has been very good to me, asked me to stay,” he said. “But I’m 75. I’ve been working very hard for a long time and it’s time not to do that.” On W. 46th St. in midtown Manhattan, meanwhile, Sofia’s restaurant at the Hotel Edison is closing on Aug. 13, ending a 37-year run. The owners will be renovating the space with an eye toward a more lucrative use. Among other things, Sofia’s was the place where Vince Giordano’s band played every Monday and Tuesday. If Giordano’s name sounds familiar, it might be because his band provides much of the music for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” That’s what he mostly plays at Sofia’s, too — big-band jazz in the style of the ’20s and ’30s. These events don’t shut down Golden Age popular standards in the city. Schwartz will continue on WNYC (93.9 FM) on Saturdays, 8 p.m.-midnight, and Sundays, noon-4 p.m. Giordano is looking for a new club, though he says it’s a challenge. “You need a place with a stage that can accommodate an 11-piece band,” he says. “And with a piano, you need storage. Sofia’s was perfect.” Indeed. Giordano’s audience there has included the likes of Liza Minnelli, Mel Brooks, Tommy Tune, Dave Koz, Leon Redbone and Elvis Costello. “We filled the place,” says Giordano. “In the old days, that would have meant other clubs would try to get you. Not anymore.” In the old days, of course, music from Continue Reading

Radio hosts earn tribute from museum group for contributions to local musical culture

Six radio hosts will be inducted into the People’s Hall of Fame Sunday by City Lore, honoring their roles as local on-air personalities who helped promote city musical culture. City Lore is a nonprofit group that works with the Museum of the City of New York to preserve and celebrate urban culture. The induction will be 3-8 p.m. at the museum, at Fifth Ave. and 103rd St. Inductees include Kool DJ Red Alert, Kathleen Biggins, Oscar Brand, Bob Fass, Awilda Rivera and Phil Schaap. Red Alert was one of the first hosts, along with Mr. Magic, to play hip hop on commercial radio. He spent many years on the late WRKS. Biggins is a longtime fixture playing Irish music on WFUV, while Brand has been playing folk music, and a few other genres, for more than six decades on WNYC. Fass created “Radio Unnameable,” a free-form show still heard on WBAI. Rivera blended Latin rhythms into jazz at WBGO, and Schaap has played and discussed jazz, classic and contemporary for many years on WKCR. Their common achievement, says City Lore, is demonstrating the value of radio hosts to “nourish local music cultures ... even in the current climate of international conglomerates, satellite radio and podcasts." The induction will be preceded by remarks from music journalist Billy Altman on the historic importance of local radio in promoting popular music. There also will be a short play about the late pioneer rock ’n’ roll deejay Alan Freed and salutes to two local hosts who died in the last year, Pete Fornatale and Hal Jackson. For information, contact the museum at Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Radio host Michael Savage offers Newt Gingrich $1 million to leave race

Neither Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich nor radio host Michael Savage seems inclined to grab the golden parachutes they were both offered this week. But they have served well the honored tradition of radio feuds. Savage, heard evenings on WOR (710 AM), offered Gingrich $1 million to drop out of the presidential race, saying he would come off on TV as “a fat old white man” who could not beat Barack Obama. After that offer, Savage’s rival Mark Levin on WABC (770 AM) offered Savage $100,000 to quit his radio show. Levin said the show is failing anyhow, because Savage — whom Levin calls “Weiner,” his birth name — is “taking his listeners for granted.” According to the last estimates from the trade magazine Talkers, Savage reaches more than 9 million listeners a week, Levin more than 8.5 million. They have fired shots at each other for years. KENNEY CHRISTMAS: David Kenney, proprietor of “Everything That’s Old Is New Again” Sunday nights at 9-11 on WBAI (99.5 FM), will host a live holiday benefit show Sunday afternoon. Tom Andersen, Melissa Errico, Barbara Fasano, John Bucchino and others will headline the show, at 1 p.m. at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd St. AND AT THE SAME TIME: Jonathan Schwartz also will host his annual Christmas show Sunday, noon-4 p.m. on WNYC (93.9 FM). Guests on the show, which always features a mix of conversation and music, will include Judy Collins, Tim McCarver, John Pizzarelli, Jessica Molaskey, Tierney Sutton, Charles Osgood and others. AROUND THE DIAL: WRKS (98.7 FM) collected more than 1,200 coats in its annual drive. ... WOR collected more than $420,000 on Red Kettle Day. ... Former WABC program director Laurie Cantillo has been named program director of all-news WTOP in Washington. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Noncommercial, counterculture icon WBAI radio spirals into self-destructive 9/11-conspiracy madness

Lefty radio station WBAI-FM sure ain't what it used to be. No, it has gone off the dial as a peddler of vile 9/11 conspiracy theories.In its heyday, this beacon of counterculture aired the likes of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Philip Glass and John Cage.Its envelope-pushing 1973 broadcast of George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the limits of on-air free speech.Now, the listener-supported station has been sending donors thank-you giveaways that have included DVDs of wackadoo pseudodocumentaries such as "Loose Change 9/11."That claims that the destruction of the twin towers was an "American coup" that included deliberately planted explosions. Also proffered as come-ons were rants against international bankers and the New World Order.Meanwhile, the station disseminated the ravings of 9/11 conspiracy theorist David Icke, who - according to his own website - "exposes the reptilian bloodline that rules the world."WBAI's descent into 9/11 paranoia comes to light thanks to a standup guy by the name of Bill Weinberg. A longtime host on the station, Weinberg protested on the air that the station was propagating offensive and unfounded theories. Guess what came next?A one-time bastion of free speech - a station that actually calls itself "free speech radio" - booted Weinberg from the air. Unspeakable. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck’s mixed response to Ted Kennedy death

No political figure, with the possible exception of Bill Clinton, has offered a juicier target for conservative talk radio over the years than Sen. Edward Kennedy, and the fact he died Tuesday night was no reason to spoil all the fun. He even provided a final joke for WABC's Don Imus, who has long found endless material in Kennedy's speech, public behavior and girth. "Over the years, some pretty horrible things have been said on this program about Sen. Kennedy," said Imus. "I want you to know they were all written by [Imus sidekick] Charles McCord and spoken by [former show member] Larry Kenney. I was out getting cigarettes and had nothing to do with it." Not so modest was Rush Limbaugh of WABC, who began by noting Kennedy's reputation as "the lion of the Senate" and added, "We were his prey." Limbaugh said, "I'm a little uncomfortable going after Ted Kennedy today on matters of politics," but took a number of calls from listeners who weren't. Like other conservative hosts, Limbaugh focused less on Kennedy himself and more on two related issues: 1) the health-care plan that Kennedy supported and Limbaugh hates, and 2) "the slobbering media coverage" of his life. Tom Marr, sitting in for Lou Dobbs on WOR, called Kennedy a "left-of-Lenin liberal" and devoted much of his show to "the crime" of Chappaquiddick. "It's painful to have to go into it on this day," said Marr. "But young people have to know." Sean Hannity said, "We send his family our deepest condolences," while echoing the fear that his death would be used to push President Obama's health-care plan. Listeners to Glenn Beck's show on WOR didn't hear anything about Kennedy until more than halfway through the show, when Beck said, "Regardless of what you thought of his politics, we certainly feel for his family in this tough time. Just another reminder that cancer doesn't care about party." AROUND THE DIAL: Luis Jimenez, morning host on WCAA (105.9 FM), branches out to run a Continue Reading

On the Radio: WFMU (91.1 FM) kicks off Round 2 of fundraising push

WFMU (91.1 FM) ordinarily tries to limit itself to one fund drive a year, raising the rest of its cash with its fall record fair. But last spring's drive fell $100,000 short, so the free-form station is holding a 24-hour begging session tonight, starting at 7. WFMU is unusual because it takes no foundation or corporate money, figuring that way it can be answerable 100% to listeners. The show lineup for the marathon starts with the "Antique Photograph Program," 7-8, then Tom Scharpling, 8-11 p.m.; Evan Funk Davies, 11 p.m.-2 a.m.; Marty McSorley, 2-6 a.m.; JM in the AM, 6-9 a.m.; Ken Freedman, 9 a.m.-noon; Maria, noon-3 p.m.; Irwin Chusid, 3-6 p.m., and Freedman with Andy Breckman, 6-7 p.m. AROUND THE DIAL: Oldies radio fans are planning their fourth annual informal get-together Dec. 12, 2-4 p.m., at Ben's Deli, 209 W. 38th St. Some radio hosts have been known to drop by. There's no charge, but organizers Alan Berman, Jeff Scheckner and Bruce Slutsky ask that you buy food from Ben's while you're there. So they can get a head count, it also would help to email Speaking of oldies, another group of vintage Top 40 fans puts together an all-time top-77 list every year. Vote through Dec. 13 at ... Sirius XM creates a Miles Davis channel Friday through next Wednesday - Sirius 72, XM 70. ... Sirius XM has two holiday channels under way - "Traditions" on Sirius and XM 4 and "Holly" on Sirius 3 and XM 23. ... R.I.P.: Toni Short, a WBAI (99.5 FM) host, died recently. WABC (770 AM) morning man Imus has been asking his guests to tell him their five favorite songs. It's a great idea, and a good addition to their five favorite books. Imus suggests, accurately, that people are sometimes more truthful about songs they like than books they've read. ... Mayor Bloomberg resumes his live Friday morning sessions with John Gambling of WOR (710 AM) on Dec. 4. ... Elvis Costello joins Leonard Lopate on WNYC (820 AM, 93.9 FM) tomorrow, noon-2 Continue Reading

Longtime NYC morning radio host Harry Harrison heads to New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame

Harry Harrison, one of the all-time great morning hosts on WMCA, WABC and WCBS-FM, will be inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame on Nov. 12. Harrison will be one of six inductees, including the rather well-known commentator Charles Osgood. The others are Buffalo TV reporter Marie Rice, Rochester morning radio host Brother Wease, Syracuse radio/TV personality Rick Gary and Albany radio host Don Weeks. THAT'S A WRAP: Sirius XM satellite has launched a limited-run Monty Python channel, saluting the Brit comedy troupe's 40th anniversary. The channel will promote a new six-part DVD history of the group while playing Python bits and talking with the group and fans. Eric Idle and other Pythons note that they got their comedic start by listening to radio sketches rather than television, reinforcing the value of engaging the imagination. The channel is on Sirius 105 and XM 151. It airs through Sunday, Oct. 25. DIAMOND JIM: Jim Nettleton, a longtime top-40 jock who worked for a time at WABC (770 AM), died Oct. 4, three weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer. He had started doing voiceover work this summer for WIBG (1020 AM) at the Jersey Shore - which was fitting, because that was a reincarnation of a famous Philadelphia top-40 station, and Nettleton was best known for his years in Philadelphia. In the early 1970s, he was part of the team at WFIL that broke the original WIBG's top-40 dominance. Some of us Northerners, though, remember his smooth voice best from his days at WDRC in Hartford, a station that had its own set of fine jocks in the 1960s. AND MORE SAD NEWS: Mark Olds, who served as general manager of two New York stations that we still miss, died last week at 88. In the 1970s and into the 1980s, he ran WRVR, the superb jazz station, and WWRL (1600 AM), back when it was the defining sound of black music radio. Olds was white, but he knew enough to let WWRL be a black station, with hosts like Imhotep Gary Continue Reading

On the radio: On bailout talks, hosts take the credit

Where ever the financial bailout/rescue plan goes from here, talk radio people are confident they've already redirected its course. "When Bush first announced the plan, it was just assumed to be a done deal and most of the media reported it that way," said WOR (710 AM) morning host John Gambling. "But here on talk radio, we knew a lot of people didn't see it that way. I think talk radio had a direct impact on that first vote going negative." "Not all our hosts agreed," said WABC (770 AM) program director Phil Boyce. "But Rush [Limbaugh], Sean [Hannity] and Mark [Levin] opposed it, and those kinds of voices made a difference. "This whole thing is such a confusing mess that people didn't and don't know what to think. So they turned to people they trust, like talk radio hosts, to help them figure it out." Once talk radio helped make it clear there was substantial opposition, said Boyce, "It slowed things down. At the very least, it bought some time, and I think the result was a better bill." "We said no, wait, there are problems here," said program director Rennie Bishop of WWRL (1600 AM). "We didn't just say what other media said, that would sail through. We looked at it and tried to explain facts." The fact that talk radio could quickly help galvanize those who saw flaws in the plan, said Bishop, "is a wonderful testimonial to what we can do." "I can absolutely tell you talk radio turned this thing around in the first days," said Jerry Crowley, program director of WOR. "People were angry and we were the place they got their message out. When talk radio gets its teeth into something, it's relentless. "Talk radio is how people get messages to our leaders." AROUND THE DIAL: WKCR (89.9 FM) pays tribute over the next two weeks to the late Doug Tuchman, a promoter and champion of bluegrass and traditional country music. Tomorrow night at 10, "Honky Tonkin'" replays his 1998 interview with John Hartford about Roy Acuff. ... Amy Goodman, host of "Democracy Now" on WBAI Continue Reading

Sexual harassment lawsuit slams WBAI radio station boss

The boss at the city's most progressive radio station, WBAI, has been slapped with a sexual harassment suit by a deejay who claims he gave her a sexually transmitted disease.Andrea Clarke, host of WBAI's "Sister From Another Planet" program, contends interim general manager Robert Scott Adams is a boozer and cocaine abuser who was bent on bedding her from the moment he met her. In her first meeting with Adams in November 2006, he became sexually aroused and told her he was "not usually a breast man, but loved hers," Clarke quotes Adams in her sensational lawsuit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court. Adams could not be reached for comment last night. Despite Adams' promises not to demote her, Clarke's hours at the radio station were cut in half on Nov. 30, 2006. She continues to host her Friday night show. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

National Freedom of Speech Week and the role of radio

Radio Dial The irony with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, commonly called "freedom of speech," is that in theory no one is opposed to it, yet it remains under constant siege. That's why the Virginia-based Media Institute, with the support of the American Bar Association, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the National Coalition Against Censorship and other groups, has declared today the start of the third annual National Freedom of Speech Week. "There's a threat to freedom of speech today and there has been for some time," says Richard Kaplar of the Media Institute, who calls radio "one of our best forums for freedom of expression. It plays out there every day." Radio is also a primary forum for the ongoing discussion over exactly what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech." Does that allow citizens, in a time of war, to call a commanding officer "General Betray-Us"? How about racial slurs? At times radio hosts themselves become the story. When Infinity Broadcasting was fined for Howard Stern comments, or XM suspends Opie and Anthony, or CBS fires Don Imus, someone invariably brings the First Amendment into the conversation. Which only goes to show, says editor Michael Harrison of Talkers magazine, how confusing the whole issue is: "So many issues people think involve 'free speech' don't, and so many issues people don't think involve free speech do." The Imus case, for instance, "was purely between employer and employee," says Kaplar. "There was no government involvement, no 'free speech' issue." But when Opie and Anthony were suspended by XM for offensive remarks, suggests Harrison, take a closer look. While XM has no legal content restrictions, Harrison notes XM is currently seeking government approval to merge with Sirius. So if it sanctioned O&A because it had some reason to fear that regulators who disapproved of their comments might be less Continue Reading