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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bernie Sanders on the Koch Brothers

I hold huge respect for Bernie Sanders - an independent Senator. He reminds me of the some of the speakers we used to air on WGBH - Zinn & Chomsky - different personae but with their hearts and minds in the right places.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of “NOVA” station

Last month, Pando’s “Wolf of Sesame Street” investigation broke the news that one of PBS’s flagship outlets had inked a secret deal with anti-pension billionaire John Arnold. That deal, which was not explicitly disclosed to viewers, was designed to broadcast anti-pension programming on public television stations throughout the country (read more)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy New Year Alums!

In the spirit of "The Family of Man," a joyous, happy and healthy New Year to all!

Monday, December 23, 2013

WGBH Responds to my letter requesting David Koch be removed from the Board

Dear Nat,

Thank you for writing to share your views about David Koch. Susan Ulbrich shared your letter with Henry Becton and Jon Abbott, and I am responding on their behalf. We appreciate hearing from ‘GBH alums on all topics of interest.

As I’m sure you know from your years here, we uphold strict standards and safeguards for our editorial content. Trustees do not have a role overseeing any WGBH programming, and donors/funders have no involvement with the editorial content of programs.

In our programming we do not take positions on the activities and beliefs of others; we air a full spectrum of topics and perspectives, allowing our viewers and listeners to reach their own conclusions. In the same way, we do not require a uniformity of belief among our Trustees.

So in keeping with that approach, David Koch will continue as a member of the Board. Over more than a decade, in a dozen documentaries and investigative reports, WGBH has presented the science and facts about climate change in our award winning documentary series NOVA and Frontline, as well as on the Living Lab radio reports on WGBH News.

We will continue to cover the full dimensions of this topic.

We appreciate and respect your views, and value the exchange of ideas that comes from open expression with others.

Again, thank you for taking the time to be in touch.

Best, Jeanne -- Jeanne Hopkins VP, Communications & Government Relations WGBH Boston Office 617.300.4363 Cell 617.417.1383

My response to WGBH Board Letter Reply

In its heyday, WGBH functioned under a system reminiscent of enlightened absolutism, or benevolent despotism. This worked very well for some of us who believed we had talent and a voice to express that energy. In olden times, we got away with murder (you know who you are) and thus a whole lot of wonderful things happened at 125 Western Avenue.

Then came the Reformation (I recall arguing with Hartford Gunn about this before he left for DC) and having similar discussions with Fred Friendly and James Day in New York after the Huns had moved in to WGBH (around 1980)

Inevitably, benevolent academicians were replaced by uncaring big business as WGBH and PBS became irrevocably corporate. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that David Koch weaseled his way onto the boards at WNET and now at WGBH where, alas, he has found his happy home.

The End

Some Light reading:
PBS – Behind the Scenes by Laurence Jarvik
The Vanishing Vision – The Inside Story of Public Television by James Day
NPR by Michael P. McCauley

Thursday, November 7, 2013

46th Anniversary

46 years ago this week, I joined WGBH. At the time, there were 100 people on staff. I was given the triple-role of producer, announcer and audio engineer. My boss, Bill Busiek, had heard me on WBCN-FM  and suggested I apply for any announcing opportunities, which I did. A few shots quickly gathered for the occaision
Me at WBCN in 1966
Bill Canvess in the same studio I began in at WGBH
  1. Me and a friend in Master Control, WGBH Radio
Me, Ed Thoman and Dee Dee Doren in FM Sub-Master Control
Me and Paula Apsell at WGBH Radio
(Looking back, that moustache was really, really bad, wasn't it)!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Remove David Koch from the Board of Trustees at WGBH

David Koch, the oil and gas billionaire who has spent millions funding climate change denial, does not belong on the Board of Trustees at Boston's PBS affiliate, WGBH.

WGBH is the largest producer of national content for PBS, including the science program NOVA. David Koch has donated millions to climate change denial think tanks, proactively seeking to misinform Americans and undermine accurate scientific reporting. Someone with his anti-science track record should not have any role overseeing NOVA, or any other WGBH programming.

Until recently, David Koch also sat on the board of WNET, New York City’s PBS affiliate. While he was on the board, Koch was offered an opportunity to write a statement rebutting a film that criticized Koch's wealth, and WNET televised that statement immediately after the broadcast—an unheard of consideration. Not only that, the agency of public television ITVS pulled its funding from another film that featured David and Charles Koch, "Citizen Koch", apparently due to concerns that it would upset WNET and David Koch.

This clear example of how Koch’s oversight can lead to journalistic self-censorship, together with Koch’s long history of devoting millions to misinform Americans about climate change, can only lead to one conclusion: David Koch does not belong on the WGBH board.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Master Singers - Remastered and Reissued for Connie White (wherever he is)

There is a nice story behind these curious recordings and a good reason I am posting them to the WGBH Alumni Facebook page. In 1966, one year before I joined WGBH, I was music director and a program announcer for WBCN-FM in Boston – at that time the principal or ‘home’ station of the Concert Network – a consortium of east-coast classical music stations from New Hampshire down to Virginia. The call letters “BCN” stood for “Boston Concert Network.”

In 1966, I was still in school, studying at the Longy School and Emerson College. One of my Longy music instructors, having just returned from a concert tour of the UK and Europe, phoned me at WBCN to say he had brought home with him a comical 45 RPM recording of English ‘highway road rules,’ plus a typical UK weather forecast, the words of both having been set to Anglican Chant. The album made that same year – clever, unusual, and beautifully performed – had become a big hit in the UK and my teacher was sure it would go over well here.

He was correct. The next evening, during a program of standard symphonic music, without a word of warning and with little introduction, I played both “The Highway Code” and “Weather Forecast.” The phones rang all night long with requests from listeners asking me to play it again and again, and for information, please, where they could buy the record. I had to tell everyone that it was a 45-RPM produced in England and not available in the USA.

Later that evening, I had one final call – from a very nice man at WGBH (I knew no one there at the time) who asked if I could please make him a tape copy and that he would gladly pay any expenses. I told him I would make him a tape at no charge, not wanting to get into legal hassles. He then gave me the address to which the tape should be mailed.

His name was Connie White.

So here it is, Connie, wherever you are . . . an encore . . . 47 years later.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Remembering Hartford Gunn

From my scrapbook: Remembering Hartford Gunn (Boston Globe)
Author:  Edgar J. Driscoll Jr., Globe Staff  Jan 3, 1986


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Seems odd that so few people have commented on the passing of Doug Devitt, videotape and audio engineer at WGBH.

Here's the link for those who might want to leave a comment or a thought.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cataloging WGBH “firsts"

Help us catalog WGBH “firsts” in national public media

Dear WGBH Alumni:
Help us catalog WGBH firsts in national public media
PBS is putting together a list of significant national “firsts” for PBS and public media. We already have a timeline covering WGBH from 1946 to 1978, and many entries include national innovations.
Now, we’re looking for your recommendations and verifications for more!

Please remember, the following are not yet verified, so add your recommendations, corrections, and confirmations in the comments box at the bottom of this post.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Fred Calland, a 'Founding Voice' of NPR

Yesterday, burrowing through a file cabinet packed with letters, clippings, notes, and Christmas and Valentine and birthday cards – from a period when these documents could not have arrived electronically – I discovered this note from Fred Calland, sent to me at WGBH, date unknown, sometime during my incumbency as host of Morning Pro Musica.
(CLICK to enlarge)
For a time, Fred was music director at our sister station at WFCR in Amherst, later he became NPR’s first music producer. More importantly, Fred was a splendid character – a real gentleman, an avid record collector and music enthusiast,  a delightful throwback to a bygone era when radio hosts were more passionate about their subject then themselves. His note to me reveals something of the Calland persona, but this commemoration NPR's Fred Calland Remembered tells much more...(click on RealMedia)
 As I started this remembrance, a waterfall of partially submerged recollections began to tumble forth: An evening of listening to treasures on shellac with Fred and Diana in Amherst promoted by the famous Calland Martini – very large and very dry – guaranteed to render you seated while more and even more records were produced. “I’ll bet you’ve never heard this one...”

 Here is an amusing selection of Fred Calland outtakes, assembled by his colleagues at WFCR:

Of all the Calland experiences, nothing could be more unforgettable than our ill-fated interview with tenor Roland Hayes, the first African American man to win international fame as a concert performer. Fred, having arranged the entire event, picked me up at WGBH, along with a Nagra and my tote bag filled with mike gear, and we drove to Brookline, excited by what was to be an exclusive interview with the now reclusive Roland Hayes
We arrived at a large home in Brookline; inside, the house was cool and dark and filled with a pleasant musty scent. A tall, black man, attired in what looked like formal dress, led us to the living room where Roland Hayes stood waiting for us. It is always exhilarating to come face to face to face with a legend, and even more so when you feel as though history is about to be made.
After we sat and chatted for a few minutes, Fred signaled it was time to begin. However, as I opened the Nagra and began to attach mike cables, Mr. Hayes held up his hand. “What’s this?” he asked. Fred explained this was a tape recorder we used for interviews. “No recording,” replied Mr. Hayes, in a subdued tone. So, I packed up the Nagra and the interview continued, undocumented. 
On the ride home, Fred apologized for getting everyone’s hopes up, but I assured him it was no matter. After all, we had met Roland Hayes.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stop the War on Public Media


Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Doug Lamborn have it in for public media. Over the years, both men have introduced numerous bills and written countless editorials attacking NPR and PBS.

Right now, they’re lobbying their fellow members of Congress to block funding for NPR, PBS and your local public media station.

"We face many hard choices ahead," the letter to their colleagues says, "but defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should be one of the easier decisions to make."

Please sign our petition telling Sen. DeMint and Rep. Lamborn that public media supporters are watching and we think enough is enough. We'll deliver your signatures directly to their offices alongside a GIANT banner that says: It's time to defend, not defund, public media

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tommy Makem "Live at The Harp & Bard" (c.1969)

This project was Joan Wilson Sullivan's idea: Record Tommy Makem "Live at the Harp & Bard" in Danvers, Mass. Later, bring him to the studio and record his favorite songs. We did both The live concert was a lot of fun, as you will hear in this 10-minute segment, Nancy Troland was the producer, I was the lucky engineer.

Tommy Makem with Eugene Byrne, guitar

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Crazy Radio Days

Photo by Jock Gill (c.1970)

Most of my Radio Days, the hundreds of yawning hours I produced and hosted at WGBH Radio and for NPR, were relatively unremarkable and almost certainly immemorable. Live radio, however, could be an adventurous and risky business – especially going solo, without a rescue net. One never knows, of course, whom, if indeed anyone at all, is listening at any given moment, particularly on a Sunday morning around eight o’clock when regular people are watching the weather forecast on TV, eating breakfast with their family, or sensibly sleeping-in.
It was on just such a sleepy Sunday in the late 1960’s at WGBH-FM, when calamity struck. It was the inaugural week of our brand-new FM Studio 4 (a combo operation without engineer) that I had the privilege of baptizing.

I had programmed two hours of Bach’s works that morning, principally Brandenburg Concertos, comparing back-to-back, standard performances of Bach’s works with jazz renditions of the same pieces – played alternately by the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Jacques Loussier Trio. I had titled the segment, “Bach-To-Bach,” and for the first half-hour or so, all went uneventfully. While sitting back nonchalantly, editing my rip-and-read teletype copy for the noon newscast, the unthinkable occurred:

THUMP. SCCRRRAATCH. Then, total silence. I whirled around to stare at the on-air turntable, not believing what had happened, and simply sat for a moment, stunned.

Dead Air. Better say something!

“Uh, ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, the sky has fallen – fallen-in on our brand new studio – fallen in the form of a piece of ceiling acoustical tile that has just landed on our turntable, knocking the tone arm clear off the record!” (Long pause) “Clearly, the Gods are displeased – angered with my irreverence for jazzing-up Bach on a Sunday morning. Well, we better make amends – so here is the same Brandenburg Concerto, played properly now by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Neville Marriner.”

Two minutes later, the studio phone rang. “Nat, it’s Michael Rice. That was brilliant – just brilliant! Well done! I’m still laughing!” A quick moment of relief. The ‘GBH FM Station Manager was pleased, even amused. I was not going to lose my gig, and the Gods were appeased!

There would, naturally, be More Crazy Radio Days . . . forthcoming.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Producing Favorite Themes from "Masterpiece Theatre"

One of the most gratifying aspects producing and recording this album was meeting and working with two magnificent composers: Wilfrid Josephs ("I, Claudius) and Kenyon Emrys-Roberts ("Poldark"), both of whom I commissioned to extend their themes especially for our Masterpiece Theatre album.

(Read the full story)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NPR's Slow Slide to the Right

The timing could not have been worse for the latest in a series of controversies to hit the nation’s scandal-prone public radio network. But the fact that it was pledge week didn’t prevent NPR from caving in to conservative pressure and canceling their distribution of “The World of Opera,” last Friday after it was revealed that host, Lisa Simeone, had taken part in Occupy DC, a spinoff of Occupy Wall Street movement, a protest against corporate greed which is spreading to cities nationwide. Simeone, an independent producer, was also sacked from the public radio documentary series “Sound Print” for her political activities.(MORE)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Early Radio Days (Part 2)

       So, in the winter of 1967, I landed at WGBH – and just in the nick of time. WGBH had just been awarded funding for its proposed series of 13 radio dramas, to be distributed in a 13-LP boxed-set to “educational” stations around the country. The radio drama production teams worked in Studio 1 and out of the adjoining FM Sub-Master Control. The rest of us lived in what was called FM Master Control.

       In addition, WGBH produced a heavy schedule of live and taped concerts and lectures from around Boston and Cambridge (including the BSO and Boston Pops), the Gardner Museum and New England Conservatory of Music, Sanders Theater at Harvard, Kresge Auditorium at MIT. We broadcast Ford Hall Forum live from Jordan Hall, plus news, poetry, studio recitals, guest lecturers and recorded programs from the BBC and CBC. WGBH Radio was a wealth of significant cultural activity and a very busy, very happy place to be.

     Then, in 1970, shortly after WGBH issued its boxed LP set of radio dramas, another bit of luck: I was chosen to represent WGBH at series of radio drama workshops at the National Center for Audio Experimentation at WHA in Madison, Wisconsin.

(Click 2X to enlarge)
      These amazing workshops, conducted by Desmond Briscoe of the BBC, were attended by public radio representatives from around the country. Besides me, there was representation from WILL Radio, University of Illinois; WYSO, Yellow Springs, Ohio; KBYU, Brigham Young University, Utah; KEBS-FM, San Diego State College; KOAC Radio, Oregon; WFCR, Amherst, Mass; KPFA Berkeley, WRVR New York City and WUHY, Philadelphia. WHA Madison and Radio Hall at the University was the host station and provided faculties for our study and actual production.

     Much of our day was spent in the studio, reading and recording the assigned radio play, creating sound-effects on a table-top Putney Synthesizer, and then the final mix and editing. Oh yes, in those days editing was still on ¼” tape, cut by a razor blade on a splicing block and then glued together with splicing tape. The afternoons were dedicated listening times, during which Desmond Briscoe played us classic BBC radio dramas.

      The play for our group was by Tom Stoppard: “The Dissolution of Dominic Boot.”

      These were heady days and over our horizons, the future looked brilliant indeed.

       It was at WGBH I first met Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow's producer at CBS, who spoke to us one memorable afternoon in TV Studio A about the dream about to be birthed for the future of radio and TV. In his talk to us, he called it “the Public Broadcasting Laboratory." The last time I saw Fred, many years later, we were both in Grand Central Station and in a hurry to catch trains. I stopped, said hello and reminded him of his visit to WGBH (arranged by GM Hartford Gunn, since departed) and of the dream they had shared with us. Fred was so pleased, and thanked me for remembering. Yet, I could not help but detect a slight wistfulness to his tone, for I think we both knew that times were changing and that perhaps not every part of the dream was to be realized. I don’t remember exactly what we discussed but at the time, I thought I noted a brief flicker of sadness behind that wide and Friendly smile.

      At this post, we are aware that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of ignorant, misguided, misinformed individuals and legislators throughout America who want to defund NPR and PBS, sink them forever, and destroy the legacy of quality broadcasting so many worked so hard for so many years to create. If nothing else, I hope this little blog will be useful, and perhaps inspirational, to those read it and might choose to participate in the fray.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My Early Radio Days - Part 1

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.

It’s sunset on a Sunday afternoon. I’m eight years old and alone in our darkening living room, listening to a block of creepy radio mysteries crawling out of the Magnavox – Inner Sanctum, The Green Hornet, Lights Out, and the scariest of all, Orson Welles as “The Shadow.” Years later, I’d have strange, personal encounters with Welles himself, but that’s another story...

As a boy, I'd spend hours seated at the console of our Magnavox - a magical machine with a 78 turntable and combo AM/shortwave radio – transfixed by its glowing green dial that drew me into its exotic world: Hong Kong, Paris, London, Tokyo. Strange music and foreign voices, rolling and fading like ocean surf, blending fragments of Morse code or teletype and eerie squeals and squalls, calling to me from somewhere…far out in the ether. This before FM and TV, and the LP, only just beginning to come into our homes.

1964. Fresh out of the army and back home from two years in Japan. I enrolled at the Longy School of Music and Emerson College, and began a part-time job at WBCN, starting on the graveyard shift - Saturdays from 4:00 PM until midnight.

Majoring in organ performance at Longy, I produced my own organ music series at WBCN, “The King of Instruments,” which I later shared with two college stations in Boston - WERS and WBUR. Years Later, “The King” also ran briefly on WCRB before ending up at WGBH in 1967. When WGBH abruptly cancelled the show in the 1980’s, it went up on the bird to NPR stations in the Public Radio Cooperative. Long Live the King!

Staffed by true music lovers, a few cranky Bostonians, and super-bright students from Harvard and MIT, there was no better place to work than WBCN, and no finer opportunity to learn the art of music broadcasting. WBCN had an unusually high-quality stereo signal and despite the makeshift apparatus that served as our broadcast console (see photo below), we were blessed with a magnificent Neumann condenser microphone (see photo) that made every announcer sound like a pro!
Me at the WBCN console (c.1965)

WBCN was the originator in a string of classical music FM stations on the east coast (the Concert Network)  – and we were the Boston Station of the Concert Network. Others stations included WRFK in Virginia, WNCN in New York City, WDAS in Philadelphia, WMTW Mount Washington, New Hampshire and WHCN in Hartford, Connecticut. Broadcasts recorded in Boston were “tape-bicycled” to other member stations which worked pretty well, except when the automated Hartford station started playing our Christmas-week programs in July. For economic considerations, WHCN had no “live” announcers. Money was constantly a worry for everyone.

By 1967, WBCN was nearly broke and our blissful existence as devil-may-care broadcast mavericks was coming to an end. WBCN underwent a format switch from classical music to “middle-of-the-road,” so time to move on – to WGBH. Volunteering in the summer of ‘67, I teamed up with Fred Barzyk and Olivia Tappan on their experimental TV series, “What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?” One night, David Silver, Fred and Olivia visited me at WGBH. They had brought along a brand-new, just-released album by the Beatles: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That night, I decided to break with WBCN’s traditionally classical format to air for the first in America, a stereo broadcast of the album. Listeners were astounded – and generally seemed quite captivated.

In December of 1967, with just one-hundred people on staff, I was officially hired at WGBH. My new boss, Bill Busiek, informed me WGBH wanted to continue my organ program and that I could fill in as a part-time announcer, but that I would be paid as an audio engineer – the position for which I was actually hired. Until my move to TV five years later, WGBH Radio seemed the ideal job, although a few quietly questioned whether newcomer Nat Johnson really ought to be wearing so many hats!

Soon after I was hired, ‘GBH-FM built its first “combo” studio whereby on-air-talent could “spin” their own records. I became the first “combo” operator, but that too raised some eyebrows and garnered more grumbles. The compact-disc era had just begun, so WGBH bought a player. One morning, I aired the first compact-disc ever broadcast on WGBH, but only a few minutes in, it stuck – repeating a passage over and over and over. Fortunately, a listener called in to suggest the problem was probably only dust, or a fingerprint! I took the disc out of the player, apologized to the audience, explained what I was about to do and after cleaning the disc, it played successfully.

For two years, I hosted the weekend edition of Morning Pro Musica, beginning at 7:00 AM, until the indefatigable Robert J. Lurtsema arrived and took over the program in a seven day-a-week marathon. By then, I was happy to rescue my social life on weekends, and be allowed the luxury of sleeping-in on Sunday mornings.

Radio Drama

In 1968, a year after I joined, WGBH-FM received grant money from the NEH, the NEA and the Old Dominion Foundation to produce, record, and distribute 13 radios dramas on LP to educational stations around the country. Joan Sullivan and Lyon Todd produced and directed, Bob Carey and Bill Busiek were the principal audio engineers, and I assisted. With my ongoing interest in radio drama, this was the ideal situation to learn, experiment and apprentice. There was nothing like it then, and probably never will be again.
(to be continued)