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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)