The Radio Radical
Any night but Thursday, Bob Fass likes to wait until after twelve o'clock, after his wife, Lynnie, has gone to sleep, and then drive his banged-up old Chrysler from his house, in Staten Island, to Manhattan, where he bombs up and down the avenues, imagining the radio show he might be doing. For nearly five decades, the hours before dawn have been Fass's prime time. He's an all-night radio man, a shy hulking fellow, round-shouldered and fleshy, with a few remaining strands of hair pulled back in a thin ponytail.
So begins my piece in this week's New Yorker magazine, a story about a revolutionary figure in the history of radio and a pioneer of the American counterculture in the 1960s. Bob Fass's story appears in greater detail in a book I've written, which will be published in a few weeks.
To hear a podcast in which I talk about Fass and introduce clips from his show, "Radio Unnameable," visit the New Yorker's web site here. There are two audio programs available, a short version with a basic introduction to Fass, and for those who'd like to hear him in all his 1960s glory, including a lengthy and quite fascinating session he had with a very young Bob Dylan, there's a 90-minute version on the same page.
The Fass piece is based on a chapter in my book, "Something in the Air," which will be published by Random House. The book tells the story of how radio reacted when TV came along and swept away the programming that had made radio the nation's first great mass medium. It's a story about how old media adapt when new technologies burst onto the scene, but it's also the story of some of the extraordinary characters who filled the vacuum by daring to play to a particular generation--that is, by breaking taboos and barriers and playing rock and "race" records for young people.
There are lots of Washington characters in the book, from XM Satellite Radio's programming guru, Lee Abrams, to Hal Jackson, the pioneering black deejay and sportscaster who played a key role in very early civil rights actions in the District, as well as WJFK's Don Geronimo, National Public Radio's Robert Siegel and former Orioles play by play man Jon Miller. In a few weeks, I'll be online here on the big site to discuss the book and what I've learned about radio's role in the evolution of American popular culture.
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