Bob Fass

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Bob Fass
Julius Lester Photo1.jpg
Bob Fass ca. 1966 (photograph by Julius Lester)
Born Robert Morton Fass [1]
(1933-06-29) June 29, 1933 (age 81)
Brooklyn, New York
Residence Staten Island, New York [1]
Nationality American
Alma mater Syracuse University (B.A., 1955) [2]
Occupation radio presenter, journalist, actor
Known for Radio Unmameable broadcast radio program
Spouse(s) Lynnie Fass [1]

Bob Fass (born June 29, 1933) is an American radio personality and pioneer of free-form radio, who has broadcast in the New York region for over 50 years.

Fass's program, Radio Unnameable, first aired in 1963 on WBAI, a listener-sponsored, non-commercial radio station operating out of New York City. From the beginning the show featured the work, and impromptu interviews, of counterculture figures such as Paul Krassner, Bob Dylan, and Abbie Hoffman, and the first performances of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant and Jerry Jeff Walker's Mr. Bojangles among others.

Bob Fass in WBAI's Master Control (Photograph by Bernie Samuels).

Show content[edit]

As an early pioneer of free form radio, Fass would air a variety of different features each night. As Marc Fisher describes it: "... he started free-form radio, each night creating a program with no format, an improvised mélange of live music, speeches, and random phone calls. Radio Unnameable was a radio party line on which Fass piled one caller atop another and said, 'Speak among yourselves.' It was a forum for eyewitness reports from war zones and urban conflicts, recitations of poetry and prose, solicitations for political causes, testimonials for illegal drugs, and experiments with noise and silence."[1] Notable guests include investigative reporter Mae Brussell, Abbie Hoffman commenting on the Chicago Seven trial, a planning session for the Central Park Be-In, and the first radio appearance of Phoebe Snow.

Response to the show[edit]

Neil Fabricant, Legislative Director of New York's ACLU during the 1960s, has said that Fass was "a midwife at the birth of the counterculture." Ralph Engleman, in his book, Public Radio & TV in America: A Political History, cites Fass as "the father of freeform radio."

He also plays a major role in Marc Fisher's book, Something In The Air, which covers radio's impact in the post TV years. The Washington Post columnist describes how the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" scene in the film, Network, grew out of an actual incident when WOR's Jean Shepherd exhorted his listeners to throw open their windows, stick out their heads, and shout, "Excelsior!", then he goes on to write:

"Shepherd took the unseen audience and let them see each other, but it's Bob Fass who took that to the next level, giving it social and political meaning. Fass really opened the door and summoned the audience into the action. He used the mass media to amass a very real movement."

Early years[edit]

Bob Fass was born June 29, 1933 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Syracuse University in 1955.[2] Fass received a scholarship to study acting with Sandy Meisner and Sydney Pollack at the Neighborhood Playhouse and was also a member of Stella Adler's workshop. He appeared on stage in Brendan Behan's The Hostage at Circle in the Square, The Execution of Private Slovik with Dustin Hoffman, and The Man with the Golden Arm at the Cherry Lane, among other New York productions. When he went into the army in 1956, he started a theater at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In 1960, he took over the role of the warden in the legendary off-Broadway production of Threepenny Opera with Lotte Lenya. Over the next two years, he played a variety of roles in the show, also acting as assistant stage manager.

In 1963, he began working at WBAI, one of the nation's first listener-sponsored, non-commercial radio stations, operated by the Pacifica Foundation. Novelist and poet Richard Elman, a friend of Fass's from high school, who was producing programs for the station's Drama & Literature Department, helped Fass get a job as an announcer. He then was given the midnight to dawn time block to use as he wished. Jay Sand, in The Radio Waves Unnameable, writes "He had the same supplies as any other broadcaster---two turntables, a microphone, a stack of records, perhaps a guest in the studio, a friend on the phone,... (but) the radio program he created however transcended those common wares."

Radio Unnameable[edit]

The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett, which Fass was reading at the time, gave the show its title. His signature greeting, "Good morning, cabal," came from a listener. "I wanted a sign-on line, like William B. Williams "Good morning, world," says Fass. "Someone sent in a postcard suggesting, "Good morning, cabal." I looked it up in the dictionary and discovered that the word, cabal, comes from "horse." Originally, people met on horseback at night with their identities concealed-even from each other—to plot or plan something subversive. And I thought, that's it: "Good morning, cabal."

Fass brought his acting training to the radio via his voice. Filmmaker Susan Lazarus recalls listening to Bob's show as a teenager. She drifted off to sleep and woke some hours later to hear Tom Rush singing a beautiful song live in BAI's studio. It was called Urge For Going, by a new Canadian songwriter named Joni Mitchell (who would also go on to sing and play the piano on Radio Unnameable). Lazarus remembers the sense of discovering something with Fass at the very instant of transmission. "It was like magic."

Nowhere else, Jay Sand writes, could you hear a DJ "playing two records at the same time or backwards, or the same song over and over and over again, simply because he liked its message. Nowhere else in the early 60s could you hear callers and hosts alike criticize LBJ [President Lyndon B. Johnson ] for escalating the War in Vietnam, encourage men to burn their draft cards, or talk in glowing terms about their drug experiences. Radio Unnameable was a counterculture radio show before anyone ever applied the term to America's drop-out youth. Bob Fass was a hippie before there were hippies."

From the earliest days of Radio Unnameable, Fass experimented with sound, inspired by the audio art he'd heard by John Cage and Bill Butler. He collaborated with Gerd Stern and Michael Callahan's media collective, USCO,[3] which had produced sound fields for Timothy Leary's Fillmore East shows, then dove in and began creating dense mixes on the air.

On the spur of the moment, Fass would layer four or five sources of sound; an instructional typing record... a Hopi Indian ceremony...an anti-war song...cannons firing...an excerpt from a play. He would weave the sources in and out; make them louder, then softer, introducing new voices and noises that would comment on the state of the nation or just create a mood. When everything came together in a moment of perfect timing, the effect was mesmerizing.

Watching the production of these mixes behind the scenes was sometimes just as entertaining as listening to them on the air. Fass would get a brainstorm only seconds before a cut would run out and fly into the record library in search of the perfect segue. "He existed on a slightly different plane than the rest of us," Steve Post recalled in his memoir of life at WBAI, Playing in the FM Band. "He was more spontaneous. We all copied him, but he was the best."

Fass always pressed to expand the boundaries of radio communication. In the mid 70s, he asked the station's Chief Engineer and resident technical guru, Mike Edl, if there was any way to rig up a contraption that would allow him to put as many as ten phone calls on the air at the same time. The system Edl built became a centerpiece of Fass's show, allowing more of his listeners to connect with him, and with each other. Fass rarely rushes callers off the phone. Community organizers know they can always count on Fass for airtime to spread word of current crises or upcoming events. He is an ongoing outlet for the unsung, unspun, ignored and unknown. At least one suicidal listener called in to receive on air counseling.[4][5]

Musicians[edit]

A long list of musicians have appeared on Radio Unnameable, including Townes Van Zandt, David Peel, Richie Havens, Jose Feliciano, Joni Mitchell, The Fugs, Patti Smith and Phil Ochs (parodying "Positively 4th Street"; half pretending a comic competition with Bob Dylan, but later telling disapproving callers that it was Dylan's right to play with an electric guitar and a band behind him). Jerry Jeff Walker and David Bromberg introduced the song Mr. Bojangles on the show, The Incredible String Band came over from England with their manager, Joe Boyd, Happy and Artie Traum often stopped by before heading back to Woodstock.

After Arlo Guthrie debuted "Alice's Restaurant" in 1966, hundreds of people called asking where they could buy the record. Arlo didn't even have a recording contract yet. Bob knew Dave Van Ronk, from the Greenwich Village folk scene, from Conrad's shop. (They shared a birthday and Fass remembers they once celebrated by sneaking into the Carmine Street Pool after dark.) Garland Jeffreys, Buzzy Linhardt and Moogy Klingman are hometown guys who still make repeat visits.

Other performers include Taj Mahal, Paul Siebel, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Skip James, Rosalie Sorrels, Tiny Tim with his ukulele, Jake & the Family Jewels, Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, Melanie, Penny Arcade, Rambling Jack Elliot, Tom Rapp and Pearls before Swine, Frank Zappa, flute virtuoso Jeremy Steig, The Holy Modal Rounders, Sis Cunningham and Sammy Walker.

Bob Dylan was a significant guest. Fass met Dylan before he began his radio career, double dating with Carla Rotolo, one-time stage manager of The Hostage, and her sister, Suze, who was Dylan's girlfriend. "We went out to dinner in the Village and played poker at Dylan's apartment over The Music Inn on W. 4th Street," Fass remembers. "When I started the show, he listened and occasionally I could squeeze a suggestion out of him. He turned me on to Lightnin' Hopkins."

Dylan first appeared on Bob's show doing comic improvs with Suze Rotolo and John Herald in 1963. Listeners also got a preview of his forthcoming album, Freewheelin'. In 1966, in the midst of recording Blonde on Blonde, he returned to Radio Unnameable, taking phone calls from listeners. When Dylan's crusading anthem, Hurricane, came out in the mid 70s, Fass played it all night for five nights in a row and in 1986, when Dylan turned 45; he organized a 45-hour marathon of his music for WBAI.

Fass explained the connection to NPR reporter (and former WBAI news reporter) Jon Kalish, this way: "Bob Dylan is the leading bard of our age. I feel grateful to have been alive while he's been writing. In a way, it's like having known Shakespeare."

"Midwife to a Movement"[edit]

Fass remembers his very first guest on the air was Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist, soon followed by Zen poet D.A. Levy, who spoke about legalizing marijuana. Krassner became a regular, along with Timothy Leary, Wavy Gravy, (aka comedian Hugh Romney), filmmaker Robert Downey, (years later, Robert Downey Jr., the actor, sang on Radio Unnameable) musician David Amram, comic actor and writer, Marshall Efron, the club performer, Brother Theodore, and Kinky Friedman (years before he began writing mystery stories and took up politics).

Bob Fass c.1969.(Photograph by Jim Demetropoulis)

Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso, turned up multiple times on Radio Unnameable. Over the course of many years, activist attorney Flo Kennedy kept listeners abreast of the latest injustices in America's court system. Steve Ben Israel and Judith Malina of the Living Theater, actor Rip Torn (and more recently his son, director Tony Torn), Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg, and the rest of The Fugs, all made themselves comfortable on Fass's show. Abbie Hoffman, the former civil rights organizer turned political provocateur appeared regularly during the tumultuous years from 1968-1973. "We'd have a phone near the bed and call in," Anita Hoffman, told Jay Sand. "It was an incredible feeling of a small intimate community."

Listening to Bob Fass's programs from the 1960s and 70s is like time traveling through the jubilant birth and rocky growth of that community of idealistic and irreverent Americans, which dared to challenge the status quo.

Some believe it began one night on-air in 1966, when Fass invited "the Cabal" to join him for the Fly-In, a get together at JFK airport where he and his friends could meet and party with Radio Unnameable listeners and their friends, while aircraft took off and landed in the background. ("My vision was like the Hawaiians who greet you when you get off the plane with leis, a kiss, and song," Fass says.)

About a month later, on Saturday, February 11, 1967, 3000 people showed up at midnight "on the coldest day of the year", to play guitar and hang out at the International Arrivals Terminal underneath Alexander Calder's monumental mobile. Fass told author Jay Sand, "that was the first inkling I had that there were so many people and that they wanted so much to get together." "Something about this electronic thing - this radio station - makes it possible to listen to other people like themselves and they get the idea they aren't alone."

Excited by the response to the Fly In, Fass and his friends looked for another opportunity to gather the tribe. Emmett Grogan (who worked with the anarchist collective, the Diggers and at The Free Store -"the trip without a ticket", providing food and services to runaways and other needy citizens on New York's Lower East Side) suggested the next get together should put all that positive energy towards a good purpose, "like cleaning up the junk on the Lower East Side." That was all the encouragement Fass and Paul Krassner needed.

They announced plans for a Sweep In which would be held on April 8, 1967 and invited the audience to join them in cleaning up Krassner's garbage-strewn block; 7th Street between Avenue D and 3rd Avenue. Word of the upcoming spring-cleaning eventually reached New York's Sanitation Department. Apparently embarrassed by the idea of dirty hippies doing their work for them, city trucks were dispatched in the wee hours to clean the block, from top to bottom, a hitherto unprecedented occurrence.

That didn't dampen the enthusiasm of Fass's listeners. When they arrived armed with brooms, mops, sponges and cleaning solutions and discovered the original mission had been accomplished; they simply moved down to 3rd Street and started scrubbing there. The New York Times reported a sizeable group of participants were kids who came in from Westchester County and Long Island.

It wasn't long before the movement nurtured in NYC went national. Abbie Hoffman became a household name in August 1967, after he led an anti-capitalist demonstration at the New York Stock Exchange, showering the traders with dollar bills. Bob Fass's Radio Unnameable became the communications hub of the Yippies!, the Youth International Party, started by Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Fass, Krassner, and a few others, to bring flower children, acidheads and old lefties together into one group that could change the course of American society.

The Yippies! got worldwide attention that October when they applied for permission to levitate the Pentagon during a massive anti-Vietnam War demonstration that attracted 50, 000 to Washington D.C. Fass can be heard on tapes of the event (along with Ed Sanders of the rock group The Fugs, and Mountain Girl) chanting, "out demons, out!" as they attempt to exorcize the evil spirits at the War Department.

But not every one appreciated the Yippies' sense of humor and it proved hard to keep things light in 1968. Fass and his friends spent months on the air plotting a march on Chicago to coincide with the Democratic National Convention that August. They dubbed it the "Festival of Life", in contrast to the "Festival of Death," they felt the political power brokers were advancing in Vietnam. As a kind of a practice run for the big event, the Yippies decided to hold a Yip In at Grand Central Terminal in New York in March 1968.

It began as a happy go lucky party; a reunion of people who'd met at the Fly In and the Easter Be-In in Central Park the previous year. WBAI had reporters on the scene and Bob Fass was broadcasting phone calls from Paul Krassner and others at Grand Central, describing the good vibes and great turn out. Then suddenly, things turned violent. Several hippies from the commune, Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, decided it would be a great symbolic gesture to rip the hands off the clock at the train station in "a rape of time." A couple others set off firecrackers and the NYPD began cracking heads and smashing cameras. As the panicked crowd streamed for the exits, over 200 cops cornered them, throwing individuals like Village Voice reporter, Don McNeil, through glass doors, and dragging others out and arresting them.

Decades before CNN or the World Wide Web existed to transmit news in "real time", Radio Unnameable was there providing a link between people inside the terminal and the audience listening at home. (Fass even called the police precinct to let the cops know that the station was monitoring the attack live on the air). He broadcast eyewitness accounts from the scene and spoke to Abbie Hoffman, who was getting his wounds patched up at Bellevue Hospital. Washington Post reporter, Nicholas Von Hoffman, came directly from Grand Central to join Fass on the air. As a member of the establishment press, he opined, "I'd have to say the police used excessive force".

It was a brutal initiation for the Yippies but it was also the moment that solidified Bob Fass's place in the city's information network. He was providing up to the second, unfiltered news that citizens wary of mainstream press coverage could trust. As Jay Sand points out in the Radio Waves Unnameable— "Bob Fass did not just report the news, he helped mold the events of the time."

The next month, when Columbia students occupied school buildings to protest the University's stance on the war and a plan to evict Harlem residents in order to build a gymnasium, WBAI, with Fass's show in the lead, "acted as a nerve center for the demonstrators." After the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (both in 1968), Fass provided in depth, ongoing alternative coverage, giving listeners and independent investigators a chance to grieve, discuss theories, express opinions and trade information considered too controversial for the major media to touch.

In the weeks leading up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, callers and guests on Radio Unnameable debated the wisdom of marching directly into the path of Mayor Richard J. Daley's troops. Fass cautioned listeners "to know what they were getting into should they choose to go. They don't mess around in Chicago." Vin Scelsa, later a major NYC radio broadcaster in his own right, then a WBAI listener, told Jay Sand, "We all should have been indicted as co-conspirators, not just the Chicago Seven. We were all in on it. That whole thing was planned on Bob's show."

Fass rarely left his command center in WBAI's Master Control but at the very last minute, he flew to Chicago and recorded everything he saw and heard...and not just from The Yippies' point of view. After reporting a noise that sounded like " an M1 cracking against someone's head," Fass noticed that some of the national guardsmen "look very frightened. They are putting on their gas masks. They aren't very experienced with them."

The ensuing attack, roughing up hippies and network news reporters alike, was broadcast live on television. When the dust settled, several of Fass's comrades were arrested for conspiracy and inciting to riot. Fass escaped indictment and returned to WBAI where over the next decade, his show became a kind of an alternative Town Hall; Abbie Hoffman called virtually every night with an update from the show trial of the Chicago Seven, which lasted for months. Anti-draft protestors would phone from the courthouse after being arrested to ask Bob's audience for help in raising bail. A woman called to say her landlord had set fire to her building and she had no other place to go—were there any carpenters listening who might help her rebuild? Over the long years of Rubin Carter's incarceration for a murder he did not commit, attorney Flo Kennedy called Radio Unnameable regularly "to keep the case in the consciousness of at least listeners to late night radio," says Fass. He remembers visiting Woodstock during the early 1970s and telling Bob Dylan "Carter was being railroaded for being "an uppity nigger." Several years later, Dylan produced his epic song telling the story of the unjust conviction (Hurricane) and formed his Rolling Thunder Review specifically to raise funds for Carter's defense. Fass calls the subsequent retrial and vindication of Carter "one of the great cooperative efforts where hippies and blacks united to achieve change before Jessie Jackson's Rainbow Coalition."

Even in the years after Abbie Hoffman's 1973 arrest for intent to sell cocaine (Fass believes he was set up), when he changed his name and appearance and went underground, he still surfaced occasionally on Radio Unnameable.

The 1970s[edit]

Bob Fass continued to do his show as New York City and WBAI went through radical changes. In the 1970s, the Movement split into factions and new program directors and station managers brought into revision the station attempted to portion out blocks of airtime to feminists, gay rights activists, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and other interest groups. Fass and many others felt this approach was the very antithesis of the personal character of WBAI. In 1977, Fass found himself at the forefront of a power struggle for the future of the station. He participated in a staff attempt to form a union. Management accused him of "living in the past" and ordered him not to discuss the station's internal business on the air. That was a request he found impossible to adhere to because he felt strongly that listeners paying to support non-commercial radio deserved to know and have a voice in what was being planned. The stand off ended with some staff members seizing control of WBAI's transmitter at the Empire State Building, while others (including Fass) remained barricaded in the studios, broadcasting until the phone lines were cut and the police arrived to haul them away.

New York City's free speech station padlocked the front door and suspended broadcasting altogether for 35 days. Fass was banned for five long years, during which he returned to stage acting, did a guest residency at WFMU in New Jersey, and campaigned to return to his rightful throne at WBAI.

Since his reinstatement in 1982, Fass has continued in the same vein. Singers like Jeffrey Lewis, Roy Zimmerman, Debby Dalton, Kathy Zimmer and Rav Shmuel, blues guitarists Toby Walker and Guy Davis, radical environmentalist Keith Lampke (AKA Ponderosa Pine) and visual artists like Keith Haring, Art Spiegelman and McArthur Fellow Ben Katchor, are just a few who have joined the roster of Radio Unnameable guests. Fass reassembled the members of The Lovin' Spoonful on the air, emceed the Phil Ochs Memorial, (a tribute to the life and music of the folksinger broadcast live from the Lower East Side in December 2005) and flew to Houston to celebrate Jerry Jeff Walker's birthday, which he taped and played on the radio.

Fass was a fierce and consistent critic of, as he calls it, "Bush's war for oil" and continues to speak out against capital punishment, often putting prisoners who call from jail on the air. He has returned to the issue of homelessness in New York numerous times, raising awareness about the dangerous city shelters, reporting on the gentrification of many of the city's neighborhoods which traditionally had offered affordable housing, and slamming the city's " assault on rent control." In the mid-1980s, Fass made remote recordings at the tent city the homeless had erected in Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side. He went on to work with the Living Theater and members of that community to produce a piece of theater based on their experiences (which included both professional actors and homeless people), called The Hands of God. By 2006, Fass's time on WBAI had been reduced to just one night a week.

Lasting influence[edit]

In his book about life at WBAI, Playing in the FM Band, Steve Post describes Bob Fass as: "a gigantic man with receding blond hair and thick black-rimmed glasses, with hands so huge they appeared to dominate his enormous frame. His voice, soft & gentle, which I heard coming from the office monitors seemed somehow detached from his body." Post, who began as WBAI's bookkeeper before hosting a program of his own, The Outside, describes how Fass took him under "his ample wing" and allowed him to watch him at work, teaching him what he knew, demystifying the whole process.

Julius Lester, a former SNCC photographer, recalls being so in awe of Fass that for the first year he did his own program at WBAI people constantly mistook him for Bob.

Larry Josephson who would became WBAI'S morning man and eventually station manager, remembers, the first time Bob motioned him into Master Control, "it was like Dorothy entering Oz."

Indeed, Fass creates such a magical atmosphere and makes it all seem so easy, he has encouraged dozens of wanna-be DJs. His continuing impact is clear, according to Marc Fisher, author of Something in the Air (Random House, 2007), who says Fass has inspired countless other personalities like Sirius shock jock Howard Stern (who listened to Bob a lot as a kid) Tom Leykis in L.A, and Vin Scelsa, to ride the radio waves.

"I like the idea of sharing, from each according to their ability, to each according to their need," says Fass. "I want to connect people in one city with people in another. I think information can cure almost anything."

As previously noted, Fass has always been ready to lend an ear and share the air with absolutely anyone who felt they had something to say. This largesse often leads to endless, boring mouthing off that only a mother could love, but equally often leads to dynamic, intimate flurries of insight, energy, humor and understanding.

Unlike almost any other radio or television personality one can think of, silence never scares Bob Fass. Seconds pass as he seemingly ponders the thoughts of his guests, leaving them or you, the listener, a large space to fill in the blanks. In addition, to being a congenial master of ceremonies, Bob Fass is a good listener.

Fass has never been a brilliant monologist like Jean Shepherd who preceded him on WOR in the late 50s, nor a star interviewer. His style is to make a few gentle stabs at drawing his guest out, and then he's content to go with the flow. His singular talent, as Jay Sand notes in The Radio Waves Unnameable, is for orchestrating the great mix; "For Fass, beauty exists in the way events intertwine... the art came in the complete presentation... and for better or worse, the divergent strands of life which Fass presented would have fused to form a lucid whole by the time he said, 'BYE BYE'."

Looking back at the great "audio bazaar" he's presided over for more than forty years, Fass says it's the little moments that stand out for him. "Once at 3 am, a guy called from the Lower East Side and was talking about something, then said, "Whoa! do you hear that thunder?" A woman in the Bronx who was also on the line, paused and then said, "Wow! Look at the lightning!" You could hear the thunder claps moving up town and you got the feeling of a network of the whole city."

Remembering the appearance of the Brooklyn Black Panthers on Radio Unnameable back in the day, Fass says, "I kind of like it when people come up a little hostile and suspicious and I and the audience warm them up and win them over by the end of the show."

In 1971, a man called in about 2:45 in the morning and announced that he had taken pills and was going to commit suicide. He asked Fass to promise not to call authorities, but Fass refused. "I didn't want to lie to him," Fass explained to a reporter the next day. "If the last thing someone says to you is a lie, that kind of cheapens life." Fass spent the next two hours talking to the caller live on the air, as other WBAI workers contacted the police and the phone company attempted to trace the call.

Later that morning, the police finally found the caller lying unconscious on his bedroom floor. His telephone was off the hook, the radio tuned to WBAI. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition but survived. Fass says the man contacted him later and thanked him for being there. The press tried to turn Fass into a hero but he demurred. When a Daily News reporter arrived at his home, wanting to take his picture, Fass passed him a photo of his colleague, Larry Josephson, through a crack in the door. Josephson made the front page, identified incorrectly as "Bob Fass, WBAI's heroic DJ." Fass later commented that he thought, "Larry would enjoy having his picture in the paper."

Columnist Jimmy Breslin observed Fass on the job in 1985: "a large man in a tie dyed T-shirt, Fass had two or three callers on the air at once. They spoke about battered wife syndrome and low income mortgages. One caller arguing with another said, "Pathetic left wing drivel!" Someone threw the door open and said, we have food!" As Breslin left, he passed Melanie on her way in, just arriving to sing on Radio Unnameable.

In the mid-1980s Fass was nearly homeless. AJ Weberman rented a truck for Fass and a large storage unit to hold his archives, paid in advance for many years.

Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher remembers spending a night at WBAI in 2005. "A caller phoned in to say that kids were being roughed up by cops in Brooklyn. Bob effortlessly went to the phones and the show became an open forum where listeners offered almost play-by-play accounts of the encounter from their different perspectives. It was an amazing mix of old counter culture stalwarts and a new BAI audience of west Indians and African Americans. Bob Fass was the circuit that linked them."

Fass was last paid for his radio time in 1977. Musicians like Dave Bromberg turn up at tributes to thank Bob "for giving us our careers." Many of his protégées have turned colleagues, like Steve Post, Larry Josephson, and Vin Scelsa, and have spoken of his generosity with his time. Listeners have made donations to his retirement fund. "It's better than BAI paying me that people remember me, I guess," Fass says.[6]

In 2005, attorney Neil Fabricant, President Emeritus of the School of Social Policy at GWU, organized a rent party for Fass. "The right wing has spent billions of dollars to revise the history of an era and to distort the collective memory," Fabricant says. He suggests that restoring and properly archiving the 45 years of Bob Fass's program "would be a giant first step in reclaiming that history."

80 hours of Radio Unnameable have been acquired and are currently available at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York. A documentary film about Fass and the show, also named Radio Unnameable, aired on the World Channel series America ReFramed on September 17, 2013.[7]

"Like many others, Bob wanted to change the world. Unlike many others, he had access to the airwaves and therefore a very real opportunity to do so." says Jay Sand.

Good Evening Cabal, a weekly show on a Florida-based community FM station, is named as a tribute to Bob Fass by its host, Curt Werner, who as a Brooklyn teenager listened to Fass in the 1960s on WBAI. The program, which features music from the 1960s and 1970s and live interviews with artists and writers from that era, has been on the air for four years on WSLR 96.5 LPFM in Sarasota, Fla. Fass himself appeared as a guest on the show in 2007.

Quotes about Fass[edit]

"When speaking today to those who listened to Bob Fass regularly throughout the '60s, one can sense an almost spiritual reverence that they still hold for Radio Unnameable. Before the cultural explosion of the mid-1960s- before listening to Radio Unnameable became a ritual shared by the city's counterculture community – those who discovered Fass felt as if they had untapped a passageway into a magical world, and many instantaneously became religious Radio Unnameable devotees." [1]

Broadcast samples[edit]

The internet archive has available a sound recording (in various formats) of a program "featuring live interviews with Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Phil Ochs": Bob Fass in Chicago - August 27, 1968

Sources[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Fisher, Marc, (2006) "Voice of the Cabal", The New Yorker, December 4, 2006
  2. ^ a b "Bob Fass Radio Unnameable", Syracuse University News
  3. ^ Gerd Stern, "From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist in San Francisco and Beyond, 1948-1978," an oral history conducted in 1996 by Victoria Morris Byerly, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2001. Retrieved on August 15, 2008.
  4. ^ Rafferty, Thomas. "A Call to WBAI Balks Suicide." NY Daily News 7 Nov. 1971
  5. ^ Clarity, James F. "Radio Station Helps in Rescuing Suicide Caller." New York Times 07 Jan. 1971: p. 84
  6. ^ Listener donation account at AARP (Broken Link)
  7. ^ "Radio Unnameable Movie" - website

External links[edit]