City Lore is proud to induct six new honorees to the People’s Hall of Fame for their significant contribution to radio culture.
We would also like to remember three iconic NYC DJs that passed away over the last two years: Pete Fornatale, Hal Jackson, and Danny Stiles.
For Anchoring the City’s Rich Irish Music Scene
Kathleen Biggins has been “welcoming” listeners to WFUV since her undergraduate days at Fordham in the 1980s, when she began hosting the Irish-themed programs. Kathleen’s grandparents are from County Mayo, County Galway and County Longford in Ireland. With a father from the Bronx and a mother from Brooklyn, she grew up with Irish music.
Kathleen attended Fordham University and, as a student, wandered into the station and became assistant news director during college, and, later, a news writer at CBS News Radio. While it was an interest in journalism that brought Biggins to WFUV as an undergraduate, it was her musical heritage that led her to stay. She quickly became involved with the station’s Irish programming, first with the community-minded program Ceol na nGael on Sundays, then with the Celtic music show A Thousand Welcomes on Saturdays from 9:00 to noon. Turns out that last gig was a perfect fit.
“Part of my role,” she says, “ is to keep the Irish language alive in the songs – ornamentation is very personal and different from verse to verse.” Part of it too is to foster the Irish music scene, attending and promoting the city’s many ceilis, bringing in musicians to perform live on her show, and participating in Irish music festivals. “The music is just so darn good,” she says. “It’s my my social life – my heritage – its my dance music – it’s my heart and soul – I can’t imagine my life without it – it’s almost like breathing.”
America’s Fold DeeJay, For His 67 Years on the Air
Oscar Brand was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1920, and grew to six feet tall. Graduating from Brooklyn College, he joined the U.S. Army in time for World War II and was cited for his work as Section Chief of a psychology unit and, later, as Editor of a newspaper for psychiatric patients. In 1945, he approached WNYC which, until recently had been the “Municipal Station” for important governmental announcements. He was hired by Fiorello LaGuardia and began presenting what is now the oldest continuous radio show in history, the award-winning “Folk-song Festival” on New York Public Radio. December 9th will be the show’s 67th anniversary.
The show highlighted many of the icons of the folk revival including Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Leadbelly, whom he remembers driving around to help do errands at a time when the African Americans were not allowed into many stores and restaurants. He served on the advisory panel for the group that created Sesame Street.
His name is to be found among the credits of seventy-five documentary films, such as Gulf’s “Invisible Journey”, Ford’s “Highway By the Sea”, Bell’s “Ballad To The Fair”, and many others. With Paul Nassau he wrote the lyrics and music for the Broadway shows, A Joyful Noise with John Raitt, directed by Dore Shary, and The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N with Hal Linden and Tom Bosley, directed by George Abbott. He also wrote and scored the Kennedy Center’s Bicentennial musical, Sing America Sing. He is the co-curator of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and composed the Canadian anthem, “Something To Sing About”. His concerts for adults and children have earned him such accolades as this from the NY Times: “One of America’s best”.
DJ Red Alert
FOR BRINGING HIP HOP TO THE RADIO.
Kool DJ Red Alert grew up in Harlem and was reared by his maternal grandparents, who were from Antiqua. Red’s love for those around-the-way basketball games led him to his high school team at DeWitt Clinton. No doubt this is where he was dubbed “RED” for his red hair and “ALERT” for his response on the court. Red later received a college basketball scholarship. During the last of his high school years, Red hung out at the Saturday night parties thrown by DJ Kool Herc (the first hip-hop deejay) and his emcee Coke La Rock (who Red credits as “the very first rapper”) at clubs throughout the west Bronx. Red studied the style of music Kool Herc played — James Brown, Dennis Coffey, Baby Huey, the Isley Brothers — and the way he blended the vinyl.
Learning about the various styles of dance oriented music, Red soon became the deejay for Bambaataa and his Zulu Nation, joining the likes of Jazzy Jay, Afrika Islam, the Soul Sonic Force, Grandmaster DST and the Rock Steady Crew. Through this association, Red began to spin records downtown at such clubs as Negril and Danceteria.
While deejaying at the Roxy, he met Barry Mayo, then program director of NY’s WRKS 98.7 KISS FM. A man of considerable taste, Mayo hired Red to inaugurate the “Dance Mix Party.” Red remained at 98.7 KISS FM for 11 years, becoming the top DJ at the station. During his tenure at KISS, Red became the first individual to popularize dancehall music at a major radio station. In 1994 DJ Red Alert moved to New York’s Hot 97 radio station where he did two daily shows. They were the “The Twelve O’clock Old School at Noon Mix” and the “Five O’clock Free Ride.” In the year 2007 Red returned home to 98.7 Kiss FM in New York City. Now a seasoned veteran as radio jock, club jock and studio man, Kool DJ Red Alert has established his place as hip hop’s premiere radio DJ.
WHO, IN AN AGE OF RIGIDLY FORMATTED SHOWS, INVENTED FREE-FORM RADIO.
Born in 1933, Bob Fass is the pioneer of free-form radio. His show Radio Unnameable, first aired in 1963 on WBAI, a listener-sponsored, non-commercial radio station operating out of New York City – and can still be heard live on Thursday nights from midnight till 3:00 am. From the beginning the show featured the work, and impromptu interviews, of counterculture figures such as Paul Krassner, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Townes Van Zandt, Joni Mitchell, Jose Feliciano, Richie Havens and Abbie Hoffman, and the first performances of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” among others. Abbie Hoffman provided regular commentary to the show after the 1968 convention, and even after he went underground in upstate New York. As one writer put it, nowhere else 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.” He is the subject of a new documentary, Unnameable Radio, by Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson.
Fass’ show was notable for inspiring and organizing a series of happenings. These included the Kennedy Airport“Fly Ins,” 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. And the “Sweep In,” a garbage clean up during the period of the garbage strike in the late 1960s.
His wife and lifelong fan, Linnie Fass from Staten Island remembers, “I almost flunked out of high school because I was always up to listen to his show that came on at midnight. I didn’t have any friends then, but Bob brought me friends in the middle of the night – cause there was nothing out in Staten Island then. His show came on at midnight so it was always, come home from school, go to sleep, and then get ready for the show. Later on, I could go out with my friends come home and he’d still be on the air.” She finally had the gall to visit the station, became an archivist for Bob, and then his wife.
Who brings Latin rhythms into New York homes.
In July 1999, Awilda Rivera, host of WBGO Jazz 88.3FM’s Latin Jazz Cruise and Weekend Jazz After Hours, was named host of Evening Jazz, Monday through Friday, 8:00PM – 1:00AM. Rivera, a longtime member of the WBGO family, worked her way up through the ranks through hard work, perseverance and talent. Her involvement in the station began in 1982 as a volunteer in the Membership and Music Departments, and then she was asked to record voice-overs for promotional spots. She took advantage of her time at WBGO to develop skills in production and announcing. Her WBGO on-air debut was in 1992 as a fill-in announcer for the weekly program Latin Jazz Cruise. In 1993 she went on to host her own show Sunday Morning Harmony, the Latin Jazz Cruise in 1994 and Weekend Jazz After Hours in 1998. In addition to hosting Evening Jazz, Rivera, hosts the weekly Latin Jazz Cruise on Tuesdays, 8pm.
Born to Puerto Rican parents she was from an early age exposed to the Latin music of the mambo kings such as Tito Puente, but from an early age she gravitated towards jazz. The first jazz album she heard was by Stan Getz and it moved her to explore other jazz musicians.
The Latin Jazz Cruise might well be the only radio show in the country that plays this genre of music, exposing listeners to the likes of Machito, Ray Barretto, Paquito D’Rivera and Bobby Sanabria. This show is crucial to listeners because Spanish-language stations rarely play Latin jazz. Aside from WBGO Awilda also provided the voice over narration for the documentary Jazzwomen by Italian filmmaker Gabriella Morandi about the role of female jazz pioneers.
FOR HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO AMERICA’S INDIGENOUS ART FORM — JAZZ.
Born in 1951, Phil Schaap is New York’s long-running and nationally known jazz disc jockey. He hosts a daily morning radio program on 89.9 FM New York, WKCR. The show, called Bird Flight, is broadcast from 8:20 am–9:30 am on weekdays and devoted to the music of Charlie Parker. Bird Flight has been running since 1981.
Phil Schaap comes by it honestly. His father was Walter Schaap, one of the first jazz historians and discographers. Phil’s early career found him managing the Basie alumni band, The Countsmen (featuring alto saxophonist Earle Warren and trombonist Dicky Wells) and doing sound for various Jazz events including George Wein’s Newport Jazz Festival. For 17 years Phil ran the Jazz at The West End jazz room on Broadway at 113th St in New York City, booking on a nightly basis such prominent swing-band alumni as Russell Procope’s Ellingtonia, The Countsmen, Franc Williams, George Kelly, Eddie Barefield, Sonny Greer, Benny Waters, “Papa” Jo Jones, Buddy Tate, Vic Dickenson, Harold Ashby, Big Nick Nicholas, Ronnie Cole, Eddie Durham and “Doc” Cheatham, more modern jazzers such as Lee Konitz and Joe Albany, and blues artists such as Percy France and Big Joe Turner. Since February 2, 1970 Phil has broadcast Jazz on the radio (primarily on WKCR). He’s known for his marathon festivals on one artist, birthday broadcasts, and memorials. He is currently the Curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Phil is an activist for the art form. He is concerned while music schools are training a new generation of jazz musicians, music appreciation classes are no long taught in New York and around the country. The new generation of musicians has an unemployment rate of close to 100%. Yet Phil’s work on the radio and as a speaker, archivist and producer is working to foster an appreciation for jazz for a new generation. “Everything I do is trying to create an audience for the art. Today, everyone has earphones on in the subway or at the gym – but it’s background. Listening to music should be its own activity. Concentrated focused listening.”