Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 10, 2017

The six degrees of separation between WBAI and Craig Carton

Filed under: radio,sports — louisproyect @ 7:58 pm

Craig Carton under arrest by FBI agents

When I found out on Thursday that Craig Carton, a shock jock who co-hosts a morning show on WFAN with Boomer Esiason, had been arrested for running a Ponzi scheme, that was a bigger shock than I ever got from any words coming out of his mouth. Boomer and Carton had been on the air since September 4th, 2007 when they replaced Don Imus, another shock jock. Imus’s show was focused on politics rather than sports but sprinkled with the kind of racist and pro-cop palaver that Boomer and Carton specialized in. Of course, it is never naked racism but typically bad-mouthing Colin Kaepernick or complaining about Black Lives Matter.

WFAN knew what they were getting when they hired Carton.Wiki reports that when he was a DJ in New Jersey, he and his co-host Ray Rossi allegedly made numerous hostile and racist remarks directed towards then Edison mayoral candidate, Jun Choi, as well as the Korean, Chinese and Indian populations of the Edison area. And just before coming to WFAN, he was confronted by a Polish Holocaust survivor Paweł Zenon Woś, for propagating anti-Polish stereotypes.

The time-spot opened up for Boomer and Carton because Don Imus had been fired for referring to the Rutgers woman’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ho’s”. His stooge Bernard McGuirk, an ex-Marine and passionate Trump supporter, chimed in, referring to them and an opposing team as “”jigaboos versus the wannabes”.

So, you might ask why I ever bothered to listen to Imus, Boomer and Carton or Howard Stern who pandered to the same backward white male audience. As it happens, my wife and I enjoy listening to shock jocks in the morning. 90 percent of it is innocent chatter about politics, sports or bowel movements but the 10 percent that is intolerable usually motivates me to turn to CNN. My preference would be for WBAI but the station lost its entertainment value about 20 years ago.

Ironically, it was WBAI that provided one of the inspirations for Howard Stern, who was arguably the father of shock jock radio. He is reported to have listened to Bob Fass religiously as a teenager. Fass and fellow Pacifica talk show host Larry Josephson were the first to begin exploring their psyches on the radio in a free association manner as if they were on a psychiatrist’s couch.

Stern was also a big Bob Grant fan. Grant, who died in 2013, was one of the first rightwing zealots on the radio. He likened Mayor Dinkins to a washroom attendant and was finally fired from WABC, the fountainhead of rightwing talk radio, for telling listeners that he hoped that Ron Brown, the African-American Commerce Secretary in the Clinton administration, wouldn’t have been a survivor in a plane crash. (He wasn’t.)

On a good day, Boomer and Carton can be very entertaining especially when they are interviewing sports figures. Like Howard Stern, Carton is an excellent interviewer not afraid to ask what might seem to be tactless question. Here’s an example of Carton at his most likeable.

Seinfeld, who is a big-time sports fan like me, was honing in on Carton’s problem—an inability to accept the responsibilities of fatherhood. If you listen to his anecdotes on the show about going to Las Vegas or having bromance type dinners with sports celebrities, you get little sense that he is the father of four children.

Apparently, Carton loved going to Las Vegas because he had a gambling addiction. He had racked up $2 million in gambling debts and was desperate to find a solution. Like Bernie Madoff, he ran a Ponzi scheme but one based on the resale of concert tickets for A-list performers like Beyonce. He and his two partners told a hedge fund in NYC that they had access to huge blocks of tickets for such concerts direct from the promoters that could be resold online for a huge profit. Typically what happens is something like this. A ticket to a Beyonce concert might cost $100 but on the secondary market it can go up to a $1000. Carton never had such tickets and conned the hedge fund guys into fronting him millions of dollars that he used to pay off his debts.

They say that he faces up to 45 years for breaking various laws. As tempting as it would be to feel schadenfreude for Carton, I felt nothing but sadness. He has four young children who will likely be damaged by his absence both materially and psychologically. If you’ve seen the excellent biopic of Bernie Madoff on HBO that starred Robert DeNiro in one of his best performances in years, you’ll realize how much of a tragedy it was for him and his family. (One son hung himself in shame and likely fear that he too would be arrested eventually.)

A little bit of this has a personal resonance. One of my closest friends growing up had a gambling addiction just like Carton. I used to go with him to the Monticello Raceway where he would bet hundreds of dollars on harness races. He worked as a waiter in his father’s hotel and blew away all his money every summer. On occasion I’d have to loan him money just to pay his tuition in a local community college.

Last September Scientific American published an article titled “How the Brain Gets Addicted to Gambling” that identifies gambling as an addiction rather than a compulsion.

Research to date shows that pathological gamblers and drug addicts share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking. Just as substance addicts require increasingly strong hits to get high, compulsive gamblers pursue ever riskier ventures. Likewise, both drug addicts and problem gamblers endure symptoms of withdrawal when separated from the chemical or thrill they desire. And a few studies suggest that some people are especially vulnerable to both drug addiction and compulsive gambling because their reward circuitry is inherently underactive—which may partially explain why they seek big thrills in the first place.

Even more compelling, neuroscientists have learned that drugs and gambling alter many of the same brain circuits in similar ways. These insights come from studies of blood flow and electrical activity in people’s brains as they complete various tasks on computers that either mimic casino games or test their impulse control. In some experiments, virtual cards selected from different decks earn or lose a player money; other tasks challenge someone to respond quickly to certain images that flash on a screen but not to react to others.

A 2005 German study using such a card game suggests problem gamblers—like drug addicts—have lost sensitivity to their high: when winning, subjects had lower than typical electrical activity in a key region of the brain’s reward system. In a 2003 study at Yale University and a 2012 study at the University of Amsterdam, pathological gamblers taking tests that measured their impulsivity had unusually low levels of electrical activity in prefrontal brain regions that help people assess risks and suppress instincts. Drug addicts also often have a listless prefrontal cortex.

Further evidence that gambling and drugs change the brain in similar ways surfaced in an unexpected group of people: those with the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease. Characterized by muscle stiffness and tremors, Parkinson’s is caused by the death of dopamine-producing neurons in a section of the midbrain. Over the decades researchers noticed that a remarkably high number of Parkinson’s patients—between 2 and 7 percent—are compulsive gamblers. Treatment for one disorder most likely contributes to another. To ease symptoms of Parkinson’s, some patients take levodopa and other drugs that increase dopamine levels. Researchers think that in some cases the resulting chemical influx modifies the brain in a way that makes risks and rewards—say, those in a game of poker—more appealing and rash decisions more difficult to resist.

Speaking only for myself, gambling couldn’t be less interesting. When I was at the race track with my friend, I’d bring along a book to read. I won’t even spend a dollar on a lottery ticket. Drugs are even less tempting, except if you consider alcohol a drug. After reading Marxist literature all day, nothing relaxes me more than glass of Famous Grouse, the scotch that most Scottish people prefer.

I suppose the only bet I took in life was revolutionary socialism. In some ways, that makes me a total loser. But I had fun doing it most of the time.

May 3, 2016

Richard Greener: a life in radio

Filed under: commercialism,radio — louisproyect @ 2:47 pm

The interview with Richard Greener above was prompted by his commentary on the death of KGO, an AM station in San Francisco that featured local news and talk until it was bought by Citadel in 2007 and turned into a typical soulless syndicated programming automaton as former KGO on-air host Claudia Lamb put it in a Soundwaves article I sent to Richard a month or so ago.

Citadel, along with Cumulus, Entercom and Clear Channel (a.k.a. iHeart Radio) destroyed radio as we knew it. If you can’t stand to listen to radio anymore you can thank these companies. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed them to consolidate thousands of Mom-and-Pop radio stations into just a handful of owners. What was once a thriving marketplace of ideas and new music became a moribund feedback loop of homogeneity and satellite programs.

Richard summed up what was going on:

Thanks Louis…

I was one of 6 partners in US Radio, Inc., which was completely controlled by a limited partnership in which I was also a partner. All of this was more than 50% owned by a single investor, Ragan Henry. Ragan was a black attorney in Philadelphia. In 1985, when I was VP/General Manager of Radio Station WAOK in Atlanta, the flagship station for our group, Ragan called me and asked this question: “What is the price at which you cannot say ‘No’ to an offer to buy WAOK?” We sold WAOK, my radio station, for $4 million. This was the largest amount ever spent on what was called a Class 4 AM station. At the closing in Philadelphia I was heartbroken. I was losing my radio station. Yes, I was fabulously compensated. But my heart was broken. Money doesn’t count. At the closing table, Ragan leaned over to me and whispered: “I never fell in love with anything I’ve owned.” Well, of course not. That’s the difference between an investor and a broadcaster.

I spent 33 years in radio, including the last 7 years where I owned part of the company but was retired from active, daily management after my 4th heart attack. As much as I wanted to work, I couldn’t. Still, Ragan insisted I get paid. As a Director of the company I tried to stop my own salary and he ruled me “out of order.”

 From 1981 to 1996 we bought, operated and sold more than 30 radio stations from coast-to-coast, almost all Black Programmed. In the end, in 1996, we sold our last 18 stations, all of them to Clear Channel Communications. We made $219 million. Yes, I was a partner. Nevertheless, I was a broadcaster first. I know how Claudia Lamb feels.

That’s why the memoir I’m writing is titled, “The Last of the Radio Negroes.”

I have been thinking about the decline of radio lately largely because of my dissatisfaction with classical music programming on both FM stations and “the cloud” that are now accessible to me through a Sonos Playbar, a device that I bought to improve the sound of my flat screen TV as well as its ability to access Internet-based programming. With literally thousands of radio stations at my fingertips, I find myself as dissatisfied as I am with cable TV—the proverbial 500 channels and nothing to watch.

As I pointed out to Richard in the beginning of the interview, radio has been an important part of my life for more than sixty years as these vignettes would indicate:

  • 1952: My parents had still not bought a TV. In the evenings we sat in the living room listening to shows like “Mercedes McCambridge for the Defense” that was in the Perry Mason genre. My parents would sit on the sofa listening to the show as they read one of the ten or so magazines they subscribed to, including Colliers that featured short stories by Ring Lardner, Sinclair Lewis, J. D. Salinger, and Kurt Vonnegut. Once the TV entered our lives, the magazine subscriptions all lapsed.
  • 1960: I begin listening to WBAI over a high-power FM antenna that our TV repairman had installed on a tall pole in our backyard 90 miles from New York. I listen mostly to music, including Gunther Schuller’s amazing survey of 20th century music. Any resemblance to that station and today’s is purely coincidental.
  • 1966: I am living in Hoboken and studying philosophy at the New School, just across the river, mostly to maintain a student deferment from the draft. I usually go to sleep at 4am, having read Hegel or Kant all through the night as I listen to WNCN. “Listening with Watson” starts at midnight and ends at 6am. William Watson would typically start with the complete “Well-Tempered Clavier” by Bach performed on a piano by João Carlos Martins without any interruptions. Once the last record had been played, Watson would say something like “Wasn’t that wonderful? Let’s play it again” and he did.

I search desperately for something on the Sonos or the Boston Acoustics radio that sits on my night-table, a very fine receiver. All the classical music follows the same predictable pattern, drawn from the late romantic repertory. If I hear Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite one more time, I will be tempted to look into assisted suicide. Radio Survivor is a website that was started by Matthew Lasar, the author of “Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network”, and two other people who describe themselves: “We are obsessed with the future of radio and are charmed by radio historians, radio dramatists, radio bloggers, and anyone else who cares about radio as deeply as we do.” Lasar wrote about classical music programming today most eloquently:

I believe that contemporary classical music should be integrated into the larger classical music picture. Instead, most classical radio stations restrict themselves to a very limited and conservative version of the “common practice period” of classical music. You hear lots of Baroque (Bach), Classical (Mozart), and Romantic (Chopin) content on these stations, but not much else. Pre-Baroque content is filtered out because it is mostly vocal and most classical operations avoid music that foregrounds the human voice. Post-Romantic content is filtered for anything that smacks of twelve-tonalism, non-western scales, pop music hybridity, prepared instrumentation, and, of course, the human voice again.

The result is that your typical classical music radio station functions as a sort of a portable easy listening museum for the work cubicle. This is unfortunate and sad. Real classical music is the music of God, of history, of nations, of utopia, dystopia, empire, and revolution. It is a wonderful conversation about the past, present, and future of the human race full of tone poems, operas, sonatas, symphonies, song cycles, and solo performances. But for a long time San Francisco’s principal classical music station adopted the very odd motto “Everyone Remain Calm.” This has nothing to do with real classical music. Ludwig von Beethoven did not want everyone to remain calm. “Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman,” Beethoven famously declared.


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