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Community Last Updated: Sep 8th, 2009 - 08:07:52

Still Agitating

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In 1973 I joined four other folks in Madison to become the organization secretary of the new listener supported radio station WORT.

The chief founder, Mike O’Connor, and I assembled a demonstration cassette that we took around to various community and neighborhood groups to develop support and funds so we could construct the station and get on the air. It was 10 minutes long with 40 bits including:

The gospel song “I Heard My Name on the Radio,” Lenny Bruce on free speech, Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.”

Lewis Hill, the founder of listener supported radio reading his poem “Purgatory Recapitulated: “We must believe in the sanity of all creatures/To believe is to hear/And hearing is believing.”

A comedy record bit: “How do you like that for bad modern poetry. I’ll take Emily Dickenson any old day. Mommy read us Edna St. Vincent Millay.”

Carl Sandburg singing “Oh, we’ll roll back the prices/We’ll save a barrel of money/We’ll lick the crisis/Inflation’s on the run/Boom, tarah, tarah, rah/Ye housewives don’t despair/Oh, we’ll roll back the prices/In a pig’s left eye.

Tom Lehrer’s saying “I should like to consider the folksong and pound briefly on a theory I have held for some time, to the effect that the reason most folksongs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people.”

“Sometimes You Work a Day,” about the plight of the migrant farm workers.

Followed by the song: “We sign a contract/We get raise/After striking twenty days/Butcher come and ringing bell/He raises prices/what the hell. . .”

Psychiatrist Ralph Greenson discussing “People Who Hate”: “Intelligent and active people ought to be willing to have enemies. I decry this quest for universal popularity. I think a person who’s really worth something in a community ought to be hated by a few people.”

Alexander Meiklejohn defending the first amendment before the U.S. Congress. Followed by a comedy record: “Watch this demonstration. When graft, injustice, and corruption strike they leave you worn out, depressed, nerves on edge. Ordinary political systems work one-way, bring just one-way relief. But Democracy acts three ways: One, to stop tiresome graft; two, quiet depressing injustice; three, put an end to nerve-jangling corruption. Remember, there is just one genuine Democracy.

The tape ended with Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common man.”

By early 1975 we had attracted a large group of other volunteers but we still needed several thousand dollars to go on the air. Bonnie Raitt agreed to do a fund raising concert in Madison. She filled an auditorium. Just as she was completing her singing, word came that American troops were finally evacuating Viet Nam. A spontaneous parade started from the theater marching joyfully to the city hall via Ho Chi Minh Boulevard. I was dismayed that there was no mourning for the millions of people dead from this stupid war. But Bonnie Raitt’s concert did put us over the top financially and we started broadcasting on December 1st, 1975.

Trying to keep the volunteer spirit growing at WORT in spite of the tend toward hiring staff, I started the Madison Review of Books. We obtained thousands of review copies of new books from publishers and offered anyone in the community a chance to read them. You didn’t have to be an “expert,” just interested. Hundreds of people did take the opportunity. The idea spread to cable television in Madison, spawned a newsletter, and caught on in other communities as well.

The Madison Review of Books was only one of a large number of places where I exhibited my almost compulsive interest in reading and reviewing. I’ve personally published hundreds of book reviews in many different periodicals. My father-in-law noticed that I always carry a book with me wherever I go. He’s an inveterate smoker, who is constantly being taunted about such a deadly habit, so he derided me with the remark, “Books are you cigarettes, aren’t they!”

My published defense is that “I‘m a libertarian readaholic who opposes book worship.” The slogan of The Madison Review of Books was “OPPOSE BOOK WORSHIP,” based on the title of a 1930’s pamphlet by Mao Zedung, the Chinese communist leader, who said that people should learn from experience, not just from books. When we prepared exhibits for the program at the University of Wisconsin Library School and at the Madison Public Library, we included large buttons with that slogan. Both places ordered us to remove them, apparently because a lot of people do literally worship books. In fact, one of the people in our active program made up some buttons that said “SUPPORT BOOK WORSHIP.”

At age 73 I’m still agitating and loving/hating this crazy world. I’ll be glad to correspond with anyone interested, if you’ll tell me “where you are now.”

Reprinted with permission of WORT Community Radio.

© Copyright 2004 John

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