Thursday, July 5, 2012

Who is Chris Albertson - Really?

Who is Chris Albertson - Really?
(Part 3)

A short-term WBAI manager who, in 1965, sided with the anticommunist fervor of the times, and personally censored one of Pacifica's finest productions -- WBAI reporter Chris Koch's groundbreaking first-hand reports from Hanoi during the Vietnam war.
Following a staff revolt over his censorship, Albertson was run out of WBAI and, ever since, has been prolifically, verbosely, and revisionistically self-praising his brief, failed WBAI "management" tenure - and of course, "defending" his notorious blows against "anti-war" journalism and "free speech radio."

Nevertheless, Albertson's contentious and censorious time at WBAI has been documented by radio historian Jesse Walker, as well as the far-more-popular former WBAI station manager Steve Post - whose challenge to Albertson's censorship earned him (and others) Albertson's eternal enmity.

"Uneasy Listening: Pacifica Radio's Civil War"By Matthew Lasar

"In 1965 WBAI's Chris Koch became the first American to cover the Vietnam war from Hanoi. Infuriated that Koch had not forewarned Pacifica of his illegal trip, board members forced him to submit his scripts to them for review. They demanded over 100 changes in the narrative.
Had 4,000 listeners not threatened to cancel their subscriptions in protest over this interference, it is unclear whether Koch's reports would have been broadcast over WBAI."

"Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America"By Jesse Walker

"Of course, this being Pacifica, lots of people were fighting witft one another. One of the fiercest battles came in 1965, when program director Christopher Koch traveled illegally to North Vietnam and recorded the raw material for a series of one-hour shows on the then-nascent war. The series' stance was far friendlier to the Viet Cong than was ordinarily heard at that early date."
Walker goes on to confirm a similar account of Albertson's censorship as presented in Steve Post's ""Playing in the FM Band: A Personal Account of Free Radio"" [See Post excerpt below].
Again, according to Walker:

"So now Koch was traveling illegally to Vietnam and making broadcasts that were bound to anger the government. Several board members got mad, both at the programs themselves and at the fact that they had not been forewarned of (and, presumably, given a chance to veto) Koch's unlawful sojourn.

"Some wanted to edit out parts of Koch's programs. Louis Schweitzer—the station's landlord as well as its former owner, and a major donor as well—cast his lot with the censors.

"So did the station manager, a nervous Chris Albertson. Koch refused to soften his shows and eventually walked out, taking at least five more staffers with him. A lot of angry listeners canceled their subscriptions, too.

"When the dust cleared, Albertson was out and most of the staff were back."

"Playing in the FM Band: A Personal Account of Free Radio"
By Steve Post

Chris Albertson, producer of Inside, Radio Unnameable’s Saturday-night counterpart, had been on the staff for two years, rising in his first nine months from announcer to station manager – a prime Pacifica example of the “Peter Principle.”

As a producer, he had a unique talent: his programs were a spectacular blend of jazz, preproduced satirical pieces, and artfully edited sound montages. But as station manager, he helped precipitate one of the WBAI’s most severe internal political crises.

The crisis came to a head in the summer of 1965, when Chris Koch, WBAI’s program director, announced that he would leave shortly for a vacation in Paris. Actually he and a number of other American journalists were on their way to North Vietnam - one of the first groups of American newsmen to be admitted to that country since the intensification of the war. He returned later that summer with hours and hours of tape, which he boiled down into a series of hour-long programs, presenting what, at the time, must have seemed a startlingly sympathetic portrait of the North Vietnamese struggle – views which I suspect today would hardly raise an eyebrow among at least a substantial minority of Americans. But back then the war was still a “police action,” American soldiers were simply “advisors,” and it was not nearly so sage to project views espoused by a growing, but still tiny “peace movement.”

A few of Pacifica’s board members, as well as the station’s single large financial contributor at the time, were angered over Koch’s illegal journey, which had been made without the prior knowledge or consent of the cautious Pacifica hierarchy. Upon hearing the programs, they demanded that Koch make certain deletions.
It was an astounding violation of the spirit and principle of listener-sponsored radio, a case of self-censorship within an institution whose unbending dedication is to the First Amendment. In addition, the board was attempting to impose its will in a programing matter over that of the staff, which further aggravated years of already tense relations between board and staff.
Albertson, fearing for the station’s financial life, as well as for his own job, capitulated to the wishes of the board, and insisted that the changes be made. Koch, backed by a good number of the staff, refused.

For weeks tensions ran unbearably high. The business of running a radio station virtually halted and was replaced by midnight meetings, office politics, and back-stabbing gossip. Finally, with the station near paralysis, Albertson called a staff meeting at which we could confront the issue directly and, one way or another, settle it. Hours of mostly bitter and hostile debate led nowhere.

Finally (aggravated by the sudden appearance at the meeting of the station’s large contributor) Koch rose, followed by nearly half the staff, and left the room. All subsequently resigned, leaving behind them little more than the physical facilities.

Listeners, shocked by management’s failure to support the staff, canceled their subscriptions by the thousands, and within a year WBAI had lost nearly a third of its subscribers – the list falling from eleven thousand to seven thousand. It was an astonishing display of the power of our subscribers, and, in its tragic way, a reaffirmation of the validity of a communications medium supported, and therefore controlled, by broad-based community participation.

In the wake of the walkout, programing became pathetically dull, consisting mainly of hour upon hour of BBC-produced transcripts – productions of Greek tragedies, interviews with Cambridge scholars, and organ recitals – with almost no originally produced programing. Even WBAI’s highly regarded newscasts became little more than extended versions of what was available at scores of other radio stations – ripped and read directly from the news wire services. [...]

A generally oppressive atmosphere prevailed about the station in those days. Chris Albertson, growing increasingly paranoid since the walkout, kept his ears closely tuned to the station, never hesitating to phone and chastise the person on the air at any time of day or night. The tension was not conducive to creative growth, and this was reflected not only in our programing, but in listener reaction and financial support as well.

Finally, in the spring of 1966, Albertson, under pressure from all quarters, resigned.