Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer is one of my favorite people in the world of arts, letters, and radio. A brilliant and entertaining critic of neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and neo-crackpotism, Henwood is the author of Wall Street and After the New Economy—the latter a remarkable analysis of the dot-com-bomb phenomenon.
Doug is long associated with the Pacifica radio network, most notably WBAI-FM in New York City. Unfortunately, he’s not doing a show there any more, and while I’m happy that he’s still broadcasting at ‘BAI’s sister station KPFA in Berkeley, I just think that some enterprising radio organization ought to take further advantage of this guy’s experience, talent, and smarts. Hence this Q&A:
Q. Doug, what is your current status with Pacifica radio? My understanding is that you no longer have a show with WBAI in New York City, but are still with KFPA in Berkeley. Why is that?
WBAI’s program director, Tony Bates, decided that he wanted to move my show from Thursday evenings to Saturday mornings and cut my frequency to every other week. I was suspicious that this was revenge for having criticized his use of crazy premiums during fundraisers—crackpot stuff about chemtrails and oregano oil along with the usual 9/11 lunacy and crypto-fascist monetary theories. I didn’t want to work on Saturday mornings—I’d rather spend that time with my wife and kid, and it’s not easy to get people for live interviews on political economy on the weekend – so I just told him to stuff it.
Several years ago, Sasha Lilley, who was then the interim program director at KPFA, put a rebroadcast of my show on, of all things, Saturday mornings. Fortunately, it was all done in advance, so this didn’t involve any weekend labor on my part. But when Bates squeezed me out of WBAI, I decided to keep doing the show for KPFA.
Q. Would you like to have more of a presence at Pacifica radio?
Yes, but… The “but” part is that it’s exhausting to work with an institution in such a constant state of crisis and civil war. All in all, KPFA is a saner and healthier environment – several people in management at the station have thanked me for my work, which is something that no one at WBAI ever did in the 15 years I had a show there. But it looks like chaos is gaining the upper hand there too.
Q. Is radio helpful to your work? Would you like to broadcast elsewhere? Any possibilities or prospects?
I really like doing radio. Most of my working life is spent writing, which can be rather lonely, though it has a long shelf life. And, I spend much of my time giving my analysis and opinion. It’s a refreshing change to do something in real time (even if it’s pre-recorded), where I interview other people about their opinions. By doing all those interviews – and by reading lots of books, since I interview a lot of authors – I really do keep up on much more than I probably would otherwise. But it’s a lot of work for no pay – about a full workday every week.
I’ve never tried to pitch my show anywhere else (though a few stations outside Pacifica pick it up – I’m never sure how many). I doubt anyone would have me, though I’d like it.