Wednesday, December 13, 2017

WBAI Print Ad

I keep posting these, pointing out how rare it is to see a radio station advertise in a print publication. I think in a decade I've found less than a dozen.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Voice of Oromo Liberation Radio

The Oromo Liberation Front was founded in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to promote self-determination for their people. The Oromo people are an ethnic group that are mostly found in Ethiopia but also parts of Kenya and Somalia. This is no splinter group. There are 35 million Oromo people in Ethiopia alone, constituting that nations largest ethnic group.  The OLF operates a shortwave radio station, SBO (Sagalee Bilisummaa Oromoo) or VOL (Voice of Oromo Liberation), in Berlin.
Let's talk a little history. The nation of Ethiopia grew out of lands controlled at different times by the the Kingdom of Aksum, the Aussa Sultanate, Zagwe dynasty, Mudaito Dynasty, the Yejju Oromo dynasty, and the Giyorgis II Empire all before 1890. Europeans looked at the whole horn of African and called it Abyssinia starting around 600 ACE. This becomes more of a problem later.

It was Emperor Dagmawi Menelik II that formed a country resembling modern Ethiopia starting around 1889. Menelik was of Oromo ancestry as was Gugsa of Yejju. Menelik did much in the way of modernization. He was big on road construction, electricity and education and a system of central taxation. He also founded their new capital of Addis Ababa, the new capital of Abyssinia. Abyssinia?  Yes, Menelik advertised that he was Abyssinian, and descended directly from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. (This is despite the fact that there is no historical evidence for a Queen of Sheba existing contemporary to Solomon.) For more information check out A History of Ethiopia by Harold G. Marcus.

This is probably the key point of understanding as to why this radio station exists. The OLF do not consider the Oromo to be Abyssinian. The OLF believe the Oromo are the original inhabitants of "Oromia" and that the Abyssinians are colonialists no different than Italy was in WWII. Despite the historical accounts they believe Yohannes and Menilek were also Abyssinians. The OLF claim, dubious as it is, sets the stage for the Oromo and the Abyssinians to be defined as separate ethnic groups. With that in mind, lets fast forward to the 1900s.

Haile Selassie I, who ruled starting in 1916 didn't squelch this conflict. Selassie was also Oromo and under his reign the Italian colonialists returned.  But Selassie did found the nations first radio station in 1941. He broadcast from Addis Ababa in 1935 looking for help with those aforementioned Italian fascists. The British fought alongside Ethiopians and drove Franco back to his boot-shaped peninsula. Selassie's station returned to the air as Radio Addis Abeba in 1941 using an EIAR (Ente Italiano Audizioni Radiofoniche) transmitter on 9620 kc with regular broadcasts in Arabic, Amharic and English. Radio Guide magazine recorded that they signed on May 9th, 1938 which is later than most accounts. In the 1950s the Imperial guard began broadcasting as well.

Ethiopia didn't exit WWII well. Across the border in Eritrea, the Italians built a transmitter called Kagnew station and the Americans took it in 1942, they renamed it Radio Marina. The USA supplied more transmitters in the 1960s, installing one in Harrar, another on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, and a 50 kW 40 miles south of Asmara actually inside Eritrea.  That Asmara transmitter had to operate at low power to avoid interference with Kagnew station. At this time AFRTS was transmitting from Kagnew.

In 1943, Radio Mogadishu was built in Somalia at the same time as Radio Djibouti, both broadcasting in Somali. They both became pro-independence outlets when Ethiopia invaded Somalia. Russia instigated some of this selectively sending aid to pro-communist governments in the region. The Derg, a Communist military junta governed Ethiopia, from 1977 to 1987. The Oromo liked The Derg even less than Selassie. The Derg was replaced by the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, which was overthrown in 1991 by the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front,) which has been the ruling political coalition ever since.

In Modern Ethiopia there are four political parties one of which is the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization. But the The EPRDF opposes liberal democracy, liberalism in general, and views free market capitalism as decadent. The party still owes much to the ideologies of Mao which were not media-friendly. So while having some Oromo membership, the OLF feels understandably unsatisfied. The Ethiopian government considers them a terrorist group. Nonetheless, the OLF has offices in Washington, D.C. and Berlin and is a member of the UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.)

In Ethiopia there are presently ten radio broadcast stations, eight AM and two shortwave. The most popular of these are Radio Ethiopia, Radio Fana, Radio Voice of One Free Ethiopia, and the Voice of the Revolution of Tigray. None of these stations broadcast in Oromo language. The OLF began operating a shortwave radio station, SBO (Sagalee Bilisummaa Oromoo) or VOL (Voice of Oromo Liberation), in Berlin in 1996.  SBO is on the air six days a week on 9,485 KHz.

Friday, November 24, 2017


Super villans mostly exist in the realm of fiction. But Ajit Pai is one of the most hated people in America for a reason.

Early this year he clicked undo on Net Neutrality, a viscous attack on the open and free internet, and the free press. It was a move supported by no one, except the largest telecoms in the country: AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter. This week he tore down the legal apparatus that allowed the FCC to protect the internet at all. 

Unsurprisingly, the former Verizon attorney felt no empathy to the actual users of the internet. He lies freely, as only a sociopath can. His video below is so awkward I cringed. Never for a moment does he cop to understanding why he is so despised, or that he might just be less evil. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Who is Bill Branch?

On November 3rd of 1947, the Chicago Tribune quoted the legendary Ebony magazine article "Sixteen Sepia Spielers" and humble bragged about the pioneering black DJs fof the greater Chicago area: Jack L. Cooper, Al Benson, Jack Gibson and Bill Branch. That local and contemporary corroboration supports their existence. Benson, Gibson and Cooper are well documented DJs. But Bill Branch at WEAW-AM... let's just say there are difficulties with the Bill Branch story.

There are exceedingly few contemporary print references attesting to the existence of Mr. Branch.  Firstly, the call sign of the station appears to be incorrect. There appears to have been some confusion on the part of the writer between the AM and FM designations. The Ebony article clearly referred to WEAW as a "kilocycle" station, in other words... operating on the AM band. But 1330 WEAW-AM didn't sign on until 1953. However, 105.1 WEAW-FM was on air in 1947, and it was brokering airtime to all comers. Note: this FM novelty also makes the obscure Bill Branch possibly the first black DJ on FM radio.

The WEAW-AM station errantly referred to in that Ebony article, began to operate in the 1950s, as a daytime-only repeater of WEAW-FM.  By the early 1970s, the station primarily aired brokered ethnic and religious programs. Then by the late 70s it tried an Adult contemporary format before backsliding into brokered programming again. In 1979, the station tried out a Christian contemporary format as "Praise 1330" and changed call letters to WPRZ. They changed calls to WEAZ in 1981 then to WSSY in 1987 with a flip to AC as "Sunny 1330." In 1990 it became WKTA with a doomed attempt at hard rock on the AM dial.

The station founder, Ed A. Wheeler, was quoted in a 1951 issue of Broadcasting Magazine referring to the station's prior FIVE years of sales, listing the sign-on in February of 1947, which can only be the FM stick. He named that station after himself:  Edward A. Wheeler.

Somewhat arbitrarily I came to believe that DJ Bill Branch was none other than the playwright William Blackwell Branch. While he was born in Connecticut in 1927, he graduated from Northwestern University in 1949... in Evanston, IL.  He enrolled at Northwestern with scholarships won from the Elks and from Pepsi Cola for oratory. At first, my theory rested entirely on name, time and place, but in reading his bibliography, I increasingly found context. For example, especially early in his career, Branch wrote dramas for television... i.e. for broadcast. Here's a partial list:
  • This Way, ABC, 1955
  • What Is Conscience?, CBS, 1955
  • Let's Find Out, National Council of Church, 1956
  • Light in the Southern Sky, NBC, 1958
  • Legacy of a Prophet, Educational Broadcasting Corp., 1959
  • The City (documentary series), Educational Broadcasting Corp., 1962–64
  • Still a Brother: Inside the Black Middle Class, NET, 1968
  • The Case of Non-Working Workers, NBC, 1972
  • The 20 Billion-Dollar-Rip-Off, NBC, 1972
  • No Room to Run, No Place to Hide, NBC, 1972
  • The Black Church in New York, NBC, 1973.
  • Afro-American Perspectives (series), PBS, 1973-74.
  • A Letter from Booker T., PBS, 1987.
My best evidence is an article Branch wrote about his own studies for Opportunity magazine "The Journal of Negro Life" for the April-June 1947 issue. This was published in on or around the time he was supposedly on air. In his own words, Bill makes a passing reference to his radio resume. The reference is brief, but specific.
"I've been at Northwestern for a year and a half now and already my future is beginning to take shape. A six month's run with the famous stage hit "Anna Lucasta," first place in two nationally recognized college oratorical contests, and a berth on the growing radio show, "Democracy U.S.A." have helped to bring closer to meaning, that distant term, "the future."
And there is was. The Program "Democracy USA" was not only real, but utterly ground-breaking. It was a drama about black achievement, written by Richard Durham.  (Robert Lucas also wrote for the program)  It's writer Durham started out in the radio division of the WPA-sponsored Illinois Writers Project. He wrote for local Chicago radio shows in the 1940s while also working as an editor and journalist fat the Chicago Defender newspaper and Ebony magazine. So Durham is connected at both ends of this story giving rise to the possibility that he planted the young Mr. Branch in the list. The only problem is that  "Democracy USA"aired on WBBM-AM not WEAW.

There is one last connection I unearthed. Radio Daily magazine published that year the following:

"WEAW Evanston FM station, carried more than 1,872 live remote broadcasts from Northwestern University during the station's first 52 weeks of operation and claims that was more live programs than were broadcast by all the other Chicago area stations combined." 
So Bill Branch didn't need to go to WEAW, perhaps WEAW came to him. We are left with a heap of inference. It is entirely possible that Branch was on air at WBBM on one or more episodes of Democracy USA. It is further possible that at some time in 1947 Branch bought some time on WEAW to host his own program, or that he appeared regularly on those remotes at his own campus in 1947. But after all that context, we are left with no proof.

Monday, November 13, 2017

DJ Bwana Johnny

The word "Bwana" has a bit of an ugly history. It is borrowed from the Kiswahili word bwana which means "boss" or “master” and has origins in the Arabic word abūnā, meaning “father.” During the "external colonization" of Africa, the word was used to describe European (white) bosses, meaning "lord" or "master." Google Ngram tells us the written use of the word peaked around 1961. That year Bwana Johnny was only 15 years old, but apocryphally he had already been a disc jockey for a year. More here. It remains his most long-standing on air-name, though he had several. Including Dick Kilpatrick on KGW and Dick Johnson on KKCW.

One article from 1972 noted that he was 25 years old and already had 11 years of radio experience "since his first job as a 14-year-old DJ in Portland, Oregon." I've never found any other info on him DJing at the age of 14. But it's possible. Most official accounts start his career at KLOO in Corvallis, OR in about 1968. (But some accounts have him DJ'ing at WIRK in Palm Beach in 1965 at 18 years old.) In 1968 he was already in Billboard Magazine beside DJ Wayne Shane and R&B artist O.C. Smith in the WUBE studios. There Drake format consultants made him change his on-air name to Johnny Johnson to avoid offending listeners. More here.

He was on KJR in 1969 and somewhere in the middle of 1970 to hit 101.5 KFLYKFLY-FM only signed on in 1966, so his resume was longer than theirs at the time.  Regardless,when he came to the Bay Area in 1969, "Beautiful Bwana" landed at 1260 KYA-AM. He moved on to WWDJ in New York to do double-duty as a music director and afternoon-drive jock from about 1971 to 1973.  He went from there to 790 WFUN-AM. Different sources have him landing there in 1975 or time traveling backward to start in 1972. More here.

It was after that he  returned to his hometown, Portland, OR as "Crazy Dick Simms" on the Rose City's legendary KISN in 1975. In about 1980 when KVAN became KARO, Bwana Johnny was a repeat interim PD and morning man through 1981. Then Bwana became "Bronco Johnny," spinning country records at KUUY in Cheyenne, WY , in 1983.  He went back to being Bwana at KSND in Eugene, OR, in 1985. More here.

He went back to being Bwana at KSND in 1985. In 2000, he worked mornings at KKBR in Billings, MT, after which he worked in production for the Seattle branch of Jones Radio Networks. After that his declining health led to his retirement. He died on October 28, 2005, at the age of 59 at which time he'd been a DJ for 45 years - a life time on air. More here. In the May 5th issue of R&R Bwana Johnny was quoted as saying:
"Early in my career money and benefits weren't the big factors. Just the idea of moving to a bigger station in a new market was motovation enough. It was nothing for me to pick up and move on. Just pack up my stuff in my car or a trailer and go. It was a great adventure."
A full accounting seems almost impossible but it includes: KLOG, WUBE, KJR, KLOO, KFLY, KUUY, KYA, KGB, WWDJ, WFUN, KSND, KODZ, KKCW, KGW, KPNW, and KKBR. More here.