Progressive radio talk-show host Lynn Samuels, 69, who began her career on public radio, was found dead in her Queens, N.Y., apartment on Christmas Eve, the New York Daily News reported. When Samuels didn’t show up for her Sirius XM show Dec. 24, reps for the satellite radio company had asked the police to investigate. Samuels began her radio career in 1979 at Pacifica Radio’s WBAI in New York City. In the 1980s she moved to WABC Radio.
Whenever public broadcasting is threatened by hostile politicians, the conventional wisdom is to circle the wagons and fire back. As a member of the public television community for almost 50 years, I would rather see today’s challenge as an opportunity to reassess public television’s goals and achievements. Perhaps we should do this every few years to make sure we haven’t gone astray in our aims and practices. In many ways I think NPR has surpassed its original goals and promises, but public television is another matter. We have accomplished many things.
At a feel-good press conference May 13, all parties hailed the resolution of a decade-long fight over the tower of Fordham University’s WFUV-FM in New York City.The Daily News likened the scene to a Rose Garden peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Even Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a joint news release endorsing Montefiore Medical Center’s offer to put the antenna atop its residential building. The new site is one-and-a-half miles from the scene of the station’s festering dispute with the nearby New York Botanical Garden, which says the present tower spoils the surroundings. Ralph Jennings, WFUV’s g.m., is saving his big hooray for the day when the station starts transmitting from the new tower. With its new antenna nearly 500 feet above average terrain and radiating 50 kilowatts of power, the station will reach farther into Brooklyn, Westchester County and Connecticut, instantly doubling its potential audience to more than 13 million.
One musical voice gaining ground on public radio sounds a little scruffier than the rest. Rather than a viola or sax, it bears a six-string axe and a heavier backbeat than your average chamber ensemble. Triple-A, an eclectic format that blends rock, folk, blues, world music and other genres, has already proven popular and lucrative for stations such as New York’s WFUV, Philadelphia’s WXPN and southern California’s KCRW. But smaller stations in fly-over country, inspired by the format’s major-market success, are also displacing jazz and classical music for newer musical genres that carry themselves like outsiders. As a result, listeners may be tuning in to the sultry lilt of young chanteuse Norah Jones or the twang of O Brother blues rather than Mozart and Gershwin.
Fordham University’s WFUV-FM and its opponents across the street at the New York Botanical Garden have been quietly pursuing an alternative site for the station’s tower, even while their defenders sparred publicly in FCC forums June 27. After eight years of legal struggles with the botanical garden, WFUV hangs its antenna from a tower that, despite being cut short by halted construction, offends the garden’s management. Both sides are encouraged by progress of negotiations for the alternative site. Garden spokesman Karl Lauby says only that the site is “up north” and WFUV General Manager Ralph Jennings won’t discuss its location at all. Neither wants to set off new opposition or alert landowners that their site is a rare one.
Not every American will buy what Ric Burns and Lisa Ades are selling, but in the 10 hours airing this week on many public TV stations they make the strongest possible case for the greatness of New York City. Diehard New York–haters will quickly overdose on the soaring rhetoric and the flyovers of the fantastical Chrysler Building, but that’s no surprise to Burns. “The ambivalence toward New York is very powerful and a central component of the story,” he says. “It has only gotten stronger as power has accumulated there.” The story was so big that the producers gave up squeezing it into 10 hours and will deliver two more hours early next year — a sixth episode covering 1931-99.
New York state’s highest court early this month unanimously upheld WFUV-FM’s right to complete the radio tower on Fordham University’s Bronx campus, despite complaints from the nearby New York Botanical Garden that the tower spoils the skyline. This was the fifth victory in various administrative and court appeals. For nearly four years the tower has remained half-built. The ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals upheld a local zoning ruling that permitted the tower. Remaining federal historic issues are being mediated between the university and the botanical garden.
The New York Botanical Garden, still fighting the completion of a nearby 480-foot tower for WFUV-FM, told the FCC late in October that the station should disguise the antenna as a 185-foot double flagpole. In its reply to the commission, WFUV said the notion was “without technical or practical merit” and asked for approval of its construction permit. The botanists are “trying to sidetrack the commission” and extend the two-and-a-half-year delay, says Ralph Jennings, g.m. Before proposing the double flagpole, the garden had suggested a stone tower to hold the antenna, but it was not feasible, he says. “All these things would be pretty, but they’re about 200 feet high, which is no higher than what we’ve got now.” The garden hired Washington engineers Cohen, Dippell and Everist to work with architects, who came up with the flagpole design, and commended the idea to other communities where stark towers are planned.