My Life Among the Chattering Classes
On WBAI FM, Live and Direct from New York City
Why I love the Radio
On May 25, 1962, my 20th birthday, I made my debut in the wonderful world of radio. It was a live broadcast over WDAS AM in Philadelphia. I presented an hour long lecture on African history, analyzing the African character of Egyptian religion and Divine Kingship. At the conclusion of my lecture the producer opened the phones and I took questions for two hours. The response was sensational and I presented a series of history lectures twice a week for four years. My life has never been the same.
The show was called “The Listening Post,” and was hosted by Mr. Joseph H. Rainey. Judge Rainey, as he was known through-out the city, was a retired Magistrate in the Civil Court, a political player in the Democratic machine, which allocated power and privilege in the city, and a militant advocate for Afro-American rights. Judge Rainey was the grandson of Congressman Joseph H. Rainey, the first Congressman seated from the defeated confederate state of South Carolina after the Civil War.
Judge Rainey had deep roots in the Afro-American elite, but the militant fighting “Talented Tenth,”who answered the call of Dr. DuBois to assume the leadership of the black community, and guide the masses to higher ground. One of the benefits of my association with Mr. Rainey on “The Listening Post,” was that it was the show all the smart progressive Afro-Americans listened to in Philly, Southern New Jersey and Nothern Delaware. It also had a smaller white audience composed of leftist intellectuals and civil rights activist. The Listening Post would have been right at home on WBAI.
My involvement with the show transformed my life; it was a gift that keeps on giving. Among the highlights of my participation on the show was the fact that Judge Rainey was good friends with Malcolm X. And whenever Malcolm spoke in Philadelphia, Wilmington Delaware or Camden New Jersey, he came on the show the day before his speech.
Hence I got to know Malcolm quite well, and had a bird’s eye seat during the last three years of his life as he went through radical changes and ultimately assassination. I was there for the broadcast that Dr. Manning Marable describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography: Malcolm X, A Life of Reinventions.
Judge Joe Rainey Interviewing the Great Jackie Robinson
The “Listening Post” was a pioneer in Progressive Talk Radio
But it was also on The Listening Post that I met Queen Mother Moore, an indefatigable freedom fighter whose resume included a stint with Marcus Garvey and the American Communist Party. A New Orleans Creole who had settled in Philadelphia, she was 65 when I met her and she took me under her wings just days after my birthday broadcast, and tutored me in the art and science of politics and mass struggle.
The Queen Mother aka Audley Moore was one of the great women of the 20th century, and she left an indelible mark on me. I also met the Reverend Dr. Leon Sullivan, “The Lion of Zion,” who was to become one of the most powerful men in America by the end of the turbulent 1960’s.
Queen Mother Moore
My first political Tutor
The Lion of Zion!
A visionary and servant of the people
Suffice it to say that Reverend Sullivan hired me to teach a course on black history in the basement of his church, Mount Zion Baptist. Me and Max Stanford would organize the Revolutionary Action Movement from that class. And it was RAM cadres who went on to organize the black Panther Party of Oakland. Bobby Seales and Huey Newton were students at Merritt Junior College, where one of our Cadres’ got a job teaching sociology, and they were his first recruits. Bobby refers to his teacher and revolutionary tutor as “Kenny Freeman,” but that was his “slave name,” we knew him as Mamadou Dia.
When the War on Poverty began Reverend Sullivan founded The Opportunities Industrialization Centers, which began in Philadelphia and spread to over 100 cities. He hired me to each in the main center in Philadelphia, and develop a black history curriculum for the national program. The Philadelphia Board of education hired me as a consultant to work with cirriculum specialist and conduct seminars with history teachers in the school system in the teaching of African and Afro-American history in 1966.
Other school boards around the country also began to hire me to conduct seminars or present a lecture series on the subject ranging from witchata Kansas, Minneapolis and Saint Paul Minesota, and Riverside California. By 1969 I was a founding member of the WEB DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at U-Mass Amherst, he first degree granting Black Studies in the World. That’s what my first foray into radio did for me.
When I left the university and moved to New York, after a stint in the music, boxing and construction business I returned to radio at WBAI around 1986. That’s when I began the series “Commentaries On The Times.” This brought me to the attention of Terry Johnson, the City Desk Editor at the Village Voice, who invited me to write for the paper. The second article I wrote was an 8000 word feature that was publshed as the cover story in 1988 titled “Jive at Five: How Big Al and the Bully Boys Bogarted the Movement.”
It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Journalism. ( see the nominating letter in my bio on this blog) This article brought me to the attention of the Senior Editor of the Manchester Guardian in England who commissioned me to write a feature for the Guardian. Thius began an association that lasted several years, in which I wrote for the front and the back of the paper – politics, the arts, and boxing.
When the Arts Editor, Joslyn Targett, became the Editor of the prestigeous Sunday Times magazine “The Culture,” he invited me to come along for the ride. I was given carte blanche to write as much as I wanted to. When two of my feature stories from the Village voice were selected for study at the Columbia School of Journalism, the top of the food chain for training professional journalists, I was recruited to write by the New York Daily News.
From there I was recruited to write commentary and features for “Emerge” magazine, a nationals Afro-American hard news publication. I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary at the News, and I was nominated for Foriegn Correspondent of the Year several times. And I won awards at ever othere one of the publications I wrote for. And eventually I held an Adjunct Professorship in Journalism at Long Island University.
All of this grew out of my work at WBAI FM in New York, where I would also host two different talk shows. Radio has been as good to me as baseball was to Chico Consuello! That’s why I’m still droppin science on the radio 50 years after my first broadcast on the Joe Rainey show on May 25th 1962.
Double Click on the link to see Playthell Live on Air at WBAI
Harlem, New York
May 25th, 1942