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Category: Radio

Remembering Gary O

I learned today of the death from cancer of Gary Omphroy, a longtime volunteer DJ at Jazz90.1 (WGMC), the community jazz station in Rochester, NY. I served as station manager and afternoon DJ there from 2001-2004 and had a chance to work with Gary during that time.

Gary O, as he was known on the air, was one of those guys who seem like they can’t be real. Unfailingly nice, always ready with a smile and a kind word, always happy to be there. I looked forward to the one night each week when Gary would come in to relieve me on the air. He made people happy just by showing up.

He had great taste in music, too. As I remember, Gary was a big fan of Pat Metheny. I had a chance to give him some Metheny merchandise that came into the station once and I was very happy to give it to the one person at the station I knew would get the biggest kick out of it. I still associate Metheny’s music with Gary’s enthusiasm.

I can’t claim to have known Gary all that well or to have insight into his struggles with cancer. I’ve been away from Rochester for a long time and it’s been nearly a decade since I last saw him. But I treasure the time I got to spend with him and the part he played in making Jazz90.1 the station it was and is.

Thank you, Gary. You’ll be missed. I’m going to spin Bright Size Life tonight and think of you.

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An open letter to This American Life

19 March 2012

Dear Ira Glass and the staff of This American Life,

Four of us gathered around a laptop in Brooklyn last night to listen to the live broadcast of the retraction episode of This American Life. We started with a real feeling of respect for the idea that TAL would spend an entire episode fact-checking its own broadcast, coupled with worry that the problems with Mike Daisey himself would lead to a lessening of concern about Apple’s labor practices. We came to the show with varying levels of familiarity with TAL. All but one of us had listened to the original Daisey episode, and two of us are regular TAL listeners.

In the initial segment, in which Rob Schmitz tracked down the translator, we all found ourselves asking several basic questions:

  1. Why was the translator any more credible than Daisey? What about this was different from any “he said/she said” argument?
  2. What, if any, influence did Apple, Foxconn or the Chinese government bring to bear on the translator or on This American Life?
  3. Is it just a coincidence that the retraction episode aired just as Apple launched a new iPad?

During the interview with Schmitz, Glass and Daisey, we were struck by Daisey’s unfortunate inability to better frame his performance. Rather than simply saying “some of these characters were composites of people I met and stories I heard from workers who had first-hand knowledge,” he stumbled around and sounded very insincere. It’s important to say that we all felt, upon hearing this segment, that the original story shouldn’t have been broadcast as aired on TAL. That might also be true even if TAL had included a disclaimer about the composite nature of some of the characters, although that’s harder to judge.

The most disappointing part of the show was the final segment in which Glass spoke with New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. This entire segment came off as an ill-informed or willfully ignorant dismissal of the role of first-world consumption in harming the lives of the people who make what we consume.

For example:

Duhigg: We know from Apple’s own audits and the reports that have published that at least 50 percent of all audited factories, every year since 2007, have violated at least that provision. More than half of the workers whose records are examined are working more than 60 hours per week.

Glass: Now, is that necessarily so bad? I mean, aren’t a lot of these workers moving to the city to work as many hours as possible? They’re away from their families; they’re young; and they’re there to make money and they don’t care.

This exchange is built on the idea that there’s no possible way to run the world other than the way it’s currently being run. Are you seriously suggesting that anyone wants to work 60 or more hours per week and wouldn’t gladly trade that for 40 hours at a decent wage? Have we really become so inured to human suffering that we actually believe people want to work at slave wages for giant multinational corporations? Is this the most we can imagine for our fellow human beings?

This segment of the show also suffered from a very first-world-centered opinion about how other cultures work. For example:

Duhigg: That being said, I think that China is a little bit different and that the expectations, particularly as a developing nation of workers, are a little bit different. I don’t think holding them to American standards is precisely the right way to look at the situation.

There’s a lot wrong with that statement. To begin, it’s maddening to hear two well-off white American men talking about what the Chinese want from their working lives. How do you know? And what would make you assume that what they want is different from what you want?

Additionally, it’s hilarious to hear about “American standards.” Our guess is that there are quite a few people within walking distance of the New York Times building or the WBEZ offices who could tell you a thing or two about what it’s like to be a worker in America. Particularly a non-union worker, as almost all private-sector workers are. Of course, it would be a challenge to ask an American about what it’s like to manufacture electronics, given that we have people in developing nations do that for us now.

The final nail in this coffin was Glass’s remark toward the end of his talk with Duhigg:

Glass: But to get to the normative question that’s kind of underlying all the reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when we hear this is like, “Wait, should I feel bad about this?” As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad? And I don’t know that I feel so bad when, when I hear this.

To Duhigg’s credit, he seems fairly surprised by this statement and offers several reasons why Glass should feel bad, although he says it’s not his job to tell Glass how to feel. But Glass’s statement struck us as the fundamental problem underlying this episode, which was that people of privilege with little sympathy for workers were much more concerned with protecting their own reputations than exposing injustice.

When the show ended, one of the regular TAL listeners in our group said, “I feel like I want to take a shower.” We all felt that way. It was extremely disappointing and a perfect example of why more people don’t know or care about the plight of workers here and abroad.

Sincerely,

Jake Aron
Jason Crane
Emma Goldsmith-Rooney
Kate Moser

Brooklyn, NY

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NewsTalk 950 in Rochester strengthens its lineup

NewsTalk 950 WROC, former home of the original The Jason Crane Show, is Rochester’s progressive talk station. With the departure of Al Franken from Air America yesterday, WROC took the opportunity to revamp its lineup. The new version is much, much stronger. Here it is:

  • 12 a.m. — Politically Direct (hosted by David Bender, sponsored by People for the American Way)
  • 1 a.m. — Joey Reynolds (old-school variety talk show from WOR in NYC)
  • 6 a.m. — The Bill Press Show
  • 9 a.m. — Stephanie Miller
  • 12 p.m. — Ed Schultz (live instead of taped, as it had been until now)
  • 3 p.m. — Randi Rhodes (also live now instead of taped)
  • 6 p.m. — News 8 (audio of local TV newscast)
  • 6:30 p.m. — Rachel Maddow (for my money, the brightest light to come out of the whole Air America adventure)
  • 8 p.m. — Democracy Now! (finally, a local station dares to air this daily progressive news program from Pacifica)
  • 9 p.m. — Lionel (in my opinion, this show is the low point of the schedule, but you can’t have it all…)
  • 11 p.m. — News 8 (audio of local TV newscast)
  • 11:30 p.m. — Lionel (again)

I’ve got to say that I’m really impressed with this new lineup. Sounds like the program director has a vision for what to do with this station. Kudos!

The full schedule and links to the shows are at the NewsTalk 950 Web site.

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