The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Tuesday, March 09, 2010
CHRIS ALBERTSON'S SIDE OF THE STORY: I opened
Rebels on the Air by remarking that "the more sources you have, the more they contradict one another. After a while, the parts of your book that seem the most solid are the ones you feel least confident about. Somewhere out there, you tell yourself, are all the witnesses to history that you couldn't find, and once your book appears, they'll write to tell you everything you got wrong." I then provided my email address so they could do precisely that.

One of them just wrote me. Chris Albertson is a well-known journalist, music historian, record producer, and broadcaster who has a cameo during my discussion of Chris Koch's mid-'60s reports from North Vietnam for New York's Pacifica outlet:
So now Koch was traveling illegally to Vietnam and making reports that were bound to anger the government. Several board members got mad, both at the programs themselves and at the fact that they had not been forewarned of (and, presumably, given a chance to veto) Koch's unlawful sojourn. Some wanted to edit out parts of Koch's programs. Louis Schweitzer -- the station's landlord as well as its former owner, and a major donor as well -- cast his lot with the censors. So did the station manager, a nervous Chris Albertson. Koch refused to soften his shows and eventually walked out, taking at least five more staffers with him. A lot of angry listeners cancelled their subcriptions, too. When the dust cleared, Albertson was out and most of the staff were back.
I tried to reach Albertson for an interview when I was researching Rebels but I came up short. I wish I'd kept trying, because he takes issue with several statements in that paragraph. According to Albertson,
• "None of the board members 'got mad' at the programs, only at the underhanded way in which Chris Koch made the trip (alleging to be vacationing in Paris) and at the jeopardy in which he put the station, not to mention Pacifica itself."

• No one suggested censoring the reports. The only change was a minor one made by Koch himself, "without any pressure or suggestion from me, Lou Schweitzer, or the board." Schweitzer, Albertson adds, was deeply opposed to censorship: "This was a Jew who rented a hall for George Lincoln Rockwell to hold a Nazi rally, when he read that no one would."

• "Chris Koch did resign, but no staffers left with him."
By Albertson's account, the subscription cancellations were "generated by the distortions Chris spread" about Albertson and Schweitzer. He also speculates that "some of your mis-information came from Steve Post," a freeform DJ who "wasted no time in taking advantage of the vacuum that arose in my wake."

In the interests of maximum transparency, here are the chief sources from which I drew the disputed points:
• The claim that board members were angry at the programs' content appears in Koch's 1968 essay "Pacifica" and in Post's book Playing in the FM Band.

• The claim that management wanted to censor the reports appears in Koch's essay, in Post's book, and in David Armstrong's history of alternative media, A Trumpet to Arms, which relied on a 1965 article in The National Guardian. (Since my book appeared, the assertion also surfaced in Matthew Lasar's Uneasy Listening, which says the board members "demanded over 100 changes in the narrative." His sources are Koch and a 1986 article in The Village Voice.) The allegations about Schweitzer appeared in Armstrong's book.

• All of the above sources state that several staffers resigned in protest when Koch left the station. Post claims that nearly half the staff departed. (I haven't been able to track down where I found the low-end estimate of five exits. If I come across it I'll post an update.)
At this point, without having done any additional reporting, I can't say which version of events is more accurate. But I should add that while putting this post together I came across a source that endorses some of Albertson's story. The Radio Waves Unnameable, Jay Sand's dissertation on the pioneer broadcaster Bob Fass, includes a short discussion of the Koch kerfuffle. Sand's chief source is Post, so his account mostly mirrors mine, but he also interviewed Koch's colleague Dale Minor, who offered a different point of view:
As Minor recalls, the debate centered on the fact that Koch had not informed the Board of Directors of his daring mission; the content of his reports, according to Minor, was irrelevant.
I drew on Sand's thesis a little later in the book, while discussing Fass' work with the Yippies. If I'd been on the ball I would have remembered what he had to say about Koch, and followed up on it. Mea culpa.


posted by Jesse 12:15 PM
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