When Guards in New York City’s Jails Lie About Use of Force

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My colleague Joseph Berger writes:

For more than 50 years, Bob Fass hosted an anarchic and influential radio show on New York’s countercultural FM station, WBAI. The show mixed political conversation, avant-garde music, serendipitous encounters and outright agitation.

On Saturday, Mr. Fass died in Monroe, N.C., where he lived in recent years. He was 87. His wife, Lynnie Tofte, said that he had been hospitalized with Covid-19 earlier in the month, but that he died of congestive heart failure.

Mr. Fass called his long-running show “Radio Unnameable” because its freewheeling format did not fit into conventional categories like Top 40 or all talk.

[Read the full obituary of Mr. Fass here.]

In a gravelly, avuncular baritone that was both soothingly intimate and insistently urgent, and that sometimes reflected the mellowing impact of the pot he smoked on the air, he might start out with a critique of segregation or the Vietnam War, then introduce a Greenwich Village friend named Abbie Hoffman to muse about a demonstration by the radical and theatrical Yippies that had showered traders in the New York Stock Exchange with dollar bills.

Or he might bring on an ambitious Minnesotan named Bob Dylan, pretending to be an entrepreneur who manufactured clothing for folk singers. In various appearances, Mr. Dylan did comic monologues featuring characters with names like Elvis Bickel, Rumple Billy Burp and Frog Rugster, and asked cabbies to bring food to the station. In one appearance he tried out an unfinished composition, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

“I’d put anyone on, because the idea was if you didn’t like what I was doing, three minutes later I’d be doing something else,” Mr. Fass once told an interviewer.

Mr. Fass was not the first freestyle disc jockey in the country, but he became the most prominent. He helped forge the identity of WBAI, a noncommercial, listener-sponsored station already known for his leftist stance, and paved the way for other popular WBAI hosts like Larry Josephson and Steve Post.

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