10 October

Go Mad With Love And Caring: The Fight For WBTN

by Jon Katz
Hopeless Causes: Thomas Toscano at WBTN

Blessed are the men and women who take up hopeless causes, and fight against great odds,  against powerful forces, and happily take on tasks others find hopeless. They are the true angels, the chosen ones, come to walk among us on the earth, destined to go mad with love and caring.” – Jon Katz, October 10, 2018.

One should, wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack-up,” be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. “This philosophy,” he wrote,  “fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true.

I liked Thomas Toscano right away.

A  Bronx- born former opera singer and Opera Company Director in Brooklyn, a veteran conductor and composer, Thomas is outspoken, cynical, funny, sometimes outrageous. And dedicated.

Under it all, he is a big-hearted pussycat and idealist. He could retire, of course, and live a quiet and peaceful life. He won’t, he can’t.

When you go into the studio, there is a sign asking you to sit down on a sofa and wait if you are a guest. If the door is locked, the sign says, please go away. The Fish Fry truck that is usually parked in front of the station was at the airport for a few days he said.

Tuesday, we sat alone in the studio (he is almost always alone in the studio, even while doing his marathon four hour morning talk show) and I got to sit and watch him put some music over the promo he and I had done for my radio show “Talking to Animals.” We are doing a trial run tomorrow at 11 a.m. at the embattled little radio station WBTN.

It was like a ballet, he was transfixed, muttering about the software, fingers flying over the keyboard,  his love for his music revealed.

I saw this gruff and impatient man laugh and smile with the joy of creation, and I saw his heart and soul shine as he overlaid Van Morrison’s “Bright Side Of The Road” over his promo for the animal show I am going to be going tomorrow, Thursday.

He chose that song because I said I loved it, it was my favorite song.

The station has been fighting for its life for some years now, it has few volunteers, almost no staff, ancient and  deteriorating equipment, few sponsors and no money to speak of. Like community radio stations all over the country and the world, there is little room left at the table when the lobbyists, corporate media companies, and government regulators get at the trough to shape and dominate the media landscape.

When is the last time you saw an actual human on Fox News or CNN?

WBTN has no lobbyist, it doesn’t even have an engineer. It has Thomas Lawrence Toscano, a social warrior who seems to live in the ratty old shack that WTBN calls home like some dogged woodland elf. I’m sure he vacuums at night.

This is familiar turf for me, I was born with a copper spoon in my mouth.

It seems I’ve been  trying to outrun corporate America for most of my life, and failing. First, I saw them come for newspapers, then television, then publishing, not government. Then, of course, they came for me and you, just watch the news.

I fought and fought for many years, then fled the battlefield retreating to a farm and place and blog that no corporation  has yet decided to take over or make money from.

Of course I loved Steven Toscano the minute I saw him, he is a brother,  fighting the good fight for all of us, and even thought it is very difficult to see how he will win the fight to save the little station that could, it is even harder to imagine how he could fail.

For all the struggles we are going through, this is still the story of America I most love, the little guy against the giants, unable to quit or hide or retreat. Sometimes, say the stories, he or she even wins.

The giants seem to be getting meaner and bigger these days, fights like this one need to be won. There are very few places left where ordinary people get to speak their minds, or speak at all.

I’m happy to be there tomorrow, trying to put this radio show together, putting it on with Thomas. No better place for me.

When I was eight years old, I dreamed of having my own radio show. When I was 13, I had my own radio show at the Veteran’s Hospital in Providence,  playing music to the patients there. When I was 15, I had a weekend radio show on public affairs, we talked a lot about the United Nations and whether or not China should be admitted.

Even I didn’t care. I know the glory of fighting lost  and hopeless causes. This one just might be possible to win. You can donate here.

When I moved upstate and wrote books about animals, I did a radio show about dogs with WAMC (Public Radio/Albany) anchor Joe Donahue. I loved it, we were flooded with calls.I enjoyed it, at some point I irritated someone in power, a gift I have always had,  and the shows abruptly ended).

I’ve been looking for another shot at my own radio show ever since.

People seem to grasp this latest  Quixotic campaign of mine. The show will be streamed all over the country. Who knows?

I’m getting a whole bunch of questions e-mailed to me today to bring to the program, in case nobody calls. (the station call number is 866-406-9286, you can stream the show here), and lots of encouragement from the readers of my blog, we call them The Army Of Good, and I do few things without their blessing.

I hope to get a few calls, I have a fistful of questions.

They love good causes in this army, this is how we keep ourselves sane these days.

People all over the country understand the value of community, it’s fragility and endangerment in the Corporate Nation

I have no illusions. There is no sponsor, no engineer, nobody to screen the calls or process them but Thomas, I don’t know how many listeners.

He hinted that if the show worked, I would need to learn “the board” the Vietnam era studio set-up that sits bravely at the heart of the tiny radio station.

Poor Thomas, that may be the most hopeless cause of all.

So off we go, tilting at windmills, chasing dreams. This is my destiny, I think, nothing makes me happier or feeling closer to life. The point is not to win. The point is to fight the good fight. Thomas knows this, and so do I.

Onward. The Fight For WBTN


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