A Civil War Like Spain – April 1937 – Past Daily Reference Room

•April 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Harbinger of things to come.

Harbinger of things to come.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – National Press Club – Situation in Spain – NBC Red Network – April 17, 1937 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

In the days before the outbreak of World War 2 the lead-up, the harbinger of things to come lay in the towns and cities of Spain. Civil War erupted in 1936 and finally came to an end in 1939. The warring factions consisted of Republicans, those loyal to the democratically elected government of Spain and the Nationalists, representing the right-wing rebels led by General Francisco Franco.

The Civil war was a particularly bloody and contentious one, and gave some indication what was in store for the future. The Axis powers of Germany and Italy were in support of the Nationalists, sending troops and military supplies to aid the rebels. While the Soviet Union sent military supplies to aid the Republicans. And even though Britain the U.S. were pledging neutrality, several volunteer units of British and Americans were formed in support of the Republicans, as did many other countries. Despite Britain declaring it a crime to fight in the conflict, some 4,000 Britons volunteered to go to Spain.

The League of Nations, the forerunner to the United Nations, was powerless to stop the conflict, with Germany Italy and Russia ignoring pledges of neutrality, thus rendering almost null and void the founding principles of the organization.

There was considerable public interest in how the civil war was going, and several news organizations sent reporters to actively cover the events unfolding. And even though the radio reporting and broadcasting of these conflicts was in its infancy, broadcasting was relying on print journalism to get an accurate picture of what was going on. And sometimes that just wasn’t as reliable as would be hoped.

This broadcast, given during a meeting of The American Society Of Newspaper Editors, featured a talk by Webb Miller, European Manager of United Press, who had just returned from a two month stint embedded with the Nationalist Rebels under General Franco. He also had a few conversations with several neutral reporters who were variously with the Loyalists. Not exactly an unbiased opinion, to be sure. But any sort of account of what was going on was eagerly sought out by the public.

To give you some idea of how news was gathered and reported in the days leading up to World War 2, here is that talk given by Webb Miller from April 17, 1937. The next crisis, the one involving Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1938 would find radio news broadcasts improving by a great degree. Still, no streaming video or 24 hour news, but it did bring the conflict closer.



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Some Crazy Students In China – April 23, 1989

•April 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Started out promising . . .

Started out promising, and hardly anybody noticed at first . . .

Click on the link here for Audio Player – ABC Radio – World News This Week-Week Ending April 23, 1989 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

A momentous week in history, but nobody really knew it at the time. The week of April 23, 1989 was filled with a lot of strife, chaos and marathon emotions. So perhaps the news from Beijing didn’t register much on the attention scale, at least for a while anyway.

The momentous news for this week in 1989 started off with reports on April 19th of disastrous explosions aboard the battleship USS Iowa, killing some 47 crew members taking part in Naval exercises near Puerto Rico. The explosion, taking place in one of the 16 in. gun turrets, sent all the power needed to send a 1 ton shell some 20 miles inward, setting off a ghastly chain reaction inside the turret and making it one of the worst battleship accidents ever, surpassing a similar accident during World War 2 which killed some 43 crew members.

In other  news – the trial of Iran-Contra figure Oliver North was wrapping up. The Prosecution offering closing arguments, painting North as a habitual liar and scumbag, while the Defense argued the Prosecution had gone off on a wild tangent in order to obtain a conviction. It was up to the Jury to decide.

Flamboyant Saudi Businessman Adnan Khashoggi got hit with a warrant for his arrest in Switzerland, for his part in the Iran-Contra arms-for-money. Khashoggi was picked up outside a luxury hotel in Berne and taken to the local jail at the request of the U.S. and booked on suspicion of aiding the Marcos regime of the Philippines in hiding money and property somewhere in Manhattan.

More grisly details coming out of Mexico regarding the Voodoo Murders, including reports of blood spattered walls, remains and body parts. Speculation focused on the notion the murders were drug and not ritual related. Still . . . .

And horrific stories were surfacing in Petaluma, California of a father, accused of murder and slashing the throats of his children had many unable to comprehend such actions. The accused father was arrested near Mexico City and extradited within a day of his capture and arraigned on 7 murder charges.

And services were being held for many of the 95 people killed in the previous week’s Soccer Stadium disaster, which took place outside of Sheffield in the UK. Seems the accident was the result of unticketed fans storming a fence, causing it to collapse and trampling and crushing some 95  spectators inside. An inquiry was ordered and there was a lot of blame to go around.

Speaking of blame, the House Ethics Committee had been spending the better part of the previous year looking into the financial dealings of one of its own, House Speaker Jim Wright, and had delivered their verdict – Guilty on five counts of violation of Official Code of Conduct. Wright swore up and down he hadn’t violated any such rules of Conduct.

And Exxon promised to hire some 4,000 people to scrub 300 miles of shoreline, the result of the oil spill in Valdez. And that it expected the job to be done by September. Good luck on that. In the meantime, the Senate began its inquiry on the cause of the Exxon Valdez accident that happened in March which uncovered claims the cleanup crews initially working on the spill were inept at best. The hearings were expected to go for some time.

Which brings the almost unnoticed matter of students in China, gathering in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Protestors by the thousands gathered in the square to demand more freedom and Democracy in China. Such a display of people gathering in one place hadn’t happened since the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. No comment from the government.

And 60s protest leader Abbie Hoffman, who died earlier in the week, was found to have committed suicide, rather than the “natural causes” as was earlier claimed. A swarthing dose of Phenobarital, along with a hefty slug of alcohol was apparently the culprit, as per toxicology reports.

And that’s just a tiny portion of the madness called the past week, ending on April 23rd in 1989 . Reported by ABC Radio’s World News This Week.


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Mélanie De Biasio – Live At Route du Rock Winter – 2014 – Nights At The Roundtable: Rock Without Borders Edition

•April 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Mélanie de Biasio - Stark emotion in an ethereal world.

Mélanie de Biasio – Stark emotion in an ethereal world.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – Mélanie de Biasio – in concert at Route du Rock Winter – Feb. 23, 2014 – RFI

Someone unusual and special tonight. The music of Belgian/Italian singer Mélanie de Biasio has been described as a dark and sultry rhythmic incantation of Nina Simone with shades of Sade and hints at Velvet Underground.

I would like to think of Mélanie de Biasio as a completely unique and hypnotic experience – along with her band, who weave a musical tapestry with an ocean of nuance and a breath of ethereal subtlety, basking in a shower of mystery.

Tonight’s concert is from her recent appearance at Route du Rock Winter festival, and is part of  her current tour, which is taking in much of Europe until at least the end of May. All this on the heels of her debut album No Deal, which was released in October of 2013 on PIAS Records Le Label imprint.

Her word images are stark and filled with emotion. But they’re so captivating and engaging that it brings you effortlessly along for a very interesting and engaging ride.

Evidence of her gift is the almost total silence she is granted by the audience (except for a lot of warm applause at the end of each number) and their undivided attention to every word and inflection. Clearly, she’s on to something.

As I said, she’s currently on tour, finishing up May in Italy. What’s in store for the rest of the Summer, or the year for that matter isn’t clear yet. In the meantime, check out her website and get her debut album. I get the feeling a lot of hours will be spent listening to it and absorbing it.

And this concert is just a taste.


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Henry Wallace Has A Few Words At The Jefferson Day Dinner – April 22, 1939 – Past Daily Reference Room

•April 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Before he was vice-President, Henry Wallace was Secretary of Agriculture.

Before he was vice-President, Henry Wallace was Secretary of Agriculture.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – Address by Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace – April 22, 1939 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

Before he was tapped by President Roosevelt to be his running-mate in the 1940 election, Henry A. Wallace was Secretary of The Agriculture. In 1933, incoming President Roosevelt nominated Wallace to assume Secretary duties at the Department of Agriculture, a post Wallace’s father, Henry Cantwell Wallace held from 1921-1924. Although the younger Wallace was a registered Republican at the time, he held many progressive beliefs, and subsequently a number of his policies were considered controversial. As a way of raising prices for agricultural commodities, Wallace advocated the slaughter of hogs, the plowing up of cotton fields and paying farmers to leave acreage fallow in order to drive up prices to benefit the farmer.

Speaking at this gathering for the annual Jefferson Day Dinner of the National Democratic Club, Wallace was the main speaker and his topic was A Progressive Democracy In A Changing World.

Here is that address from April 22, 1939.

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Dedicating Freedom Of The Press – New York World’s Fair – April 22, 1939 – Past Daily Reference Room

•April 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Just as apropos now as it was then.

Just as apropos now as it was then.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – WOR-Mutual – Dedication of Freedom Of The Press Statue – New York World’s Fair – April 22, 1939 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

It would only seem natural, with all the saber rattling and threats from Fascist dictators in 1939, that we be reminded (in a big way) of what Freedom of The Press was all about. And what better place to do it than the New York World’s Fair of 1939.

We needed to be reminded then (as we still need to be reminded) that Press Freedom is crucial to a functioning and democratic society. Of course, these days the rules are being a bit bent to include Freedom to fabricate the news, Freedom to invent the News and Freedom to distort the news. But that’s a moral question, I suppose – and with Freedom comes responsibility; to infuse that responsibility with a sense of integrity and facts.

But don’t let’s quibble . . . .

In 1939 Freedom of The Press was a crucial and necessary Freedom in the gradually deteriorating world around us.

Here is that dedication, as it was carried live by WOR-AM in New York and broadcast via the Mutual Broadcasting System on April 22, 1939.

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Big Noise In Little Havana – Elian Gonzalez – April 22, 2000

•April 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Fourteen years later, the story may be fuzzy - the photo isn't.

Fourteen years later, the story may be fuzzy – the photo isn’t.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – CBS Radio News – April 22, 2000 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

This April 22nd in 2000 will probably best be remembered as the day the Feds nabbed Elian Gonzalez and sent him back to Havana.

For those who may have forgotten (the incident, but not the photo), Elian Gonzalez and his mother were refugees, bound for Miami when the aluminum boat they and ten other people were on sank, drowning Elian’s mother, but casting Elian adrift with two other survivors. The boy was picked up by fishermen off the Miami coast and turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard – and then the trouble started.

After months of negotiations, appeals and demonstrations, the Justice Department decided the best thing for the boy was to be back home with his father. So they staged a raid on the home of Elian Gonzalez’ relatives (where he was staying) in Miami early in the morning on April 22nd.

The raid did much to cause rifts and divisions, particularly within the Cuban-American community. Opinions were sharply divided over whether or not sending Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba was the right thing to do, and many blamed Attorney General Janet Reno for using excessive force in retrieving the boy. But both Janet Reno and President Clinton responded that, with tensions running so high, it was thought there would be a violent showdown between the Feds and the Cuban-American community.

So the whole thing lasted around 3 minutes, just long enough for Alan Diaz of Associated Press to grab the iconic series of photos and for a storm of protest to begin.

Gonzalez was taken to Andrews Air Force Base where he was reunited with his Father and be back in Cuba by June.

The controversy kept going, with the rest of the country now weighing in on the incident. The sharply divided opinions within the Cuban-American community were quickly spread, and even the Press now offered different opinions over how the incident should have been handled. It was widely speculated that this incident, which centered on the divisions within the community of Miami-Dade County Florida, may have been a deciding factor over the outcome of the 2000 Presidential elections.

So maybe this seemingly innocuous incident over the fate of a six year-old had bigger implications  in the political world. At the time it was about a tug-of-war between two sets of relatives and two countries who weren’t particularly talking to each other.

And that’s  how it all rolled on this April 22nd, 2000 as viewed by CBS Radio Hourly News.

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Henry Cow – New London Theatre 1975 – Nights At The Roundtable: Mini-Concert Edition

•April 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Taking it further than most, even with lampshades.

Taking it further than most, even with lampshades.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – Henry Cow – New London Theatre (extract). May 1975

One of the positive upticks during the Psychedelic period was the introduction of the Avant Garde into the Rock genre. The total and complete unwillingness to compromise and appeal to the mainstream made bands like Henry Cow exciting and  instantly absorbed by a faithful, albeit small but growing, audience. Their sound has been described as daring and mercurial and having few, if any imitators. They did influence a large number of Progressive musicians and have made an indelible impact on the course of Experimental Music.

Together for a relatively short period of time (1968-1978), Henry Cow has achieved legend status over the years since. Even though their scant few albums have gone out of print for a long time, they’ve been getting reissued lately and bringing about a whole new set of awareness from a new audience.

Initially started at Cambridge University by multi-instrumentalists Fred Frith and Tim Hodgkinson, Henry Cow had their first concert supporting Pink Floyd in 1968. Shortly after, the ranks swelled, attracting a wide assortment of guest artists, such as Soft Machine drummer/Vocalist, who performs on this track, recorded in concert at the New London Theatre in May of 1975.

Sadly, this is only an extract of the complete concert, which hopefully may surface some day. This extract, Bad Alchemy and Little Red Riding Hood Hits The Road, features the inimitable Robert Wyatt as well as Frith, Hodgkinson, Lindsay Cooper, Dagmar Krause and John Greaves.

It’s been said we may never hear or see their likes again. Well . . .it’s hoped the torch is being readied somewhere. I suspect there are plots being hatched and ideas being formulated as we speak.

In the meantime – a sampling. More to come.

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A Word Or Two From Benito Mussolini – April 20, 1939 – Past Daily Reference Room

•April 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Subtle wasn't a word recognized in the Fascist Italian dictionary.

Subtle wasn’t a word recognized in the Fascist Italian dictionary.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – Address by Benito Mussolini – April 20, 1939 – EIAR, Rome – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

I would imagine most Americans, born after the Vietnam War era, have probably never heard the voice of Benito Mussolini, one of major players in the era of World War 2. No less an insidious figure during that time, but one who has taken a somewhat lesser role in the horrors of World War 2 than his ally in the Axis triumvirate Adolf Hitler of Germany. Still, the shadow of Mussolini still casts itself over the current political climate in Italy and its popular culture. With Mussolini calendars, t-shirts and assorted references from the growing under-current of neo-Fascist groups springing up in Italy, one would think there is a renewed popularity in the Dictator on the parts of its youth.

Lest we all forget that particularly dark period in our history, I ran across this address made by Benito Mussolini and delivered on the steps of the Capitol on April 20, 1939. It was originally broadcast by the Shortwave service of EIAR, the Italian government radio station, and is accompanied by English translation. The speech lasts a little over 10 minutes (very short, as Mussolini addresses went) and is followed immediately by translation.

War hadn’t been declared, in fact that was many months off. But the swords were rattling and the words were more pronouncements than dialogue. Only two weeks earlier, Italy invaded Albania and was perceived to be the start of several intended conquests in the Balkans and Greece. Since Albania was dependent on goods and resources support from Italy, resistance was nonexistent. A few days later, Albania was folded into the Italian empire. But that would be about the last time that would happen.

This address was intended to allay fears of more Italian excursions, but it did nothing to allay speculation that more was on the way. However, that wouldn’t become reality for another month when Berlin and Rome formed a military alliance.

The future was murky, at best.

Here is Benito Mussolini’s address of April 20, 1939.


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Come To The Fair . . .In More Ways Than One – April 21, 1964

•April 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Always something there to remind you.

Always something there to remind you.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – WNBC-AM News – April 21, 1964 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

News for this April 21st in 1964 had a lot to do with the upcoming opening of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, taking place on the following day.

This broadcast from WABC-AM in New York covers primarily local news of the day, but the big anticipation is for the opening. Concerns that Civil Rights protestors, who were coming in from all over the country, would disrupt the otherwise festive occasion, was a topic for discussion. Anticipated traffic stall-ins, pickets, work stoppage – a whole catalog of planned Civil Rights protests had the city, and Mayor Wagner, on edge. Compounding everything was a planned protest march outside of Gracie Mansion in memory of Civil Rights martyrs.

Charges and counter-charges from civic leaders over the planned protests. Pleas from Civil Rights leaders and Clergy that this set of protests may defeat the purpose the protests were intended to convey. All of it had everyone arguing back-and-forth in front of a Worlds Fair opening which had the attention of most of the world focused on it.

But the city had its hands full in other areas. A subway fire between Times Square and Grand Central station caused major damage, closing the station at Grand Central and the street above at 42nd Street because of damage to the roadway. Another in a series of commuter nightmares for this day. No injuries though. Just a big twisted, melted mess and millions of dollars in damage.

All that, and a lot more for this April 21st 1964 via WABC-AM and another day in the life of the Big Apple.

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Eugene Ormandy And The Philadelphia Orchestra Play Music Of Harl McDonald – Past Daily Weekend Gramophone

•April 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Americana of the " . . and the land was good" variety.

Americana of the ” . . and the land was good” variety.

Click on the link here for Audio Player – Harl McDonald: Saga of The Mississippi – Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, Conductor – Broadcast recording – (circa 1944). Gordon Skene Sound Collection

Some historic Americana tonight by way of Harl McDonald. Like many American composers of the early-mid 20th Century, McDonald has faded into the background and has almost fallen into obscurity in recent years. Much of his music was of the ” . . . and the land was good” variety. Meaning, McDonald took for his inspiration a lot of American mythology and folk tales, even in some cases, commenting on events of the day. Lament For Stolen for Women’s Chorus and Orchestra from 1938 was an homage to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. And McDonald’s Bataan was an elegy to the World War 2 battle and the bitter American defeat early in the war.

Whereas composers such as Aron Copland freely used American imagery for their inspiration, and achieved a level of timelessness as a result, many of Copland’s contemporaries suffered neglect and a kind of quaint nostalgia relegation for their efforts in the long run. And a lot of McDonald’s works have gone virtually unnoticed since his death in 1955.

But that’s not to say the likes of Harl McDonald were hacks in any sense of the word. The music of Harl McDonald is solid and well-thought out and he was a well-respected and popular composer of his day.

Evidenced is this weekend’s performance of his Saga of The Mississippi, conducted during a broadcast of the Philadelphia Orchestra by none other than Eugene Ormandy. Since this piece was considered worthy of inclusion in a series of broadcasts to Europe by the State Department, there’s really no date attached to when it was performed. My guess is anywhere between 1944 and 1946.

As for a commercial recording of this work, I am not sure. I do know this particular recording hasn’t been issued in any form other than the State Department broadcast discs.

But in any event, here is a work by a composer who epitomized contemporary American Classical music in the 1930s and 1940s.

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