IN 1963, one man radically transformed the FM dial. RADIO UNNAMEABLE tells the story of the groundbreaking New York disc jockey Bob Fass and his innovative use of the airwaves to inform, entertain and encourage dialogue amongst listeners. His program is entirely free form, there’s no telling what might happen next. It is a place to hear great music, conversations with artists and activists, audio experiments, and where the average listener can discuss local and international issues, from problems with landlords in the Bronx to the war in Afghanistan. Bob Fass is still on the air today, approaching 50 years behind the microphone, and he remains as vital and current as ever.
Radio Unnameable’s orbit of listeners are active participants and a key component to the program. Bob Fass’s goal was to create a participatory democracy on the air, utilizing this community as an organizing tool, working with listeners to stage protests and events, such as the 1967 “Sweep-In” where listeners gathered to clean up a Lower East Side block during a garbage strike. He has talked callers down from bad trips and even averted a suicide attempt. Parallels can be drawn to today’s innovations such as Facebook, Twitter, flash mobs, etc.. The listeners were “citizen reporters” and on Radio Unnameable, every voice is heard.
From the beginning, major cultural figures have dropped by the studio to perform, take calls and engage in the program’s spontaneity. The list of notables who’ve appeared is astounding: Bob Dylan, Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono, Muddy Waters, Timothy Leary amongst many more. The film showcases these appearances alongside current sounds that Fass champions.
As a station, WBAI is filled with volatile internal politics. Fass often finds himself in the middle and as a result has been forced off the air numerous times. One such incident, in the late 1970s, saw him being carried away in handcuffs. The station today is flirting with bankruptcy and many staff members are volunteers, including Fass, who’s been unpaid for years. His timeslot is never safe and support at WBAI is tenuous.
As radio is an aural medium, we have established a distinctive style that combines the visual elements with the sounds and voices heard on Radio Unnameable. Sometimes the images will be directly related and other times the connection will be abstract and visceral. The film’s palette will consist of 8mm and 16mm film, Hi8 video, VHS and HD. It showcases Bob Fass’s extensive archive of thousands of reel-to-reel recordings, photographs, film and video.
Since it’s conception, there have been no boundaries for Radio Unnameable. Fass’s unique and influential program has blazed a trail for everything from NPR to Howard Stern. RADIO UNNAMEABLE is not only about Bob Fass and his remarkable journey, but also radio’s evolving landscape and the necessity for free expression on the airwaves.