“Not only has it not worked, it has sucked—and sucked the life out of the very entity that made it possible (WBEZ).”

Radio Gaga

Re “A Sound Experiment?” by Michael Miner, July 17

The mess over there is even bigger than this article makes out. The staff at BEZ tend to make less money than staff at npr affiliates with a comparable listener base. Malatia’s move to hire only non-radio folks for Vocalo slots was, understandably, interpreted as a slap in the face by senior production staff who wanted more creative freedom. So, you have a staff of underpaid professionals who are disgruntled about a lack of salary equity who are then told that their work (no matter how many years they’ve been at the station) is too “old guard” to fit the new model. Then members of the old-guard production team are then asked to train all the Vocalo people, people who are isolated from the rest of the staff. How could Malatia not understand how undercutting the work of his core product/staff in favor of a very expensive and risky side venture might lead to a catastrophic drop in employee morale?

Anyway, it’s clearly not just a matter of fiscal resources, it’s a matter of human resources being misused...

Also, there’s an irony here that nobody has pointed out: Malatia’s “public affairs” focus on BEZ basically led to him creating a more homogeneous product—the very anti-localized programming beast that Vocalo was supposed to slay.


Like the people in the article, like the folks at the station, like the posters on this forum... I too am torn. I understand the concept. Build something new, something fresh, something hip, something to deliver news and arts and culture to those under 30, to those would never ever consider tuning in public radio. But as the piece points out, not only has it not worked, it has sucked—and sucked the life out of the very entity that made it possible (WBEZ)... at the very moment in time when that entity needed the money most to fulfill its dream of producing the best local coverage anywhere in the country. Mr. Malatia will be remembered as a visionary for giving airtime and incubation time to such worthy projects as This American Life, the Third Coast festival, Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!, etc. However I fear that hubris has taken over and he’s become Nero, fiddling while WBEZ burns


Your complaints about the content are warranted, but realize that it takes user-submitted content. Instead of squeak-leaking mealy fibrous steaming coils of rage via comments on the Reader site, go contribute some content if you’re convinced you know what would make for good radio.

Cap’n Howdy

Re Cap’n Howdy: that’s a good point, and I do hope for Vocalo’s own sake that some people with talent give the station some good material.

But if you listen to the station, and I’ve listened to it since its inception for probably 15-20 hours, it really doesn’t inspire confidence as a vessel for contributions.

The submitted audio that’s played is short (which is part of explicit mission of the station), and often just played without any context or any reflection from the hosts; sometimes something that’s engaging serves as filler between self-indulgent prattle from the hosts. Not to mention the technical problems they have with audio (which do seem to be improving).

It’s hard to say how much of Vocalo’s trouble stems from a lack of decent submitted material. But it’s worth considering that other problems contribute to the dearth of user-generated content. In anything like this there’s a push and pull between the structure of the network and the people who use it. And the structure has to do its part.


Jus ad bellum

Re the Reader’s Guide to the Pitchfork Music Festival, July 17

For years now, your music writers have been taking reflexive, self-satisfied swipes at the Iraq war that have no relevance whatsoever to the subject at hand. Example: In the Pitchfork Music Festival guide, your critic, Bill Meyer, says, “The occupation of Iraq has reiterated the sick bankruptcy of the Vietnam-era logic about destroying villages to save them, but in 1982, with their LP Vs., Mission of Burma proved it really was possible to save rock ‘n’ roll by smashing it to bits.”

Meyer’s incisive point about Mission of Burma is well taken, I guess, but he should be aware that the comment “it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it” is probably a fabrication and an urban legend—no one has ever tracked down the source for this supposed quote. He should also be aware that grafting dual irrelevancies—the wars in Vietnam and Iraq—onto a review of a largely forgotten punk group makes for quite awkward and amateurish-sounding writing. Finally, while I bow before Meyer’s evidently encyclopedic knowledge of Boston-based punk bands, I’d be willing to bet that his awareness of the actual situation in Iraq is much lower than his awareness of the implicit pressure placed upon writers for indie newspapers to have the exact same political opinions as all of their colleagues.


Bill Meyer replies:

Mission of Burma is hardly forgotten; they have more people listening now than they did in the 80s, even when they sing about politics.

Nobody needs to have said “destroy the village to save it” for the absurdity of such destructive tactics to be evident, but there are plenty of songs that sound better when they’re smashed the way Burma smashes them.

And for what it’s worth, the peer group that influences my politics most is composed of social workers and counselors, not indie newspaper contributors.

Jumping to Conclusions

Re “A Batman for the 21st Century” by J.R. Jones, July 17

Damn it, PLEASE put a spoiler alert before the last two paragraphs. Doesn’t anyone edit these reviews before they’re published?

Intriguing review, but I had no desire to find out the ending. Unacceptable in an open forum, downright criminal here.


I know it’s shocking to think that a movie writer might have some design other than hyping the product. But our reviews are conceived and written as think pieces, and the demands of constructing a good argument supersede everything else. If I have to give away a late plot development, my reasoning is that the added insight will enhance your viewing more than simple suspense.

Besides, the spoilers here were explicitly marked. Remember when mom told you not to touch the stove, and you did anyway and burned your hand? Well, don’t touch the stove.

J.R. Jones

You are dealing with a bit of a difference in media here. Reading online is lower resolution than print.

Even the eyes of regular online readers tend to get fatigued after reading a longer article, resulting in involuntary jumps in their eye movements that may cause words or sentences to be missed.

In this case, most online readers (myself included) found this alert too subtle.

It’s pretty common practice on Web sites or Usenet groups for individuals reviewing new movies, books or other media to put a line of text reading “Spoiler alert.” This text is spaced from the other copy to minimize people including the spoiler text in their visual field (remember people tend to read text in chunks, not word by word)...

Making this concession in the future (only for the online version) might keep comments focused on your actual insights and observations, rather than a steady stream of complaints about spoilers.


Culture Held Hostage

Re “Plunder on a Pedestal” by Deanna Isaacs, the Business, July 17

Deanna Isaacs should be congratulated for the excellent report and the explanations therein. It would be interesting to know whether the Art Institute of Chicago will publish the full texts of the statements made at the opening of the exhibition and above all the statement of James Cuno, the director, stating that he will consider seriously any demand for restitution. Readers who are interested in this matter may wish to consult afrikanet.info.

Readers may also find the attached statement useful.

Statement on the Benin bronzes and their continued detention by European and American Museums and Individuals

There are some points about the Benin bronzes that the reader must know and always bear in mind:

1. That most of these beautiful and fine art objects were stolen by the British in 1897 when they invaded Benin City, executed some nobles, exiled the Oba (King) and burnt the city.

2. Some thousands of the Benin objects were sold by the British to other European and American museums and individuals. British Museum, London, is alleged to have some 1,000 pieces; the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, has admittedly some 800 pieces, the Ethnology Museum, Vienna, some 200. Some of the finest pieces are in the United States, for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, has one of the hip masks of Queen Mother Idia. The British Museum has the other.

3. The people of Benin and Nigeria have fewer than the European and American museums, who refuse to lend or return any of these pieces.

4. The Nigerians and the Benin royal family have been asking for years for the return of some of these pieces to Nigeria. The response of the Europeans and the Americans has either been dead silence or exasperated “no.”

5. The United Nations and UNESCO have been urging for years countries holding such illegally and illegitimate exported objects to return them to their countries of origin. The Europeans and American remain impervious to all such appeals.

6. The hijacking of the religious and cultural icons of the African peoples by Europeans and Americans which was made possible by the colonialist and imperialist regimes should no longer be acceptable.

7. The human rights of the African peoples, individually and collectively, are being violated by this persistent and defiant refusal to return cultural objects which were not produced by the Europeans and American and were not meant for their use. Such a position also violates the freedom of religion in so far as many of the stolen African objects, for instance the many Ethiopian crosses in the British Museum, the Benin altars and the Fang reliquaries are necessary for the traditional practice of religious beliefs.

8. Most of these objects should have been returned when the African countries gained independence in the 1960s. The refusal to return those objects relating to power and cultural generally is a denial of the right to self-determination. If a people cannot determine where their cultural objects can be, where then is the right of self-determination, which includes not only the right to determine your constitution but also to determine your cultural policy and practice?

9. True democrats and lovers of freedom should insist on all government respecting the right to cultural development of all, including the right to determine the destination of one’s cultural objects. This minimum requirement should be possible even in a world dominated by the use or threat of the use of force.

Dr. Kwame Opoku