Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ruth's Report

Ruth: On Thursday, KPFA aired live coverage of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony to the Senate committee. Many guests could be heard offering analysis and commentary, callers weighed in, and some listeners made themselves heard via e-mails.

If you missed it, you can listen to the archived version of it: part one, part two, and part three. Larry Bensky anchored the eight hour coverage and I wanted to talk about Mr. Bensky.

I have never met Mr. Bensky and I cannot recall ever reading anything written about him. So how do I have anything to say about the man?

Well, I know he is seventy-years-old. I know his reporting on Iran-Contra won him the Polk award. I know he is a professor and that his recent health is an improvement over a few years back.

No, I am not a nosy neighbor. But, since discovering KPFA, I have made a point to listen to Sunday Salon and have frequently heard him on other programs as well as anchoring the live coverage.

When he would pop up as a guest on The Morning Show, for instance the day after the November 2006 elections, I would always lean in to listen in anticipation.

Here is what I came to expect from Mr. Bensky: A wealth of information that could be called upon, a voice that was perfect for radio, a demeanor that allowed that mistakes can be made, even by him, but it is not the world. He is a friend, one that I never met, but one I will soon miss since he is leaving KPFA at the end of this month.

I thank him for the hours and hours of enjoyment and information he provided me with. I thank him for his keen ability to anticipate the listeners' needs. Thursday, to offer one example, at lunch time as Rebecca and I continued listening to the live broadcast, I asked her, "Do you have any idea who is speaking? I don't." The next voice was Mr. Bensky's who noted that it was probably a good time "to set" again since there were so many people participating at that point and some listeners might need their memories jogged.

For me, that really has been the key point when listening to Mr. Bensky. As important as his knowledge base is, I would rank that ability even higher, to be able to know where the listeners were at any given moment. I rank that highest because guests can be sought out for information. But, if you do not know how to present it, the information really does not make a difference because it will not reach the audience. Phrases like "If you've just tuned in . . ." or "If you're just tuning in . . ." may seem unnecessary to some but the reality is that some people have just tuned in, some people have just walked into a room, and some people, including me, may be lost.

That is a technique that you probably either learn on the job or do not learn. I doubt it can be taught. Another example, also during the lunch break, was when Mr. Bensky made a point to credit everyone involved in the special broadcast, noting that when it was time for the wrap up at the end, there might not be time to credit everyone then.

At the start of the coverage, the DC feed was lost and with that or with a guest who was not on the line, Mr. Bensky thought on his feet an improvised. I have heard dead air on other programs when that happened or, in one instance, a host repeating "Give me a second" for about thirty seconds. It was a bit like hearing "Number nine . . . number nine . . . number nine . . ." over and over while listening to The White Album.

Even with the end in sight, it is really hard for me to imagine that, come next month, someone else will be sitting each in Sunday. I wish them well and will probably hold off criticizing whomever is selected for several months to give him or her a chance to adjust and get comfortable with the responsibilities. I will also try to refrain from writing in a report, "That is not how Mr. Bensky would have done it."

Mr. Bensky may still take part in live coverage from time to time. He has mentioned that possibility and it was also noted in the listeners' report earlier this month. But, if that happens, I am assuming he will be a guest and not the anchor.

All things pass. It must be true, George Harrison used it as an album title. So having noted that I will miss, greatly, Mr. Bensky's on air contributions, let me toss out a few suggestions.

1) If Mr. Bensky is not the anchor of future live coverage and it is carried on all Pacifica stations, I would strongly recommend Deepa Fernandes. That statement will make my granddaughter Tracey very happy, Wakeup Call and Ms. Fernandes are favorites of Tracey's, and that may be the best reason to recommend it. Not to be a good grandmother, but to note that for many listeners, young and old, Ms. Fernandes is not just a host of one program, she is an important voice. Doing a live program Monday through Thursday on WBAI, she already has experience with callers and guests, lost feeds and what have you. She has demonstrated what I would term "grace under pressure," repeatedly. In her own way, she is as strong as Mr. Benksy but different enough that she will not feel constrained to do what he did as he did. In my opinion, we do not need someone trying to imitate Mr. Bensky and the result of such an attempt would probably be a disaster.

2) Sunday Salon airs for two hours each Sunday. Mr. Bensky often covered Iraq but, repeating, one way the program can stand out from the start in May is if one hour of each show was devoted to Iraq. KPFA still does not have a program whose sole focus is Iraq. Taking care of that would also allow the new host of the program to have one less topic to worry about.

3) Sunday Salon has been a place where KPFA could be addressed. That sometimes resulted from having Matthew Lazar or others as a guest. Sometimes, it resulted from Mr. Bensky himself addressing something on air. While I hope the new host will carve out his or her own space, I do hope that this issue can still be touched upon from time to time.

I told C.I. I would have a brief report and it is one. I really do not feel like saying goodbye to Mr. Bensky and am editing out many statements. To make up for that, I will close with a different topic.

Like many in the community, I am no fan of Sarah Olson. Like many, I do not share C.I.'s attitude regarding Ms. Olson. That said, I will happily congratulate her for the recent interview of US war resister Ricky Clousing she did which aired on Flashpoints last Wednesday. If you missed it, you really missed something. I will wind down with Mr. Clousing's remarks and note that whomever takes over for Mr. Bensky could do a lot worse than following the points below:

Ricky Clousing: A lot of people want to ask me, a lot of people want to know, 'Well who should we vote for,' you know, or 'What do you think's going to happen in the next election' and this, and this, and this. And I think people are, they're living in a fantasy land if they think that by electing a Democrat in 2008 is going to fix all our problems, you know. And like, "Oh there's this amazing spokesperson, they're speaking out against the war." Sure, it's great that it's becoming more popular and more mainstream that people are questioning stuff but this is a radical movement. It doesn't stop with the Iraq war, at that, you know. It's much larger and demanding that our government not only be accountable but provide the type of government that we're supposed to be living in which isn't happening, you know? I mean, we're not, we're not a people, the government is not by the people and for the people cause the people have a completely different priority list and a completely different agenda than the people that are in power and are benefiting you know from corporate America that's tied into war and conflict and so many other aspects of society that are getting neglected because of it. I mean the war machine in general is not just just about Iraq, it's not just about Afghanistan, you know, all the weapons that are being made and sent across the world and the role that we play economically across the world. There are so many huge issues, you know. So I think that it's so big and I don't mean to sound like a downer about stuff, I'm just saying I think that . . . I don't know the answer to like where things should be I just know that change doesn't happen without awareness, you know. To start there, all of us need to be becoming more self informed and also spreading that awareness in whatever avenue we have.

[C.I. note: Ruth's feelings re: Olson, echoing many in the community, were expressed in "Talking with Ruth" (The Third Estate Sunday Review).]