R.I.P. Larry Monroe






On Friday, January 17th, those who were tuned in to low-power FM station KDRP in Dripping Springs, Texas, were greeted with the sad news of the passing of radio legend and icon of Austin music Larry Monroe. Dripping Springs is a small community just southwest of Austin, and it is where Larry had spent the last few years of an amazing career in radio. How Larry ended up there—where he was, in his own words, having the time of his life—is something we have long written about here. In fact it was the very genesis of this site as far as the Austin aspect of public radio went. I’ll be writing more of that later, but today we just want to say some things about Larry, both as an on-air personality and as a person. And he was just amazing at both of those things.

Larry was originally from Hartford City, Indiana, and he got his first radio license at age 13 to broadcast on a 10-watt transmitter for his local high school. After high school he attended Ball State University, where he was classmates with David Letterman (they shared several classes in Radio and TV studies). Larry graduated in 1967 and moved on to stations in Ann Arbor and Detroit. While in Ann Arbor he played a part in the “Paul is dead” rumor after the release of the Abbey Road album. After many years up north he followed the advice of George Frayne, aka Commander Cody, and in 1977 moved to Austin with the goal of putting Austin music on the radio. And what a job he did!

After kicking around a bit in various ventures, he started with KUT-FM in March of 1981. He was to stay there until retirement in 2009. In 1981 KUT was a small radio station on the campus of the University of Texas. Its license was held by UT but it was not a student-run station. It was while at KUT that Larry developed what were to be his two signature shows, Blue Monday and The Phil Music Program. And both came about by happenstance, as so many wonderful things do. Blue Monday originated after Larry just happened to play an extended set of classic blues on an otherwise dead Monday evening. But following that listeners started calling in wanting to know more about the “Blue Monday” program that they had heard previously. With the eventual approval of the station manager, Blue Monday became a weekly staple, and in 2002 it received the Keeping the Blues Alive for Public Radio award from the Blues Foundation. It continued on the air at KUT until Larry’s retirement from UT systems in 2010, when he did a final show co-hosted by blues legend James Cotton.

The Phil Music Program had an even quirkier genesis, and one peculiar to Austin. In the ’80s KUT broadcast the Austin City Council meetings every Thursday night, and Larry was the person on duty on Thursdays in case the council either adjourned early or went into closed recess. When those things happened Larry would write “fill music” onto the station logs to document what was being done, and that was when Larry’s always-missing alter ego Phil Music was born.

The Austin City Council meetings were notoriously rambunctious, and Phil Music might be on for a few minutes or a few hours, depending on how things went. For those of us tuning in for music, hearing Larry’s voice instead of the mayor’s was a sign we were going to have fun on the airwaves, at least for a while. This gave Larry a chance to program as the “free form” master that he was, mixing classic folk and jazz with current Austin artists and a good dose of surreal Firesign Theater humor mixed in as well. It was radio madness, and Austin music fans took to it immediately. Eventually even the City Council joined in the fun, with any motion to adjourn being announced as the “Phil Music Motion” and voted on thusly.

When KUT stopped carrying the Council meetings, Larry was awarded the 8-11 time slot on Thursdays and a permanent format was set. The show would always have a theme and the show would always start with the “Phil Music excuse,” stating why Phil Music hadn’t shown up, leaving Larry to stand in. And the excuse was always a key to the theme. And those themes could be amazing: shows based on cars, elections, shopping. The possibilities were endless, and all from the ever-imaginative mind of the true host, Larry Monroe. His last theme was going to be about “bridges” after the Bridge-gate controversy currently sweeping New Jersey.

But it was the Phil Music Program that eventually brought about his disenchantment with management at KUT. In 2009 he was called into the station manager’s office a couple of hours before show time and was told that the show had been canceled and a newer, younger DJ was being given that time slot. Being the professional that he was, Larry accepted the loss of his show without public complaint, but his listeners had other ideas. There were emails and calls of protest, and when station management refused to even discuss the situation a protest group was formed with thousands of members. Battle lines were drawn. But through it all Larry maintained his public silence and refused to be brought into the conflict, at least as far as any public comments went. But despite the public outcry, station management stood their ground until the Thursday before the final Blue Monday when they gave him back the slot for one night to play the “lost” Phil Music episode. And with his retirement, both shows seemed to be fading into Austin lore.

But like all wise cats Larry had a few lives left, and in 2011 he was back on the air at KDRP. The savvy folks in Dripping Springs offered him his old time slots and programs back, no strings attached and with full artistic control. Larry jumped at the chance and a new phase of his long career began. He moved the times to 7-10 (he once told me it was to get the jump on his former employer’s shows). Blue Monday was back with its Fats Domino theme song, and Phil Music was back with its trademark excuses and themes. And shortly after that, KDRP also resurrected another of Larry’s favorites, Texas Music Live, now broadcast every Wednesday from Guero’s Taco Bar on South Congress in Austin, smack in the middle of the “SoCo” entertainment district, featuring a list of notables that is far too long to document here. In his last week here with us, he just barely made it to Guero’s by show time and mentioned to his co-host David Arnsberger that he wasn’t feeling well. And during the broadcast he actually sat down at one point, something Larry never did. It was a real warning signal to anyone who knew him, but none of us expected him to actually die; he was just too much a part of things. But that brings us back to that horrible Friday morning, and the on-air announcement of his death.

Larry is survived by a brother in Indiana, a daughter and two grandchildren, and any number of other relatives. But for those who were around him the past few years, you had no doubt who his soul mate was—Austin photographer Ave’ Bonar. The last time I saw Larry alive, he told me the story of how he and Ave’ got together, and not surprisingly it involved radio shows and Austin musicians, the other true loves of his life. I won’t go into that story now—it’s something I will keep as one last glimpse into a fascinating person, one who changed the world around him. Not in huge headline-making ways, though Larry did sometimes make headlines. But in the little things that only someone who is welcomed into your home the way a good DJ is. He was in our living rooms, in our cars, and in our lives for years. Austin won’t be the same without him, but it was changed by him. His dream of putting Austin music on the air was realized long ago, but Larry was just too damn busy having fun to sit on his laurels. So here’s to you, my friend. I wish it were all just some Phil Music excuse for why you’re not here. But we’ll all be standing in, remembering the voice of Austin music . . .

Rev Jim


Nine Volt Heart


Plastic silver nine volt heart
You click it on and let the music start
Nine Volt Heart,”Dave Alvin

The hot, dusty plains around Odessa, Texas, were never meant for human life. Actually, they were never meant for much life at all. There’s scarcely enough water to keep the scorpions and cactus alive, no game larger than a jackrabbit. Historians say that tribes of Native Americans used to pass through there; most agree they passed through very quickly indeed. As did most everyone else until the discovery of Black Gold at the bottom of that hellhole, and then the rush was on. My father was one of those who followed the money to Odessa, and there he settled to raise his family. He was a wonderful man who did his best to keep us entertained, but it was an uphill struggle in a town with no hills. And for a scrawny little kid with too much imagination, things were just brown and bleak for as far as I could see. That is,until I discovered magic in the air around me.

I believe my first encounter with that magic was in my parents’ car, the oddly glowing radio dial built right into the dash, surrounded by buttons and knobs. And if you turned the knobs in just the right way music would come out, or sometimes people talking. I was probably 4 or 5 at the time and totally fascinated. The local AM station was KOSA, and the station wasn’t far from our house. My father had pointed the building out to me, a plain little box with a red and white antennae jutting far into the West Texas sky. Having no concept of recorded music, I imagined that there must be a big stage in there somewhere and all of these performers were constantly shuffling back and forth off of it. And the DJ was probably like the ringmaster from the little circus that had passed through town, an officious guy in a funny suit who decided when it was time for elephants and when it was time for clowns. I remember hoping that my father would take me in there someday to see the spectacle. Surely the circus would pale in comparison.

I encountered the next version of that magic a couple of years later, after I had started school and was subject to the awesome knowledge of older kids—fourth-graders most likely. That’s when I saw my first transistor radio, which had the same magical properties as that first radio but without the car wrapped around it. This one was about the size of a paperback book, with its own little antenna to split the sky with. By then I knew what records were, and this had taken some of the magic out of things, but just how the darned thing worked was still a mystery to me. So I was totally amazed when an older kid spun the little dial and a whole different station came out of the speaker. And it was like the heavens had opened above me. Two radio stations? I had been going on the assumption that there was just the one! The fact that there were two brought a sort of epiphany on me. If there were two stations out there then how many more? And that’s when it started, my lifelong quest of twistin’ the dials, hoping to find just one more station that I hadn’t heard before.

Which wasn’t all that hard at first. As far as local geography went, there was nothing taller than a fireplug for  hundreds of miles, and for radio signals “line of sight” is golden. And there’s this wondrous thing called “skip,” where signals actually bounce off the upper atmosphere and come back down who knows where, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles. Talk about magic. . . . By the time I was in the sixth grade my father had given me a five (five!) band radio to play around with, and I just about twisted the knobs off that beauty. We lived some ten miles out of Odessa proper so reception was great, but I added to its range by attaching a copper wire to the radio’s antennae and stringing it around  my ceiling. That’s when I started picking up what might as well have been other worlds. There was a mega-station out of Chicago called WLS that played early rock-n-roll, and WWL, a truck-driving station out of New Orleans that played lots of Hank Williams with dedications from lonely housewifes to their trucker husbands out on the road.

I listened to KOMA out of Oklahoma City, where there was an apparently insane DJ called Charlie Tuna who came on after midnight. Some nights I got KLIF from Dallas and the Rod Roddy Show, a late-night talk show that may have preceded Larry King. And every now and then I’d run across one of the infamous Border Radio stations blasting in from Mexico, the domain of the infamous  Wolfman Jack. I never actually caught his show, but I remember the absolutely bizarre commercials they ran, hawking stuff that ranged from glow in the dark Jesuses to patent medicines to livestock. And for a kid sitting up late thru the West Texas night it was like the whole world was talking to me through that little copper wire circling my ceiling.

And these were just the ones that I had found on the AM band. I still had four other bands to go! Three of those were a disappointment, though; the shortwave bands were a bore so soon I was back listening to Charlie Tuna up in OK City. Until one night, pretty much on a whim, I got to poking around on the FM dial .This would have been late ’60s, early ’70s, and FM radio was being transformed, changed by rock music, and the new “free form” style of programming. Somehow, some way the one little FM station in Odessa had hired two early aficionados of free form, David Conway and Jerry Galloway, and now there was a whole new world on the FM dial. Listening to them I first heard the Grateful Dead, Spirit, Kris Kristofferson, the James Gang, and Mason Proffit. And my perception of radio shifted again, away from the wild personalities of Charlie Tuna, Rod Roddy, and the long-distance truckers. Instead I became more aware of the music that was being played rather than the goofy sound effects and self-promotions that filled the AM dial. After that FM became the first choice for my radio time, as it also shifted for others across the country.

Or it did until my father moved us to another oil field, this one far up on the frozen plains of northern Wyoming. No FM signals there at all, and during daylight hours I could only pick up the one AM station in our little town with its polkas and livestock prices. But after the sun went down things changed on the AM dial: The “skip” that had brought all those far-off channels to Odessa now brought them to Wyoming. And most powerful of all was an old friend, KOMA, blasting in from Oklahoma City. KOMA was a lifeline to teens all across the Midwest, high schoolers in a thousand little towns. It brought news from the larger music world, new bands, new albums, new movies. And it brought the tour schedules for the cover bands that traveled constantly across the plains, bringing live music to towns too small to be noticed by the name acts. Free-form FM may have been the big thing in the cities, but in places like Salina, Kansas, Grand Junction, Colorado, and Gillette, Wyoming, KOMA was the only game in town. And they played it very well indeed.

So the AM dial was again front and center in my radio world. I felt I had come full circle. I was back to nights of listening to far-off signals, back to my earliest dreams. And it made me think again of that little box of a station that I had first listened to as a child.

Before we left Odessa I had finally visited that station, now updated to be KOZA. It was when I was a young teenager and first stretching my wings. This was made easier by having an older friend who had his drivers license, plus an old pickup to bomb around in. Naturally we used to sneak into town late at night, cruise for girls, and look for ways to seem cool. One night after midnight I suggested dropping by the radio station to see if we could get in. I had spoken with the late-night DJ there on the phone a few times making requests, thought it at least worth a try. So we pulled into the deserted parking lot, went around back, and knocked on the door. To my surprise the DJ came and let us in, told us that as long as we kept quiet when the red light was on we could hang out for a while.

This was my first realization that being a DJ might not be all that glamorous. He seemed lonely and maybe spooked from being the only person in the darkened building. We sat around for an hour or so watching him cue up 45s and juggle the “carts” for the commercial spots, then we headed back towards home. I think my buddy was bored by the whole thing, but for me it was finally getting to see that ringmaster from my younger days. And I got to watch him decide when it was time for the elephants, when it was time for the clowns. And while there was no enormous stage with an endless stream of performers, I did finally get to see just where the radio magic came from. It came from lonely late night DJs working in darkened buildings, just trying to get ahead. It came from Charlie Tuna and Rod Roddy, and from wistful housewifes sending out their long-distance dedications. And it came from over-imaginative kids with wires dangling from their ceilings, twisting the knobs deep into the West Texas night.

But now I’m afraid that the magic’s been drained out of the airwaves. It’s been drained by Clear Channel homogenization, it’s been drained by the Internet. And it was drained by a technology that doesn’t require antennae far up in the West Texas sky. A five-band radio from your father is no match for a broadband DSL line from AT&T. And I doubt that there’s a first-grader in Odessa today being amazed by their first transistor radio. And just what would amaze a first-grader today? What would they think was magic? The world changes; it always has and it always will. But as the magic is drained from the world, what are we replacing it with? I can only hope that the answers are as obvious—and as wondrous—to kids today as that first radio was to me.

 —Rev Jim

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Glenn Greenwald on Real Reporting

What NPR means by “reporting”

A video art work displays Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a gallery in Tel Aviv, Israel  (Credit: AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

It is well worth listening to a 4-minute NPR story from this morning (embedded in linked story) on the grave and growing menace of “state-sponsored Terrorism” from Iran. NPR national security reporter Dina Temple-Raston does what she (and NPR reporters generally) typically do: gathers a couple of current and former government officials (with an agreeable establishment think-tank expert thrown in the mix), uncritically airs what they say, and then repeats it herself. This is what establishment-serving journalists in Washington mean when they boast that they, but not their critics, engage in so-called “real reporting”; it means: calling up Serious People in Washington and uncritically repeating what they say (see here and here for the episode when Temple-Raston voiced that basic claim to me, as she boasted of special knowledge she possessed about Anwar Awlaki’s guilt obtained when unnamed government officials whispered assertions to her in private which she then uncritically repeated: that’s real reporting).

This morning, Temple-Raston began her report by noting — without a molecule of skepticism or challenge — that Iran is accused (by the U.S. government, of course) of trying to assassinate the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil (a plot traced to “the top ranks of the Iranian government”); there was no mention of the fact that this alleged plot was so ludicrous that it triggered intense mockery in most circles. She then informed us that Iran is also likely responsible for three recent, separate attacks on Israeli officials. These incidents, she and her extremely homogeneous group of experts from official Washington explained, are “red flags” about Iran’s intent to commit Terrorism — red flags consistent, she says, with Iran’s history of state-sponsored Terrorism involving assassinations of opposition leaders in Europe during the 1980s and the 1996 truck bombing of an American military dormitory in Saudi Arabia (note how attacks on purely military targets are “Terrorism” when Iran does it, as are the assassinations of its own citizens on foreign soil who are working for the overthrow of its government; but if you hold your breath waiting for NPR to label as Terrorism the U.S. assassination of its own citizens on foreign soil, or American and Israeli attacks on military targets, you are likely to expire quite quickly). All of this, Temple-Raston announces, shows that Iran is “back on the offensive.”

Iran is on “the offensive.” There is no mention in this NPR story — literally none whatsoever — of the string of serious attacks on Iran, from multiple explosions on their soil to the training and arming of a designated Terror group devoted to its government’s overthrow to the bombardment of its nuclear facilities with sophisticated cyber attacks to the multiple murders of its civilian nuclear scientists. These attacks on Iran — widely reported to be the work of some combination of the U.S. and Israel — literally do not exist in the world that NPR presented. Iran is simply sponsoring and launching “Terror attacks” out of the blue against the U.S. and Israel: presumably because they’re Evil Terrorists. Meanwhile, we learn from Temple-Raston that “what worked so well dismantling Al Qaeda” — like drone attacks [it ‘worked so well’ doing things like this]  – won’t work on this kind of Terrorism.” Fortunately, though, the U.S. has vast powers of eavesdropping and banking surveillance that it can and must use against this “old adversary”: Iran. Imagine Bill Kristol delivering this “report” on Iran and try to identify how it would have been any different.

What’s most amazing about this isn’t just that people like Temple-Raston think that uncritically airing, amplifying and repeating the government-subservient views of a few homogeneous former U.S. officials constitutes “real reporting,” though that is quite remarkable. What’s most amazing is that NPR has an obsession with what it considers “neutral” reporting, and I guarantee you that Temple-Raston’s response to these criticisms would be to insist that she is neither a partisan nor an opinionist, but rather a “straight reporter” who simply presents facts without bias. She would undoubtedly believe that this report to which she just subjected the world — one that is about as one-sided, biased and opinionated as can be: Iran is offensively launching Terrorism at the world and the U.S. must stop it – is a pure example of objective reporting. That’s because “objective reporting” to such people means: endorsing, embracing and bolstering the prevailing views of the U.S. government and official Washington in order to inculcate the citizenry to believe them. Doing that can be called many things: “objective” and “real reporting” are most definitely not among them.

There’s one prime reason why Americans are so uninformed about what their government does in their name around the world (Why do they hate us?). It’s because “news stories” from “even liberal media outlets” like NPR systematically obscure those facts, disseminating pure propaganda from America’s National Security State masquerading as high-minded, Serious news.


National Propaganda Radio

The site NPR Check (link on right) keeps an eye on the right-wing tendencies of public radio, no more so than in this critique in the comments of a recent piece aired there:


Just when you thought NPR couldn’t sink any lower:

New Policy Gives Hope To Some Facing Deportation : NPR: New Policy Gives Hope To Some Facing Deportation

NPR continues normalizing Right Wing Fringe Extremism:

NPR quotes “Kristen Williamson with the Federation for American Immigration Reform” opposed to Obama’s change in immigration.

Really NPR? Really? The Federation for American Immigration Reform? An organization that has been identified group described as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):


“FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, has expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population: a goal to be achieved, presumably, by limiting the number of nonwhites who enter the country. One of the group’s main goals is upending the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended a decades-long, racist quota system that limited immigration mostly to northern Europeans. FAIR President Dan Stein has called the Act a “mistake.”

“As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?”
— FAIR founder and board member John Tanton, Oct. 10, 1986

What’s worse “Federation for American Immigration Reform” : NPR Search (BETA): Quoted this organization several times.”

What’s next? NPR to interview the Klan on civil rights?

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