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February 25, 2008

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Peter Tonks

I was one of those "longhairs" at WFMU in 1970. When we occupied the station during the Kent State strike in May 1970 I was on the air when the East Orange PD/FBI broke the door down. I was music director at WFMU. I used to enjoy watching Al "I run a tight ship" Fritch studying the hair on his palms.

Peter Tonks

It was May 1970. The Ohio National Guard had just killed several Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam war. I was one of several Upsala students who "occupied" the WFMU campus radio station studios for several days afterwards.

We broadcast revolutionary rhetoric over the airwaves, read from Chairman Maos Little Red Book, and gave out the addresses of military recruitment centers and police stations along with instructions on how to concoct the perfect molotov cocktail. Ah, those were the days.

When the FBI, the police and the frazzled Dean broke the door down after our three day siege, I was the one on the air at the control board. The song "Monster" by Steppenwolf was playing, with that pointed chorus refrain "America where are you now?" as the FBI agents pulled me forcefully out of the seat.

I remember asking - over the air- with all the innocence I could muster "Listeners, we seem to have been paid a visit by the FBI. Let me ask, why is the FBI shutting down the station?"

Over the open mike the agent screamed "we don't have to give you fucking bastards a reason!".

I asked if I could log that FCC violation before I left.


It was September 1970. In response to the "turmoil" at WFMU the preceding semester, the campus administration - ie: Dean Perkins and his proletariat running dogs - clamped down on the hippie student staffers by hiring a repressive goon robot from Indiana named Al Fritch. Needless to say, the former station manager, being one of the instigators in the takeover of the station the previous Spring, was not invited back to college.

Fritch was a semi-conscious creature with limited grey matter whom they could easily manipulate into clamping down on free speech and anything remotely construed as creative expression at WFMU. They figured with Fritch on board, they could run a clean ship, a good ship lollipop.

Physically, Fritch was reminiscent of the actor Drew Carey, sans Carey's personality and humor. He lived in the apartment building next door to mine on Park Avenue, with his wife "Kitten" and his 1950s-throwback son "Scotty".

His idea of "creative radio" was to play six Carpenters songs in a row.

Fritch did not like me at all. He particularly did not like the fact I frequently played John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" on my radio show.

At his wits end, Fritch summoned me into his office. He sat at attention behind his desk, tapping a number two pencil upon the desk with great authority, while his second-in-command, an odious nerd-lackey by the name of Bill Collins (air-name: "Damien Collins") sat beside him, probably wondering where he'd left his drool cup.

"Pete" Fritch said "I want you to censor out the obscenity in that song you play, you know, the one by that Beatle guy".

"Aw, gee, Al, do I hafta?" I protested.

"Yes, Pete, you do" Al commanded, "we can't have: "till you're so fucking crazy" going out over the airwaves at WFMU. I run a tight ship here".

"That you do, Al, that you do" I agreed. I stood up to leave and had to restrain myself from saluting.

On my next radio program I made a point of censoring out the offending word on "Working Class Hero". When Lennon sang "till you're so fucking crazy you feel nothing at all" I bleeped out the offending word over the air so it sounded like this:

"Till you're so fucking --bleep-- you feel nothing at all."

Peter Tonks

cowtown87@comcast.net

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