Those familiar with the late FM-radio legend Steve Post likely remember one of the early masters of free-form radio, notorious for his acerbic wit and spontaneous on-air personality. When he died last summer at age 70 after a long battle with lung cancer, he was eulogized as a curmudgeon “who mischievously mocked himself, his employers, his sponsors, and the conventions of broadcasting.”
On March 20, which would have been Post’s 71st birthday, radio personalities converged at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side to celebrate Post’s memory.
A native of the Bronx, Post got started in radio in 1965 as a bookkeeper for WBAI, then a fledgling listener-supported station that five years earlier had been given to the Berkeley, California–based Pacifica Foundation. After it became clear that he was ill-suited to the accounting job for which he was hired, he was put on the air — first as an announcer, then as a host of The Outside, a free-form program featuring personal commentary, satire, phone calls, music, and eccentric comedic personalities like Paul Krassner, Brother Theodore, Marshall Efron, and a frequent caller known only as “The Enema Lady.”
“Steve’s radio voice and soul were unique,” says Larry Josephson, a longtime friend and colleague of Post’s. Both Post and Josephson were disciples of Bob Fass, a renowned WBAI personality and one of the pioneers of the free-form format. Together, the three represented an informal free-form triumvirate that transformed WBAI from what had been a stern blend of politics and lectures to what Josephson describes as “the New York radio hub of Sixties counterculture.”
During Friday’s gathering, friends and former colleagues reminisced about Post, exchanging anecdotes and listening to Sixties music, recordings from well-wishers, and some of Post’s own shows. “It’s like going to heaven without the drag of expiring,” composer David Amram quipped onstage about the gathering.
Guests shared several stories that elicited laughs from the audience, like the time Post accidentally locked himself inside a guest bathroom while at WNYC, where he worked for 25 years after leaving WBAI in 1979. Wearing nothing but a cotton shirt and slippers in the 28-degree weather, Post climbed out of the bathroom window onto the ledges, at about 25 floors high, as he scrambled to return to the recording studio. Post had a CD running, but he feared “dead air” when the music finished. “Since my first day in radio 30 years ago, I had had one rule drummed into my skull: ‘The air comes first,’ ” Post explains in the clip below, recounting the incident.
WNYC executive producer Sara Fishko, New York Public Radio president Laura Walker, and other notable WBAI alums such as Frank Millspaugh and Julius Lester all were on hand to pay homage and share kind words about Post. Former bosses remembered Post’s complete disdain for authority, and friends pointed out the irony of a much-loved curmudgeon.
“A lover existed underneath,” Josephson said. He tells the Voice that no one in radio today comes close to mirroring Post’s on-air spirit.
WBAI has struggled financially in recent years, and has found it difficult to maintain its prestige and clout as newer media have diminished terrestrial radio’s influence. “I cry a little,” Josephson says of WBAI today. “The time I was there and Bob was there and Steve was there was really a golden age. [WBAI] was the switchboard of the Sixties and everything worth happening in those days went through the transmitter at WBAI.”
See also: WBAI’s Death by Democracy
During the event, Fishko announced that they had commenced the creation of the Steve Post Archive project to preserve Post’s radio legacy. Anyone interested in supporting the project can mail contributions to: On the Road Productions Inc., 511 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 392, New York, NY 10011.