Jim Freund, Friend of Fiction
Angela Yuriko Smith
- Hour of the Wolf has been broadcasting since 1972. The show was the brainchild of Margot Adler, but in 1973 you took it over on WBAI in New York. What was your first involvement with the show, and how did you come to host it?
When I first began as a volunteer at WBAI in 1967, Margot was one of the first people I actually befriended. Seven years my senior, she was virtually an older sister to me. WBAI did not broadcast 24 hours a day in those years, and all the free-form live radio shows consisted of a boys club. To squeeze in, a new timeslot had to be created. So Margot made a deal with the station manager: She would allow herself to get fired in order to collect unemployment and would continue being the weekend News Director so long as she could broadcast in the morning twilight. The show was on from 5-7 AM Monday through Friday. (Before anyone rolls their eyes, remember that in New York City, 6 AM is already morning Drive Time — a valuable piece of broadcast real estate with a high listenership in the largest broadcast market in the world.)
I engineered a good many of her shows, or just sat in the studio as her mascot. She and I came up with the idea that Thursdays and Fridays would be “The ____day Morning Science Fiction Extravaganza.” I helped book several of the guests starting with George Alec Effinger, and I would take turns with her reading stories live on the air, and eventually became her co-host on those two mornings.
After about 16 months we both applied for Clarion West 1974 — the first ever. We were both accepted, but I could not afford to attend (though there was an offer to be subsidized — a whole other story) nor to take six weeks off from whatever menial paying job I held at the time. And if I had to stay in NYC, I could take over the show for that period.
Not long after Margot’s return, she acquired if not a superior timeslot, one that at least was more conducive to a “normal” circadian rhythm, and I became heir to the show. I did not hold onto it for more than a year. Adler was one of the most amazing people on the air; relaxed (maybe too much so), with a keen journalistic, polymathic, yet personal and personable voice. That’s not quite my long suit, and I stuck with Thursday and Friday mornings while various other folk alternated on the Monday through Wednesday shows. Some years later a program director cut one of the two mornings I had (I was also producing other shows at the station including a Midnight to 5 AM slot), and eventually in 1982 a different PD moved me to Saturdays. I went kicking and screaming, but it turned out to be a very astute move for all. Around 2010 a program director scrambled many timeslots, and I eventually came to roost Wednesday night / Thursday mornings from 1-3 AM ET.
- Just the name of the show is a story. Can you tell us what an “hour of the wolf” is, and how the show came to be named that?
Margot named the show after the 1967 Ingmar Bergman movie, Vargtimmen, which translates to Hour of the Wolf, under which name the film was released. Bergman wrote:
“The hour of the wolf is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die; when sleep is deepest, when nightmares are most real. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fear; when ghosts and demons are most powerful. The hour of the wolf is also the hour when most children are born.”
We could be sure that that event occurred somewhere between 5 and 7 AM (even with time changes), so the name and the sense of mystery it evokes was wholly appropriate.
- You’ve had a parade of notable names share your mic, including Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Octavia E. Butler, Arthur C Clarke, Christopher Lee, Ursula K. Le Guin, Norman Spinrad, Kurt Vonnegut (and me! Wooot!). Can you tell us a few of the amazing moments? What stands out in your mind?
My very first talk show was when I was subbing for Paul Gorman’s “Lunchpail” on a Saturday from Noon-2:00 PM. I was 16 or 17 years-old — an utter novice with that type of show. I had a panel of three guests: Frederik Pohl, Lester Del Rey, and Isaac Asimov. Ike was all over the place and I had no idea how to rein him in in terms of hogging the mic, changing topics, etc. Luckily for me (well, it wasn’t all luck) I knew Fred and Lester were old hands at talk shows, being regulars on Long John Nebel’s landmark late-night show. The three were decades-long friends, and they (particularly Fred) were not only able to override Asimov, but made me look good in the process. (There was sort of a bookend — Ike was my first interview, and I was his last, having recorded a show with him but a few weeks before his death.)
The first time I interviewed Le Guin (late 70s) we arranged a phone interview. I’ve always disdained those because it’s not easy to establish any kind of rapport with someone I don’t know personally. That interview nailed it. About all I could do was gush and say inane things like “You wrote The Left Hand of Darkness. Gosh!” She was on guard at this nebbish, and fell just shy of asking “Who is this again?” Some time later she came to New York, and we’d arranged an afternoon 90-minute interview. We got on like a house on fire, and ended up recording about three hours worth.
Douglas Adams was an accidental coup. WBAI had a long-standing relationship with the BBC, allowing us to broadcast some of their best material, such as The Goon Show. These were supplied on transcription discs which could only be played on proprietary turntables freely provided by The Beeb. That relationship ended with the birth of PBS and NPR, which provided a cash cow to the British broadcaster. What had been free now had outrageous broadcast fees attached which no listener-sponsored or college station could afford, but the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, funded primarily by Congress, could.
Douglas knew of the relationship between us, and was disappointed that his new radio show wasn’t likely to get an airing in the US. He contacted Pacifica Radio who referred him to me and to Mike Hodel (an intermittent co-host with Adler on Hour of the Wolf before he moved west to become News Director at our LA station, where he had a 30-minute sf radio show, Hour 25). I knew of Adams as the script editor of Doctor Who, and was excited to discuss that; but his main agenda was to discuss The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. When the recorded interview was over he “accidentally” left six transcription discs behind with me — each disc being one episode. I immediately broadcast those over my next two shows, thus becoming the first person to play the series in the US. (By no small coincidence, Douglas next visited Mike, who in turn played the series on KPFT about a week after me.) This was long before NPR had paid for the shows and publicized them; but despite their claims, they were not the first (or second) to do so.
(For those of you who don’t know, the radio series preceded the books by almost two years. Celebrated though the books may be, they’re but an adaptation of his radio work, and IMO, not quite as good. Which is saying a lot.)
Through the years, Douglas appeared on four episodes of Hour of the Wolf, though only one was live.
Octavia was on the show five or six times in total. Most were live at 5 AM, but the last two were recorded. One was at Barbara and my house, and the last, a few months before her untimely death, at her hotel. She was always friendly, direct, honest about herself and her feelings, and generally in a fine humor.
The last interview I did with her was when Fledgling came out. She had just emerged from an almost decade-long writer’s block, and that book helped break the ice so that she was ready to delve into a new series. Tragedy robbed us of that series, and who knows what else. I, along with the rest of the world, mourn for her.
Vonnegut was a long-time supporter of WBAI, and while not very gregarious, he was very pleasant; even when denying that what he wrote was science fiction. (I understand that claim now. Especially in the Seventies, labelling a book as sf did not earn you a prominent position in Fifth Avenue store windows, and would likely also affect your advance.) He preferred to discuss politics and culture in general, rather than the specifics of his own work.
I interviewed Christopher Lee when he was stumping for “The Man With the Golden Gun.” I must say he was extremely congenial and very enthusiastic about the fact that mine was an sf/f show. The most interesting revelation of that talk was that one of his great regrets was that he never professionally sang professional opera as a baritone — he always wanted to sing Wotan in The Ring Cycle. A month after the interview he sent me a recording of him reading a Bram Stoker story with broadcast rights.
- You’ve had Neil Gaiman on your show. Angela is a raving fan. What was it like to meet Neil?
Neil has never actually done the show proper. He performed at the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings (which I now curate and produce) at a time when I was simply recording the series, and I broadcast that every so often. I see him at conventions occasionally, but he is almost always besieged. Nevertheless, he has always been generous and friendly.. He seemed to take an interest in my ambitions for radio drama.
- Recently, Hour of the Wolf was almost ended due to some sneaky, behind the scenes activity. Can you tell us about what happened?
This is an ongoing can of worms involving the internal politics of Pacifica Radio, which owns WBAI. Suffice it to say that various factions, mostly in California, have been trying to sell WBAI for scrap years ago, scapegoating us as the sole cause of their financial woes. We were off the air for one month starting October 7th, and were returned to the air by court order. The Bad Guys (we’re the Good Guys, of course) are trying to change the by-laws to wrest control of the network. So stay tuned (if you can).
But for those who want the lowdown on what went on, people can aim their web browsers at The Brooklyn Eagle’s site (try https://brooklyneagle.com/?s=Jim+Freund ) to read their coverage (and a profile on me by sf/f writer Mimi Monda at.)
- Your wife, Barbara Krasnoff, is an accomplished writer as well and recently came out with The History of Soul 2065 to critical acclaim. Can you tell us about that experience?
That novel took a mere 30 years, but not because Barbara is a slow writer. (Though she is a meticulous one.) Let me explain: The History of Soul 2065 is a mosaic novel — one in which individual stories are woven from a single magical starting point with two young girls (one German, one Russian) on the eve of World War I, follow their two families through the better part of two centuries, sometimes revisiting characters through their lives (and beyond); and ending with… Well, just read it! 😉
Many of these were initially individual stories sold through many fine anthologies and magazines (including S&T!) that were interwoven and often tweaked to turn these works into a true novel. Mike and Anita Allen, publishers and editors of Mythic Delirium Books, worked tirelessly and most effectively to suggest new stories and assemble the grand weave. They also worked with Paula Arwen Owen to create a brilliant cover. Barbara’s blog at historyofsoul2065.com/ gives details on the writing and background of each chapter.
The introduction by Jane Yolen and blurbs from several luminaries along with the critical praise that you cite (which includes a starred review from Publishers Weekly) has been fabulous. But given the nature of independent press publications, the publicity has been mostly word-by-blog, and can always use amplification.
The publication of the book also caused Barbara to be signed by the Virginia Kidd Agency. Double WOOT!!
- Where do you see Hour of the Wolf going from here? Do you have any plans for the future?
Indeed! I want to create a podcast version of the show, but that will require a major rethink of the format. Podcasts are rarely live and therefore require editing. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to take live, reactive listener calls, and the cost of playing commercial music is prohibitive. And while the radio show runs two hours, I think the attention span of a podcast is that of a long commute — say one hour. But we’ll get there. It may take financial help, and since the podcast would no longer be part of a non-profit radio station, I could take on a sponsor. (Yes, that’s a solicitation to any well-heeled folk reading this. 😉 )
I believe I may also want to bring the format to YouTube, along with the Facebook Live interviews I’ve already done and the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings I produce. Keep watching the skies!