Anthony J. Sloan, Radio Gold Miner
Article by Jeannette Toomer
As it appeared in the June/July 1993 issue of Black Masks
'An abandoned gold mine' were the words Orson Welles once used to
describe radio. At WBAI:99.5 FM, Pacifica Radio in New York, producers
have re-discovered the mine and have dug into the possibilities of creating
quality radio dramas and expanding arts magazine programs to cover every
genre of the visual and performing arts.
Anthony J. Sloan, director of the Arts Department, is the person at
WBAI who is responsible for inspiring award-winning radio dramas and music
programs ranging from jazz to reggae to rock 'n' roll. Self-taught in
radio production, Sloan's greatest asset has been his ability to recruit
artists, musicians, journalists, playwrights, and volunteers to learn the
ins and outs of producing radio and then to create and often host, their
Moreover, the tradition of live radio drama at WBAI was initiated and
developed by Sloan from his early days at the station as a production
engineer for the news, public affairs and arts departments. In 1982, when
asked what he wanted to do in radio, he replied,"I want to do live radio
dramas." He explains, "Most people did taped drama because it's safer.
BBC does radio drama every day, but it's canned. I like radio drama
because the adrenalin flows for the actors. They know that not only is
this live, but guess what, it's only one-time. You get some incredible
Great performances and a series of dramas based on works by African
American writers have been Sloan's trademark. Since 1986, he has produced
fifteen live radio plays at the Pacifica station, some of which ran for
marathon hours of broadcast time and were aired from various sites such as
Joseph Papp's Public Theatre. One such program was a 91/2 hour adaptation
of Richard Wright's The Outside in 1991. "I took Lawd Today
and did it live in front of an audience at the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe. We
went from 8 to 11 at night," explains Sloan."In this first play, there's a
radio announcer who comes in and out with the news. We had Yusuf(Lamont)
re-do the news in the style of the 1950s. And in that hour, I brought the
cast back to the station and broadcast from 12 midnight to 6 a.m., the
remaining five chapters of The Outsider.
During the 1980s, Sloan, often in the role of producer and adapter,
developed and broadcast his live radio plays. His first radio drama was
The Night Racism Ended (1986), written by members of the Creative
Unit Collective (CUC) , a group of young poets and playwrights whom
Sloan recruited to work with him in 1985. He served as executive producer
of the CUC while training its members: Michael Mabern, Yusuf Lamont,
Darrell McNeill and Rodney Black.
Other plays included Douglas Turner Ward's Day of Absence
(1987);The Case of the Ornate Vial (1987), a Sherlock Holmes mystery
adapted by the CUC; Richard Wright's The Long Dream (1988);Three
by Du (1989); based on short stories by Henry Dumas;The Eve of X-Mas
Eve (1989), an original play; and a scene from Larry Neal's Glorious
Monster in the Bell of the Horn (1989).
With the dawning of the 1990s, current events played a greater
influence in his selection of plays to be adapted to radio. George
Orwell's Animal Farm underscored the break-up of the powerful Soviet
Union, and an original rap opera, Operation Welcome Home? satirized
the patriotic hoopla that marked the return of U.S. troops from the desert
war in Iraq.
For Sloan, the path to realizing success at writing and producing
plays for radio was roundabout. Prior to his college days he had worked as
a poet-in-residence at WPRB-FM in Princeton, new Jersey. "What that
basically meant was that I did a poem for this program," explains Sloan.
"I'd pick out the music and that's how I got introduced to radio. It was a
6 1/2 hour program. I would sit down and watch the guy run the board. I
After a four-year stay in the Air Force, Sloan entered Livingston
College and majored in urban communications (primarily television and
video) and English Literature. Having passed the test for a third class
radio license while still an undergraduate, he produced a weekly
program,Variations in Blackness, for the Rutgers University station,
WRSU-FM,and coordinated Black programming for everything from music reviews
to public affairs .
Upon receiving his bachelor's degree, he did not go straight into
radio but wrote two plays which gained him admission to the graduate
playwriting program at The Mason Gross School of the Arts at
Rutgers University. While at Rutgers, he studied with famed actor,
After two years of graduate training, he returned to New York where,
in his word, "I was conceived, born, raised, educated and damn near drafted
in the South Bronx." By this time, he had also acquired years of theatre
training which had included acting classes with Michael Schultz and Ed
Cambridge at the Negro Ensemble Company where he had been accepted at the
age of 17. He did not particularly want to be on stage, so he decided to
design sets and lights and stage manage for several Off and Off
Off Broadway companies. Sloan ran the lights for the Negro Ensemble
Company's acclaimed production of Daddy Goodness. With John
Harris, Jr., he also built the Theatre of the Streets on Seventh
Street and Avenue A on the Lower East Side.
Unfortunately, he was met with bad luck as a stage manager. "I had
everything that could possibly happen to a stage manager happen to me. I
had a cast walk out on me." More importantly, he also became disillusioned
with Black theatre which he found to be "cliquish". "A lot of nepotism was
happening there and I didn't like it," he explains. "I started listening
to radio more. Then I got into 'BAI and listened to this guy, Bernard
White, who is still here. Bernard had the closest program to what I did in
Sloan came to the station and volunteered to answer phones and take
pledges during one of the station's membership drives. Next, he gathered
sound for programs, worked for White, and became a proficient engineer.
Then Sloan produced two free-form radio programs, Live
Wire and Nommo Radio; started the literary series Shelf
Life; and with the Creative Unity Collective, produced eight of
his fifteen long-form dramatic works for radio.
What was the theatre world's loss was a gain for community radio.
Sloan proved masterful at combining his playwriting talents with radio
production. He was promoted to Arts Director in 1991. Motivated by his
desire "to demystify the process and empower the community in radio
skills", he has trained producers, hosts and editors.
With the 1990s came international recognition for Sloan. While
visiting Belize, a nation in Central America, he was asked to teach radio
producers and broadcasters how to do live radio drama. From January to
April, 1990, he worked with the staff at the Belize station.
Last August, Sloan also traveled to Oaxtepec, Mexico to give a
presentation on participatory radio at the Asamblea Mundial de las
Radios Comunitarias (AMARC) 5, the fifth largest world-wide conference
of community radio stations. As he described it, "My presentation
culminated two days later with an original two-day radio drama created by
conference attendees and broadcast live in Spanish, French and English."
The production was very successful and prompted an invitation to return to
Mexico to run a workshop in live radio drama for the Radio Universidad
Nacional Autonoma De Mexico (Radio UNAM).
In December, Sloan left again for Mexico. His own account of the
workshop process gives a compelling picture of the creativity, intense
drive and united effort that goes into these projects: "I left New York
City the afternoon of the 15th. I worked exclusively with the writers from
the 16th to the 18th. On the 18th, we met with the crew, cast and
musicians to let them know what the script was about and how we were to
proceed for the next four days. Jake Glanz, who is the technical director
for the Arts Department at WBAI, arrived the night of the 18th. On the
19th, we cast the parts and continued to work on the script with the input
of the cast. For this session, we noted where the recorded and live sound
effects as well as the music were to interweave with the live action. On
the 20th, the technical crew gathered the recorded sound effects as the
musicians rehearsed in the auditorium, the script was typed into one format
(the four writers developed four story lines which we then wove into one
story). On Monday the 21st, we rehearsed all day and into the night. On
Tuesday the 22nd, all the technical proposals were ironed out. We
performed that night before a live audience. The cast, musicians and crew,
which totalled thirty-four people, were all astonished at their
accomplishment. The drama, Al Filo del Viaje (The Edge of the
Journey), was broadcast from 9 to about 10:40 pm."
Sloan looks forward to doing more of these types of workshops in the
United States and abroad. He credits Glanz as the "best technical director
for live radio drama", and says they're both "committed" to travelling
anywhere to train, create and do it live!
This April, at the National Federation of Community
Broadcaster Awards ceremony, the WBAI Arts Department walked away
with three Silver Reels and two Outstanding Achievement
honors. The Silver Reels were awarded for best radio drama for
Theron Holmes-Clark's The Shadow by the Door and for two specials in
local music entertainment, the Midnight Ravers' Malcolm X Special,
and Nancy Rodriguez's 24-hour tribute, Tito Puente: King of Latin
Music. Producer Peter Bochan won outstanding achievement honors for
his musical special, Shortcuts through 1992, while Anthony J. Sloan
and Andrea J. Lucas received their achievement award for their radio play,
The Alice Stories, an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass . The
goldmining at WBAI (99.5 FM) has truly begun to pay off.