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Anthony J. Sloan
WBAI Arts Director Emeritus

 

 

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Anthony J. Sloan, Radio Gold Miner

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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 own shows.

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 performances."

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 was fascinated".

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, Avery Brooks.

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 college."

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.

  

 


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