Jim Freund’s radio talk show Hour of the Wolf has been a fixture within the New York science fiction community on WBAI 99.5 FM for nearly half a century. On Monday, the station’s parent company, Pacifica Across America, abruptly shut down the station and replaced its local programming with shows from its other holdings, citing “financial losses,” according to Gothamist and The New York Times. The move leaves the future of the long-running program in question.
The station’s shuttering has come as a shock to station employees, who learned of the closure on Monday. According to the station’s Twitter feed, employees were able to gain a temporary restraining order against Pacifica, ordering the company to stop preventing local broadcasts, and station employees say that they’ll be meeting later tonight to figure out their next steps. Freund notes that according to station employees, Pacifica has begun to remove some of the station’s equipment.
The turmoil is a blow to the show, which began in 1971, and has been continually hosted by Freund since 1974. “Hour of the Wolf” was an early-morning talk show that aired between 5AM and 7AM, Freund explained, telling Tor.com that the live, call-in show was a way for the general public to learn about the science fiction and fantasy community. In that time, he’s interviewed hundreds of science fiction and fantasy authors like Isaac Asimov, Octavia Butler, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. Le Guin, and was the first broadcaster in the U.S. to air The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “My favorite comments that I get from people is that ‘I don’t like science fiction, but I really like what I hear on your show.'”
The show, Freund explains, has observed the science fiction and fantasy community as it has changed over time. “When the show started, science fiction had moved on from being ‘that Flash Gordon stuff’, to become ‘that Star Trek stuff,’ and later on became that Star Wars stuff.'” As science fiction became more popular, it helped introduce listeners to the genre and its authors, allowing them to speak directly with guests via its call-in format. “People began to realize that this wasn’t just the stuff that mass media, that what I was doing, wasn’t what they thought of as science fiction.”
Freund explained that there has been a long-simmering discord between the New York station and Pacifica, and that the non-profit had shut down the station once before, back in the 1970s. According to The New York Times, WBAI’s ratings have declined in recent years, and as a result, the non-profit has had to bail it out to help it with its expenses. “It has gotten to a point where we can no longer do that,” explained John Vernile, Pacifica’s interim executive director.
On Twitter, editor Ellen Datlow described the show as an “iconic fixture of sf and fantasy for decades,” while BoingBoing‘s Cory Doctorow said that it’s “sad and terrible news,” and that listeners have “lost something wonderful and precious.”
This is terrible news. Jim Freund's Hour of the Wolf has been an iconic fixture of NY sf and fantasy for decades. https://t.co/VxYYnrhy37
— Ellen Datlow (@EllenDatlow) October 8, 2019
As for the future of the show, Freund says that he has some ideas, but his show was unique: there are no other similar programs on the airwaves right now. While podcasts, with genre-oriented programs like Imaginary Worlds, Coode Street Podcast, Our Opinions Are Correct, and others, have become incredibly popular, Hour of the Wolf was unique in that it offered spontaneity and a direct connection to authors for listeners. Freund says that he’s been exploring other options over the last year, including a YouTube channel, podcast, Facebook Live, but none of those options would allow the program to continue on as it was.
Furthermore, the shutdown means that curious listeners can’t access the program’s archives. Presently, the program’s page leads visitors to a “404 Not Found” page. Freund notes that he has the entire show backed up, and hopes to release it online at some point, and says that there is an audiobook collection of a select number of interviews, Chatting Science Fiction: Selected Interviews from Hour of the Wolf. Hopefully, the show will return to the airwaves in some form or another before too much longer.