Wbai Picketed, Blasted for Firing Sportscaster, Scrapping Broadcast

The office of radio station WBAI-FM was picketed by the Youth Committee for Peace and Democracy in the Middle East after the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the listener sponsored radio station dismissed a broadcaster for criticizing Black basketball players on the Rochester University team who boycotted a game with the Israeli National Basketball Team. The Youth Committee demanded that Peter Heller, who worked for WBAI-FM as an unpaid sportscaster, “be reinstated as sports commentator without censorship, that his censored commentary be aired, and that the Youth Committee be permitted to tell the listeners of the station the reasons for our demonstration.”

In a statement excoriating the radio station, the Youth Committee declared that WBAI-FM, “a self-proclaimed alternative to the ‘establishment’ media, recently demonstrated that its tolerance for different points of view is not greater–and probably a good deal less–than that of the larger network stations….”

Heller, the sports producer for ABC-TV (Channel 7) and author of a book about former boxing champions, “In This Corner,” just published by Simon and Schuster, Inc., contended on the taped broadcast that the Black athletes had bowed to Arab pressure and noted that those who capitulate to Arab terrorism “have the moral spines of jellyfish.” The criticism of the Black players was a segment of a 15-minute broadcast which was taped early Feb. 8 due for airing that evening. Heller was informed during the day that the entire broadcast was scrapped and that he was fired.

WHY THIS PARTICULAR COMMENTARY?

Larry Cox, news director for WBAI-FM, told the JTA that Heller was fired because “we didn’t like his work, generally,” and that the contested broadcast was scrapped because it had injected politics and was “a personal commentary.” Heller told the JTA that he had been hired to present an over-all commentary and not a rehash or spot-reporting about the week’s sports events.

The Youth Committee, a non-sectarian and liberal youth coalition, termed the station’s reasoning a “clumsy attempt to justify its action.” It noted, too, that “WBAI’s broadcasting is filled with editorial commentary of the most controversial kind. The question is why this single piece of commentary–which was of a liberal and pro-Israel character and critical of short-sighted anti-Israel actions–was singled out for censorship.”

The Youth Committee asserted that Heller ran into trouble with the radio station “not because of his ability but because of his ideas….” The statement concluded: “Certainly a radio station that has justified broadcasting a crude anti-Semitic poem (which began with the lines, ‘Hey Jew boy with that yarmulka on your head/ You pale face Jew boy, I wish you were dead.’) is hardly in a position to reject an intelligent commentary explaining why Black athletes were misguided in their boycott.”

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