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Table of Contents
Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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Series I: Radio Unnameable, 1963-2011
Series II: Other Radio Shows, 1965-1990
Series III: Bootlegs, Demo Tapes, and Other Live Recordings, 1962-2011
At a Glance
The collection is arranged into six series. Materials in each series are arranged chronologically where dates are known; otherwise they are arranged alphabetically.
Scope and Content
The Bob Fass Recordings and Papers contains materials created by Bob Fass, host of the late-night program Radio Unnameable on New York City's WBAI radio station. The collection primarily consists of audio recordings of Radio Unnameable and other radio programs hosted by Bob Fass between 1963 and 2011. A small number of video recordings, photographs, correspondence, printed ephemera, and motion picture films are also included in the collection.
Radio Unnameable provided a platform for many key figures of 1960s counterculture and helped launch the careers of artists including Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and Joni Mitchell. Guests frequently featured on the program include Greenwich Village-based folk musicians such as Larry Estridge, Tuli Kupferberg, and Sammy Walker; political activists including Abbie and Anita Hoffman and other members of the Yippies; the political assassination conspiracy theorists Mae Brussell, Flo Kennedy, and Ted Gandolfo; and comic performers and satirists Paul Krassner, Marshall Efron, and Wavy Gravy.
Bob Fass also used his radio programs to cover protests and current events of interest to his audience, including the 1963 March on Washington, the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot. Some events, such as the Yip-In at Grand Central Station in April of 1968, were covered live in the field on Radio Unnameable. Others, such as the November 1975 revolt on Rikers Island, were covered via telephone calls from listeners who had information to share.
The bulk of the audiovisual recordings in the collection are on open-reel audiotapes and audiocassettes. Other formats include VHS, U-Matic, and 8mm videocassettes, many of which were used to store digital audio recordings before compact discs became widely available. A few dozen open reel videotapes contain video recordings. Most of the collection's later audio and video recordings, dating from circa 2001 to 2011, are on compact discs and DVDs.
Descriptive information created for many of the audiovisual recordings is preliminary. Item identification is based on information found on the packaging of the item, which may not be accurate or complete. Reusing tapes seems to have been a standard practice at WBAI. Tapes and cases also appear to have been mistakenly swapped on occasion during the decades prior to their arrival at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Item descriptions will be corrected as the items are digitized, and the finding aid updated accordingly.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
Significant portions of the collection have been digitized. See the container list for links to individual items. Note that many of the items are only available in the reading room of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library for contractual reasons.
Slides (boxes 127-148) and papers (boxes 239 and 252-275) are still in process. Please contact the library for more information about these materials.
All digital media in this collection must be imaged before use. Please contact the library to arrange access to these materials.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single copies of materials may be made with written permission of the copyright holder. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. Please contact the library for more information.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Bob Fass Recordings and Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
An addition of approximately 490 audiotapes arrived in summer 2020. These items were assigned unique identifiers between BF6001 and BF6489.
Ownership and Custodial History
Purchased from Bob Fass in 2016.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Recordings processed by Celeste Brewer, Christopher Laico, Vianca Victor, and Jonathan Jara, 2017. Recordings digitized, 2018-2020.
Items in Series VII were originally described in the first five series of the collection. They were moved into this series during the digitization process for this collection, after they were determined to be blank, damaged beyond repair, or otherwise impossible to digitize.
2017-10-20 File created.
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
2019-07-03 Links to digitized content added. kws
History / Biographical Note
Bob Fass was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 29, 1933. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1955, he joined the U.S. Army, where he directed and acted in dramatic productions for the Fort Bragg Entertainment Workshop. He then returned to New York City to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. He joined the staff of WBAI in 1963.
In the 1960s, Fass helped create the format known as free-form radio on his program, Radio Unnameable. He became known for his long, discursive conversations with his listeners, as well as for the many musicians, performers, and activists who appeared on his show. Radio Unnameable provided a platform for many key figures of 1960s counterculture and helped launch the careers of artists including Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and Joni Mitchell.
In 1977, a dispute over WBAI staff unionization resulted in Bob Fass being banned from WBAI for five years. During those years, he broadcast at WFMU, WBAI's listener-supported counterpart, in New Jersey. He also returned to acting in theatrical works. He was reinstated at WBAI in 1982.
Throughout the 1980s and beyond, Fass continued to work as an actor and master of ceremonies for live events, in addition to hosting Radio Unnameable. He also produced several smaller scale projects for radio and public access television. Radio Unnameable ceased to be broadcast nightly after 1982. In 2006, it was reduced to once a week. Still—as of 2017—Bob Fass continues to host Radio Unnameable weekly after midnight on WBAI-FM.