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UC Santa Barbara Radio Forum Offers Social Protest : No Jolly Tidings on Professor's Yuletide Show

December 24, 1987|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — UC Santa Barbara sociology professor Richard Flacks won't be celebrating the season with a selection of Christmas carols this evening on his weekly program over the university's student radio station, KCSB.

Instead, Flacks' one-hour program (6 to 7 p.m. on FM 91.9) will feature a scratchy Depression-era recording of Aunt Molly Jackson singing about the plight of a poor person living on New York's Lower East Side to the music of the "Cherry Tree Carol":

It's Christmas Eve. I'm in the slums of the Lower East Side.

Starvation and misery is all that is free,

For the poor hard-working masses like you, like me.

The rich and mighty, they all have nice homes,

While hard-working masses live in rat-infested slums.

Flacks also will play a Woody Guthrie recording from the same period "in which Woody tries to make a case (that) if Jesus Christ is perceived correctly he should be perceived as a revolutionary," said the professor.

For 5 1/2 years Flacks, 49, a scholar of social movements, has been KCSB's disc jockey of protest songs. His weekly Thursday night radio show is called "The Culture of Protest."

He airs a wide range of protest music from that sung during the American Revolution to that sung in the Nicaraguan Revolution, including suffrage songs, labor songs, civil rights and black music, protest songs of Chileans, Poles and Irish, and much much more.

"On Christmas Eve I will convey in music the cultural protest as it relates to the Christmas spirit," explained Flacks in an in-studio interview.

Other selections will include a recording of Pete Seegar singing a Nicaraguan revolutionary Christmas carol and Simon and Garfunkel's "7 O'Clock News Silent Night" with "Silent Night" played over a radio broadcast of issues and happenings of the mid-1960s.

Opening and closing the program will be the Weavers singing:

We wish you a Merry Christmas.

We wish you a Merry Christmas.

No tyrant shall defeat us,

No evil strike us down.

Why can't we have Christmas

The whole year round?

"I play protest music and provide commentary about the period and social issues that are reflected in the songs," noted Flacks.

Last Thursday Flacks' theme on his hour-long show was Hanukkah and through music and narration the story of the Maccabees' victory over the Greco-Syrians in 165 B.C. was related.

"Sowing seeds of freedom from generation to generation is what Hanukkah is all about, to advance human rights, cultural freedom, not only Jewish culture but other cultures as well," contended Flacks.

A native of Brooklyn, Flacks received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in social psychology. He taught at the University of Chicago for five years before coming to UCSB in 1969.

One of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society in 1962, he played an active role in protesting the Vietnam War. He also is the author of the 1971 book, "Youth and Social Change," and a forthcoming book, "Echoes of Rebellion," about what happened to student activists of the 1960s.

Flacks has used music in teaching his popular UCSB course on political movements in America dealing with the dynamics of protest politics. He has an extensive private collection of protest music.

"The campus radio station heard about the music I played in class and asked me if I would be interested in putting together a radio show. I thought it would run a few weeks and that would be it. It has been going nearly six years and I haven't hardly tapped the rich resources in the collection," said Flacks.

Each week he does his hour show built around a particular theme, something current in the news, an anniversary, a holiday.

"I pick an artist and do something special about his or her work. I have done a half dozen Woody Guthrie programs, four shows on Pete Seegar. A guy like Guthrie was like a middle-aged minstrel who brought the news through songs. One of Guthrie's great songs, 'Deportees' about a 1947 plane crash of illegal immigrants being deported back to Mexico, is still relevant to things happening today."

He has had programs devoted to Broadway shows with political themes, to black music--spirituals, slave songs, gospel music, jazz and blues.

"I try to play music people will not hear anywhere else," he said.

It is a unique radio show for which Flacks is not paid. It is a labor of love and only heard over KCSB and which is heard from San Luis Obispo to the San Fernando Valley.

"It takes me two to three hours to prepare the show. I do it live on the air. It isn't prerecorded. I engineer it, play the records, ad lib it. It is exciting, a great little adventure," he said.

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