World's oldest hacker radio show under threat

2600's Emmanuel Goldstein writes,

In the midst of the biggest natural disaster to hit the New York metropolitan area in modern times, most of the staff of community radio station WBAI was prevented from broadcasting - not because of a power outage, but due to management decisions that put prerecorded programming over the airwaves instead of the usual live broadcasts. The hacker/technology program "Off The Hook" has been kept off the air for an unprecedented three weeks, making it impossible to help listeners deal with the technological challenges of losing communications and connectivity throughout the crisis. While a small group of broadcasters was allowed to put live programs on the air during daylight hours, a 6 pm on-air curfew was imposed, effectively locking out the majority of the station staff, including "Off The Hook." This has led the members of the world's longest running hacker radio program to start searching for another broadcast outlet, as it doesn't seem that technology-based programming is taken seriously or considered a priority, based on these actions.



  1. Off the Hook is an interesting show. There are some amazing episodes in their archives (that they started putting online incredibly early), including interviews with quite a few hackers live from jail over the years. WBAI seems to go through cycles every once in a while where a group will try to get in power and sell the station or at least control it for their own means.

    The letter mentions that the backup studio belongs to Gary Null and he’s the one who doesn’t want people in it after 6pm. It doesn’t mention that Gary Null is a quack who thinks AIDS has nothing to do with HIV.

    1. Yeah.  People need the full picture. Gary Null is providing a backup studio that he imposes a 6:00pm curfew on. But it’s hard to say who is right or wrong here.  Seriously. Other radio producers on WBAI are being allowed to create prerecorded shows that can be broadcast in their normal timeslot  after 6:00pm. Any many are doing that.  Why can’t the 2600 crew do the same thing?  Yeah a pre-recorded show would mean no phone calls from listeners, but it’s better than nothing.

      As much as I can’t stand Gary Null, I think Emmanuel might need to take a step back and realize it’s not just his show.  Unless he wants to portray this as a Coup de Sandy? Heck, considering WBAI are using the pre-emption as an excuse to run pre-recording marathon crap, maybe it is a coup & he’s right.

      WBAI has massive issues.

      1. The link actually talks about how they were going to do a prerecorded show once they got power back, but they got preempted for more fundraising. Having the backup plan for a radio station be to relocate the studio to a place that doesn’t operate as late as you have live programming is bad planning. Even ignoring that, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to work from another studio. Emmanuel hosts another show at WUSB. I’m sure he could get access to a studio there or elsewhere.

        1. Having the backup plan for a radio station be to relocate the studio to a place that doesn’t operate as late as you have live programming is bad planning.

          That’s a trick question since WBAI has no plans. They really are an utter mess & my gut feeling is this whole incident is a massive straw that broke Emmanuel’s back. I have been listening to his show & a few others on WBAI since the early 1990s, but it’s truly a painful wretch of an operation now. Their fundraising drives nowadays seem to consist solely of selling “snake oil” like Gary Null’s crap or 9/11 conspiracy nut stuff.  It’s like the home shopping network for crunchy granola loons.

          I hope 2600 finds a new home… Or WBAI gets some competent management.  One is more realistic than the other & the first thing I said is the realistic part.

  2. Personally I think emmanuel and 2600 are about as relevant to hacking today as aardvarks.  The reality is that while 2600 has some long standing in that community, it’s contributions have never originated from emmanuel or the 2600 staff themselves but, the community that sprung up around the meetings they started.  Today however most of those meetings have been replaced by meetups, user groups, hackerspaces, and citysecs / defcon groups.  The magazine was never very good, and it has grown increasingly terrible over the years.  

    2600 is now basically a relic of a bygone age forgotten by many and gliding gently into history.  So, I find myself wondering why anyone would care if their radio show was not on the air due to a natural disaster.

    1. I’d have to strongly disagree, 2600 is more relevant than ever, in that it’s a gathering point for hackers collective voice on constantly emerging new topics and issues that arise. Traditional media is still very much weighted against hackers given the chance, They happily gorge themselves on Anonymous type depiction of hacking, while slipping anything truly important under the carpet. Even Slashdot and BB have been known to wet their pants at the prospect of speculative ‘Cyberwar’ stories.

      I attended HOPE last summer, and was outside having a cigarette, a lady came up to me and asked “are you a hacker?”, I said “yeah, kinda”, she said excitedly  “are you in anonymous, I know all about you guys from the news, you guys are terrible!”, I took a moment to explain to her “nah, were just computer geeks who have fun learning about computers, we want to make things better for everyone, you probably know someone like us in your own circle of family/friends, the only hackers you ever hear about on the news are usually criminals or other negative stories”

      She didn’t seem to listen to me though, and seemed a little star struck to be actually speaking to a ‘real hacker’, she excitedly said she had to go, winked and said ‘we are legion!’ and ran off down the street, giggling to her waiting friend.

      The guy standing next to me said he would have never thought of explaining it like that and would have been embarrassed about being confronted about being a hacker like that.

      This is what I get from 2600, There is no shame or embarrassment in learning about computer systems/security, hacking is a vastly demonised activity as portrayed in the media, but it is essentially the method and spirit of scientific and engineering discovery. 2600 continues to be a persistent, sensible voice of the community for those who are willing to listen. The articles, radio show, confrence have always revolved heavily around hacker culture, ethical dilemmas, and uncovering hard truths.

      I admit the technical articles can be a little on the light side more recently, but I think this helps keeps it accessable, and a great starting point for raising interest in topics of computer security method and research.

    1. Because while even the 2600 crew appreciates shortwave, on WBAI in NYC they have (had?) prime spot on the station dial at 99.5FM. Going to shortwave is about as useful as being a podcast compared to that.

      That said, the most viable alternative to WBAI for 2600 would be WFMU in New Jersey. Right across the river and the ven diagram of audience overlap matches nicely. In fact I think that WFMU is the active “spirit” of what WBAI once was… As for what WBAI is now? And utter mess.

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