Union Radio Fades from the Airwaves

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Members of labor unions hold a rally in support of the planned 'Access to the Region's Core' (ARC) rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York City, October 19, 2010. (Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Over the weekend, workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant voted against joining the United Auto Workers union—a move that was seen as a devastating blow for the future of organized labor.

And as the push for collective labor grows weaker nationwide, union radio, a historic mouthpiece for the movement, is also failing to attract listeners.

See Also: A Nail in the Coffin for Organized Labor?

But it didn't always used to be this way. Labor newscasts hit airwaves in the 1930s and grew in popularity into their peak in the late 1960s.

During the heyday of American unions, there were more than 250 programs produced or funded by labor unions.

Labor newscasts were intended for union members and the general public alike, and ads were distributed across stations nationwide.

Joining The Takeaway to explain the history of a now lesser-known news source is Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, history professor at West Virginia University and author of “Waves of Opposition: Labor and the Struggle for Democratic Radio, 1933-1958.”

For the dozen or so union radio programs that have survived the decades, the newscasts have taken a decidedly modern turn.

The Union Edge is the only nationally syndicated labor program remaining, and The Takeaway is joined by its co-host and executive producer Angela Baughman. Angela is also a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 5.


Angela Baughman and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman


T.J. Raphael

Comments [3]


Here's a good question left on the table. Hock alludes to the fact that foreign companies locate in non-union states. He might have gone on to observe that they have unions in their own countries. German companies are famous for their style of collaborative trade unionism yet they don't want any part of Detroit. Might the Wagner Act be inhibiting progress? Shouldn't a real 'progressive' favor an overhaul that updates American unionsim bringing it more in line with today's realities? Follow up: If 'yes!' then is there currently a corrupt relationship between unions and the Democratic party that makes such innovations impossible and fosters cynicism and corruption from Detroit to our schools?' But these kinds of probative questions are hard to ask on a liberal network by a liberal host. Better leave it to Rush.

Feb. 19 2014 10:28 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Unions forgot that their purpose was to protect the worker from abuse and to earn a fair wage. Instead, Unions got into politics and made the worker, "the man in the middle"

Feb. 19 2014 10:12 AM

As someone who is admittedly not susceptible to John Hockenberry's charms as an interviewer maybe I am not the best person to comment on this piece. His personality aside I understand how he can be seen as an ideal interviewer as he has a gadfly's facile access to facts and anecdotes regarding a wide assortment of issues. I often feel that these are displayed almost they way certain people name drop. Been there, read that. I am informed. Never the less he is frequently guilty of dopey assertions and particularly of bias that oozes or 'emanates from the NPR penumbra' to paraphrase. So it is we were treated to possibly the most credulous possible interview on the fate of labor radio. Of course we have a hyphenated named labor historian who wrote a book on the subject paired with a representative of labor- a member of the electricians union I think though she hosts a radio show and sounds like an upper middle class graduate of a good school with that lilting '?' at the end of her sentences...not exactly a Joe Hill kind of gal. Why did the VW vote go the way it did? Might a robust labor radio ( re: government supported) made the crucial difference? Sure chirps the young activist confident that they might yet reach the young who have not had a chance to see how (American) unions actually operate. 'Perhaps a subscription labor radio show ' would be a great idea offers the historian without any push back or at least a guffaw from the hist.
Proving he is a different bird from Rush, Hock allows his guests to make their points without any hostile skepticism. As an audience member wonders 'whats stopping you from having web sites or web casts? The unions have bazzillions of $ for campaigns. If membership is in decline (yes John you can just state that without the 'alleged' modifiers it is a matter of fact...sorry..) perhaps its because people don't like what they are selling?

Feb. 19 2014 10:07 AM

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