Reminiscing about the Old City of San Francisco before the techie dooshes and monochrome-clothed, conformist, and vapid phone-zombie Millennials invaded our neighbourhoods, disrespecting them and their cultures (La Misión, for example) and ruined The City.
“Up and down the West Coast of this great country, parts of Canada and parts of México. Whatever is on your mind, you’re free to call in”—the opening intro of Ray’s nightly monologue.
“How dare you call this 50,000 watt station in the middle of the night. Get off my show! Go to hell!“—Ray Taliaferro to various conservative callers
Regular listeners to Ray’s show will remember hearing those words many times.
Hola a todos. Did you listen to talk show host Ray Taliaferro on KGO Radio in San Francisco? He was one of a kind and for decades he was the best thing about KGO Radio. He was one of only two talk show hosts within KGO on the Left. Ray was an icon of the Old City of San Francisco (meaning before the techie dooshes showed up). Many people knew the name “Ray Taliaferro,” even if they didn’t know much or anything about him or had never listened to his show.
I listened to Ray for years starting during the Reagan regime and then through the Bush I and Clinton years and then the illegitimate George W Bush regime. Ray was known as “The Beacon in the Middle of the Night.” He was on from 1-5am — he said he chose that time slot because “the best people are up in the middle of the night” — and I recorded his programme and listened to it during the day. A few other devoted listeners did the same.
I learned a lot from Ray and found his programme very educational and informative. He mostly talked about US national politics/the “news of the day” when I was recording him Monday-Friday over the years. I went through several recording devices with timers, and banks of 60 and 120 minute tapes to hear him. He was one of my hobbies. When I was listening to Ray five days a week he was very entertaining. When he was away for some reason — a week off on vacation — it just wasn’t the same, no matter what person filled in for him I didn’t feel the same way about them as I did for Ray. And I didn’t tape his show when he was away. His show was like a university or college course — with his opinions added — and I was in class every morning. He sometimes referred to his audience as,
“Now class, pay attention, because what I have to tell you is very important…” Ray spoke well, was very mature, educated and was “highly intelligent and articulate,” a descriptor he often used when referring to other people he liked. He was not at all about stupid, had little patience for stupid people (sounds familiar) and approached his politics very seriously. Although most of what he talked about was US, international or occasionally San Francisco politics, he also had his Friday Morning Jazz show which was very enjoyable. He occasionally had a Poetry Night where listeners could call in and read a poem they had written or had found somewhere that they liked. Every New Year’s Eve he had his annual Big Band Show where his guests included his amigo, Vernon Alley, who was a jazz bassist. Vernon died in 2004. On one occasion Ray gave out his favourite Sweet Potato Pie recipe to listeners — Ray preferred Sweet Potato Pie over Pumpkin Pie — and the requests for the recipe apparently overwhelmed the staff at KGO who had to mail out the printed recipe to thousands of listeners. Also in the food department, Ray had been up to Apple Hill which is up near Sacramento. It’s a group of collective apple farms, although I don’t know if they are organically-grown apples. Each farm grows their own type of apples and makes their own type of Apple Pie from scratch (such as Sour Cream Apple Pie) and other apple desserts. It sounded good to me. He talked about it for quite awhile on his show. Well, mi amigo/my friend and I decided to go up there one weekend and because of what Ray had said on his show about Apple Hill the place was packed. There were traffic jams and traffic backups on dirt roads. We had no idea that — what looked like — the entire Bay Area decided to go up to Apple Hill on the same day we went. Although it was probably like that every weekend after Ray promoted it. I almost got the impression that he had unintentionally ruined a good thing considering the herds of people we saw up there. It was a mess. The apple growers probably appreciated the increased business but may have also thought that things had gotten a bit out of hand with all the traffic and the increased population in their area. It would have been much more enjoyable without the masses being up there. I don’t recall Ray talking about Apple Hill after we went up there.
Ray’s views were very controversial, especially his views on organised religion where he frequently referred to “the Beautiful Black Woman in the Sky” and that “the lord works in mysterious ways, her wonders to behold.” I enjoyed that. Some listeners had a problem with it, especially the fake-”Christians” in the audience. (The fake-”Christians” are the frauds who wrap themselves in the bible (and usually the US flag) and call themselves a “Christian,” yet their actions, behaviour, voting record and the way they live their life are the exact opposite of what we have been told about who Jesus was and how he lived his life). During those days, whenever I talked about the Floating Cloud Being with people I knew, I referred to “the Beautiful Black Woman in the Sky.”
On Wednesday mornings, Ray had his weekly Prayer Meeting where he talked about organised religion and of course the Beautiful Black Woman in the Sky. Ray’s background included experience with the Southern Baptist Convention, also known as Bigots Incorporated. Well, the Southern Baptist have something called Prayer Meeting on Wednesday nights (Choir rehearsal is on Thursday nights). So he was mocking the Southern Baptist by having his own Prayer Meeting in the middle of the week, which wasn’t a prayer meeting at all. He would occasionally ask callers who disagreed with him to place their hands on their phone so he could “pray” for them, the laying on of hands concept. One of his main themes on Prayer Meeting was: Why does this “all-powerful” Christian god continue to crap on us and allow terrible things to happen, considering we are told by his followers that “he” is supposedly “all powerful?” “He” must be into SM. I agree.
Ray said many times that when he dies he wants to go to hell because that’s where all the fun people will be, such as the many jazz artists. They’ll all be down there (not that he believes all that mythology nonsense of heaven and hell). Ray said he has no interest in living in heaven and swimming in that river of milk and honey — “what a gooey mess that would be,” he said — with a bunch of uptight prudes.
One night on his show a news item had to do with searching body cavities at US airports as part of this “Terror” Card rubbish. He was vehemently opposed to it and went on and on about it. He said: When it comes your turn to have your body cavities search just bend over and gas them out! (LOL.) If enough people, “bend over and gas them out” that might put a stop to this nonsense. I can just see people up and down the West Coast laughing when he came out with that! I still laugh about it.
Some bigoted male callers from time-to-time asked Ray if he were gay. He said, “Why do you want to know? Do you want to date me? Do you want to have sex with me? How many other talk show hosts have you called and asked this question of?”
It was during the illegitimate Bush regime years that I began to realise just how partisan Ray was. That became a turnoff to me over time as I became more politically independent. I remember one caller mentioned Joe Lieberman’s name and Ray said, “he would make an excellent president of the United States of America. Any of these Democrats in congress would make an excellent president.” WTF? I couldn’t believe Ray was saying that. They were some of the worst Democrats in congress that he was going on about being president. I began to realise that with Ray the bottom line was: If they have a “D” next to their name, they would make an excellent president of the United States of America.
If my memory serves correctly, former San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein had appointed Ray to the San Francisco Arts Commission. Well, because she appointed him, I almost had the sense that he had signed a gag order that from henceforth and forever more he agreed to never say anything negative about Feinstein on the air. If a caller mentioned her or something she had done in congress as a senator to serve as a rubber stamp for the White House resident, I noticed that Ray couldn’t find it within himself to have words of criticism about Feinstein, or very minimally so. Feinstein seemed to be “off limits” to Ray.
I guess I should say that Ray is Black considering what I’m about to write about now. I’d completely forgotten about his ethnicity until just now. People’s ethnicity is something I don’t think about. But with anti-ethnic hate/racism, Ray seemed to want all Black people to have shared his experience with racism. Ray also had a Sunday morning television programme that he co-hosted with a woman from KGO-TV (I believe her name was Sylvia Ramírez). I remember a television interview (although not on his regular television show) that he had with Belva Davis (who is also Black), a very-respected retired television personality in the Bay Area. Ray tried many times during the interview to get Belva to admit and talk about racism directed at her throughout her career. Despite inappropriately referring to Belva as a “beautiful Black woman” — which seemed to be what Ray called all Black women which almost came off as if he were making a pass at them, and I don’t remember Belva saying “thank you, Ray” — Belva didn’t go along with Ray. Her experience was different than his, although she didn’t put it that way. She said she didn’t give much thought to racism or how it may have been directed at her. She just pursued what she wanted to do, and that was that. But Ray persisted that Belva’s experience with racism had to have been like his (that’s the impression he gave without using those specific words) and he persisted with her to the point that it was getting embarrassing. It was at that point that I was saying to my television: Ray, let it go, jesus! Her experience is not like yours, or if it was she doesn’t want to talk about it. Not all Black people share your experience. Or if they do, they don’t care to talk about it publicly. Ray seemed to put more energy into racism issues than other things that were important to him.
Ray would often talk to himself while on the air and serve as his own cheerleader with his, “Go on Big T.” He could never be wrong (he thought) so he was also frequently saying how, “We are Right!!! No question about it!!!” meaning he and his devout followers/callers were right about their politics and opinions as “good Democrats.”
Although I don’t remember thinking this while listening to him, but Ray was often full of hype. Everything was wonderful in Ray’s world. In his later years, he was real big on telling the audience, “I feel wonderful this morning (which emphasis on the word “wonderful”). This is a great time to be alive. Hip-hip-hoo-ray. Hip-hip-hoo-ray” he would say. Remember all that stuff? There was one time where he said, “I came into the studio this morning and passed the guard with a big smile on my face and a quickness to my step….this is a good time. There’s no question about it. Hip-hip-hoo-ray.” What? When I heard that I thought: A quickness to your step? What does that mean? How do you usually come into the studio? Slowly and without a quickness to your step? Then every Friday morning, he was always prepared to have the perfunctory “A wonderful romantic weekend, oh it’s going to be great!” And he would talk about the “wonderful romantic weekend” he was preparing to have after the newscasts at the top of each hour. He usually gave no details about his “wonderful romantic weekend” for security reasons since he had some threats made on his life, and some very serious threats at times he said, so understandably he wasn’t interested in people knowing where he was going to be until after the fact. Then on Monday morning, he spoke of “this is Monday morning here on KGO Radio after a wonderful romantic weekend, oh it was great!” He would sometimes talk about the groups he spoke to over the weekend and what a wonderful event it was and how good it was to see some people he knew and how he had met some very “beautiful women and handsome men.” On occasion he said he had met some “handsome women and beautiful men.” LOL. But how he felt — “I feel wonderful this morning” — was a very common theme in his latter years. After awhile of hearing that, I personally felt it was a bit insensitive to the listeners who didn’t feel “wonderful” such as those people with serious health problems who were in a lot of pain. Does someone in that situation enjoy and appreciate hearing repeatedly how someone else feels “wonderful?” I suspect some listeners said to their radio, “I wish I felt wonderful, Ray.” There were some times where I said to him while listening, “Who cares that you feel wonderful? Why is it all about you and how you feel, Ray?” Why have you turned your show into regular updates of how you feel? Then there was the slapping himself on the back: “This is a good time because of our work here” he would say, even though things were only getting worse politically. So the “this is a good time because of our work here” was as if he were living under the illusion that his show was making some difference politically, when it wasn’t. It was really just feel-good pabulum and completely in Ray’s mind and just more hype, and not based in reality because nothing he was doing or saying was changing anything in a positive way politically on the national level. But he liked to give the impression he was very important and changing things for the positive. But then oddly on the rare occasion, he would say to the audience, “This is a terrible time,” which it was. That was being realistic. Just like today in 2017 is a terrible time politically. The worst I’ve seen in my lifetime. But I thought: Well Ray, how can it be “a terrible time” when just two hours ago you told us, “This is a wonderful time” and that’s what you usually say. So what is it? A terrible or a wonderful time? It can’t be both.
One of Ray’s signature styles with some callers he disagreed with was telling the caller:
“Sir, you’re too fast for me. (Caller starts to talk over Ray). Sir, sir, sir, you need to slow down, sir. Sir, we can’t both be talking at the same time. Sir, my Hunters Point education can’t keep up with you. You’re far too intelligent and articulate for me. Now what were you saying again? Now keep it slow because I can’t keep up with you. Speak slowly. I didn’t catch that. So let me understand this, sir: You just said that you’ve never listened to me before but you’re calling to tell me what I said on a previous show that you disagreed with?”
Ray was very entertaining and good at handling trolls and slapping them down. Making them look like the conservative fools they were.
After KGO moved their television and radio studios to the San Francisco Waterfront, Ray occasionally spoke of KGO’s archives and that one would have to go “down into the bowels of The Embaracadero” to access their archives. I think Ray liked talking about bowels. LOL. Ray’s show was broadcast from KGO’s penthouse studio in their new building overlooking the Bay. That would be a very nice setting for having a show at night, especially for Jazz or Poetry Night, something peaceful other than politics or religion.
One night my “relationship” with Ray began to change.
I began to see Ray differently and it was a turning point for me. Rather disappointing really. Ray read a political article to his audience, gave the title of the article and chose what he wanted to read in favour of the Democrats. I guess he thought no one in his audience would go to the article online — but I did — and see that he was only reading/giving part of the story. He only read the part that was favourable to the Democrats. Then down the page in the same article were sections critical of the Democrats but he didn’t read that part. So I thought: Ray, why didn’t you keep reading? Why did you leave that part out? Well, he omitted that section because it didn’t serve his agenda as a life-long cheerleader for the corrupt and imperialistic Democratic Party. And it was that night that from then on I started questioning what Ray was saying on his show, because he was being devoutly partisan and not objective. I asked: What else has he been leaving out over the years where being a partisan Democrat is more important to him than being objective and giving the whole story? So his credibility was now suspect in my mind. Before the internet, I had no way of verifying/confirming what he was saying over the air and assumed he was being 100% accurate and objective. But at that point, I continued listening to him but with a more critical ear.
Ray served as the campaign manager for the conservative Frank Jordan, a former chief of police in San Francisco, who ran for mayor of San Francisco. Fortunately, Jordan lost the election but Ray’s politics changed during that campaign. Some callers would call in with their opinions about Jordan and they would say, “Ray, I have a message for the Jordan campaign” to which Ray would respond, “You’re talking to the campaign now” because, again, he was the campaign manager. The night of Jordan’s concession speech, Ray stood behind Jordan with a very depressed look on his face. Because of how Ray’s politics had changed, I said to my television: Ray, you’ve gotten what you deserve. You’ve sold yourself out to this guy. I was disgusted with Ray at this point. He was not the same Ray I had listened to over the years. Shortly after this, I saw an acquaintance of mine who I knew listened to Ray every night. One of the first things he said to me when we happened to see each other in San Francisco’s Castro was: “What has happened to Ray? He’s become so conservative since he’s hooked up with Frank Jordan.” I said, “Oh you’ve noticed too? Glad it’s not just me. None of his callers say anything about it on the air.” (Well, that’s because all the calls were screened.) We talked about many examples of how Ray had changed. I felt reassured that it wasn’t just me that had noticed a shift-to-the-right in Ray’s thinking and Jordan’s influence on Ray, even though Ray always called himself “a liberal Democrat.” Yeah, we’ve heard that many times before, haven’t we? And we know how that usually turns out: Move to the right.
Around that same time period, there were protests in San Francisco and for the first time Ray got on his programme and was very critical of the protesters, just like the conservative KGO talk show hosts. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and it was further evidence of Jordan’s conservative influence on Ray because Ray had never denounced protesters before considering he had bragged about being a protester many times in his past. “Protesters, don’t you destroy my City,” Ray angrily yelled through the microphone. Well, the City belonged to the protesters too. It wasn’t just Ray’s City. What we were hearing was unprecedented for Ray. But his devout listeners seemed afraid to say anything or challenge him on how he had changed, or they were not allowed on the air, I don’t know which.
Ray was often all about Ray. He frequently mentioned how he only slept 4 hours a night. (That’s not a very healthy thing to do as it can really age a person and there are all kinds of health consequences with only sleeping 4 hours in 24 hours.) He lived about 10 minutes from the studio by taxi and he slept from approximately 6am to 10am. Then he started his day. He frequently told listeners that he only slept 4 hours because as he said, “I’m too excited about life to sleep anymore than 4-5 hours. I have a very full and rich life,” as if implying other people didn’t? He bragged about how well-connected he was to certain politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi. She promised Ray at a party — and he believed her for some reason — that the Democrats would start standing up to the Republicans. Yeah right. Yet another broken promise. He also reassured his listeners as to how well-connected he was to San Francisco City Hall, the Arts Commission and other organisations.
Ray would say how he didn’t like talking about himself on the air. Then ironically he would spend the rest of his show doing that. LOL. Regular listeners heard countless times how he knew Dr Martin Luther King Jr and how Dr King had come to Ray’s church when Ray was a musician at a local Baptist Church in San Francisco. We heard about his RayTal Chorale (Ray’s choral ensemble) many times and about how he was a musician (a pianist, an organist and choral conductor) and he had played the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor. His show was often all about Ray, which initially I found very interesting. It was interesting to hear another musician with his politics talk about his musical background. But after hearing about his background many times over the years it became a bit old to us regular listeners.
I know Ray helped many people get through the night and they told him so, regardless of their circumstances. Many bakers listened to him as they were starting their shifts when his show was on.
In his later years shortly before I stopped listening to him, I started thinking: If you’ve heard one of Ray’s monologues these days you’d heard them all — and I’m not talking about the opening intro which was his signature/”trademark” — because there was a point where he came into the studio and regurgitated the same “script” seemingly on automatic pilot every morning. It sounded as if he was in a rut. During that time, I don’t remember him covering politics the way he had in his earlier years. Perhaps he was bored with his job/show. Near the end before I stopped listening to him, he seemed to be just going through the motions, maybe trying to decide when and how to retire? Regardless, I lost interest in his show, something I didn’t think would ever happen.
I stopped listening to Ray when he began cheer-leading for Obama. At that time, Ray was into “the first Black president of the United States of America, my country, your country, her country, his country…” and that nationalistic rhetoric he spoke from time-to-time. I guess that Ray didn’t consider that for people in other countries — such as Canada and México — the US wasn’t their country. But after I stopped listening to him, I read somewhere that Ray had finally seen Obama for who and what he was and Ray was no longer in love with him and he said Obama was doing a terrible job as president. I agree with Ray on that because Obama greatly expanded the neocon PNAC agenda of the illegitimate Bush/Cheney regime. I did turn him on one night a year or so later for a while just to see if anything had changed with him and if he had gone back to being the original, interesting and talented Ray that initially appealed to me. But no, he sounded just like he did — on automatic pilot with the same monologue — when I stopped listening to him. So I turned the radio off and that was the last time I heard him before he was fired from KGO Radio.
KGO Radio was mostly right-wing. And Ray and Bernie Ward were the only two left-leaning talk show hosts. The rest I couldn’t stand. I preferred Ray over Bernie. Bernie was fired from KGO for reasons I won’t go into and he served prison time. Not too long after that was when Ray was forced out. Ray kept his distance from Bernie during Bernie’s legal problems. And they were both on at night, back-to-back: Bernie was on from 10pm – 1am, and as I said earlier Ray was on from 1am – 5am, Monday-Friday. Then KGO Radio fired a group of talk show hosts one day and Ray was in that group. And that’s when he “retired” from radio. He made an appearance on a small station in Santa Cruz and had a heated debate with the station owner’s mother over religion and some of Ray’s devout listeners thought the station might hire Ray, but that didn’t happen and he’s been off the air since.
The last I read about Ray was that his son, Rafael, died. I didn’t know Ray had a son. That’s one aspect about his personal life that he didn’t talk about on the air. And I read that Ray’s been spending a lot of time in the North Bay. The Ray I knew loved being in San Francisco. He was a City person, so it’s odd to hear that he’s supposedly spending time up there.
Some people referred to Ray as arrogant, including mi amigo/my friend who also listened to Ray with me. I didn’t think of him as arrogant, although in hindsight, I can see how people would think that. I thought of him as very down-to-Earth really. That’s one of his fine qualities that appealed to me the entire time I listened to him. But as important as he seemed to think his opinions were and as big as his head was — which is probably why people called him arrogant — and I say that merely based on what he said about himself over the air and how he often “tooted his own horn” — it’s surprising he hasn’t tried to do a talk show of sorts on YT of just monologues of what he thinks of The Orange Man’s septic, chaotic and insane regime, for example. (I should think that he would more than have the dinero/money to do that. It doesn’t cost that much (less than $1,000.00USD) to get a good quality camera and upload videos to YT.) I should say that when people called to compliment Ray he was usually very gracious, humble and modest and said things such as “Well thank you very much. Thank you for your call.” Then other times if he was pissed from a previous caller, he would make very quick work of anyone complimenting him, to the point of being a bit rude/abrupt. I remember he said he didn’t like compliments.
The conservatives despised Ray and the so-called “liberals” (translation: partisan Democrats) loved him, generally. They probably didn’t care for the “Beautiful Black Woman in the Sky” concept. I thoroughly enjoyed Ray while I was a Democrat. But after I left the party following the 2000 stolen election, the “love” I had for his show very slowly turned into my becoming less and less interested in him. It was probably best that Ray was forced to retire when he did — by being fired on el 2 de diciembre de 2011/the 2nd of December 2011 — by KGO Radio. I don’t think Ray could deal with the stupid-is-in-people of the US pop culture of today and the increasing number of idiots who would likely call in to his show. He had no shortage of idiots to deal with at that time!
Ray had some very astute and intelligent callers, one being Sheldon in Oakland. I wonder if Sheldon is still around? Sheldon usually called in to support Ray’s opinions and Ray kindly allowed Sheldon the time to have his own monologue without Ray saying a word. And then at the end Ray would agree with Sheldon and thank him for calling in. Sheldon needed a place to vent his thoughts and opinions because he couldn’t afford his own radio station, and Ray knew that and he shared his radio platform with Sheldon whenever Sheldon called in. Although occasionally Ray would go off on Sheldon too, for some reason, and then Sheldon would disappear for awhile. Ray’s regular callers were not above reproach in his mind. They too could be subjected to the wrath of Ray Taliaferro.
Also, Ray rarely had guests on his show, contrary to other KGO Radio talk show hosts. The one exception being the annual New Year’s Eve Big Band Show. Ray would say to his audience: You’ve been hearing guests all day (on other people’s shows) and I don’t have any guests on my show.
Ray certainly provided me and others with years of enjoyment and I will always remember him for that. I always looked forward to his show when I was a regular listener and I didn’t want to miss a thing, really. He was a very special part of my life at that time and for many years, and he was a very special part of the Old City before the current conservative puppet mayor and his conservative billionaire venture-capitalist owner ruined San Francisco.
I hope Ray is in good health and doing well. As of this writing he’s 78. For someone who was such an outgoing and public figure when he was on radio and television, today — and I mean this respectfully — I get the sense that Ray is now more of a recluse, for whatever reason, which is the opposite of the Ray we all knew “in the middle of the night” on KGO 810. The death of his son may have deeply affected him, understandably so. And despite my criticisms of him, I will always have many good memories of him and his show. As he would say on occasion, “I’m an entertainer.” He said that talk show hosts are considered entertainers. Looking back on that era, it was a very special time for the Old City, although I didn’t see it that way at the time. Ray was the very familiar voice “in the middle of the night” to many people, and many people looked forward to 1.00am, Monday thru Friday. I certainly did. Chau.—el barrio rosa
Note: If the reader feels the need to mention the current septic man-child occupant of la casa blanca/the white house, please refer to him as I have in the article. I don’t want to have that man-child’s real/official nombre/name contaminating my site. Muchas gracias.