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The Microsoft Antitrust Case.

Joshua Quitner and Michelle Slatalla are authors of "Speeding The Net: The Inside Story of Netscape and How It Challenged Microsoft." (Atlantic Monthly Press) Quittner is the computer columnist for Time magazine and an assistant managing editor at Time Inc's on-line site Pathfinder. Slatalla writes a technology column for The New York Times. They have also collaborated on the books: "Masters of Deception," "Flame War," "Mother's Day," and "Shoo-Fly Pie to Die."


Other segments from the episode on June 10, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 10, 1998: Interview with Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla; Interview with Peter D. Goldsmith.


Date: JUNE 10, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061001np.217
Head: Microsoft vs. Netscape
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The computer industry is being shaken up by antitrust suits. The Federal Trade Commission filed a suit against Intel this week. The Justice Department's antitrust case against Microsoft goes to court September 8. The events leading up to the Microsoft case are the subject of the new book "Speeding the Net."

My guests are authors Joshua Quittner, a computer columnist for Time magazine, and Michelle Slatalla, computer columnist for the New York Times. The two are also married.

The Justice Department is accusing Microsoft of undermining consumer choice by forcing computermakers who use Microsoft's operating system Windows to also install Microsoft's browser. The browser is the software that connects your computer to the World Wide Web.

Microsoft's biggest browser rival is Netscape, the company that created the first highly used browser. I asked Slatalla and Quittner about the importance of the Microsoft antitrust case.

MICHELLE SLATALLA, TECHNOLOGY COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES, CO-AUTHOR, "SPEEDING THE NET": It's enormously important, not -- but not just for the computer industry, Terry, but for everybody in the world who uses a computer, because what this -- the outcome of this suit is going to determine is the extent to which Microsoft in the future is going to be able to control the look and feel of the computer that sits on top of your desk; the look and feel of everything you do when you're sitting there typing; and basically how they're going to be able to control your whole experience as a computer user -- whether it's online, trying to browse the web; whether it's using software to do word processing or to crunch numbers; whether it is the way that you approach information as a user.

And right now, Microsoft has a very clear direction and strategy of where it wants to go; how it wants to lead all of us computer users into the future. And the question is: is that a path that we're all going to have to follow? Is it a path we want to follow? Should we even have the choice?

GROSS: A lot of your books tells the history of the browser and the role of the browser in this dispute between Microsoft and Netscape. The browser actually has its roots in the nonprofit world of university research. And Marc Andreeson, who created the Netscape Navigator browser, first worked in a nonprofit and -- of university research. Tell us a little bit about the prototype of the browser that he created when he was still doing university-related research.

SLATALLA: Well, the irony of it is that Marc Andreeson, when he was a callow youth -- an undergraduate at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champagne -- had an idea for a browser, for a software program that in fact became the core code, not only for the Netscape Navigator browser years later, but also for Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. His idea was so good that even today, years later, both the leading competitors' code was predicated on his Mosaic browser.

What he did was sitting around in the bowels of the old Oil-Chemistry Building on campus where he and his pals worked late into the night and ordered many cheap pizzas and let the boxes stack up all around their cubicles -- was an idea to create a program that would make browsing the Internet really fun; the idea that you could see pictures and texts; that you could hear sound; that you could, instead of typing arcane UNIX commands, you could just click a button on your mouse and move around on the Internet.

And the Mosaic browser that Andreeson and his friends in Illinois originally wrote, was fun. That was their whole purpose -- to be useful, to be fun, to have what they thought of as "cool, neat" features that you would enjoy using it.

GROSS: At the time that Andreeson co-created this early browser, he was working at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. What were, for him, do you think, some of the advantages and some of the frustrations at working in a university context?
Now, he's a big mover in the commercial world.

SLATALLA: I think that he was frustrated and felt -- he told us he felt confined by the structure of academia. He felt that things moved slower in the academic research world than they would out in the competitive, entrepreneurial world of capitalism. I think he was chomping at the bit to get out there and try his own venture.

And when he graduated and he moved west to Silicon Valley to seek his fortune, he was incredibly lucky to hook up with Jim Clark, who at that time was the founder of Silicon Graphics, who had just announced that he was leaving SGI and was looking for a new brilliant venture to dabble in. And he met with Andreeson one morning very early at a coffee shop in Silicon Valley, and heard about this Mosaic browser that Andreeson and his friends had written.

And from that meeting basically grew the entire extraordinary history of Netscape.

GROSS: When Marc Andreeson and Jim Clark co-founded Netscape, did they have any idea of where the money was going to be in the corporation? For example, when Andreeson was working on Mosaic, the kind of prototype of Netscape Navigator, I think the software was just basically put on the Internet and people could get it for free; people could do whatever they wanted to with it for free.

That was basically the way it was done then, when most of the people who had access to the Internet were university academics and researchers and doctors and so on. It wasn't considered a big profit-making center as people now seem to hope it will be.

So, given that the browser software at the time was on the Internet for access free, where did they think the money was going to be?

SLATALLA: They had only the fuzziest idea about where the money was going to come from. But keep in mind that back in 1994, they were in really good company. Everybody was starting to get excited about the Internet, but nobody knew how to make money off it or understood what would be a workable business model.

Clark in early 1994 thought that publishing might be a viable -- a viable business model on the Internet. And one of his first things was to fly east and hold a number of meetings with big media and publishing companies, to try to convince them to bring their content onto the newly emerging World Wide Web and to use the software that Netscape was creating to translate that content to the new medium.

JOSHUA QUITTNER, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, PATHFINDER, COMPUTER COLUMNIST, TIME MAGAZINE, CO-AUTHOR, "SPEEDING THE NET": They knew that the browser was something that they would be giving away for free. And they would create a mass market, they hoped, for the web. What people would pay for would be the server side -- companies that would want to put their wares online, whether they were banks or L.L. Bean or Time magazine -- would pay a lot of money to run reliable supported software.

Server code, I think, sells upwards of -- I mean, gets over $15,000 or more, and they knew that if they had that kind of a thing going, they would -- they would be in the money over time.

GROSS: How financially successful was this scheme?

SLATALLA: In the short term, it wasn't at all financially successful because 18 months after they had founded the company and were getting ready to go public, they had yet to have shown a profit. They had huge revenues, but they also had huge expenses.

That's what made it so amazing in August of 1995 when Netscape went public and became overnight the darling of Wall Street and basically spawned an entire technological stampede on Wall Street by having the best public offering of any company in its class.

GROSS: How do you explain that disparity between what their success rate actually was at the time and the amount of investors that wanted to join up early on?

SLATALLA: Hype. There was a huge amount of hype by then surrounding the Internet: "Internet" as a word; the Internet as a cultural phenomenon; the Internet as a possible new medium that we could profit off of; the Internet as an economic force that would drive us into a lucrative technological future in the next century.

I mean, now nearly three years later, some of that has panned out. A lot of it hasn't. But there was an enormous amount of enthusiasm, not only on Wall Street, but in almost any segment of society and the economy over anything that had to do with the online world.

GROSS: My guests are Michelle Slatalla and Joshua Quittner, authors of the new book Speeding the Net. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guests are computer columnist Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla, authors of Speeding the Net about the rivalry between Microsoft and Netscape.

You say in your new book Speeding the Net that Netscape's success also became its problem, in the sense that Netscape's success inspired Microsoft to come up with a browser that would be in its computers. And then, Microsoft became this huge competitor for Netscape.

How did Microsoft make the decision to come up with its own browser for its Windows program?

QUITTNER: Well, I actually think that Microsoft -- I mean, Microsoft is a big smart company. They weren't quite as asleep at the switch as everyone thought, even though Bill Gates didn't really mention the word "Internet" in his big book "The Road Ahead," he knew it was out there. The question was: how big was it going to be?

So Microsoft had various people in its -- in its -- down at its extremities who were definitely very net-savvy, web-savvy. There were guys who were hanging out on the browser forum on usenet that Andreeson and his buddies were frequenting. So they all knew what was going on.

The question was: at what point would Gates turn the company around and say "we're going to get behind this Internet thing and get behind it in a big way?"

SLATALLA: And I would say that by late 1994, it was very clear to Gates and everyone else at Microsoft that they were going to need a browser and they were going to need it fast. In fact, they were going to need it by the time they came out with Windows 95, whose launch date had been firmly pushed back to August of 1995 by that point.

Late in 1994 meant that Gates had to go shopping for browser code. There was just no time in that kind of a schedule for Microsoft to create its own Internet browser from scratch. At that time, Microsoft approached Jim Clark at Netscape and tried to open up negotiations about licensing Netscape's Navigator code.

Now, Clark was very suspicious of Microsoft and was not at all interested in doing that, and rebuffed them very clearly. In the end, Microsoft ended up licensing the original Mosaic code that Andreeson and his friends had written at the University of Illinois and made that the foundation of the first version of the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser that debuted with Windows 95.

GROSS: I guess that's a real paradox for Andreeson.


QUITTNER: Yeah, except the way -- the way Andreeson and the other guys who worked on that original browser looked at it was -- when they went to build Mosaic, the commercial version of Mosaic later to be called Netscape, Jim Clark was very nervous that they would be accused basically of intellectual theft; of stealing their own baby. So, they had to start out all over again and write a browser from scratch.

Other people might think: oh, my God, this is a nightmare. We've gotta do this thing from scratch. These guys -- the young hackers at Netscape -- said: "this is great because we know all the problems that plagued that first version that we wrote back in our college days. Now, we can write a whole new one that's going to be much, much stronger and much, much better-suited to the real conditions, the online conditions, that we have since learned about."

GROSS: How much of an edge has the Microsoft browser gotten over the Netscape browser?

QUITTNER: The reality is, the browsers are virtually the same. And politically, I'm predisposed to use Netscape's browser, because I believe in the underdog. I believe that they should be able to enjoy my business because they were the pioneers that went out there and figured things out first.

However, I'm sorry to admit that increasingly, since I've moved over to a Windows machine, when no one is looking, I will click on the little blue "E," because Microsoft is smart enough to put their browser right out on front -- right out in front on their desktop to make it always, always available to its users.

Of course, the Justice Department doesn't say that's smart so much as illegal, as unfair.

GROSS: So, now Microsoft has this antitrust suit facing it. Janet Reno has said Microsoft is unlawfully taking advantage of its Windows monopoly to protect and extend that monopoly and undermine consumer choice. What's going to be the difference for consumers whether Microsoft wins or loses this case? What difference will it make to computer users?

QUITTNER: The irony is that in the short term -- in the short term, if Microsoft is left unchecked, in the short term not only will there be no -- no tangible difference from the consumer perspective, it'll probably be a good thing. I mean, when I send -- when I send documents to Michelle, if she's using Word Perfect and I'm using Word, we've got a problem. It's much better if we're both using the same programs, because then I can attach a Word document and she'll be able to open it up in Word.

A single standard is something that's very beneficial for all computer users. The big problem is looking out three, four, five years down the road. If Microsoft is left unchecked and Microsoft is allowed to run over any competitor when they see fit, sooner or later people are going to stop competing.

The guys -- the Marc Andreesons of the future -- the smart, young folks who are computer programmers -- are going to think: well, my real choice here is I can go out and innovate, but I'm really just going to end up working for Microsoft anyway, so what's the point? I think I'm going to get into banking or I think I'm going to go work in a lumber yard.

There's no percentage in it for me. I'm not going to work 140 hours a week to create this marvelous thing if, by the time I bring it to market, Microsoft is just going to gobble it up. And even worse, the venture capitalists aren't going to back the Marc Andreesons of the future if they think that the only shot -- the only play is to sell out to Microsoft.

GROSS: The antitrust act was enacted before the turn of the century. How well do you think it holds up for today's computer technology?

SLATALLA: I think that it's very applicable to today's computer technology. I mean, the antitrust act was passed back in the 1800s before we had a lot of the technologies that it's governed. It was passed before we had airplanes. It was passed before, you know, AT&T had become a huge monopoly with modern technology. And the law served very well as a tool that was able to referee and regulate these problems.

GROSS: What do you think will happen to Netscape, depending on whether Microsoft wins or loses?

SLATALLA: At this point, it may not matter that much if Microsoft wins or loses, because Netscape has been very deftly repositioning itself and no longer relies on revenues from the browser to the same extent that it did in the past. It's really reinvented itself as kind of an amalgam of an emerging media company that sells server-side software; that is making deals with the big search engines; and is hopefully harnessing -- harnessing the power of having -- having such a huge audience come to its website.

It's a company that is barely even four years old and has already gone through a number of different iterations, and seems to be pretty fast on its feet.

QUITTNER: What Netscape has done is it's really reinvented itself as a content company, which frankly is something it said it would never do. But when you got right down to it, Netscape realizes that it commands most of the eyeball. Still more than half of the people who come online come online with a Netscape browser, and most of them leave the default in place, so they go right to Netscape's homepage.

They can make a lot of loot off of that -- off of that advantage. And what they're really trying to do now is push that advantage and make themselves one of the so-called "portals" to the Internet, where there's a huge amount of money to be made.

In fact, Jim Barksdale is talking about he's really happy that they've been able to wean themselves off the browser money, which he likens to drug money.


QUITTNER: Because he felt that it was never going to last forever. It was -- it was based on sort of one-shot deals, but that it's not a real business.

GROSS: I have a question about your own computer use. You have strong feelings about Netscape and Microsoft. And I just want to go over here -- do you -- do you tend to choose your own computer technology based on what you -- on what you believe is politically correct? Or on the technology that's most convenient for you? Or most compatible with other people who you're interacting with?

SLATALLA: I would have to say it's a little bit of both, or all three of those things, Terry. For a decade, I used a Mac, and only used an IBM-compatible or a Windows machine when I was forced to; when I was dragged kicking or screaming over to one in an office situation.

But this year, for the first time, I willingly went out and bought a Windows machine. It's because I have started writing a weekly column for computer users in the New York Times, and it would really be irrelevant for me to sit there on a Mac and to describe things that I'm doing and places I'm going and software that I'm using, because 90 percent of the people who read my column are going to be on Windows machines and would have no frame of reference for what I'm doing.

In that sense, I feel like I've been kind of forced by the marketplace to switch over so that I can be in step with the experience that other people are having, so that I can not only understand it, but can describe it to the world.

QUITTNER: As Michelle's husband as well as collaborator, I would have to take issue with one thing she said. She did not go willingly to buy a Windows machine. It was more like we had to put the family dog to sleep.


GROSS: And Josh, what about you? How is your choice?

QUITTNER: My choice is in effect the same as Michelle's. As journalists, we work on MacIntoshes. At Time magazine where I -- where I write a column, everything's on a Mac. And it makes it very simple. We can actually see the pages as we lay them out.

Every word that you put on your computer screen will appear in the magazine the way it did on the computer. That's the beauty of WYSIWYG -- you know that acronym: what you see is what you get.

I also went out and bought a Windows machine because I started writing a personal technology column on a weekly basis for the magazine, and it seemed ridiculous to be working on a platform that something under 10 percent of the computing populace now uses. I feel very bad about that. I apologize to all my Mac friends. I think the MacIntosh makes a really great computer.

But the hard part of it is for me, I have to fun lots of different programs. I've gotta try out lots of different things. And they're just not being made for the Mac yet. Maybe someday they will again.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.

QUITTNER: Thank you, Terry.

SLATALLA: Thanks for having us.

GROSS: Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla are the authors of Speeding the Net, about the rivalry between Netscape and Microsoft.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Joshua Quittner; Michelle Slatalla
High: Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla are authors of "Speeding The Net: The Inside Story of Netscape and How It Challenged Microsoft." Quittner is the computer columnist for Time magazine and an assistant managing editor at Time Inc's online site Pathfinder. Slatalla writes a technology column for the New York Times. They have also collaborated on the books: "Masters of Deception," "Flame War," "Mother's Day," and "Shoo-Fly Pie to Die."
Spec: Computers; The Internet; Business; Economy; Microsoft; Bill Gates; Jim Barksdale; NetCenter; Antitrust; Politics; Government; Monopolies; Netscape Navigator; Internet Explorer; Marc Andreeson
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Microsoft vs. Netscape
Date: JUNE 10, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061001np.217
Head: Making People's Music
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Folkways Records. Folkways produced records that changed America's musical life. Many musicians and listeners discovered folk, blues, and world music through Folkways albums. And the label changed the lives of many of its musicians, by introducing them to audiences hungry for their sound.

Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly (ph), Lightnin' Hopkins (ph), Sonny Terry (ph), and Brownie McGee (ph) are some of the musicians recorded by the label.

My guest Peter Goldsmith is the author of the new book "Making People's Music" about Folkways and its founder Moe Asch, who died in 1986. Asch first specialized in Yiddish recordings, one of which we're about to hear. I asked Goldsmith about Asch's connection to Yiddish culture.

PETER D. GOLDSMITH, ADJUNCT ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE, AUTHOR, "MAKING PEOPLE'S MUSIC: MOE ASCH": Well, he was connected to Yiddish culture through his father, Sholem Asch, who was the mostly widely read Yiddish author in the interwar period. And so, Asch capitalized on those connections to record that music and then in turn capitalized on those connections to do work for the Jewish Daily Forward's radio station, WEVD.

And, Asch got his start by first building the hardware for the radio station. He built the transmitter. His start was actually in radio electronics. And then as he described it, having provided them with the hardware, and then they needed the software, they needed the recordings.

And so capitalizing on his connections with the Yiddish theater, as well as with Jewish liturgical music, he created records probably first exclusively for air play, and then slowly he branched out to create commercial recordings to be sold to Jewish audiences in New York and elsewhere.

GROSS: What Yiddish recording have you brought with you and why did you choose it?

GOLDSMITH: Well, I chose a recording that was released in the early years of Folkways because the recordings that he recorded of Yiddish material in the '40s are no longer commercially available. But I think it's similar to representative of the secular Yiddish music that he recorded in the 1940s. It's a musician named Nazarov (ph), referred to as Prince Nazarov on an LP called "Jewish Froehlich (ph) Songs" and it's a short recording called "Madlich die Blumen" (ph), translated as "Girls are Like Flowers."

And it happens to be in my collection in part because it was among the recordings that was in my household when I was growing up and I listened to it as a child growing up.

GROSS: And this recording's from the early '50s?

GOLDSMITH: Yeah, it was released on Folkways in 1954, although it may have been released somewhat earlier. The liner notes refer to Nazarov as a singer who appeared on radio and in musical comedy and in vaudeville. In the 1950s, Jewish theater and Jewish burlesque houses were certainly in decline, so it was probably -- he represented the last vestiges of Jewish -- of vaudeville music of the early '50s.

GROSS: OK. So this is Nathan Prince Nazarov.



GROSS: I've never heard that before. That's really interesting. There's something so Folkways about it. It sounds like the only Appalachian Yiddish folksinger.


GOLDSMITH: Yeah. It's a pretty eccentric recording.

GROSS: Yeah, 'cause I think -- you think of Yiddish music as having, you know, like clarinets and bands behind them, not a solo guitar accompaniment.

GOLDSMITH: Yeah, it's not -- it's not klezmer (ph) music. He's playing an instrument I've never heard of called the "octaphone." There's a photograph in the liner notes of him holding it -- octaphone I presume refers to its having eight strings. It looks sort of like a big mandolin.

GROSS: Oh. Well, this is very interesting. My guest is Peter Goldsmith, who has written a biography of Moe Asch, who was the founder of Folkways Music.

So Moe Asch started by recording Yiddish music, but then he moved into folk music and into African-American songs of various sorts -- work songs, blues. Among the most famous Folkways recordings are the recordings of Leadbelly.

And you've brought one of those with you -- one from 1942. Before we hear it, how did Leadbelly end up on Folkways Records? And I guess that story kind of combines with how Moe Asch moved into recording African-American performers.

GOLDSMITH: Well, I think of Asch's recording of Leadbelly as the great leap -- a kind of great leap in his understanding of the significance of folk music. There really wasn't any precedent at all for it in his recording.

But at least the story, as I understand it, is that a person who was involved in the International Lady Garmentworkers Union's production "Pins and Needles," a theatrical musical production, named Si Rady (ph) came to Moe Asch and said that there was a performer in the production of Pins and Needles named Leadbelly who was in need of some work, and needed to record in order to help make ends meet.

And Asch agreed to record him. And to me, it was a great leap of intuition and faith to understand that Leadbelly was somebody important culturally and musically, and to move beyond the Yiddish recordings. I think the groundwork was set in lots of ways with the Popular Front movement of the late 1930s, which was a movement that was really initiated by the Communist Party, but came to be a cultural movement that was shared by leftists of lots of different stamps who understood that the celebration of the music of common Americans was an important task.

So Asch was certainly not a communist. He was rather stridently anti-communist, but I believe in lots of ways he picked up a Popular Front aesthetic and it was that aesthetic that enabled him in part to recognize the importance of Leadbelly.

GROSS: Had Allan Lomax (ph) already recorded Leadbelly by the time Moe Asch did?

GOLDSMITH: Yes, he had. He had recorded Leadbelly commercially on I believe both the Music Craft (ph) label and the Victor label. So indeed, there were commercial records of Leadbelly already out. By 1942, commercial labels were no longer interested in Leadbelly, and I don't believe that anybody else besides Asch recorded Leadbelly after 1942. And Asch continued to record Leadbelly from 1942 until his death in 1949.

GROSS: Well you've brought with you a really interesting Leadbelly recording from 1942 because it features Leadbelly on accordion, as opposed to his 12-string guitar. When did he play accordion?

GOLDSMITH: Well, apparently the accordion was his first instrument, and he picked it up as a young -- not a young child, a young adult I suppose. And that was his first introduction to instrumental accompaniment of song. And this song "Cornbread Rough" (ph) I think just has such wonderful rollicking energy to it, and I chose it in part because it's unusual because of the use of the accordion, but also it's just a wonderfully rich and musical performance.

GROSS: This is Leadbelly recorded in 1942, and featured on the Folkways recording "Work Songs of the USA."



Way down yonder by (Unintelligible)
The people don't wait 'til the sun goes down
Way down yonder by (Unintelligible)
The people don't wait 'til the sun goes down

Cornbread rough and (Unintelligible)
Thank God almighty, got cornbread enough
Cornbread rough and (Unintelligible)
Thank God almighty, got cornbread enough

GROSS: We'll talk more with Peter Goldsmith, author of Making People's Music, after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Peter Goldsmith. His new book Making People's Music is about Folkways Records and its founder Moe Asch.

You say that Moe Asch expected his recordings to contribute to international, interracial and inter-ethnic understanding. Tell us more about what he hoped for in those areas.

GOLDSMITH: Well, in the book I've described Moe Asch as a kind of a cultural broker. That is, a person who facilitated the interaction of people who did not necessarily share the same culture or cultural presuppositions.

And my sense is that he believed that, when people could appreciate the rich cultural accomplishments of people unlike themselves, that it would eat away at prejudice, and that it would be part of the process of promoting international understanding, to make music of this kind available.

GROSS: This is the 50th anniversary of Folkways. Particularly during the first couple of decades of Folkways, and then before the start of Folkways when Moe Asch was just recording on, you know, on the Asch record label...

GOLDSMITH: Asch and disc (ph) record labels which were 78s.

GROSS: Yeah. These were periods when folk music was identified with the left and with union organizing. And I think two of the people most responsible for that identification were Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who recorded on Folkways Records.


GROSS: Tell us a little bit about their philosophies of music and the working man.

GOLDSMITH: Well, in the Popular Front era, folk music came to be seen as the most important vehicle for promoting left-wing, particularly union causes. The familiar phrase of that era was: "my music is my weapon" -- music as a political weapon to further the cause of unionism; of world peace.

In some instances, I suppose for American communism, too, and Woody Guthrie was quite sympathetic with the Communist Party -- both Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were communists. But I think it's important to understand that the majority of American communists of this era were interested in communism as a way of promoting the condition of working Americans; of assuring racial reconciliation, and not the domination of the world by the Soviet Union.

So, folk music was considered the preeminent vehicle for the promotion of these left-wing causes.

GROSS: What was it about folk music, do you think, that made this connection between folk music and the American left in the '40s, '50s, part of the '60s? Do you think it was the lyrics? Or just the intentions of the people who were performing?

GOLDSMITH: Well, I think it was both things. It was lyrics. It was the intentions of the performers. I think those on the cultural left just plain liked folk music. But the other thing about it is that, at least as they imagined it, anybody could do it. And the ability to learn guitar chords quickly and play this music...

GROSS: Oh, and sing along.


GOLDSMITH: ... and sing-alongs were tremendously important. Pete Seeger has always believed in the importance of group singing as a means of moving people; of changing people's minds and getting them to think about themselves as a community. He's never tired of attempting to move a hall full of people with group singing.

GROSS: You've brought with you a 1944 recording of "Jackhammer Blues" featuring Woody Guthrie, along with Cisco Houston (ph) and Sonny Terry (ph). How did these people all come together for this 1944 session?

GOLDSMITH: Well, there were a series of sessions in April of 1944, and -- early May. And they happened in part because Woody Guthrie walked into Asch's office one day and introduced himself and expressed his interest in recording for Asch, and Asch said: "sure, I'll record you and I'll record your buddies."

And for several weeks, there was a king of an open house in Asch studios and Woody came in, but he also brought his good friend and musical partner Cisco Houston. And other people dropped in, including Sonny Terry and Cisco Houston; the pianist Mary Lou Williams was around during some of these sessions.

And it was this incredible moment of musical cross-pollination -- a kind of explosion of American folk music. And it remains a kind of treasure trove that Smithsonian Folkways is continuing to mine in the release of recordings.

GROSS: OK. Let's hear it.


I'm a jackhammer man from a jackhammer town
Born with a jackhammer in my hand
Oh God I got them jackhammer blues

Jackhammer man from a jackhammer town
I hammer on a hammer 'til the sun goes down
Oh God I got them jackhammer blues

Hammered on the Bonneville, hammered on the (Unintelligible)
Columbia River on a 10-mile chute
Oh, God I got them jackhammer blues

Hammered (Unintelligible)
I built every port from Alaska down
Oh, God I got them jackhammer blues

GROSS: That's Woody Guthrie with Cisco Houston on guitar; Sonny Terry harmonica, from a recording that has been subsequently reissued on CD called "Woody Guthrie Sings Folksongs" with Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry, and Bess Hawes (ph).

And my guest Peter Goldsmith is the author of a new biography of Moe Asch, the founder of Folkways Records. And this is the 50th anniversary of Folkways.

A lot of people have commented over the years that although Moe Asch recorded music that was perceived as, you know, the pro-working man and pro-union, that he didn't have a great reputation in how he treated the people who worked for him. What were the complaints about Moe Asch?

GOLDSMITH: The primary complaint about Moe Asch from a business perspective was that he did not pay royalties consistently, and often artists had to bother him to get the royalties that were owed to him.

And I think Asch's view was that he was dedicated to the music and he was dedicated to making it available, and arguably if he had been as careful as he might have been in paying royalties, he wouldn't have been able to grow the collection, to continue to make the records available, and this wonderful treasure that's today Folkways Records would not have existed.

And it was a kind of a trade-off, which in some respects you might regard as defensible. On the other hand, there's a sense in which it wasn't altogether his money with which to do what he wanted. It belonged to the artists. He made it clear to people in various ways that if people expected to make a living by selling records, probably they belonged on a different label.

GROSS: Moe Asch founded Folkways Records 50 years ago. What made him decide to form Folkways after running a couple of small record labels that recorded 78 rpm recordings?

GOLDSMITH: Well, I think Moe Asch started Folkways Records because the record business was the only thing he knew how to do anymore at that point. He had been in the electronics business previously, repairing radios and installing antennas, and then installing sound equipment in Yiddish theaters and burlesque houses. But this was the only thing that he knew how to do.

And I think he thought it was important work. Also, significantly, I think he believed it was work that would be worthy in the eyes of his very famous father. There's a somewhat apocryphal story that undoubtedly has some truth about Asch accompanying his father to Princeton, New Jersey to record Albert Einstein for a broadcast on WEVD.

And after Sholem Asch interviewed Einstein, Einstein turned to the younger Asch and said: "what do you do?" And Asch described this idea for a kind of encyclopedia of world cultural music, and Einstein said that's a worthy thing to do.

Sholem Asch was there to hear it, and in the telling in subsequent years, this was a critical moment -- a kind of iconic moment in the start of recording of this kind -- and I doubt that it happened exactly like that, but I do believe that Asch kept this enterprise going even after his father's death in 1957 because it was work that his father would have regarded -- did regard as worthy.

GROSS: How did Moe Asch manage to keep a record company in business that never catered to popular taste? You know, Folkways didn't have these huge sellers the way major record companies tried to.

GOLDSMITH: Yeah. He kept Folkways alive with a business practice that would never fly today. He insisted on keeping every single title in print forever. But he -- he did that because he knew where his audiences were. He particularly knew that he had audiences with music educators and librarians, and he regularly every year attended the conferences of music educators and librarians and anthropologists. He listened to the things that they said and the things that they wanted.

And he put out records that he knew that they would buy. And then he had arrangements with pressing plants that enabled him to press as few as 50 or 100 copies of a recording at a time. I'm sure you can't do that with CDs today.

And you probably couldn't in the 1950s and '60s unless you were Moe Asch. Lots of people just had a soft spot in their heart for Moe Asch; regarded the things that he did as important; and made arrangements with him that they wouldn't have made with anybody else.

GROSS: My guest is Peter Goldsmith, author of Making People's Music. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Peter Goldsmith. His new book, Making People's Music, is about Folkways Records and its founder Moe Asch.

Do you think that Folkways led the way for other record companies who specialized in folk music?

GOLDSMITH: Folkways was unquestionably the model for a whole set of folk music labels that came out in the 1970s. The obvious ones are Rounder (ph) Records and the late Bruce Kaplan's (ph) Flying Fish in Chicago. Other labels like Philo (ph), and then more specialized labels like Shanakee (ph) and Green Limit (ph).

He showed the way in demonstrating that you could address small, somewhat eclectic audiences, but then if you put out material that was of good quality and well documented and well presented, then even if the audiences were small, they were guaranteed and loyal.

So when other folk music labels came out in the 1970s, they did what Asch did. From a business point of view, they probably improved on Asch in lots of ways, particularly in the area of marketing and distribution.

GROSS: What was the role of Folkways in your life when you were coming of age musically?

GOLDSMITH: Well, Folkways Records were played in my house all the time when I was growing up. And I've come to understand that there are people all over the country who have Folkways Records, now I suppose mostly in their basements in boxes.

I've discovered that when you ask people about Folkways Records, there's certain kinds of people who say: "oh, yes, I knew those records and they were very important to me as I was growing up." And it tells you a whole world about the kinds of people who own them. There are people like me whose families were dedicated to left-wing political causes; to the civil rights movement; to the anti-war movement.

And these records were of a piece with a set of political convictions and aesthetic orientations. And Woody Guthrie albums and Leadbelly albums were part of the sound of my childhood.

GROSS: Peter, I'm going to ask you to leave us with a recording from the Folkways collection that had a big influence on you when you were young.

GOLDSMITH: Well, I've brought with me Charity Bailey's (ph) "Hey Betty Martin." Charity Bailey was the musical director of the Little Red School House in New York City, which was a school to which many left-wing, and particularly Jewish residents of New York sent their children -- continue to send their children.

And she recorded a series of wonderful children's songs for Asch. Hey Betty Martin is one of them that appeared on a record that was played all the time in my household called "Songs to Grow On, Volume 2."

And it's just a wonderful, inspiring song for small children that my children danced around the living room to. And now my brother's child is undoubtedly dancing around the living room to, as well.

GROSS: Well Peter Goldsmith, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

GOLDSMITH: It was a great pleasure, Terry. Thank you.

GROSS: Peter Goldsmith is the author of the new biography of Moe Asch, the founder of Folkways Records. It's called Making People's Music, and this is the 50th anniversary of Folkways.

And let's hear the record that Peter was just talking about. This is Charity Bailey from Songs to Grow On, Volume 2, Hey Betty Martin, recorded in 1950.


Hey, Betty Martin
Tip-toe, tip-toe
Hey, Betty Martin
Tip-toe by
Hey, Betty Martin
Tippy-toe, tippy-toe
Hey, Betty Martin
Please be mine

Skip with me
I'll skip with you
We'll go skipping
The whole day through
Skip so fine
Skip so fine
Skipping, skipping all the time

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Peter D. Goldsmith
High: Peter D. Goldsmith is author of "Making People's Music: Moe Asch." The book explores the history of folk music in America. He uses the life of Moe Asch, founder of Folkways Records, to tell that story. Asch recorded with such legendary folk singers as: Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Peter D. Goldsmith is an anthropologist who grew up to listening to Folkways records. He currently an adjunct associate professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
Spec: Music Industry; Folkways Records; Making People's Music: Moe Asch; Pete Seeger; Woody Guthrie
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Making People's Music
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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