I'm sorry to hear that Alan Howard has died. I knew him best back in his radio days at WNNZ-640, where he had a series of radio shows in the early 1990's, the best known perhaps being the version he co-hosted with fellow flaming liberal Barbara Heisler. I was a guest on his show sometimes, and even had a program of my own, The Tommy Devine Show, for one summer. So I got to know Alan mostly through the station.
Today WNNZ is an affiliate of National Public Radio, but in the early 1990's it was owned by the Hahn's, a powerful Republican family in Westfield. Cele Hahn was Westfield's State Representative for a time. The joke was that they let Alan do pretty much whatever he liked on the air because the Hahn's wanted to be able, in case the FCC gave them any crap about a lack of balance in their overwhelmingly right-wing programming, to point to Alan and say, "Hey, we not only have a liberal radio host, but he's black too!" Or come to think of it, maybe that wasn't just a joke.
This was in the golden age of Valley talk radio, when we were all battling the injustices and corruption of the Valley political machines, in particular the crooks in Springfield. We were definitely all on the political fringe in those days, with the mainstream media either ignoring the crooks or even cheering them on. In the end we outsiders were all vindicated by a hail of Federal indictments against nearly all of the people we fought against, although it remains an open question whether the Feds actually succeeded in cleaning up Springfield or the crooks just got smarter.
Anyway, besides our ties to WNNZ Alan and I shared another interest - we were both stoners. In fact sometimes we actually smoked pot behind the radio station before going on the air. Perhaps the fact that we got stoned to go on the radio at least partially explains why both of our shows were eventually cancelled.
After the radio era Alan and I worked together briefly as political reporters for The Springfield Gazette, an underground newspaper that put out about ten issues before sinking beneath a sea of debt. Once there were no longer any media ties between us I seldom saw Alan in person again. In fact I think the last time I saw him in the flesh was at The Democratic National Convention in 2004, when he came up to say hello to myself (who was there as an outlaw journalist) and Mitch Ogulewicz (who was attending as a personal guest of John Kerry) at a reception for the Massachusetts delegation put on by Rep. Barney Frank. I have a picture of Alan at that event somewhere, and if I come across it I'll put it up.
Although I didn't see much of Alan after WNNZ and the newspaper bankruptcy, I continued to hear news about him from time to time, and it wasn't always happy news. He did a short jail term as a result of some personal scandal that the local press, which had ignored his career up to that point, gave prominent coverage to. I don't recall the details of the scandal, but I remember that he insisted to me that he was innocent and I believed him. My final contacts with him came when I accepted his request a few years ago to become my Facebook friend, which he apparently did primarily in order to send me snide but good natured putdowns of my political views. Although Alan never pursued all that healthy a lifestyle, I was still taken by surprise when I heard that he died last week on the day before New Year's Eve at only 52.
Now in the future whenever I remember Alan, I will prefer to recall the times when I was his radio guest, around about 1993, and there were no Hahn's about, and we would smoke pot behind the station before the show. There was a charming little brook back there, and it was babbling (and so probably were we) with us smoking and laughing and then going before the microphones to rail uninhibitedly against the evil deeds of the local politicians, blazed as much on idealism as we were on weed, righteously attacking the establishment, sometimes harshly but never more than they deserved.
Those were the days, Alan. Rest easy.
To read the obituary, which curiously doesn't mention his radio career, click here.
A soldier stencil in Northampton.
The sunny side of the street.
In Northampton the other night.