Ed Russell remembered for first bringing Democracy Now! to Valley

  • Ed Russell, shown at his home in Northampton, March 4, died Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/22/2019 12:24:15 AM

NORTHAMPTON — In the early 2000s, you could not listen to the acclaimed independent news program Democracy Now! on the radio in the Pioneer Valley, until one man literally decided to climb a mountain to change that.

Ed Russell, a local musician and activist, would hike up Mount Holyoke to make illegal pirate broadcasts of the program.

On Saturday, Russell, 57, died of complications of multiple sclerosis, a disease he also dealt with while hiking up Mount Holyoke to make the broadcsts.

Claudia Lefko, an area activist and friend Russell’s, remembers going with him for some of those broadcasts.

“It was one of the most radical things I’ve ever done at that point,” she said. “It was a very heady time for media.”

On why there had been such a desire for Democracy Now! in the Valley, Occupy the Airwaves host Bob Gardner said, “I think it hit people as brilliant and truthful and the progressive voice people were hungry for.”

Gardner said that Russell was broadcasting the program at a time when WHMP was broadcasting Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, there was no Valley Free Radio and Air America wasn’t on the airwaves.

“There wasn’t really any alternative independent media at that point,” said Lefko. “Once we started hearing Democracy Now, we all got kind of addicted.”

Russell also worked with legendary local activist Frances Crowe to bring the program to the people of the Valley. Indeed, the venue for the pirate transmissions shifted from Mount Holyoke to Crowe’s backyard, where they continued to broadcast until local radio stations picked up the program, thanks in part to Crowe’s dogged persistence

Russell and Crowe were also involved in the creation of Valley Free Radio, WXOJ, whose opening Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman attended.

Both Gardner and Lefko noted that Russell was going to be at Thursday’s dinner for Goodman and Crowe, prior to Goodman’s talk at Smith honoring Crowe.

“It’s hard to miss him on this. And we will miss him,” she said.

And at the talk itself, Russell was conspicuously honored by Lefko, Goodman and Crowe.

“Ed was convinced that Democracy Now! had to be heard by everybody,” said Crowe, as she was interviewed by Goodman in front of an audience of hundreds at Smith.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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