Citizen Kafka and The Secret Museum of the Air

Richard (Richie) Shulberg had a few different stage names, including Citizen Kafka, Sid Kafka, and The Citizen. As a man Kafka was described as being somewhat short and wiry, and he had a salt and pepper beard. He had spectacles and shaved his head. He was a folk musician and radio personality, among many other things, including a film projectionist and cafebookshop manager. It was said that he collected jobs like he collected books and records, and during his life he had been a taxi driver, teacher, prospected for jewels, and worked with antiques. He was born November 9th, 1947, in Brooklyn New York, and he passed away within the last decade on March 14th, 2009.


Growing up in the Bronx, in Canarsie, Richie grew to love and play the violin. He often played in the orchestra and in folk settings, but ultimately Richie liked nothing better than playing bluegrass even as a teenager. When he was young he took advantage of the time he had during a holiday camp and formed his first bluegrass group.


Kenny Kosek, also known as the violinist Johnny “Angry Red” Weltz, said that Richie came up with his famous alias “Citizen Kafka” in the year 1976. Of course, it wasn’t until Richie started broadcasting on WBAI-FM that people started becoming really familiar with the name Citizen Kafka. The Pacifica Radio Network station was set in New York and it was primarily donor-financed and tended to be left- oriented. While being a broadcaster for the radio station Citizen Kafka hosted a variety of different radio programs. He presented poetry, comedy, and of course live and recorded music.


With Kenny Kosek and the actor John Goodman, Citizen Kafka created a program in 1979 which they called the “Citizen Kafka Show.” Goodman’s work with Kafka is sometimes attributed to his later success in Hollywood. The show continued on through the 80s and the trio presented Kafka’s DJ’d music and comedy improv by Goodman and Kosek.


From 1990-1996 Kafka co-hosted the program The Secret Museum of the Air with Pat Conte. The program ran on WBAI and it broadcast older music, primarily prior to the year 1948. The music was unusual and it originated from a variety of cultures and genres. Kafka took music from places like Puerto Rico, New Caledonia, Bulgaria, North Afirca, and Central Asia, then using audio technology, he filtered out clicks and scratches.


This took him many hours to do. In 1997 Kafka and Conte moved the program to WFMU, 91.1 FM. At one point the Shirah Kober Zeller Foundation underwrote the project. After this, Kafka had greater ability to focus on archiving which was another one of his many passions. The Yazoo label also released a series of volumes from Secret Museum.


While Kafka worked as a renowned radio presence he also developed his musical career simultaneously. The Wretched Refuse String Band was one such outlet for Kafka and a very large and important project in his life, and there he played the fiddle. There were many prestigious musicians who performed in the band, including Kosek, Tony Triscka playing the banjo, Jon Sholle playing the electric guitar, and Andy Statman playing the mandolin.


Other band members who came along at one time or another include Larry Eagle, Bob Jones, Marty Cutler, and Alan Kaufman. The Wretched Refuse String Band was one of the forerunners of a new genre called “newgrass” which was taking over the scene in New York at the time. In 1978 they their album Welcome to Retched Refuse! came out. Their songs were bold and full of humor and eventually made their way into prominence via Swing 51 magazine.


During the 80s Swing 51 magazine would routinely receive strange packages from the US containing cassettes that said only “Citizen Kafka” and never with a return address. Every postmark was always smudged, too. This caused some ruffled feathers at the magazine and reflected Kafka’s devious sense of humor. Kafka had one daughter named Sarah and a wife named Annie Rech. He will be greatly missed and never forgotten by his many fans. Kafka died of a heart attack at age 61. Find out more with a subscription to one of the Time Warner Cable Plans at