[Hpn] PACIFICA RADIO BACK ON TRACK

William Mandel wmmmandel@earthlink.net
Thu, 10 Jul 2003 13:32:51 -0700


  Last week a judge accepted the proposal of the Interim Pacifica
[Radio] National Board to change its by-laws. This ends the years-long
legal and (in Berkeley) in-the-streets struggle to return the network to
its original mission, after a group wishing to change its direction
managed to gain control of it in the 1990s.
  At the final meeting of the interim board, on which both sides are
represented, the rancor engendered in the struggle was voiced by a
member of the local board of the chain's New York station, WBAI, who
attacked
Berkeley and KPFA for treating non-whites, presumably African-Americans,
as "niggers" (his language on the air), and regarded the adopted by-laws
as returning power to the middle-class white Berkeley elite.
  He clearly knows nothing of KPFA history, which in today's atmosphere
of increasing restrictions on civil liberties and indirect limitation of
civil rights (the barring of very large numbers of African-Americans
from voting in Florida and Tennessee in the last presidential election)
is pertinent even to people having no particular interest in radio.
    When I went on the air at KPFA in 1958, the station (which was all
there was of Pacifica then) had a single paid on-air person, an
announcer. He was
an American of Ethiopian parentage, Black of course. He still lives in
the Berkeley-Oakland area. I do not believe any other station in the
country had a single Black voice. Were there any Black stations at the
time?
    This was done by a station founded by white conscientious objectors
to World War II.
    Of the unpaid staff when I went on the air, the one individual who
is
still broadcasting -- as a reader of literature, which is what he has
always done -- is the Black poet, Adam David Miller. As such, he is the
single individual whose voice has been heard on KPFA for more years than
mine.
    Those who saw the film, "KPFA On the Air," which has been shown
repeatedly on national public television, know that it broadcast Paul
Robeson when he was anathema to the Establishment. They know that it
broadcast Langston Hughes. The fact that its building stands on Martin
Luther King Jr. Way is particularly appropriate inasmuch as it, to the
best of my knowledge, gave him more air time than any other medium in
the country.
    When the Sixties began, KPFA, now joined by newly-founded KPFK in
Los Angeles and by WBAI, whose private owner had given it to Pacifica,
covered the sit-ins at lunch counters in the South as no commercial
media did.
    When the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland (its
headquarters
building was in Berkeley), Huey Newton got his first and continually
enthusiastically supportive air time from KPFA's program director, a
white woman, Elsa Knight Thompson. When kids went South with SNCC in the
deadly voter-registration campaigns of 1963 and 1964, they got time on
KPFA to report when they came home. For the rest of the Sixties, no
station in the country came near the time Pacifica gave, KPFA in the
lead, to
the Black figures who emerged from the Southern struggle, female and
male.
    After the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964-5, led by a
Mississippi voting-campaign veteran, Mario Savio, a whole new generation
of broadcasters was brought in to KPFA, to a considerable degree on my
insistence. I was able to exercise influence because surveys showed mine
to be the most popular show on the station in those years.
     These developments led to a demand for a Third-World Department
(i.e., one representing all non-whites) at the station. It was
established, and the question arose of where to find time for its
broadcasts. Everyone agreed in principle, but no one wanted to make the
necessary shifts. I proposed that we give the Third-World Department
what was then regarded as the best time slot of all (this was before
"drive time" existed), namely, that right after the evening news, when a
country still essentially working 9-to-5 and not at home would be back
at the house, finishing dinner. Inasmuch as I was in that slot, on
Monday evenings, and would therefore have to be shifted to a less
advantageous spot, the rest of the staff went along. I was exiled to
Sunday night, pretty much at bedtime, for quite a while.
     When, in the 1980s, a Black Panther, Larry Pinkney, finishing a
nine-year prison term, was on the verge of being framed for starting a
riot which, in fact, he actually prevented (I visited him regularly, and
knew the situation intimately) and the KPFA News Director did not
respond to my insistence that she cover the story, Bari Scott,
African-American head of the Third-World Department (not to be confused
with later Pacifica head Patricia Scott), did so. We got Congessmember
Dellums and important members of the State Assembly and Senate to
intervene with the prison system, and the News Director then did
interview Pinkney by phone from
the prison.
    Until the opponents of the Pacifica mission temporarily stole the
station from us physically in 1999, threatening the Berkeley Police
Department with suit if it did not assist, addition of Black and Latino
programmers was incremental. But when youth of those populations, plus
Pacific Islanders and Asians, established and maintained Camp KPFA on
the avenue in front of the station, round the clock with sleeping bags
and tents on the sidewalk, during that occupation, this resulted, when
the station was liberated, in the establishment of a wonderful program
by them, "Hard Knock Radio," and an exponential increase in non-whites
in all capacities, on and off air, at the station. They are very much in
evidence in the closing minutes of "KPFA On the Air."
    The fact that the former mayor of Berkeley, Gus Newport, Black,
elected when the city was predominantly Anglo, is the new manager of
KPFA, speaks for itself. The station's broadcasting had a great deal to
do with his being elected mayor, as it did with the election to Congress
of the first African-American in the whole country ever to represent a
then predominantly white district: Ron Dellums.
    Race relations at KPFA are not perfect, any more than anything else
is. But no other mass medium in the country of any kind, can present a
record matching that which I have set forth here.
                                                 Bill Mandel



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The title of my autobiography, Saying No To Power (Introduction by
Howard Zinn), is based on my demolition of Sen. Joe McCarthy and later
of HUAC in hearings of 1953 and 1960. It is a history of how the
American people fought to defend and expand its rights since the 1920s
(I'm 86) employing the form of the life of a 30s and 60s activist, one
who was involved in most serious movements: student, labor, 45 years of
efforts to prevent war with the Soviet Union and Cuba, civil rights
South and North, women's liberation [my late wife appears on 50 pages],
37 years on Pacifica Radio [where I reinvented talk radio, of whose
previous existence I had been unaware], civil liberties, and opposition
to anti-Semitism and to Zionism. You may hear/see my testimony before
the three different McCarthy-Cold-War-Era witch-hunting committees [used
in six films and a play]) on my website, http://www.billmandel.net  I am
the author of five books in my academic field, have taught at UC
Berkeley, and earlier held a postdoctoral fellowship, by invitation, at
Stanford's Hoover Institution.  
 The book may be ordered through all normal sources. For an autographed
copy, send me $24 at 4466 View Pl.,#106, Oakland, CA. 94611
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