Pacifica Protests Revive Berkeley Free Speech Movement FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 29 Jul 1999 20:19:35 -0700 (PDT),2107,72532-114674-814389-0,00.html
FWD  Associated Press - July 21, 1999



BERKELEY, Calif. (July 21, 1999 8:03 a.m. EDT
Grooving to the beat of a tinny boom box, yoga instructor Dieter Grube
gestures a peace sign as he keeps vigil outside KPFA community radio,
locked up in a management-staff dispute.

Behind him, about 50 people mill about in the sun - parents,
retired professors, students, the homeless. Stacked on a table, a
Xeroxed blast from the past: fliers advertising a benefit concert
headlined by folk singer Joan Baez.

Here on a quiet street in Berkeley, the Sixties are in bloom as
a community famous for its protest past goes radio-active.

"We have all of Berkeley here, and it's wonderful," said Tracy
Rosenberg, an organizer with the activist group Media Alliance and
a regular on the KPFA protest line.

Agreeing with fired staffers' contentions that management is
trying to take their quirky community radio station mainstream,
loyal listeners have taken to the sidewalk outside KPFA in protest
for much of July. Their numbers have ranged from a dedicated few to
rallies of thousands. About a dozen nylon tents have formed "Camp
KPFA," and a number of people have been arrested in skirmishes
with police.

Big names like Baez and "The Color Purple" author Alice Walker
have joined the cause, along with others like a woman from Humboldt
County who would identify herself only as "Behr."

At times, the scene takes on a celebratory feel. Tables of food
and drink stretched along the sidewalk Monday, and a nearby
restaurant advertised "KPFA specials" for $5.

On Tuesday, while some staffers broadcast over pirated airwaves
from a makeshift booth near the station, others met with officials
of the parent company, the nonprofit Pacifica Foundation. No
resolution was announced.

Over five colorful decades, KPFA has earned a spot in broadcast
lore. It has broadcast Allen Ginsberg's seminal poem "Howl,"
claimed to be the first to play the Grateful Dead and given a start
to film critic Pauline Kael.

The trouble began in April when popular general manager Nicole
Sawaya was dismissed. Management banned discussion of the issue
from KPFA's airwaves, resulting in two firings of on-air staff and
the arrests of more than a dozen protesters for trespassing.

In mid-July, listeners heard veteran KPFA newsman Dennis
Bernstein hustled out the door after he mentioned the controversy.
All staffers were put on paid leave as management locked the doors
and began airing old shows.

Some might have trouble casting the Pacifica Foundation in the
role of oppressive parent. Its board is chaired by Mary Frances
Berry, who also heads the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Pacifica managers deny any attempt to stifle KPFA. Others
contend the on-air gag rule and subsequent lockdown don't mesh with
the station's mission.

"I cannot accept the occupation of a radio station under armed
security,"  Rosenberg said.

Many angered by the moves are longtime listeners who trust KPFA
to bring them voices they say are ignored by the mainstream media.
Standing at an information table, Scott Fleming, a recent graduate
of UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school, sheepishly admitted he
wasn't getting much studying done for his bar exam next week.

But some things, he said, are more important.

"They seem to think they can come and take our radio station
away from us," he said.

Some are newer devotees, like Grube, a recent arrival from
Germany who smiled serenely on Monday amid the supportive blares of
motorists' horns. He said he was there to support free speech and
free expression.

"I am a meditator, so usually I sit on my cushion and
meditate," he said. "It's really the first time something like
this is really grabbing me."


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