My KPFA - An Historical Footnote

 

 

Conversations, Coast to Coast

 

These remarkable people all deserve separate pages of their own, but most of them need no introduction—Google them and you’ll find that many have their own Wickedpedia entries. Here, they all speak eloquently on their own behalf.

 

One of life's greatest joys is talking to people who share your history and are on the same wave length—even when you meet them for the first time! Dick Moore's kind invitation to spend the night at his idyllic aerie in Point Arena resulted in thirteen hours of free association, of which—alas!—I only recorded three-and-a-half. Other conversations were with old friends and collaborators such as Erik Bauersfeld, with whom I had shared so many gimlet-lubricated early morning hours of mutual enlightenment. Taken together, they transported me back in time and space as surely as Doctor Who's tardis into a world not so inexorably govered by clocks and credit ratings. Alas, many of these voices are no longer to be heard.

These conversations were recorded at a fluid moment in KPFA's history (when was it otherwise?), and so the latest round of administrators with whom I chatted during a couple of days spent relaxing in their shiny new offices would be gone practically before the paint was dry. One by one, they come across as intelligent, lively, dedicated and agreeable, but their corporate impact was, like the cocktail effect of food additives, rather more equivocal. If you want to trace the tortuous paths of their comings and goings, you'll not find a shrewder map than Matthew Lasar's Uneasy Listening.

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As I listen again to these tapes after more than a dozen years, I'm glad that I never got around to editing them into fluent, coherent and well-organized entities. They are real precisely because they move at life's own leisurely pace. If you're urgently in need of information you will get it off a page or a screen at your own speed, skipping what doesn't interest you — but if what you want is the flavor and nuance of personality (which in fact helps you to evaluate the information you're getting), then you must turn off your stop watch and experience time, not as as consecutive but as simultaneous. That's what John Cage's seminal 4'33" was all about; it's also what Elsa Knight Thompson meant when she remarked that any interview worth listening to at all is worth listening to for an hour. This is the reality behind the chiché: Welcome to Shangri-La, the World that Time Forgot!


Chris Koch [right] After making the serious error of hiring me at KPFA, Chris made amends by garnering a shelf full of awards for his ground-breaking radio and TV programs. In our conversation he tells at length about the Turner/Levine J. Edgar Hoover exposés and the devious route by which he became the first American journalist into wartime North Vietnam. 4 Oct 94

 

Charles Shere [left] Charles and I talk about how KPFA transmogrified into Chez Panisse, but with a different menu. 8 Oct 94

 

Phil Elwood [right] Phil tells me the story of his life, which is virtually a Doppelgänger for the story of KPFA. 15 Oct 94

 

Robin Blaser I encountered Robin by accident on a plane coming back from Calgary to Berkeley. We had never met and wouldn’t have spoken had we not been in adjacent seats. Later, in the course of our recorded conversation, we discovered that during the 50s we must have kept missing each other by about five minutes.16 Oct 94

 

Henry Jacobs [right] Since some of Henry’s remarkable KPFA programs are featured elsewhere in this site, he gets a page of his own. 16 Oct 94

 

Al Silbowitz Al and I both came to KPFA from a Cal Berkeley EngLit background and so we hit it off immediately. A protégé of Elsa Knight Thompson, he was later appointed Station Manager with a brief to take her out of action. By then Elsa had reached a vitriolic apex that made this imperative, and Al saw to it that she got a decent pension and medical coverage; but there’s probably still a contract out on him. 17Oct 94

 

Richard O. Moore [left] Talking with Dick for the first time was one of the high points of my KPFA pelerinage. He came into the nascent KPFA by way of his wife Eleanor McKinney and went on to other venues where he produced over a hundred great TV documentaries on America's artistic giants, most of which are apparently lost. (This didn't seem to bother him.) He tells vividly of the ultra-respectable Lewis Hill’s first encounter with the wild North Beach enclave of Kenneth Rexroth. 18/19 Oct 94.

 

Richard has died on 25th March 2015, days before his next collection of poetry was to be released. It's impossible for me to grasp that our recorded conversation took place over twenty years ago!

 

Scott Keech [right] It’s heart-breaking to listen to this conversation. Scott was his old relaxed ironic self; it was only later that I learned that this was probably the first such exchange he’d had in months, and the last before he killed himself. Yet another terrible waste of a fine mind that should have been ameliorating the world’s sickness rather than falling prey to it. 20 Oct 94

 

David Salniker 20 Oct 94 Marci Lockwood 20 Oct 94 Dick Bunce 20 Oct 94 Pat Scott 21Oct 94

When I interviewed them, these four were the transitory occupants of KPFA's musical chairs. They identify themselves in the course of our conversations.

 

Larry Bensky [left] Larry is actually a Talmudic scholar occupying the persona of an aging hippy. Since I knew in advance of his trenchant wit, this was one of the scariest interviews I conducted. I survived. 21 Oct 94

 

William Mandel [right] “Bill,” I said, “tell me about yourself as if I didn't know you.” And he did. In the process I learned that his famous outburst at the SF HUAC hearings —"If you think I will cooperate with you in any way, you are insane!"— had come straight off the top of his head.... When he was kicked out of the Party, no one bothered to tell him; if he had been asked, “Are you a member…” and he had said “Yes,” he would have been inadvertently perjuring himself! 22 Oct 94 A few thoughts on Bill Mandel after his funeral Joe Bryak 6 Feb 2017

 

Erik Bauersfeld [left] For Erik and me, this was just an arbitrary slice out of a dialog extending over four decades. As one of the two long term KPFA survivors who were not lined up on either side of the barricades, his insights into the station’s gradual commercialization and vulgarization are Confucian in their self-evident simplicity. 22 Oct 94

 

Ernest Lowe [right] When I went to work full time at KPFA, Ernie was my boss. When I went out on strike along with most of the broadcast staff over the firing of Elsa Knight Thompson, he became one of The Enemy. By the end of our conversation thirty years later, he was my friend for life. 23 Oct 94

 

Peter Frank Peter tells how, as a lawyer, he started out suing the station and ended up helping to run it. 23 Oct 94

 

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Maria Gallardin [right] The great poet tells us in no uncertain terms that KPFA gave him his education. He subsequently returned the favor by using it to educate the rest of us. Our conversation was recorded in a noisy café. 24 Oct 94

 

Charles Amirkhanian [left] Like Erik, Charles survived as one of the few non-combatants in a station founded by Quakers that had turned into a mutual evisceration society. Ironically, as Music Director he came up with one of the station’s great gimmicks, the open street microphone. As free speech on KPFA became newsworthy, the nation’s TV camaras lined up to watch Armageddon take place live on the air. It never did. 26 Oct 94

 

 

Loren Rush [right] While interviewing Charles Amirkhanian in the splendid rural isolation of the Djerassi Ranch, I learned that Loren Rush was just up theroad and available for a conversation. Loren organized many contemporary music concerts which KPFA had recorded. When we weren’t reminiscing, we were listening to his marvelous surround sound system of miniature loudspeakers by John Meyer, a great sound equipment designer who as a kid used to hang around the station a lot. . . But that’s another story. 26 Oct 94

 

Alan Rich [left] Alan was probably the KPFA Music Director that most grizzled veterans remembered from the early days. After going on to lend distinction to the pages of the New York Times, the Herald Tribune, New York Magazine, Newsweek and the L. A. Reader, he launched a website that still carries some of the liveliest and most perceptive music criticism in a country increasingly starved of journalistic intelligence. Make a note of soiveheard.com. 28 Oct 94

 

Steve Bell [right] Steve was an old friend going back to the 50s who hosted occasional music programs for KPFA. He later rose to be one of Rupert Murdock’s chosen few, serving as executive producer of Alien Nation: Dark Horizon. The photo shows him sitting in what had once been Jack Warner’s office. If the rest of northern California had shared Steve's enthusiasm for KPFA, fund drives would have been superfluous. 29 Oct 94

 

Ned Paynter [left] Ned, like Steve, was a very dear friend who is no longer with us. He followed Scott Keech as KPFA’s News Director in the mid-60s. His mordant wit survives in his blog, The Irate Codger. 1 Nov 94 

 

Will Ogdon [right] was a KPFA Music Director in the 60s who,

along with Robert Erickson (a major composer and another early and highly influential KPFA Music Director), went on to found the legendary music department at UC San Diego. (To complete the circle yet again, Charles Shere has written a book about Erickson, published by Ann Basart, who was my boss at the UC Music Library in the late 50s and early 60s. There are only a hundred people in the world.) 2 Nov 94

 

 Jack Nessel [right] As I explain elsewhere, I owe Jack my long association with Erik Bauersfeld. Mary and I also owe him the use of his splendid flat (once part of the domicile of Madame de Mantenon) in which we spent our first Paris holiday in 1973. 16 Mar 95

 

  Frank Sherman   [left, one of my oldest and dearest friends] is a retired American Lit prof who, as a grad student at Berkeley, discovered KPFA soon after it went on the air and tried unsuccessfully to get me interested. As we sit in his Paris pied-à-tere, polishing off the end of a beton of decent Bordeaux, he tells me again how much the station meant to him. 16 Aug 08     

 

Back in the early ‘60s, George Craig [right] was KPFA’s principal recording engineer and the person with whom I worked most closely on our transmitted concerts. Together we launched a successful campaign for the station to invest a lot of money in a Neumann M269, a state-of-the-art microphone with a remotely controllable polar pattern. This meant that, in those far-off mono days, we could hang it in a hall and adjust the “presence” during rehearsal, i.e. how close the listener would apparently be to the performers. The benefits can still be heard today in some of the recordings on this site and on radiOM. 19 Mar 09

 

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