In a crisis—grow!
KPFA was founded by conscientious objectors as part of a larger project to promote pacifism. An internal memo written in 1948, whose style and content identify Lewis Hill as the probable author, began as follows:
This project was begun as an attempt to carry a radical war resistance program into a mass medium. . . . The formula conceived at the outset was that mass education for war resistance would take place in direct proportion to the radio station's growth in stature as a source of non-ideological entertainment and artistic activity. . . . Our whole project was a war-resistance weapon and nothing else, to be used as long as its usefulness for that purpose was definite, to be sacrificed with maximum notoriety possible when it could no longer be used for that purpose.
From such beginnings, it is not surprising that public affairs programming, though not necessarily the largest segment of the broadcast schedule, was nevertheless the most influential. KPFA's coverage of the arts might vary in scope from one administration to another, but whenever there was a major event such as the San Francisco HUAC hearings, the FSM or the Vietnam Teach-In, all hands, including the arts programmers, were on deck to get it on the air.
Listeners approved; the biggest increases in subscriber base and financial support came in the wake of some political crisis which the mass media ignored or misrepresented, but which KPFA reported in unabridged and uncensored detail. Below are just a few of the programs which resulted.
Timothy Leary interviewed by Elsa Knight Thompson. As usual, Elsa asks leading but not antagonistic questions, attempting to elecit information rather than create confrontation. Recorded at KPFA in January 1966--alas, just after I'd left for London.
Paul Robeson A rare interview, conducted by Elsa Knight Thompson and Harold Winkler. It was recorded in the KPFA studios in 1958, just as the civil rights movement in the south was getting underway. Aside from the program's extraordinary personal and political interest, it's a chance to revel at length in one of the most beautiful speaking voices you'll ever hear .
I. F. Stone D.D. Guttenplan's definitive new biography, American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone, brings to mind the parallels between his idiosyncratic career and KPFA's uniquely uncensored and unabridged radio journalism .
House Committee on Un-American Activities Hearings, San Francisco, 1960
The Free Speech Movement, UC Berkeley, 1964
Vietnam Teach-In, UC Berkeley, 1965
Sometimes you work a day Ernest Lowe's remarkable 1960s documentary in which California's migrant farm workers tell their own story.
Freedom Now (and Then) In 1963 Dale Minor was in Birmingham Alabama when Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy were making history. His epic documentary, one of Pacifica's finest programs, was America's entry that year for the Prix Italia.
The Bombing of Watts At the time, this little satire was thought by some to be in bad taste; but listened to in retrospect, its no worse than some of the suggestions that have been seriously offered by Dumus Rex's blue skies thinkers. Thirty years later, Ned Paynter regarded it as one of the best things he ever did; when he and Scott Keech voiced it they kept cracking up and having to re-take. It should be good for a monograph by some future historian; there’s a copy in the Pacifica archives.