My KPFA - An Historical Footnote


In 1961 KPFA offered a Christmas record with a representative sampling of the programs it had presented during its first dozen years. Here are the liner notes, together with links to the individual tracks.


THE SCOPE AND VARIETY OF PACIFICA RADIO CAN HARDLY be compressed into the time span of a long‑playing record. In some fields, music being the prime example, it is impossible even to suggest the highlights of our day‑to‑day programming: the wealth of classic music, new and explorative music by tomorrow's important composers, opera, noteworthy festivals, live studio concerts, jazz and folk music. Problems of length, copyrights, recording restrictions prevent the inclusion of almost all such material. In public affairs one so frequently finds that the most profound and compelling programs are those that take advantage of Pacifica's freedom from time restrictions to develop ideas with care and exactitude. Then there is the problem of sheer quantity‑the thirteen selections on this Pacifica Sampler represent a winnowing of literally hundreds of suggested programs and ideas, and many entirely different but equally representative samplers could have been produced. This then is neither a completely “typical” collection nor an attempt to present “the best” of Pacifica Radio; it is simply a handful of excerpts which we hope you will enjoy for their own sake—one selection of many possible selections. Nor is it intended as a comprehensive survey of twelve years of broadcasting; but, as its title implies, as a sampling from here and there in the colorful and hectic career of a unique experiment in radio.

The CHRISTMAS CAROLS with which the Sampler opens are the work of young folk guitarist Perry Lederman, who was presented to the Pacifica audience on Folk Music with Rolf Cahn, Rolf's most recent series of programs for Pacifica. Perry's style and arrangements are so out of the ordinary that he is continually faced with the question, "yes ... but is it folk music?' As of this writing, his work is not available on commercial recordings, although it will be soon.

The late Lewis Hill was the founder of the first Pacifica station, KPFA, and the man who guided its destinies through incredible difficulties for the first eight years of its existence. In 1946 he gave up his job as a Washington correspondent for an Eastern radio station and came West, where, by 1949, he managed to collect enough people, equipment, and capital to put KPFA on the air. Except for one period when financial difficulties forced the station to shut down for some months, it has been on the air ever since. Although Pacifica Radio has changed in many ways since the days of Lewis Hill, it still bears the imprint of his talent, vision, and personality‑all of which are suggested by his reading of his own poem, PURGATORY REVISITED, excerpted from a selection of his poetry broadcast in the early 1950's.

Pacifica Radio, while providing a forum for the expression of all ideas, does not itself espouse any positions or ideas, with the sole exception of the concept which is central to Pacifica—freedom of speech. It was partly to provide a mass communications channel for many ideas—political, social, and artistic—that do not find ready expression elsewhere that Pacifica Radio was formed; and we have continued—sometimes in the face of enormous pressure‑to present the listener with a wide variety of viewpoints, however unpopular they might be to some. And many times we have attempted to explore the dimensions of freedom itself, as in the program THE FIRST AMENDMENT.. THE CORE OF OUR CONSTITUTION. Dr. Alexander Meiklejohn is a former president of Amherst College and a moulder of libertarian thought in our time. Originally delivered as an address to the Congress of the United States, the speech excerpted here was later recorded for Pacifica Radio and was the object, in 1956, of a special award "in recognition of outstanding educational value and distinguished radio production" from the Institute 'for Education by Radio‑Television of Ohio State University.

Reverend Ralph Abernathy became a leader of the American Negro's civil rights movement, in one of the opening skirmishes of that movement—the Montgomery bus boycott. He has appeared on Pacifica Radio several times, as have others on both sides of this controversy. In the Fall of 1960 he was recorded speaking to a gathering in a Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and the resulting radio speech, ON FREEDOM ROAD, became a landmark in Pacifica public affairs broadcasting.

The radio writer Norman Corwin has served Pacifica Radio well on a number of occasions since the inception of KPFK in Los Angeles—none more so than the time he recorded Carl Sandburg as the poet sang, recited, and joked with friends in Mr. Corwin's living‑room. CARELESS LOVE and the following poem are excerpts from the program which Mr. Corwin produced from those tapes, a program that contributed an informal but compelling portrait of a great poet and a great American.

During the Spring and Summer of 1960 and 1961, KPFA produced a number of programs on one of the most potentially explosive domestic issues of recent years, the attempt of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to unionize California's 500,000 farm laborers. One of these was SOMETIMES YOU WORK A DAY, a documentary composed of field recordings by Ernest Lowe and Fred Haines. Using a sound montage technique, Mr. Lowe so produced the program that no explanatory continuity was needed, and the entire program consists of California farm workers telling—in their own words and accents—about the conditions under which they work and live.

Folk singer PETE SEEGER was convicted in the Spring of 1961 for contempt of Congress as a result of his refusal to answer questions put to him by the House Committee on Un‑American Activities. Shortly thereafter KPFA recorded a benefit concert at the Longshoreman's Hall in San Francisco at which Dr. Carleton Goodlet and Harry Bridges spoke, and Malvina Reynolds and Pete Seeger sang. The conversion of this concert into a radio program by Elsa Knight Thompson, KPFA's public affairs director, resulted in one of the most popular programs ever broadcast by the station, and one that is being considered for release as a Folkways recording.

CLASSICAL CHINESE POETRY is the production of Glenn Glasow, music director of KPFA. The flute music played here by Ho Min Chung was recorded, as was all of the music used in the production, in our studios, and the reader in this excerpt (Dreaming of Li Po, by the poet Tu Fu) is the translator or writer of all the poetry used, Tseng Tai‑Yiu. The reader of the English translation, Judy Brundin, is perhaps best known as the voice of KPFA's Programs for Young People.

James Higgins, an assistant editor of the York, Pennsylvania, Gazette and Daily, quite unexpectedly decided to accept a long‑standing invitation to produce an occasional commentary for Pacifica; we received a tape in the mail one day and on it we found a serio‑comic account of a State Department briefing session which Mr. Higgins had just attended in Washington. It was promptly broadcast in the first open COMMENTARY place we could find, and led to Mr. Higgins' becoming a regular Pacifica commentator.

0, CITY OF GYPSIES! is a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca from a long production of Spanish Civil War poetry entitled Winds of the People. The program was conceived by poet Richard Vernier and written and produced by him and Michael Rossman, whose excellent translations from the Spanish were used throughout. Technical production was by Fred Haines. The program married the techniques of documentary and dramatic production, and combined poetry, prose, and music in a format for which there is no descriptive term, unless it be the simple British term, "a radio feature."

There are in Pacifica Radio's history several dozen programs which for one reason or another provoke a completely unexpected and never quite explainable audience response. Personality undoubtedly plays some part, but so must content, for Pacifica is not given to air personalities and does not attract that kind of audience. PEOPLE WHO HATE, a talk by Dr. Ralph Greenson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at UCLA, given as part of a Los Angeles nursery school program and originally broadcast by KPFK, is one of these. Like a number of other Pacifica programs, it can be broadcast repeatedly without ever stemming the tide of requests for rebroadcast.

The Readers' Theatre is a group of young people who finally adopted that title to shorten the usual Folio listing of Ed and Deborah Schell, jay and Deborah Schucter, and AI Jacobs. They came to our Berkeley studios earlier this year with a home tape recording of their reading of T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland, which, while not suitable for broadcast, indicated a considerable body of talent and a genuine respect and love for poetry—we lost no time in getting it into a studio production. Since then, a number of other poems have come to us from this group, among them, A Shanty in Old Shantih Town, a whimsical mixture of Dylan Thomas and T. S. Eliot. It is from this program that T. S. Eliot's MACAVITY, THE MYSTERY CAT is taken. Their work is marked by a spirit of fun—and if you listen closely, you'll hear Ed Schell beginning to break up over their rendition of Macavity.

Our world at Pacifica is made of radio programs and financial problems, and we sometimes get a bit blasé about both—and no one took particular notice when Gert Chiarito began interviewing folklorist John Henry Faulk. Mr. Faulk told of the marvelous people who inhabit Magnoliaville (there are thousands of Magnoliavilles), such as Verbin C. Lee, who went to be a soldier but refused to watch Army training films because his religion didn't 'low it‑and who had no intention whatsoever of listening to the sergeant if he was going to use that kind of language. As the interview progressed, faces began to appear in the studio window, the production control room began to fill with staff members and volunteers alike, and station work came to a halt. The closing excerpt on the Pacifica Sampler is Mr. Faulk's recollection of a "folk prayer" he actually heard in West Texas, BROTHER COOPER'S PRAYER.

We would like to thank Alan Blackman, who contributed the jacket design for this album, and Fantasy Records, whose understanding and generosity made this recording possible in a very literal sense. And there are, of course, the hundreds of volunteers who have contributed their time and effort to make all of our programs possible, including those which are excerpted here. But, as always, the largest share of credit must go to our listeners, who for more than twelve years have kept the Pacifica experiment alive and vigorous, and will, hopefully, continue to do so for many more.

PACIFICA RADIO first went on the air in 1949 from studios near the Berkeley Campus of the University of California under articles of incorporation that proposed the formation of: "A Foundation organized and operated exclusively for educational purposes no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit Of any member of the Foundation, and no substantial part of the activity of which is designed to carry on propaganda or otherwise attempt to influence legislation.

'To establish and operate for educational purposes, in such manner that the facilities involved shall be as nearly sol‑sustaining as possible, one or more radio broadcasting stations ...

"to encourage and provide outlets for the creative skills and energies of the community ...

"to engage in any activity that shall contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors. . .

"to promote the full distribution of public information; to obtain access to sources of news not commonly brought together in the same medium. .. "

Pacifica Radio now consists of three stations operating under these principles, KPFA, KPFK, and WBAI, all non‑profit community stations which are supported solely by the voluntary subscriptions and tax‑deductible contributions of listeners. The basic rate is $12 annually, but larger contributions are gratefully accepted. Because of this unique financial policy, Pacifica is free to broadcast solely in the public interest. Beholden to no political group or commercial interest, Pacifica broadcasts the best in music and the spoken word, explores new avenues of creativity, offers a forum for the unpopular idea or a bearing for the experimental young artist. Pacifica aims at selective audiences, at many publics rather than the amorphous mass audience of lowest common denominator broadcasting. Each station publishes a bi‑weekly program guide, the Folio, a complimentary copy of which may be obtained by writing to any of the addresses below.