In 1972 a few cities in California voted for George McGovern for President. One was Berkeley, another was Fresno. Ronald Reagan, our governor of the moment, was calling the Fresno Bee a "socialist" rag that had carried "on the most uninterrupted, the hardest and the most dishonest campaign against me and my administration of any publication outside the Daily Worker." It was during this time that the Fresno Free College Foundation was incorporated to defend Fresno State faculty fired for their expression of dissenting views about the war in Vietnam.
The Foundation purchased a radio frequency with a listening capacity from Modesto to Visalia, the Sierra to the Coast Range, and began broadcasting the KPFA signal from Berkeley as KFCF - Fresno. Thousands of valley listeners have tuned in ever since, many believing that KPFA/KFCF was their "lifeline" to dissenting political analysis, original thought, and music not to be found on top 40 radio. Valley subscribers who donated to KPFA had their money diverted to KFCF for the budget of our station.
KPFA, Berkeley, was founded by pacifist Louis Hill after the Second World War. Hill's original vision was to locate the station in Richmond because of its working class population, but when Richmond was ruled out, he turned to Berkeley, a bucolic, suburban college town of no apparent political persuasion. There, he tried to create a station to air diverse views on public affairs. The Pacifica non-profit corporation was formed as KPFA's governing institution. KPFA was the first public radio station in America, and has remained the flagship station for the Pacifica Corporation, which has, over the years, acquired four other stations in New York, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Tensions between Pacifica and its stations have existed from early on, but they've been particularly strife-ridden between KPFA and Pacifica. KPFA staffers tend to be argumentative, questioning, anti-authoritarian, and fractious among themselves. For Pacifica, controlling the goings-on at KPFA was like trying to organize cats. Gradually, Pacifica began to use foolishly heavy-handed methods to quell dissent at KPFA, including summary firings, security guards, and, as of mid-July of this year, shutting down the station altogether except for canned tapes of nondescript music and old speeches from the 60s and 70s, when things were not so complex as they have become since.
The KFCF board was meeting on July 13th when they heard Dennis Bernstein, a KPFA reporter, yanked off the air at KPFA. Within minutes, KFCF Executive Director Vic Bedoian called KPFA staffers, got first hand accounts of the hysteria there, and relayed events to valley listeners, who were stunned to realize their "lifeline" to KPFA had just been cut. The board members, together that night to discuss their collective reaction to the KPFA crisis, suddenly realized they were at the helm of the only station in California that was able to freely describe the Pacifica takeover of KPFA. While much of this information has been available on the internet, only valley listeners have had free, unrestricted access to information about the continuing battle between Pacifica and the staffers and listeners of KPFA.
At a KFCF/Fresno Free College Foundation community meeting on July 21st, more than 300 people came from Northfork, Madera, Visalia, Porterville, Oakhurst, Mariposa, Merced and Visalia, as well as Fresno, to demand the return of KPFA and to support the emergence of a strong, independent local KFCF that was willing to do what no other California public radio station would do: continue the tradition of genuinely independent radio broadcasting. 75 people volunteered to help, and almost $3000 was collected.
People lined up to speak. A Mexican organizer spoke in translated Spanish about the need for Hispanic programming. Representatives came from the West Fresno African American community to advocate for "black programming that's not just music!" The mood in the room was a charged mix of lament for our collective loss of KPFA and hopeful enthusiasm for the possibilities of community-based broadcasting in the Central Valley. In all, almost 50 people spoke for two minutes each about the groups they represent, their willingness to help, their desire to create a new voice of diversity, enterprise, planned development, pesticide control, alternative schools, neighborhood organization, fewer prisons, violence prevention, and monitoring of police brutality. There was a collective excitement, the community was meeting its members for the first time.
Participants openly insisted the First Amendment stand for something more than the right to advertise, publicize and sell spin. They wanted to be critical of developers, corporations, marketers and the political narcissists who call themselves mayor, board members and council members. A few wanted a chance to be offensive, profane and outrageous. Since the early 70s, the Fresno Free College Foundation has stood for freedom of thought and expression, and we welcome this opportunity to affirm our fidelity to that original tenet.
In an era of readily accessible information on the internet, National Public Radio, and eventually from cable radio, the need for community based radio grows. People can get information about Kosovo from a thousand places, but if they want to know where there's a club that plays the blues in rural Madera, it's a hard search. (There is such a place.) Harder still is finding a lively discussion of pesticide abuse, alternative transportation networks, city and county government, organic farming, alternative communities, as well as local artists and writers. We can't "think global and act local" if we don't know the local. Community radio makes community come alive.
KFCF plans to continue to broadcast the Board of Supervisors meetings live, and will begin local news and events programming as soon as possible. We'll be playing local musicians, and announcing arts, literary and theater events. We'll have reviews of these events, as well as commentary on public affairs. Every community in Fresno will have an opportunity for representation on the radio, including West Fresno and Southeast Fresno, populations sadly silenced in most local media. We proudly boast a complex, diverse and flexible progressive political agenda.
We will also broadcast Pacific programs that our listeners have found invaluable, including Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. If KPFA makes it, and comes back on the air, we will broadcast KPFA programming that is wanted by our listeners, but we will never again share KPFA's vulnerability to Pacifica. We are now the largest independent publicly funded radio station in California. The ship of independent radio in the Central Valley has been cut loose. Watch it sail. Or, better yet, listen at 88.1 on your FM dial.
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