The label on a new chainsaw carried a useful consumer tip: [chainsaw roaring] "Warning! Do not try to stop chainsaw with your hands."
I thought of this when I heard that the top brass of the Pacifica Foundation had set out to impose a top-down regimen of new programming for KPFA in Berkeley, California, one of five radio stations owned by Pacifica. "Oh boy," I said to myself, "they've grabbed the chainsaw with their hands."
KPFA, the oldest public station in the country, is proudly left wing, defiantly iconoclastic, and totally dedicated to free speech. This is what the entire Pacifica radio system has been about until recently, when a cadre of corporate-minded, middle-of-the-road managers and board members gained control of the foundation and, from afar, began issuing dictums, demanding more moderate programming, and firing staffers, including KPFA's popular and highly effective general manager, Nicole Sawaya-all the while instituting a gag order to prevent anyone from discussing any of this on the air.
Folks at KPFA gagged on the gag order. These are not people you tell to shut up, especially not if you're trying to control the substance of their speech. So KPFA broadcasters did indeed talk about it on the air, leading to more firings, the forcible removal of one popular program host while he was on the air, a swarm of citizens arriving to protest his ejection, the arrest of protesters, the suspension and locking out of the entire staff, the actual boarding up of the station, and a long period of no live broadcast from a station that has beamed out one of the liveliest signals on radio for more than fifty years. The Pacifica honchos could not have made a bigger mess had they brought in the Three Stooges.
This is Jim Hightower saying . . . Stay tuned, because the people of Berkeley and the KPFA broadcasters are not about to surrender their station. To help out, check their web site: http://www.savepacifica.net
"Radical radio station riled up" by Carol Morello. USA Today: July 21, 1999. Interview with Jeff Cohen of FAIR "Pacifica Leadership should step down for good of network" by Steve Rendall. Press Release from FAIR: July 16, 1999. "Journalists inspire support for community radio" by Norman Solomon. Creators Syndicate: July 18, 1999. "Pacifica intent on remote broadcasting: three attempts made to cross staff picket line despite mediation offer." Free Pacifica press release: July 20, 1999. "KPFA to broadcast live over Internet" by Sameer Parekh. Save Pacifica Press Release: July 20, 1999. "The war over KPFA" by Anthony York. Salon Magazine: July 17, 1999.
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