Backers of KPFA rally at Ives Park

Jul. 19, 1999

By CLARK MASON
Press Democrat Staff Writer

SEBASTOPOL -- More than 200 listeners and supporters of Berkeley's KPFA radio rallied Sunday in an effort to recapture control of their beloved station from a management they believe is threatening a tradition of free speech and alternative programming.

The turnout at Ives Park reflected the commitment some Sonoma County residents have for KPFA, which has served as an outlet for dissident voices and radical viewpoints since 1949, when it was founded by a World War II conscientious objector.

Sebastopol, which has sometimes been compared to Berkeley because of its liberal sympathies, seemed an appropriate setting for the event.

"It's fantastic this number of people in Yuppieville got off their couches to do something today,'' Harold Schultz of Guerneville told the crowd.

Lynn Hamilton, a former mayor of Sebastopol, said KPFA, a 59,000-watt FM station found on the dial at 94.1, is a source of "alternative, free speech radio. Many of us contribute time and money to make sure this source of news is available to anyone.''

KPFA supporters say Pacifica Management's attempts to get corporate funding threaten the independence of the station, which relies mostly on donations from listeners.

Kurt Erickson of Occidental, a regular listener, said most of the station's audience is "180 degrees apart from corporate economics. They believe corporations make money off the back of workers.'' He said the anti-war tradition of the station is often at odds with the view of corporations.

If the station becomes dependent on corporate money, he said, "the money will grab you by the tail and point you in the direction they want.''

Carol Spooner of Santa Rosa said Pacifica's board of directors has tried to portray the firing of some staff members and a popular program director as a labor-management dispute. But she said the board has violated the stations' founding purpose of being a nonprofit, public benefit corporation and illegally changed the bylaws to exclude local area representation on the national board, which controls five radio stations around the country, including KPFA.

The alleged violations in the bylaws are the subject of a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court by local board members of KPFA against the Pacifica Foundation.

Mike Smith, a union official, told the crowd Sunday that the North Bay Central Labor Council passed a resolution in support of community control of the station. The resolution noted KPFA has always provided airtime for labor officials on issues ranging from downsizing to exporting U.S. jobs to low wage countries.

The resolution went on to state that since Pacifica's decision on July 12 to cancel all scheduled programs and put all staff on administrative leave, it has deprived labor of an essential means of communicating issues.

The KPFA controversy erupted after the foundation dismissed the station manager for unstated reasons, fired two veteran program hosts for criticizing the dismissal on the air and pulled the plug on another announcer last week for playing a tape of a news conference about the dispute.

The station has been locked and airtime has been filled with archive tapes rather than local programming.

Hamilton said "the fact they dragged a newscaster out of his offices with armed guards, shut the signal off in mid-news and chained the doors means there may be something more going on. They could be trying to silence community-sponsored, free speech radio. That's the reason we're fighting so hard to keep it.''

Protests at the Berkeley station have led to arrests, including 10 on Thursday night. Sixteen state legislators have called for a hearing by the Legislature's audit committee on the Pacifica dispute.

Mary Frances Berry, who heads Pacifica's board of directors as well as the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, has defended the firings and said the board wants more racial and geographic diversity in KPFA's programming and audience.

She has denied staff accusations that the board plans to sell the station to a commercial buyer and said she is willing to meet with the staff union before a federal mediator.

At Sunday's rally in Sebastopol, the crowd broke into small groups to discuss various strategies and how to gather support from the public. Organizers scheduled a demonstration for noon Saturday for Sonoma County residents at the station in Berkeley.

It also was announced that folk singer Joan Baez will headline a benefit concert for KPFA at 7:30 p.m. today at the Berkeley Community Theater.

Bay Area supporters of KPFA also have set up a Web site -- www.savepacifica.net -- for more information.

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