[sixties-l] Ferlinghetti on KPFA

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue Apr 17 2001 - 03:47:36 EDT

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    Sunday, April 15, 2001 (SF Chronicle)

    KPFA -- the Last Bastion Of Free Speech and Poetry

    by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

       Poetry and freedom of speech are doing just fine in these United
    States. That is, if you are not trying to speak freely on Pacifica's
    KPFA in Berkeley or its sister station WBAI in New York.

       As a poet and editor, I have a live interest in the present battle
    for unfettered freedom of speech on KPFA-FM. Lewis Hill, KPFA's
    founder, always signed the station off the air with a poem. For a long time
    KPFA was almost the only station in the Bay Area where a poet could
    read his latest work. (KPOO-FM was another.)

       Truly listener-supported and free of advertising, KPFA has been a
    bastion of free speech and independent intellect for more than 50
    years. It's still 100 percent free of commercial underwriting, but no
    longer free in what one is allowed to say on the air. In protest, WBAI
    recently changed its motto from "Free Speech Radio" to simply "Speech

       KPFA was the first alternative station in the nation, founded in
    the late 1940s by Hill and a group of pacifists, many of whom had been
    conscientious objectors during World War II. Their vision was to
    broadcast on the highest level of human discourse, with the ultimate
    aim of world peace.

       But in the 1960s, as Matthew Lasar puts it in his book "Pacifica
    Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network," "McCarthyism forced the
    Pacifica radio network to define itself less as an institution in
    search of humanist dialogue -- the goal of its founders -- and more as
    a defender of the right of the individual to speak."

       The Pacifica National Board has in the last few years made a mockery
    of the founders' idealistic aims, throttling programmers, even removing
    them bodily from the air and banning them from station premises, firing
    staffers and managers without consulting the locals. The board wrested
    local control from its stations, centralizing it in Washington, D.C.,
    and rewrote the foundation's bylaws, further empowering itself and
    making it easier to sell its stations to the highest commercial bidder.

       If this is judged legal for this nonprofit foundation, dissident
    poets and other KPFA participants whom I have edited and published --
    among the most recent is historian Michael Parenti -- may no longer be
    heard uncensored on 94.1 FM. It may become more like mainstream radio,
    driven by audience ratings. The national board's desire to broaden the
    base of listenership and increase the audience naturally results in a
    lowering of intellectual content, contributing to the dumbing down of

       Centralizing network control in Washington is the very opposite of
    what the Pacifica founders intended: giving voice to people of all
    points of view on the local level. The founders were prescient in
    fearing concentration of media in the hands of a few. A later Pacifica
    policy called the Fairness Doctrine stated that "by restricting the
    flow of information essential to political discourse and citizen
    participation, media trusts imperil democracy."

       Today, the same peril is seen in the corporatization of America, with
    conglomerates concentrating control of broadcast and print media in
    fewer and fewer hands. MIT professor Noam Chomsky has said that under
    the American system of interlocking corporate directorates, public
    opinion is as effectively controlled as in most dictatorships. You can
    discount this as the usual paranoia of the left, but the founders of
    Pacifica must certainly be turning in their graves.

       The crisis at Pacifica radio today is crucial, to put it mildly.
    One of the KPFA programmers, in violation of a gag rule enjoining them
    not to discuss such matters on air, has said "this is crunch time -- a
    very desperate situation in the fight to save KPFA and everything we
    have worked for all these years." Another is urging listeners to support
    "this last bastion where you can speak out. At WBAI in New York they
    can no longer say anything."

       Bay Area media have covered the conflict to some extent, but what
    about the schools and departments of journalism in the universities
    here, and the professors in them? And isn't it about time that First
    Amendment lovers all over the Bay Area spoke up loudly in its defense?
    (Try logging on to http://www.savepacifica.net .)

       If a great new poet arises, will there be a station left to put
    him on the air uncensored? I still hear America singing in all its
    crazy wisdom on FM radio, and I don't want to hear it drowned out by
    those who don't want to hear it.
    Lawrence Ferlinghetti was San Francisco's first poet laureate.

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