From "Cracking the Ike Age", The Dolphin No.23, Aarhus University Press, Denmark
©1992 John Whiting May be quoted in part with credit as below:

Lewis Hill and the Origins of Listener-Sponsored Broadcasting in America 

By John Whiting


American radio programs of the thirties and forties are easy to get nostalgic about now that the issues they didn't confront and the questions they didn't ask are well behind us. They were intended to entertain or stimulate the listeners in such a way as to promote the sponsors' products. To that end they tried to amuse, excite, even frighten the punters into a state of mind in which they would be susceptible to the Big Sell.

As the great radio maverick Henry Morgan explained, the air time on all the network stations was filled by a small number of announcer/actors whose ranks were extremely difficult to break into: "about thirty of them did ninety percent of the work". (BUX p. vii) Morgan was himself one of this elite, having worked his way up quickly from page boy to full-time announcer by 1932 and by 1938 to his own comedy show on WOR, New York (which, at the age of seven, I half-listened to only because it occupied, on alternate days, the same time slot as Superman).

The "radio voice" was established early: it demanded a norm of intonation, inflection and voice projection which was as absolute in its rules as the BBC's so-called "standard English". Deep chest tones, bland assurance, total lack of hesitation or error were essential, so as to convey that ineffable, indispensable quality-Sincerity. This exaggerated diction also helped to compensate for the primitive equipment and the bad reception in "fringe" areas.

Lewis Hill, the founder of listener-sponsored broadcasting in America, described in 1951 one of the standard audition procedures, symptomatic of the principles and practices which had led him to seek an alternative to commercial radio:

"The test consists of three or four paragraphs minutely constructed to avoid conveying any meaning. The words are familiar and every sentence is grammatically sound, but the text is gibberish. The applicant is required to read this text in different voices, as though it meant different things: with solemnity and heavy sincerity, with lighthearted humor, and of course with ‘punch’. If the judges award him the job and turn him loose on you [the audience], he has succeeded on account of an extraordinary skill in simulating emotions, intentions and beliefs which he does not possess." (MEE p.21)

Until the mid-40's, all programs were presented live. Fred Friendly (1954-1964: public affairs producer for CBS [Columbia Broadcasting System] Television; 1964-1966: President, CBS News) has explained the reason for this in his highly informative history, Due to Circumstances Beyond our Control... (FRI):

" policy prohibited the use of recordings lest the entire concept of chain broadcasting be destroyed; [this] might lead to such widespread syndication by records that there would be no need of a live interconnected network." (FRI pp.xiv-xv)

The object was therefore network power over local stations, most of which were voluntarily affiliated, not owned. But the fact of simultaneity was not merely a control mechanism; it also gave radio an immediacy that had never before existed in a mass medium. I can still remember the tingle of a new and strange excitement while listening in 1939 as an eight-year-old child to a speech by Adolf Hitler, realizing that he was haranguing a crowd half-way around the world at that very moment and catching, even in a totally strange lingo, something of the hypnotic mass hysteria.

There were also live "documentaries" such as The March of Time which, from 1931, dramatized contemporary history with actors playing the world's leaders (Art Carney and Agnes Moorhead, whose later acting careers would epitomize comedy and melodrama respectively, were Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt.) (BUX p.153) The less attentive listener might be uncertain whether he was listening to fact or fiction. (FRI p.xiv) Nevertheless, the audience believed that what was presented as fact had indeed taken place, even if not at that precise moment.

The depth of this conviction was demonstrated in 1938 by the hysterical public reaction to Orson Welles' legendary The War of the Worlds, to which many listeners tuned in too late to catch the opening disclaimer. Commercial television in its scramble for ratings is now regressing to this "faction" technique which Welles was spoofing, and which radio would soon outgrow.

Political controversy had to be avoided at all costs. Not that newscasters were required to be objective; rather, their prejudices were expected to reflect those of their bosses and sponsors. The most popular commentators were those with a gimmick: Gabriel Heater always opened with "There's good news tonight!", Edwin C Hill presented "the human side of the news", Fulton Lewis Jr. closed with "... and that's the top of the news as it looks from here.", Drew Pearson was introduced as the commentator "whose predictions have proved to be 84% accurate." (BUX pp.172-3) (The latter was an old fashioned muckraker whose revelations continued to make politicians squirm well into the sixties.)

Like all organized crafts, arts and professions, radio produced a small handfull of practitioners who sought to burst the straightjacket. Orson Welles, whose influence on early radio was so profound, broke the conventions in many ways--not least in his delivery, which projected a wry, laid-back irony which instantly distinguished him from his fellow-announcers, while at the same time preserving a smooth perfection which affirmed his credentials.

Henry Morgan chose satire, sending up his sponsors' advertising techniques until he exhausted, one by one, their bemused tolerance: I remember hearing, in the early forties, Morgan delivering, as Scarface, a testimonial for Schick Injector razors. Morgan didn't get away with this forever and no one else got away with it at all. It would be decades before sponsors would allow self-satire to become a cliche.

As radio grew more respectable, occasional programs and even series were given the opportunity to rise above the mediocre. This happened mostly in the areas of music and drama. The still-running Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, sponsored by Texaco, started as early as 1931. (BUX p.159) NBC [National Broadcasting Company] even founded its own symphony orchestra in 1936, calling Toscannini out of retirement to conduct it. It was given its own unique "floating" studio in Rockefeller Center. (BUX p.171) This is now a common construction technique, in which the studio is built as a totally self-contained spring- and rubber-suspended box, but at the time it was revolutionary. The man responsible was the visionary David Sarnoff, a Russian émigré who became President of RCA in 1930.

There was an occasional one-off event of total strangeness, such as the 1947 broadcast of the Gertrude Stein/Virgil Thomson opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. While normal life went on downstairs, I sat glued to the little radio in my father's study, having tuned in by chance to a strange hypnotic happening which bore no relationship to either life or art as I knew it. Years later, in the music archives at UC Berkeley, I would discover a complete recording of the event, privately taken off the air on to 78 RPM disks. The collector's motto is, "Everything exists!"

Radio drama, however, was more interesting than radio music. The technology of sound transmission had not yet evolved to the point where radio music was more than a crude approximation of the real thing, but in radio drama the use of sound effects made possible a rapidity and complexity of montage previously possible only in film, and at a tiny fraction of the cost. Furthermore, radio had two advantages over film: it was still "live" and therefore immediate, like the theatre; and, relying on imagination, as an anonymous child succinctly put it, "The scenery is better."

We are indebted to Orson Welles for realizing, evolving and perfecting most of the techniques which radio drama has been using ever since. After bluffing his way into the Dublin Gate Theatre in 1931 at the age of sixteen, two years later he went to New York; within five years, during which he also captured Broadway, he had blagged himself to the top of network radio. (LEA pp.50ff.) His work, first with Columbia Workshop from 1936, and then with his own Mercury Theater on the Air from 1938, set standards that have been equaled but never exceeded. (BUX pp.56, 158) Anyone intimate with radio drama who listens to Welles' films with his eyes closed will immediately spot the uniquely meticulous craftsmanship of his sound tracks.

Other important writers and directors included, most notably, Norman Corwin, Archibald MacLeish and Arch Obler. Thornton Wilder, so far as I've been able to determine, didn't write for radio; but his most famous play, Our Town, cannot but have been influenced by radio drama, and is very effective in that medium with hardly any changes. Performed on a bare stage, it depends on the stage manager's descriptions to set the scenes, and most of the action is carried by dialog. It is questionable whether any of these playwrights could have done their best work without the example, and sometimes the collaboration, of Orson Welles.

The second world war forced two major revolutions in radio news. First, the development late in the war of wire and tape recorders made it impossible to maintain the ban on delayed broadcast, since both convenience and recording quality were far in advance of 78 RPM disk transcription. Fiction documentaries were quickly superceded, since it was now possible to record actual events. Second, the seriousness of the war in Europe produced a new, more responsible breed of newscaster who spoke to a nation gradually forced out of isolation and narcissism. One of the most notable of these was Edward R. Murrow, who, working with Fred Friendly, would later transform television as well as radio public affairs programing. (FRI p.xvi)

But, aside from a few good comedy series and a sizeable body of excellent war coverage, the scripts of all the outstanding radio programs heard in America during the three decades up to 1950 would make up a rather small library. Radio broadcasters of all kinds spent most of their professional lives innocuously filling air time, which meant that radio had very little to say to the intelligent listener.

Eleanor McKinney, a founder member with Lewis Hill of Pacifica Radio, anecdotally encapsulates the total frustration which led them to desert commercial radio:

I had had quite a career in San Francisco with broadcasting as a writer/director. This was when NBC had about a hundred and twenty people on staff for drama and music and sound effects--I mean it was really a place in those days! I had done a really exciting drama which I wrote on juvenile delinquency and race relations and civil liberties. We recorded it with an NBC orchestra and the sound department and the whole works. Then they called in all the big corporations to come and audition it. They all said, this is fabulous--but I wouldn't touch it with a ten- foot pole! In those days they were considered controversial subjects. (MEI)


Like the BBC under Lord Reith, Pacifica Radio from its foundation in 1949 may fairly be described as the lengthening shadow of one man: a pacifist and poet named Lewis Hill. Both his principles and his character, integrally incorporated into Pacifica's structure, determined its name and history, and subsequently, through his direct intervention, the history of Public Broadcasting in America.

I had known Lew Hill slightly in the early fifties, and later knew many people who had worked closely with him for several years; but when I attempted to assemble a short biography I came up against a blank wall.

Several informants could outline in precise detail his opinions about pacifism, free speech and the public media, but none could tell me when or where he was born, who his parents were, where he had gone to school or college, what radio experience he had had, or what conscientious objectors' work camp he had been held in.

Further questioning elicited a consensus that he "didn't talk much about his background, but mostly about ideas" (HRI) There was further agreement that:

"...he was essentially a lonely person, because it was difficult for him to reach out to others. To simple people he was an unknown quantity and this made him feel lonely and he could never overcome it." (HRI, SRI)

Morris Horowitz, a fellow conscientious objector, tells an illuminating story involving Bayard Rustin, one of the leaders of the pacifist movement during World War II and later of civil rights:

I met Bayard in Washington once and he asked me, "Hey, do you happen to know Lew Hill?" and I said I did. He said, "They say that you can't understand what he's talking about." [laughter] I said, "That's not true at all. He's a very intelligent, very interesting talker, but he speaks in a formal, complicated way and you have to pay attention." He was an intellectual and he couldn't attain the common touch even if he tried. (HRI)

After a long search, it was from Joy Hill, Lewis's widow, that I was finally able to learn the basic biographical details that few of his colleagues seem to have been aware of. They are best told in her own words: 

"He was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on May 1st, 1919. His father was an attorney; his grandfather had been a Missouri doctor. His father told the story of having been in law school at the University of Missouri at Columbia. After the first semester, which he "aced", he went to the dean when spring came and said, "I don't think I can stand to keep my shoes on any longer. Can I do my studying at home and come back for the finals?" The dean said yes, and he went home....
"His father made a million dollars selling an oil company to J.P. Morgan (he was the lawyer on the deal). Lew's mother's family was the Phillips family of Phillips Petroleum (Frank hillips was her older brother). Lew's father then bought a small foundering insurance company in Tulsa, where they moved, and built it up and later went into politics. He was in the state legislature and for a part of one term he was Speaker of the Oklahoma State Legislature. But he had made a campaign pledge to clear out a graft situation in the school textbook purchasing division. He lost the reform bill by one vote, so he resigned because he had made this promise....
"Lew was sent off to military school because he was too bright for the public school, and he hated it, just despised it. He completed his first two years of college there, at Wentworth Military Academy. He was also Missouri State doubles tennis champion. But he injured his back playing football, and I really think in the long run that's what killed him....
"He went to Stanford University and he was in what they called the "university program". There were four or five really brilliant people who were working directly for their doctorate, which was for him unfortunate: when the war came along he had completed his thesis, which was on printers' changes in Troilus and Cressida between the fourth and fifth folios, but he hadn't taken his orals, so he ended up with never having a degree, even though he had about six years of college."(HJI)

While at Stanford, Hill was introduced to the teachings of the Quakers and became a pacifist. When he was drafted in 1941 he registered as a conscientious objector and quickly moved to the top of the organization representing all objectors throughout America. (PRV p.8)

The exact chronology is hard to determine, but in 1942 and 1943 he spent about fifteen months at a compulsory work camp for conscientious objectors at Coleville, California, "moving rocks from one side of the road to the other," as he put it. Between then and 1944 he was Director of the National Committee for Conscientious Objectors, and in that capacity he travelled extensively among the CO camps on the west coast, meeting like-minded people he would later ask to help him in his great radio project. He also worked for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington D.C., where he met his wife-to-be: 

"I graduated from college in '43 and worked for about a year in Watertown and then I came to Washington. I got a job doing copy and public relations for a small radio station, and it was there I met Lew, who had just been hired as a news announcer. He had been in Washington to do ACLU work for a couple of weeks or so, but he had to get a job to pay the rent and feed his face! He was also writing a book. He went back to radio as the simplest thing to do. The station asked me to interview him to do a little magazine article.
"He said he didn't think he ought to because he had done just one summer of radio when he was in college....
"Lew had a wonderful radio voice. This was one of the reasons why the little radio station wondered why he'd come to work for them. The reason was he didn't have confidence enough to go to a network!" (HJI)

Several sources testify that it was between 1944 and early 1946 that Lewis Hill began to formulate plans for a non-commercial radio station for the specific purpose of promoting peace, both interpersonal and international, by means of ethical, intellectual and artistic integrity. Eleanor McKinney tried it in commercial radio in San Francisco in the early forties and decided it was "like trying to teach non-violence in the army!" (MEI)  

Christopher Koch, in his brief, pungent history of Pacifica, pinpoints the conception of Hill's brain-child to a day in January 1946 when Hill was asked to read on the air a news report which he knew from first-hand experience to be untrue. He promptly resigned and headed for California to start his own station. (KOC pp.10-11) Other versions are not quite so dramatic, but are not essentially contradictory. Joy Hill reports: He said that when he got to the point where they were talking about liver flavored cat food, he had reached the bottom!" (HJI) Eleanor McKinney recalls: He went up to one of the Japanese relocation camps and saw all kinds of things which he tried to put on the air and was refused permission to do so. So he knew this was not the field he wanted to be in, where censorship prevented one from telling the truth. (MEI)


Chronology aside, all three versions are probably true and complementary. Everyone agrees that Lewis Hill came to San Francisco in 1946 with the first of a series of constantly evolving, highly detailed prospectuses for a non-commercial radio station whose twin principles would be pacifism and civil liberties. Contrary to a common misconception, the name " Pacifica" related to pacifism, not to the station's geographical location.

Hill, of course, knew San Francisco from his years at Stanford. The intellectual and artistic climate he found when he returned in 1946 is vividly captured in a few deft brush strokes by Hill's immediate friend and collaborator Kenneth Rexroth in a 1966 BBC lecture on the Beat Generation:

San Francisco was the one community in the United States which had a regional literature and art at variance with the prevailing pattern...During the war work camps for conscientious objectors were established throughout the mountains and forests of California. 
These boys came down to San Francisco on their leaves. They made contact with San Francisco writers and artists who had been active in the Red Thirties but who had become...anarchists and pacifists.  
During the war, meetings of pacifist and anarchist organizations continued to be well attended.
Immediately on the war's end a group of San Francisco writers and artists began an Anarchist Circle...From this group and from the artists' C.O. camp at Waldport, Oregon, came a large percentage of cultural activities in San Francisco which have lasted to the present time -- a radio station [emphasis mine], three little theatres, a succession of magazines, and a number of people who are considered the leading writers and artists of the community today. (REX p.4)

Although Lew Hill was in touch with San Francisco bohemia from the very beginning, he seems to have already fixed on Berkeley as the ideal location for his radio station. Gertrude Chiarito, who, together with her husband Americo, were among the first staff members, says that Hill: 

"...felt that Berkeley would be the only place that it could possibly happen, that it would be accepted, that there would be cooperation. It was a kind of universal place because of the University, and because the people at that particular university came from such widely scattered areas."(CGI)

Rick became the first Music Director and Gert would be in charge of the subscription department for many years.

The Chiaritos were the only people on record whom Hill brought in from outside the Bay Area. Rick had been in a CO camp in Elkton, Oregon, which Hill had visited a few times, and Gert was the local postmaster. In our conversation she recalled, with a chuckle:

"We drove down here from Portland to meet with a few people and we met up with Lew and then we didn't hear much from him until about February of 1949, when we got a special delivery letter from him asking us to come down immediately! So we arrived in Berkeley on March 13th, 1949. [Gert's computer-like memory has been indispensible in piecing together KPFA's pre-history.] We worked the next month at the station getting everything together--it was a hodgepodge! And then, with great fear in our hearts, we went on the air..."(CGI)

The Chiaritos' immediate response to Hill's peremptory summons exemplifies his mesmeric ability to attract and hold support for his project. But of course he had more in his favor than mere charisma: the prospect of a mass medium becoming a genuine art form and a means of profound communication fired the imagination of everyone he canvassed.

It took Lewis Hill from 1946 to 1949 to assemble the staff and raise the money he needed to obtain a license and go on the air. His two overlapping pools of talent and information were the University at Berkeley and the bohemian enclaves of North Beach in San Francisco. One major figure who was equally at home in both was Thomas Parkinson, Professor of English at the University, whose influence in bringing the best of the Bay Area writers to KPFA, and thence to the whole of America, can hardly be exaggerated.

Of equal importance was the poet, essayist and critic Kenneth Rexroth, whose drawling, unedited, primitively home-recorded monologs, like an endless proliferation of Krapp's Last Tapes, captivated or infuriated listeners for many years. Their end product, in print, is some of America's most vivid cultural and personal history.

In the area of Public Affairs, the greatest single influence on Pacifica's founders was Alexander Meiklejohn, an educator (President of Amhurst, 1912-24) and jurist who, in the 1950s, was to become the most noted defender and interpreter of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech.

This was both the "core of the constitution", as Meiklejohn defined it, and also, together with pacifism, the core of Pacifica's broadcasting theory and practice.

At the University, Hill sought particularly for intellectuals with ideas appropriate to his chosen medium. Robert Schutz, who was to become an early Director of Public Affairs and later Hill's second-in-command, was an early recruit:

"In 1948 I was going to school at Cal, getting a PhD and very interested in the idea of getting public exposure to the ideas which I thought were important for promoting peace in the world, so I put together a program that I thought would be a "situation comedy", got a lot of people involved with it, including professors at the University of California and people at the International House where I lived. Hill heard about this and contacted me and I decided that, although it was a pretty small operation, at least it was something to start with and so I joined up with him."(SRI)

Schutz, like other members of Pacifica's extended family, would be alternatively one of Lew Hill's most indispensable helpers and one of his most vociferous critics.

Although Hill's own radio experience was not extensive, professionalism was to be one of his guiding principles. An invaluable collaborator in this effort was Eleanor McKinney:

"I was one of the founding members from late 1946 and was KPFA's first Program Director. I had been in broadcasting in San Francisco, with NBC and later with an advertising agency where I did programs with all the local stations of ABC, NBC and CBS. I had done a number of dramas through NBC there, so I knew a lot of the actors and musicians in the area. When Lew Hill came out from the east, there was a gathering of people we already knew in the fields of poetry and literature.
"He had a prospectus already of this idea he had when he was back east. He was frustrated with commercial broadcasting. He had a party and Tom Parkinson and Richard Moore [who would himself later be head of PBS stations in San Francisco and Minneapolis/St. Paul] and myself went to this party and that's where I met them--or perhaps it was in Richard Moore's apartment on Post Street in San Francisco, where we had several meetings of poetry and anarchist philosophy--I think that's the first time I met Lew and Joy. That would be in 1946." (MEI)

Eleanor McKinney would go on to help build and document Pacifica Radio for many years. She is the editor of The Exacting Ear (MEE), an anthology of representative program transcripts and the only book devoted to this seminal cultural phenomenon. 

Another member of the original team, according to Schutz, was Bill Triest. He had been with the only independent classical music station in the Bay Area, KSMO in San Mateo. He would later be one of the many KPFA alumni who moved on to KQED, San Francisco, one of the first listener-supported TV and FM stations in America.

So far as I can determine, the other original staff members were John Lewis, and Edward Meese who was the station's engineer for many years. Lewis was the first Public Affairs director and a member of the board before the station began broadcasting, but, according to Eleanor McKinney, he wasn't there for long: "he had a hard time financially and a family and he couldn't stick it out." (MEI) Through the years, many staff would leave for the same reason.

It is difficult to identify those who were staff and those who were volunteers in the early days. Even sources who were with the station from the very beginning differ among themselves as to how many actual staff members there were. Pacifica's own 40th anniversary souvenir pamphlet identifies both Eleanor McKinney and Richard Moore, on different pages, as KPFA's first Program Director. (PRV pp.1,8) Some volunteers worked as hard and were as omnipresent as staff, and no program participants were ever paid for their appearances on the air, so that even payrolls are misleading. 

A sequence of technical and social changes had to occur in order for this unlikely project to take to the air. When Lew and Joy Hill came to the Bay Area, they assumed that they would be starting an AM station, and they worked from that premise for some time. But they came up against the financial realities of media control:

"We anticipated getting on the air a lot sooner than we did. Our son was born in March 1947 and we were hoping to get on the air around his birth time, but were not able to. There was an AM channel available, but we did not qualify for it because we didn't have the money for it. This was a great blow and we had in effect to start over...Perhaps the hardest part of the whole thing was switching from AM to FM, which was brand new and no one had access to it." (HJI)

FM radio was just being launched in America. Therefore there were open channels available which were not yet worth a great deal of money, since there were very few receivers and only a small audience. The new medium was especially suited to the kind of broadcasting Hill intended, which was to achieve a high technical as well as intellectual and artistic standard. A few years earlier there would have been only low-fidelity AM channels, prohibitively expensive to acquire; a few years later FM would also become expensive, though not in the same league as AM, whose broadcast radius and therefore its audience were much greater. In the meantime the asset, a greenfield site, would become also a liability as KPFA struggled to reach an audience without FM receivers.

FM was so new that, like some primitive witchcraft, its technical parameters were still clouded by superstition. Gert Chiarito reports that, incredibly, ... the original plan was for the transmitter to be at Point Isabel in Richmond. That was because at that time they thought that FM transmitters had to have their feet in salt water, and Point Isabel was the ideal location to reach all sides of the Bay Area. If we had been able to get property at Point Isabel, which would have been very cheap, we probably would have tried to build something there or use some trailers.

The location finally chosen and successfully negotiated was in Berkeley at the top of the Koerber Building, a six-story structure at 2050 University Avenue. As Eleanor McKinney reports in The Exacting Ear:

"The studios and control room were custom built, mostly from used equipment. Friends and strangers heard about the new venture and came up to help stuff sound-proofing materials into the studio walls, hammer on sound tile, help with the carpentry and painting…
"The offices were jammed with different groups rehearsing programs, with carpenters, engineers and staff members trying to be everywhere at once.
One night the first signals of the new transmitter were tested. At home, in the early morning, we turned on a radio. There came the familiar voice of our engineer. The thing actually worked. It was a miracle. At three o'clock in the afternoon on April 15th, 1949,
Lew Hill stepped to the microphone, and the workmen, hammering down the carpet at the last minute, paused at their work. The rest of us were busy pounding out program copy and continuity on typewriters nearby. He announced for the first time: "This is KPFA, listener-sponsored radio in Berkeley." For a moment the typewriter copy blurred before our eyes--and the project was underway." (MEE, pp. 11-12)


Going on the air was a remarkable achievement, but it was only the first step. The continuing problem, as Lewis Hill knew, was how the station was to be supported. In spite of the dangers, limited advertising was at first considered but was soon rejected because it would have prevented the foundation being granted charity status, which was essential for survival. It was also seen to be the worm in the bud, as Eleanor McKinney explains:

"The commercial thing was absolutely woven into the fabric of broadcasting. That's why Lew wanted to disengage listener-sponsored radio from any kind of commercial structure, because it goes into every area: you then have to devote a large percentage of your staff to all kinds of work for commercial ends."(MEI)

During the three years' gestation, several prospectuses appeared which indicate the constantly involving nature of Hill's thinking, but the most useful source of information is Hill's own book, Voluntary Listener Sponsorship, which he wrote in 1957 as a report on the station's progress.

An alternative to conventional commercial backing had to be found. Hill and his associates were aware of earlier experiments in which audience support was solicited:

The idea of obtaining money directly from a radio audience, to help pay broadcasting expenses, has had numerous applications in post-war America. A decade before World War II, in New York City, the idea was anticipated in the first publication of a monthly program bulletin, by a commercial 'good music' station.

Here the audience paid a nominal subscription for the bulletin alone, covering its printing and mailing costs. Later years however saw stations of this same type in Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, and Seattle both publishing program bulletins for subscribers and setting aside a particular day's schedule or a single program series. Other 'good music' stations have resorted to their audiences with random appeals for emergency operating funds, as necessity warranted.

Though many of these arrangements or appeals involved an effort to organize listeners into participating councils with positive cultural objectives, they were generally a last resort of the stations employing them. They marked not a chosen course of listener-oriented broadcasting, but the failure of the specialized station to make its way in the competitive market. Several such stations relying on random audience appeals to supplement advertising revenue were forced to close, or to abandon specialization, after response to the appeals dwindled. So far as is known, no plan embodying a concept of continued listener-payment for operating expenses has survived in commercial radio. Efforts of this kind to place a measure of responsibility on the listener for what he receives have labored against the fact that the listener was free to receive the program whether or not he helped pay for it. (HVL pp.1-2)

Hill went on to consider the possibility of "scrambling" signals so as to make the listener rent an unscrambling device in order to receive them. Such technology, still experimental in the late 40's, is now commonplace, but Hill's rejection of it would still apply to any medium wishing to reach a large audience of the unconverted: 'A signal excluding non-subscribers from the listening privilege would not have served its purposes. The KPFA signal was to be available to the entire public...'(HVL pp.3-4)

Lewis Hill arrived at a theory which he set out to prove: a non-commercial radio station could survive if two percent of its potential audience could be persuaded to pay a voluntary subscription to support it. He was convinced from the beginning that the paying audience would be predominantly middle- to upper-class liberals.

This "2% theory", as Hill formulated it, was to be one of the philosophical as well as economic cornerstones of Pacifica Radio. In its early years, Pacifica was never remotely proletarian except in sympathy:

Here [is] perhaps the most profound implication of the theory of listener-sponsorship. As a general rule, it is persons of education, mental ability, or cultural heritage equating roughly with the sources of intellectual leadership in the community who tend to become voluntary listener-sponsors. In the KPFA experiment this correspondence was empirically unmistakable, although the subscribing audience apparently touched every economic stratum. It is thus clear that the 2% theory, when we speak of supporting serious cultural broadcasting by this means, represents also a way of extending the legitimate functions of social and cultural leadership [emphasis Hill's].
Obviously, to earn systematic support from the community's intellectual leadership, the listener- sponsored station must give the values and concerns of that leadership an accurate reflection at their highest level...Because the resulting broadcast service is public, the community at large-no doubt by slow accretion and assimilation--is enabled to participate in the best aspects of its own culture as few communities have done before. (HVL pp.13-14)

This is both a statement of intent and of history, for Lewis Hill wrote it after KPFA had been on the air for eight years. Although the ends were democratic and egalitarian, the means, and even the broader cultural premises, were unambiguously, unashamedly elitist. The history of Pacifica Radio, and then of National Public Broadcasting in America, is a saga of conflict among those who wished to shift the emphasis towards one pole or the other.

Six years earlier in 1951, after two cliff-hanging years of success and failure, Lewis Hill had discussed the theory of listener-sponsored radio in a broadcast talk. It rested, he said, upon two assumptions: First, that radio can and should be used for significant communication and art; and second, that since broadcasting is an act of communication, it ought to be subject to the same aesthetic and ethical principles as we apply to any communicative act, including the most personal. (MEE p.20)

Hill was aware that within the context of commercial radio such assumptions are utopian:

The purpose of commercial radio is to induce mass sales. For mass sales there must be a mass norm, and the activity must be conducted as nearly as possible without risk of departure from the norm...By suppressing the individual, the unique, the industry reduces the risk of failure (abnormality) and assures itself a standard product for mass consumption...
This is the first problem that listener sponsorship sets out to solve--to give the genuine artist and thinker a possible, even a desirable, place to work in radio. (MEE pp.21-22)

Paradoxically, the problem was part of the solution. Pacifica could never have afforded to pay the hundreds of program participants that appeared on the air, but the very fact of commercial radio's awfulness meant that they were prepared to work for nothing, simply in order to find a mass audience for the things they were unable to say and do in the commercial media:

America is well supplied with remarkably talented writers, musicians, philosophers, and scientists whose work will survive for some centuries. Such people have no relation whatever to our greatest communication medium... [This] is actually so notorious in the whole tradition and atmosphere of our radio that it precludes anyone of serious talent and reasonable sanity from offering material for broadcast, much less joining a staff. The country's best minds, like one mind, shun the medium unless the possessor happens to be running for public office. Yet if we want an improvement in radio worth the trouble, it is these people whose talent the medium must attract. (MEE p.22) 

So far Lewis Hill might have been writing a prospectus for a government-sponsored public service such as the BBC. But he and his fellow-founders set out to establish a degree of self-regulation, which would have been impossible in a quasi-official institution:

The people who actually do the broadcasting should also be responsible for what and why they broadcast. In short, they must control the policy which determines their actions... Whatever else may happen, we thus assign to the participating individual the responsibility, artistic integrity, freedom of expression, and the like, which in conventional radio are normally denied him.
KPFA is operated literally on this principle. (MEE p.23)

Hill anticipated that autocracy would be tempered by "market forces":

Some self-determining group of broadcasters might find that no one...gave a hang for their product...What then? Then...there would be no radio station...and the various individualists involved could go scratch for a living. But it is the reverse possibility that explains what is most important about listener sponsorship. When we imagine the opposite situation, we are compelled to account for some conscious flow of influences, some creative tension between broadcaster and audience that constantly reaffirms their mutual relevance. (MEE p.24)

Listener subscription was therefore intended to be more than just a means of meeting expenses. Unlike the BBC, subscription to KPFA was to be voluntary. Anyone could listen for nothing; it was up to the staff and the excellence of the programs themselves to persuade the listeners to contribute. Subscribers to the station received the Folio, a monthly publication which listed and described the programs. But Hill emphasized that they were subscribing, not to the periodical, but to the station itself:

Actually sending in the subscription, which one does not have to send in unless one particularly wants to, implies the kind of cultural engagement, as some French philosophers call it, that is surely indispensable for the sake of the whole culture. (MEE p.25) 

So far the audience has been an abstraction; it has not been defined or described. Before beginning in detail an analysis of Pacifica's programming, we should give our attention to the prospective audience as Lewis Hill perceived it.

Rather than attempt to imagine and then address a "typical" listener, Hill tore up the advertising manuals and started from a totally different premise:

The audience was believed to consist of an individual, whose intention was to listen. The listening individual was assumed to have an alertness, an intelligence, an interest and an attention span commensurate with those of the persons preparing and airing the program. There was no wish to persuade persons in the audience to listen beyond the range of their interests or at the sacrifice of their preconceptions. The number of persons who might be expected to listen to a given program at a given hour was not a governing criterion for either its method of presentation or its scheduling. The station was frankly against the idea of "background" programming, especially in music, and urged its audience to listen with complete selectivity. It was, in fact, a hopeful assumption that the radio would be turned off, or to another frequency, when KPFA's particular program had less than a compelling value for an audience of one. (HVL p.44)

Having established two totally revolutionary principles--absence of commercial sponsorship and indifference to a mass audience--Hill went on to describe in detail some of the attributes of a broadcasting medium which would conform to these criteria. The very fact of non-commercial broadcasting led at once to two interlocking principles: there was no time-ownership and no need for commercial breaks: 

On examination of the tradition and uses of second- hand timing in commercial radio, it appeared that this practice had an entirely economic origin and meaning. Since at best it poses an obstacle to programming freedom, there appeared no reason whatever for its continuance in educational radio not engaged in the sale of time segments. (HVL p.53)

This had two highly pragmatic results: (1) the absence of commercial breaks meant that broadcasts could assume whatever attention span was required by the subject matter; and (2) this could be extended to its logical conclusion; i.e., a program could be as long as necessary or appropriate. This was particularly important in accommodating live broadcasts, which were an integral part of Pacifica's programming policy.

These principles may not be remarkable to those familiar with the BBC Third Programme (now Radio Three), but it had only been on the air since 1946, when Hill was already beginning to formulate his plans. Within the context of American commercial radio, they were revolutionary.

In order to give flexibility to programs listed in the Folio but not yet timed or timeable, "miscellany" slots were scattered through the day:

The occasional...use of a Miscellany period denotes KPFA's particular approach to this old and vexing problem in broadcasting...Its length, as scheduled, varied from 5 to 15 minutes. A variety of reading matter and brief music selections was kept on hand for use as...the announcer on duty thought interesting and appropriate to occupy the time before the next scheduled program. (HVL p.53)

Another important factor in communicating with the audience in a totally different manner was the use of voices on the air which did not sound like typical radio announcers. We have already quoted Lew Hill's ironic description of a typical audition procedure; KPFA attempted to be, at all times, one intelligent person talking to another.

"Theme music", although not prohibited, was not encouraged and rarely occurred:

Programs were put on the air with a simple announcement of their content or purpose...It was not thought necessary to lure the listener with titles, or in any way to attempt to disguise the fact that an event of broadcasting was taking place, as distinguished from an event of the lecture-hall, auditorium or theater. (HVL p.54)

Thus the attributes of commercial radio were examined one by one and for the most part rejected.

All these factors taken together meant that a listener could tune in the station at any time and instantly determine that he had arrived at something unique. It is no wonder that KPFA quickly gathered an enthusiastic audience which had little in common except discrimination and intelligence.



The cornerstone of Pacifica's structure was pacifism/non-violence; this was intended to be not only the content of its programming but also the guiding principle of its organization. Its successes and failures were to be a microcosm of human history. As Eleanor McKinney remembers:

I've seen comparisons in Pacifica's history with all kinds of things since, even America and Russia. It is the human story. Our bylaws said that: we were to study causes of conflict among individuals and nations, and ways to resolve those conflicts. (MEI)

As important as non-violence, and integrally related to it, was allegiance to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed freedom of speech. It was no accident that Alexander Miekeljohn was one of the first and most influential advisers to KPFA. In a famous speech which he first gave before a congressional committee and later as a prize-winning radio broadcast in 1953, at the height of the McCarthy witch-hunt, he set forth the principles which more than any other were to unite Pacifica's broadcasters: our popular discussions unwise ideas must have a hearing as well as wise ones, dangerous ideas as well as safe, un-American as well as American...To be afraid of ideas, of any idea, is to be unfit for self-government. Any such suppression of ideas about the common good the First Amendment condemns with its absolute disapproval. The freedom of ideas shall not be abridged. (MEE pp.131, 137)

The pursuit of this ideal was to keep the Pacifica stations in constant trouble. Their regular airing of avowed and suspected radicals would subject them to constant right-wing attack and occasional government investigation. But Pacifica's scrupulous civil libertarian principles also gave air time to the very forces that were attacking them. Casper Weinberger, who would become President Reagan's bellicose Secretary of Defense, was a regular commentator and KPFA supporter in the 1960s. I also remember the elegant precision with which Byron Bryant, a public affairs programmer for KPFA in the fifties, interviewed two principal leaders of the American Nazi Party. 

KPFA's balance was in its totality, not within any single program. As Elsa Knight Thompson, the station's most long-serving public affairs director, was to put it laconically in the early sixties, balanced programming did not consist of having someone say yes every time someone else said no.

But there was another aspect of program balance which Hallock Hoffman, a later President of Pacifica Foundation, was to set forth during an investigation by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in 1963:

In my opinion, Pacifica should lean toward programs that present either opinions or information not available elsewhere...I think Pacifica serves the ideal of balance if it spends little time reinforcing popular beliefs...I feel Pacifica should be on the lookout for information that is hard for people to get from other sources...I believe Pacifica should regard its audiences as composed of mature, intelligent, and responsible adults, who can be trusted to make up their own minds...I do not believe Pacifica should tell its audience what to think about the content of its programs... (MEE pp.32-3)

Lewis Hill's intention was to address a series of minority audiences, which would not necessarily overlap. The principles and predilections of Pacifica's broadcasters evolved into a list of program categories, each supervised by a departmental director. These, as set forth by Hill in 1957, provide an accurate overview of approximately the first fifteen years of KPFA's programming. I have added some personal comments in brackets, as well as percentage figures for each category taken from Hill's book.

Music, including ethnic and folk music and studies in the jazz genre, but with the principal emphasis on serious music, "classical" and contemporary. So-called semi-classical or light music, and popular dance music of the day, were not used. [Pop music was not yet taken seriously.] The analysis of music forms and history was part of this category. [48%]
Public affairs, through individual commentaries and group discussions incorporating as broad an opinion spectrum as possible, and with the deliberate intention of enabling minority views on important issues to be heard alongside the more orthodox. [By the early 60s,the battery-operated portable tape recorder would add one of Pacifica's most distinctive and distinguished formats, the public affairs documentary.]
It was meant to include in this program category the broadcasting of news compiled and edited from sources not usually brought together for radio. [18%]
Literature and Drama, again with particular attention to contemporary work in these fields, but drawing also upon the excellent work of the BBC in classical drama. [As serious drama gradually faded from commercial radio, Pacifica's productions would gain national attention.] The station aimed to function as a direct outlet for new poetry and the presentation of contemporary poets [which it achieved with great distinction]. Reviews and lectures were included. [16%]
Philosophy and Science, the latter viewed also in its philosophical ramifications. Technical lectures in science were not part of the format, but considerable emphasis was given the relationship of modern scientific thought to traditional western philosophies. Oriental philosophy, particularly the variants of Buddhism, had onsiderable treatment [thanks principally to Alan Watts, as we shall see]. In addition to a relatively few programs formally oriented to topics in these fields, there was a general intention to relate discussions on public affairs to questions of fundamental philosophical import. [7%] [As this low figure indicates, there were not enough programs to justify a specialist department, and they were subsumed under Public Affairs and, in some cases, Drama and Literature.]
Programs for Children, ranging through the subject matter of the four categories mentioned. The emphasis fell on pre-school programs with some instructional value, although material in this category was often conceived simply as an effort to provide wholesome entertainment alternatives [then, as now, a losing battle in American commercial broadcasting]. Programs designed specifically for children were scheduled in the hour between 5 and 6 p.m. [10%] (HVL, pp.41-2, 50)

From the very beginning, program participants included names which were or would become familiar throughout the country. The sample week's programs which Hill included in Voluntary Listener Sponsorship is worth reprinting here because it presents more of the flavor of KPFA's broadcasting than any means short of listening to the programs themselves. Several of the names merit parenthetical identification: 


9:00 ORCHESTRAL CONCERT. Gaiuppi, Overture #2; Prokoviev, Piano Concerto #3; Beethoven, Symphony #3, E-flat Major.

10:30 BOOKS. A review and discussion of newly published literature by the poet, editor and dramatist Kenneth Rexroth. [As we have already noted, Kenneth Rexroth was associated with KPFA from the very beginning and many of his writings originated as KPFA broadcasts.]

11:00 THE CRAGMONT REPORT. An open roundtable discussion in which parents of the Cragmont (public) school of Berkeley, who drew up a report criticizing the educational practices of the school system, argue the issues with representatives of the public schools, with listeners participating via telephoned questions.


12:00 JAZZ REVIEW. A survey and discussion, with illustrations, of current trends and recordings in jazz literature, by Philip Elwood. [Philip Elwood was responsible for KPFA's encyclopaedic jazz coverage for almost forty years, including Jazz Review (a weekly survey of live concerts and new ecords), Jazz Archives (each devoted to a single lassic musician or group), and Modern Jazz Scene a similarly detailed analysis of contemporary jazz).]

1:30 FRANK O'CONNOR: 'The Mirror in the oadway'. A talk given at the University of California by the Irish writer and poet.

2:45 MUSIC OF SOUTH AMERICA. Sixth in a series of llustrated talks on Latin-American music, by Robert Garfias.

3:10 FIDELIO. Beethoven's opera performed by the Vienna tate Opera Company conducted by Karl Bohm
Florestan: Torsten Ralf
Leonore: Hilde Konetzni
Marcellina: lrmgard Seefhed
Jacquino: Peter Klein
Pizarro: Paul Schoeffier
Rocco: Herbert Alsen
Don Fernando: Tomislav Neralic

5:15 KIDNAPPED. Robert Louis Stevenson's story of he wanderings of David Balfour in the year 1751, adapted and narrated by Charles Levy and Virginia Maynard. Part XV: 'I Go in Quest of My Inheritance'. [Charles Levy and Virginia Maynard were jointly responsible for most of KPFA's original radio drama during its first decade.]

5:45 CHAMBER MUSIC. Composers and performers closely associated with KPFA's first seven years on the air. Milhaud, Quartet #l 2, performed by the Quartetto Italiano; Sessions, Sonata # [sic], performed by Bernhard Abramowitsz; Mozart, Quintet in G Minor, K.516, performed by the Griller Quartet, Gilbert assisting. [Darius Milhaud, during the years he taught at Mills College, Oakland, was a regular contributor. Bernard Abramowitsz, one of the Bay Area's most distinguished pianists, gave a number of live and recorded concerts for KPFA, including memorable Beethoven and Schubert cycles. The Griller String Quartet, while in residence at the University of California at Berkeley, often appeared on KPFA.]


7:30 GOLDEN VOICES. A series conducted weekly by Anthony Boucher since KPFA's first day on the air. John McCormack, tenor (1884 -1945), second of three programs: art songs (recordings of 1911-1940). [Anthony Boucher, one of America's most prolific and influential mystery and science fiction editors and authors, also shared his enormous collection of early operatic records with KPFA's audiences for almost forty years.]

8:00 KPFA's SEVENTH BIRTHDAY. A documentary by the station's staff on the history of the project since its first broadcast day, April 15, 1949.


8:45 RENAISSANCE CHORAL MUSIC. Works by Dufay, Josquin des Pres, Lassus, and Vittoria, performed by the New York Musica Antiqua.

9:30 PHILOSOPHY EAST AND WEST. Lectures comparing Oriental thought with the main traditions of Western philosophy, by Alan Watts, Dean of the American Academy of Asian Studies." [Alan Watts, world- famous for his writings on Buddhism, recorded many programs for KPFA which are still regularly rebroadcast.]

10:00 ETHNIC MUSIC. A regular series examining and illustrating the indigenous music of different cultures, prepared and presented by Henry Jacobs. [Henry Jacobs was an early exponent of ethnic music and experimenter with musique concrete. He was also responsible for introducing Alan Watts to KPFA.]

10:30 THE FILM. A discussion, with appropriate guests, of recent developments in the art form of the film, and a criticism of current films; conducted by Pauline Kael, film critic for Partisan Review. [Pauline Kael, recently retired as perhaps the world's most powerful film critic, launched her career on KPFA.]

11:00 SIGN-OFF


3:00 HAYDN. Symphony #49, F Minor; Harpsichord Concerto, F Major; Philemon and Baucis.

4:30 BRITISH WEEKLIES. A review from the BBC.


5:00 STORIES AND MUSIC. A program for preschool children by Natalie Lessinger.

5:15 THE LITTLE HOUSE SERIES. Stories read by Virginia Maynard.

5:35 YOUNG PEOPLE'S CONCERT. Offenbach, Helen of Troy.

5:45 POETRY. A children's anthology, with notes; prepared and read by Olive Wong.

6:00 ORCHESTRAL CONCERT. Manfredini, Concerto Grosso: String Orch. Krueger; Mozart, Flute-Harp Concerto, C Major: Stuttgart Orch., Lund; Schmidt, Symphony #4: Vienna Symphony, Moralt.

7:20 NEWS. A survey of the day's press wire and other

news sources, prepared by a staff member.

7:35 COMMENTATOR SERIES: Views on current affairs. Trevor Thomas, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on Legislation of Northern California.


8:00 SYMPHONY CRITIQUE. Alan Rich (KPFA Musical Director) discusses last week's concert by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. [Alan Rich, one of KPFA's first and most popular music directors, went on to write for The New York Herald Tribune, New York Magazine, Newsweek, The Los Angeles Chronicle and LA Weekly.]

8:15 STUDIO CONCERT. Judy Maas, mezzo, and Helen Sizer, piano, in a program of songs by Paisiello, Vivaldi, Wolf, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Brahms, and Poulenc.

9:00 INLAND, WESTERN SEA. First of a series of readings from the works of Nathan Asch. The reader is Virginia Maynard.

9:40 SCHUBERT'S C MAJOR QUINTET. A discussion and analysis of the work by Alan Rich, followed by a performance by the Hollywood Quartet, with Kurt Reher, second cello.

11:00 SIGN-OFF.

* * * * *


3:00 ORCHESTRAL CONCERT. Mozart, Divertimento, C Major, K. 187; Handel, Water Music; Stravinsky, Symphony, C Major.

4:20 JAZZ ARCHIVES. Philip F. Elwood. Last Wednesday's program rebroadcast.

5:00 FOLK TALES OF MANY LANDS. Selected and read, for young people, by Don Therence.

5:15 JOSEPHINE GARDNER. The Irish storyteller in her regular KPFA program for children.

5:30 YOUNG PEOPLE'S CONCERT. Respighi, Ancient Airs and Dances.

5:45 FOREST LORE. A talk on plants and animals, by Jack Parker, naturalist for the East Bay Regional Parks.

6:00 CHAMBER MUSIC. Mozart, Quartet, G Major, K. 387; Barylli Quartet; Respighi, Quartetto Dorico; Quartetto della Scalla; Beethoven, Quartet, B-flat Major, Op. 130: Budapest Quartet.

7:20 NEWS. Review and summary by a staff member.

7:35 COMMENTATOR SERIES. Robert Tideman, Executive Secretary, Henry George School of Social Science.


8:00 INDIANS IN CALIFORNIA: 'What Do Indians Say?' The series by Frank Quinn; rebroadcast of last Tuesday's program.

8:30 THE LITTLE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. A concert broadcast direct from the Berkeley Little Theater, Gregory Millar, Conductor. Handel, The Great Elopement; Hindemith, Concerto for Woodwinds, Harp and Orchestra; Haydn, Cello Concerto, D Major, Gabor Rejto, soloist;Milhaud, Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, Meyer Slivka, soloist; Mozart, Symphony #41, C Major. [The Little Symphony Orchestra under Gregory Millar was one of America's first uncompromisingly classical chamber orchestras and was heard regularly on KPFA.]

10:20 MEET THE CANDIDATE. State Senator Richard Richards, seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator from California, is interviewed by Trevor Thomas, Herbert Hanley, and Robert Schutz.

11:00 SIGN-OFF.


8:00 COMMENTATOR SERIES REBROADCAST. From the week's commentaries on current affairs.


9:45 PHILOSOPHY, EAST AND WEST. The talk by Alan Watts rebroadcast from last Sunday.

10:15 THE WORLD OF SCIENCE. By Janet Nickelsburg. Last Wednesday's program in this series rebroadcast.

10:30 CHAMBER MUSIC. Beethoven, Quartet, Bb Major, Op. 18, #6; Brahms, Quintet, G Major, Op. 111.

l1:30 THE REAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE SCIENTIST. The article of this title by J. Bronowski, published in the January 1956 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; read by Robert Schutz.

12:30 ORCHESTRAL CONCERT. Dohnany, Suite, F# Minor: London Symphony, Sargent; Thomson, Cello Concerto: Siiva, with the Janssen Symphony; Delius, Closing scene from 'Koanga': soloists and orchestra conducted by Beecham.

1:00 CLASSICAL RECORD REVIEW. Alan Rich discusses, with illustrations, significant new releases.

1:30 THE FILM. Last Sunday's program by Pauline Kael, rebroadcast.

2:00 CHORAL CONCERT. Brahms, Song, for Women's Chorus: Wiener Kammerchor, Schmid; Schubert, Gesang der Geister: Akademie Kammerchor, Krauss; Debussy, Le Martyre de St. Sebastien: Danco, Chorus & Orch., conducted by Ansermet.


4:20 AN ECONOMIC COMPARISON OF AUSTRALIA AND SWEDEN. Erik Lundberg, Professor of Economics, University of Stockholm, Sweden, in a talk given at the University of California.

5:15 POETRY. Selected, read and discussed for young people, by Olive Wong.

5:30 FOLK SONGS. Sung with guitar by Barry Olivier and Merritt Herring.

5:45 PROGRAM FOR YOUNG PEOPLE. Selected recordings, varying from early Edison recording to contemporary musical and dramatic records.

6:00 CHAMBER MUSIC. Malipiero, Quartet #7: Quartetto delta Scala; Franck, Piano Quintet, F Minor: Aller, Hollywood Quartet; Beethoven, String Quartet, C Major, Op. 29: Huebner, Barylli Quartet.

7:20 COMMENTATOR SERIES. Virginia Davis, sociologist.


7:55 THE MYSTERY STORY. An interview on this species of modern writing, with Hillary Waugh.


9:00 JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK. By Sean O'Casey. Recorded in Dublin, with an introduction by the author.

11:00 SIGN-OFF.


This sample week dates from April 15, 1956 (KPFA's seventh birthday) to April 21. When KPFA first went on the air, it broadcast from 3 to 6 p.m., shut down for an hour and a half for dinner (!), and then continued from 7:30 to 10 or 10:30. As Gert Chiarito recalls, this curious schedule was partly determined by a legal requirement to broadcast at least three hours before and three hours after sundown. (CGI) Two years later when the station moved to new studios the hours were extended, first to fill the dinner hour, then in October 1956 backward to 9 a.m., and in October 1958 to 7 a.m. Not until the early 1970s did all-night broadcasting become a regular feature (HGP p.2), which represented a change in programing and audience as well as fortune.

This recurring cycle of serious and ethnic music, lengthy discussion and interview, poetry and drama, and earnest exortation would continue virtually unchanged well into the 1960s. From then on, as Pacifica's minority audiences became increasingly defined by their ethnic, social, and sexual divisions, and deconstruction led to the abolition of cultural and intellectual hierarchies, so the once-firm guidelines by which Pacifica differentiated itself from the outer fringes of commercial radio would themselves be deconstructed. 


If the crucial decision to go on the air had been controlled by accountants, Pacifica's audience would still be waiting for the big moment. Eleanor McKinney wrote in 1962:

Funds...were placed in trust. If enough money could not be raised...all the funds would be returned to the donors...The group had a critical decision to make. The $15,000 in the bank was enough to build a station and operate it for about a month. Yet there was little prospect of raising more money without an operating radio station to demonstrate what could actually be done. A meeting was held to decide whether to return the money to the donors and give up the project, or to take a leap in the dark and begin theexperiment...Finally Lewis Hill reminded us, "In a crisis--grow. That's the only creative possibility--take a risk and expand." The phrase was to become the key to many decisions in the future. (MEE p.11) 

The station remained on the air for about fifteen months. Christopher Koch, prize-winning public affairs producer and chronicler of KPFA's history, wrote in 1968:

Over six hundred different program participants in drama and literature, public affairs, music and children's programs took part in KPFA's broadcasting in the next five months. They volunteered their services. Listeners too, who dropped into the station, found themselves commissioned to type letters, write continuity and stuff envelopes, and a large volunteer staff soon sprung up next to the paid professional one. By such expedients KPFA kept its operating budget to about $4,000 a month....Summarizing programming after five months, Hill referred to its success "in obtaining a large and intensely interested audience for the public affairs broadcasts on controversial subjects..." (KOC p.12)

Other writers and broadcasters reported the new venture with admiration, traces of envy, and doubts as to its staying power. Their scepticism appeared to be confirmed when on August 6, 1950 KPFA shut down its transmitter. As Koch explains,

...with only 270 subscribers, it was forced to suspend broadcasting to devote full time to fund-raising. The exhausted staff--who were all paid the same, regardless of their position--hadn't received a salary for weeks and many had to leave to find regular employment elsewhere to support their families.(KOC p.12)

But the station's threatened demise goaded the community into action. Eleanor McKinney writes:

When the staff announced over the air that KPFA was to stop broadcasting, the telephones began to ring and listeners came to plead that the station continue. At their suggestion, a public meeting of KPFA listeners was announced. To the discouraged staff it was an overwhelming experience to see the meeting place crowded with listeners who valued the station so much that they were determined to give their own energies and money to its survival. A working fund of $2,300 was raised immediately. Vigorous committees and volunteer workers plunged into fund-raising and getting subscription pledges for a new KPFA, and carried on the intensive campaign for nine months. Strangers to each other, but joined in a common bond of interest, they worked together--some ten hours a day, six days a week during the nine months the station was silent. (MEE pp.14-14)

So by the middle of 1951 KPFA was back on the air with an expanded schedule and a more powerful transmitter. Shortly thereafter, at the beginning of 1952, it moved to larger premises at 2207 Shattuck Avenue (where it was to remain until 1991), absolutely necessary to accommodate the growing army of staff and volunteers.

The immediate future was secured a few months later by a Ford Foundation grant administered through the Fund for Adult Education, for $150,000 spread over three years. Lewis Hill's final report to the Fund was not intended to be merely a justification of the investment, but more importantly, a handbook for other potential community stations. Both Hill's and the Foundation's interests went far beyond the survival of a single FM station: they wished to explore the feasibility of a whole network of stations, TV as well as radio, each supported by Hill's 2% formula. The theory has worked in many communities, although the magic 2% has never been reached.

The continued existence of the station was thus guaranteed for a while, but not the security of the staff. Hill's attention was fixed on the realization of his dream, and the very qualities that made this possible also estranged him from many of those who joined his crusade. Robert Schutz recalls:

Lew had the ability to put things together and to be persuasive. He could go to a widow and get $20,000 out of her without much trouble, but he would wait until salaries had not been paid for a couple of months before he did that. (SRI)

This may accurately describe the staff's perception of the financial situation, but it could not have been easy for Hill to go about with a begging bowl. Neither did his schedule allow time for fund-raising. His widow Joy Hill points out:

Reaching charitable-minded wealthy people took contacts and time. Often he returned from a laboriously arranged interview feeling hopeful, only to get a note from [the prospective donor's] financial advisor saying in effect, "We don't encourage such far-fetched ideas!" (HJI)

If Hill was less concerned than others about where the money was coming from, there was a simple explanation. Joy Hill acknowledges:

We would go ages with little or no salary, although we were I think in a better situation than many because his father had given us some stock in the company, so we did have quarterly checks and we would juggle bills and keep everything not more than two months in arrears. I don't know how the kids that didn't have checks coming in survived, I really don't. (HJI)

But there were deeper problems than money. According to Schutz:

He was also pretty persuasive with the staff; and yet his manner of being so persuasive and right all the time was grinding and grating on people....A small example of Lew's personal relations: money was very short and somebody dreamed up a kind of letterhead, and everybody was using it. Lew came in with utter scorn for its lack of style. (SRI)

Hill had gone to great lengths to set up a structure which would guarantee that the staff would retain collective control of the station. Vera Hopkins, who has functioned for many years as Pacifica's quasi-official historian, unwinds the tangled skein with great precision in her indispensible 1987 pamphlet, "Growing Pains":

Hill was an idealist who established KPFA on egalitarian principles of equal pay and equal voting. The ultimate governing body, the Executive Membership, met twice a year. It was composed wholly of staff members. Originally it served to bring full staff opinion to bear on the decisions of the Committee of Directors. The Directors were five staff elected by the Executive Membership to run the station and conduct the business of Pacifica Foundation including KPFA. The Directors could replace their number if vacancies occurred, subject to later approval by the Executive Membership. (HGP p.4) 

But the very fact of staff autonomy meant that there were no checks and balances, no external sanctions. The integrity of the community depended entirely on the integrity of the people who composed it. Eleanor McKinney reflects:

I think Lew's saddest experience was that he could attract so few men of quality and intelligence and capabilities to be in a community of artists and workers and broadcasters who would share the delight in each other's skills and diversity. (MEI)

And so in June 1953 there was a palace revolution and Lew Hill resigned as chairman of the station he had conceived and brought into existence. Vera Hopkins offers so much detail that it is necessary to know the protagonists to appreciate the agonies and ironies of each conflict of conscience, personality, or ambition.

And, well-documented though her history is, a panel of survivors would even now come no closer to agreement on the facts than they did when the wounds were open.I think that Eleanor McKinney in conversation caught the essence of the conflict, both its causes and its atmosphere, in words that can be grasped without footnotes because they interlock with what we already know of human frailty:

There was a difference between people who had been there from the beginning and the next generation who had different ideas. It was a series of almost accidental circumstances, disagreements in the board meetings. From my standpoint it was a difference between young people with not very tested theories and the older ones who had experimented.... They [the younger ones] called Lew, Dick [ Moore], and me "The Triumvirate"! Lew was a poet, and yet he could run the mimeograph machine and do carpentry and fund-raising and poetry and drama and so on--a kind of renaissance man who aroused a lot of competitiveness in men especially, and I think that was at the root of it....
Everybody resigned except me; I have a tenacity, I was determined to hang on... When they got in trouble some months later they called me and asked if I would help them (that is, the other side) from going under. I had this terrible dilemma: do you help the individual or do you seek the continuity of the institution? I was heartbroken: I turned him down and I never got over it. I always felt that I had betrayed the personal, which in the long run is what matters....
I kept being a thorn in their side. I said, " Pacifica was designed to present every point of view and to be exactly the resolution of these kinds of conflicts. If you don't embody that in your very being as a foundation, how can you embody that on the air?" The whole point of Pacifica was that the people who made the policies carried them out. We didn't have an absentee board; the staff were the board. I said, "You're shedding the very principle of what Pacifica is about." Alan Watts leapt to his feet and came over glowering and thrust his face into mine--like a monster, trembling with rage. He shouted, "Principles are all very well and good until they don't work and then you throw them out!" In later years this was one of the big jokes of all time. I'm afraid heopportunistically picked up the pieces and started going with the other side. But that's Perennial Philosophy. He and Lew Hill had some fascinating debates at Asilomar on exactly these subjects: the difference between Ethical and Perennial Philosophy, where everything is relative. (MEI)

Once he was no longer occupied with the daily management of the station, Hill had time for lengthy reflection on what had gone wrong and how it might be corrected. In September 1953 he wrote to Edward Howden,

There were two principles employed in forming Pacifica Foundation which underlie KPFA's difficulties. The first of these was the limitation of Pacifica's Executive Membership to...staff personnel of KPFA... A second principle was that of equality: all persons working for KPFA were to receive the same wage..
There is much to be said about the failure of such ideals, and I will confine myself to the painfully obvious. Over the years it emerged sadly and often violently that people burdened with policy responsibilities which their working hours will not permit them to fulfill are frustrated.... In many of the group there was a general predisposition toward distrust and suspicion, which I am afraid is inseparable from the very idealistic anarcho-pacifist viewpoint...what was conceived as a mutually evolving fellowship became, in much of the operation, a mutually thwarted competition of personalities...
I felt at the time [June 1953] that my resignation would remove a focus of controversy and permit the equalitarian principles of the organization to assert themselves more positively. Certainly my own rather prideful reluctance as the originator to admit the unworkability of this organization was a major cause of the present chaos. (HGP pp.6-7)

In the meantime the remaining staff, torn by internecine warfare, also put the blame on defective organization rather than their own intractable behavior. A non-staff Study Committee of respected local figures was set up to examine alternative patterns of organization:

One of the listed assumptions on which all of the interested parties agree: in order to assure the station's continuance, it is necessary to remove organizational difficulties which have caused serious controversy. (HGP p.7)

One of the lessons of human history is that any group of eminent people offered even more power and prestige will sieze it with both hands:

The thrust of the Study Committee Plan was to reduce staff participation in the governing of Pacifica. They proposed the immediate addition of two non-staff persons to the Committee of Directors, increasing the number from 5 to 7, and electing non-staff persons to the Executive Membership which eventually should have no more than one-third staff members. This was the beginning of a trend. The Committee of Directors in future years was increased to 11, then to 15. The Executive Membership increased the percentage of non-staff and eventually had 33 members. Its importance within Pacifica decreased until it became superfluous and voted itself out of existence...(HGP p.8)

Thus, the cornerstone of Pacifica was finally to be eroded. Ironically, the process was aided and abetted by Lewis Hill for his own purposes, though with the best of motives. Eleanor McKinney feels that'The reason Lew Hill separated the Board of Directors

From the staff was that he felt an ideal world people could be objective...but in the real world, as we'd experienced disasterously, people could not be objective about themselves, their own salaries, their own positions. He had hoped idealistically to attract mature enough people to deal with the few areas where you have to deal with yourselves as a board, but he didn't get enough mature people. That was his conclusion. (MEI)

But Lew Hill's organizational solution, though ostensibly opening Pacifica to external guidance, was to offer himself as the de jure as well as the de facto final arbiter:

They have tackled successfully the organizational problem of staff participation in membership.... The Committee has not, however, offered any solution to the problem of executive authority.... What Pacifica needs is a President...[who] should be elected by the Committee of Directors. He should have authority to hire and fire, including the Station Directors. (HGP p.9)

The bait was taken. In August 1954 the Executive Membership offered Hill the Presidency on his own terms, influenced no doubt by the fact that the station had been a shambles without him. According to Eleanor McKinney, Gert Chiarito and Bob Schutz, who had voted against Hill at the time of his resignation, switched back to support him and Schutz went to Hill's home in Duncan's Mills to ask him to return as the new President. (SRI)

And so "the magic of Hill's personality brought peace for a time". (HGP p.10) But the old problems remained. Financial pressures were constant, and Hill was forced to plead regularly with individuals and foundations to make up the difference between expenses and subscriptions.

KPFA's economic problems were in fact reflected throughout the national FM market:

By the end of 1954, three years after commencement of the experiment reported here, KPFA was the only independent FM station still in operation in the San Francisco region. The others had either vanished or become affiliated as duplicating transmitters with AM outlets....
This...was in parallel with the general decline of FM broadcasting throughout the country. In San Francisco [it] amounted practically to a complete collapse in FM's significance for the general public....The station was [thus] obliged to divert both funds and staff into the manufacture and distribution of FM sets under its own auspices, in an effort to circumvent the national industry decline...These units were offered at regular retail prices but with a KPFA subscription included. (HVL pp.86-7)

Thus Hill, in addition to dealing with internal crises, was forced to bear the whole Bay Area FM market upon his shoulders. By July 1956 he had to ask for a three-month leave of absence, and appointed Schutz Executive Director. (HGP p.11)

There was yet another major element in Lew Hill's gradual exhaustion, and it is a measure of his strength of will that it was almost never mentioned. His widow, Joy, explains:

He injured his back playing football [at college], and I really think in the long run that's what killed him. By the time I met him when he was twenty-four, he couldn't sit on the ground with his legs in front of him at a picnic.... His back bothered him all his life, increasingly, and there were many nights when he couldn't turn over in bed and he'd have to wake me to turn him over.... Once he almost got arrested for being drunk on the street in Berkeley because he had staggered and was clutching a lamppost when the cop saw him. He had to explain that his leg went out from under him at times. He lived with pain all the time, and the cortisone that they were pumping into him when they didn't know what they were doing made an enormous number of changes in his life.... He wasn't the sort of person who talked about it. He didn't even like to be asked how he was feeling--I learned very quickly not to say anything. He just hated to be reminded of it.(HJI)

It is inconceivable that this life-long struggle between pride and frailty did not affect his personal relationships. It is no wonder, as Vera Hopkins reports, that

Through 1957 the papers in the archive reflect ambivalence on the part of Hill. He needed to lighten his burden. At one point he wrote to a friend that he was "fed up and tuckered out." He needed to earn more money for his family than KPFA provided. He had needed a partial absence for reasons of health, yet he had found it difficult to delegate decision-making. In particular he cherished the right to hire and fire.(HGP p.14)

Towards the end of his life there was a temporary release before the final plunge into terminal depression. Eleanor McKinney watched it happen:

Lew had rheumatoid arthritis and was given cortisone, but they hadn't tested it fully. They gave him massive doses which worked wonders, but later there were studies that showed that a number of people that were given cortisone became alcoholics and committed suicide.... They taught him to inject himself. He was dancing around with freedom, but there were terrible side effects. I think that was the basic thing, because during the last months of his life he changed a great deal. He drank, which he had never done before. He didn't become a drunkard, but he had never used alcohol as a crutch. His drinking was occasional, not all the time, because he continued to do his work. But he was deeply exhausted, he was still struggling to support that place. There were financial problems and I think he was just exhausted in his soul. (MEI) 

Robert Schutz continued as Executive Director after Hill returned from his leave of absence, but in April 1957 Hill dismissed him for associating "very closely with...a small minority...which expresses extreme oposition to the existing management of the project." (HGP p.11)

By this point it is difficult to distinguish treachery from paranoia. In the Committee of Directors charge and countercharge were hurled, with the majority of voters still backing Hill. Another major protagonist, Felix Greene, had entered the fray. A popular and ambitious program producer, he was one of the new breed of directors invited to solve Pacifica's problems. Once put in charge of a subcommittee to examine the staffing budget, he attempted to take over the station, producing professional-looking report and firing off damaging letters to Pacifica's benefactors. He was sent packing within a year.

At the same time eleven staff members were petitioning for Hill's resignation. They were mostly new and inexperienced; they were not ideologically close to the founding pacifists and were easily blown about in the tempests that now swept the station. From without, a subscriber pressure group was demanding official representation. And Robert Schutz's final defection--he declared to the Committee of Directors in April 1957 that Hill was unfit for office--must have felt like the stab of Brutus. Sadly, by this time Schutz was probably right. Hill withdrew more and more to his distant home in Duncan's Mills. (HGP pp.13-15)

On August 1, 1957 Lewis Hill committed suicide. His wife had seen it coming:

I don't know what else he could have done, he was really at the end of his rope. We were going through the same problems for the second time and we had just been to a nursery in Gurneyville up on the Russian River. There was somebody working in the gardens there who had this rheumatoid arthritis of the spine that Lew had, and he was bent over double so that his back was parallel with the ground and he dug things up crab-like. I felt that awful chill that went through Lew. His parents talked at one time of sending him to the Mayo Clinic where they would have frozen his back upright. This would mean he'd never be able to bend again except very stiffly. There were some pretty damned unpleasant choices he had to look at. I think he ran out of strength to do it, that's all. (HJI)

Lewis Hill's character, and the staff whom he attracted, are epitomized in an incident recalled by Rick Chiarito, who had been with him from the very beginning:

A few months back, KPFA was responsible for a broadcast in which a program participant was made the object of a very subtle kind of ridicule and insult by one of the staff members. The participant was a Republican and a Daughter of the American Revolution, and therefore a "safe" target, at least from the point of
view of KPFA's many "liberal" listeners. But throughout the broadcast Lewis Hill paced the corridors with a troubled expression. Shortly after the broadcast was over, Lew himself went on the air and, on behalf of the entire staff, he apologized to the woman...for the personal indignity she had suffered.
Later the staff pointed out to Lew that he did not have the "right" to apologize on its behalf without prior consultation in a truly democratic fashion. I was among those who thought Lew's action presumptuous. But Lew then raised a question, the substance of which was this: "If, as chief officer of this organization, I cannot assume a common concern for the essential dignity of the individual, what can I assume?" In the interval that has elapsed since this incident, I have asked myself this question many times and have been led to agree with the justness of Lew's action. (HGP p.8)



In spite of staff conflict, Lewis Hill had established such a strong tradition and organization that his death did not bring about any immediate changes. Eleanor McKinney, his closest associate, was named General Manager Pro Tem. (HGP p.19) But by October the new permanent President of Pacifica and Station Manager of KPFA was Harold Winkler who, not surprisingly, had been a member of the Study Committee formed in 1953 to overhaul the organizational structure.

Thus the precedent was established and then entrenched of broadcasters vs. directors, and the solution would become the problem. Thenceforth many of the major crises at Pacifica's stations would be conflicts between those who broadcast and those who commanded--precisely the dichotomy which Lew Hill in his early wisdom had set out to eliminate.

But Hill's influence extended beyond Pacifica Radio. He was a founder of the Broadcasting Foundation of America (BFA), a direct antecedent of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), which made possible the whole network of listener-supported radio and television in America. Eleanor McKinney testifies:

He had created the Broadcasting Foundation of America, which was to take KPFA and other programs and send them abroad and bring programs from abroad to this country. He thought of it and established a board and worked with George Probst in New York and helped it come into existence.
I later worked for a decade with PBS and the thing that I noticed was how much KPFA influenced all of public broadcasting. It was the nucleus of all sorts of things. For instance, our theory was that words were just as repeatable as good music...(MEI)

Joy Hill echoes and amplifies these observations:

I don't know if anyone knows that Lew was [influential] when public television was just starting. They were doing just educational programs and all these channels were going to be given to colleges; when there were too many colleges in a town like San Francisco they were supposed to allot the time... Lew, I think (and I know Eleanor agrees with me), changed that whole direction by pointing out the need for a balance to commercial broadcasting. He came up with the fund-raising idea, and all the magazines that they put out to send to their subscribers...(are) a spin-off from the KPFA Folio. Lew laid out the whole original public appeal for funds for these stations, through KQED [TV, San Francisco]. (HJI) 

But his greatest legacy was to found an institution in which people of talent and intelligence could develop their skills and address the public without any prior restraint except the laws of libel and obscenity. KPFA, followed by the other Pacifica stations, has been a forcing ground of unparalleled fertility. In the sixties, influential KPFA alumni in New York included Pauline Kael, film critic for the New Yorker; John Leonard, editor of the Sunday New York Times Book Review; Alan Rich, music critic for the Herald Tribune and then New York magazine; Jack Nessel, managing editor of New York; and Eleanor McKinney, Executive Director of the Broadcasting Foundation of America. The advantage they all shared was having worked in a medium in which they were allowed the unfettered though impecunious freedom of artists in a garret.

Our concentration on Lewis Hill is in danger of making the subsequent history of Pacifica sound like a long twilight. But even those most devoted to Hill and most opposed to the subsequent changes would readily agree that, compared with most of American radio, Pacifica's output has remained often spectacular. KPFA's present Music Director, Charles Amirkanian, has held the post for twenty-five years, during which he has interviewed and broadcast just about every composer of any importance. From the beginning, KPFA was championing modern music. During the sixties it shared studio space in an old Wobbly (International Workers of the World) Hall at 321 Divisadero Street with the Ann Halpern Dance Company and the San Francisco Tape Music Center. The latter was a major meeting place and training ground for America's musical avantgarde, including Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, and Morton Sobotnik. The technical requirements of this inventive group led in turn to the Buchla synthesizers, Nady radio microphones, Meyer loudspeaker systems, and other state-of-the-art sound equipment.

Drama and literature were also until his retirement last year under the direction of a twenty-five-year veteran, Erik Bauersfeld, who established close links with German radio in Cologne and has been producing for radio all the plays of Eugene O'Neill directed by Jose Quintero. Like Amirkhanian he has interviewed and presented most of the important contemporary poets (including another contributor to this issue, Eric Mottram). As we have noted, the tradition goes back to the beginning, when the leaders of the San Francisco literary scene were heard regularly. Lawrence Ferlinghetti speaks for them all:'KPFA was really a focal point for a lot of the 'underground... When I arrived [in San Francisco] in '1951, it was in full force. It was the center of the 'intellectual community right up on through the early 'sixties. There were regular commentators and programs 'that gave me a complete education that was much better 'than anything I got out of college. (ARM)In short, the last forty years of the San Francisco cultural scene without KPFA is unthinkable. 

But perhaps the most remarkable feature of Pacifica's broadcasting has been its public affairs programming. It is in the areas of political controversy that the stations are unique among America's surviving broadcasters. One of the most important figures was Elsa Knight Thompson, Public Affairs Director from 1957 until her retirement in 1974. She came to KPFA with an already distiguished career as director of international affairs broadcasts for the BBC Overseas Service during World War II (she was the first radio broadcaster to break stories of Hitler's death camps). At KPFA she trained a whole generation of radio producers who won prizes (and made influential enemies) at Pacifica's other stations. (THO) One of her associates was Dale Minor, who was in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, when forty days of protest led by Martin Luther King culminated in racist riots and the arrest of more than 3,000 demonstrators. The resulting program, "Freedom Now", was American radio's documentary entry that year for the Prix Italia. Two years later, when rioting broke out in Watts, Pacifica's black reporters went into the thick of it and came out with recordings such as the mass media's overwhelmingly white staff couldn't get.

Pacifica's coverage of the student free speech and civil rights revolt was encyclopaedic. In 1960, KPFA recorded the San Francisco hearings of the House Un-American Affairs Committee and was able to document the events leading to the violent confrontation between police and student demonstrators on the steps of City Hall. In 1964, when Berkeley students revolted against an administrative prohibition of on-campus fund-raising for civil rights, KPFA, only a few blocks away, was able to keep staff and volunteer reporters on the scene around the clock. Hours of air time were devoted to interviews, discussions, and recordings of public meetings, demonstrations, and the night of mass arrests in Sproul Hall. There could be no argument about police brutality and student non-violence--it was all on tape. The official reports were mostly lies. A major step in my education was seeing the police drag the students down the steps by their heels, their heads bouncing off the stones. It is part of the enduring legacy of Pacifica Radio that its tapes continue to be among the most valuable documents of recent history.

Pacifica gave live all-day coverage to the Vietnam Teach-In at Berkeley in 1965, enlivened by Norman Mailer's speech included a year later in Cannibals and Christians. I still recall my fury at being ordered to take it off the air because of its obscenity. In retrospect the station may be forgiven its caution: it had almost lost its license over a broadcast of Edward Albee's The Zoo Story.

Through the years Lewis Hill's dream of a network of Pacifica stations has become a reality: KPFK, Los Angeles, established in 1959; WBAI, New York, given to Pacifica by philanthropist Louis Schweitzer in 1960; KPFT, Houston, started in 1970; and WPFW, Washington, D.C., 1977.

The tradition of distinguished reporting continues to the present. The Pacifica Radio News service in Washington D.C., started in 1968, has been available to all of public radio since 1978. In 1987 Larry Bensky's coverage from this facility of the Iran-Contra affair won the George Polk Award. A mere summary of other awards and commendations would double the length of this chapter. Indifference to official and commercial pressures put Pacifica years ahead in covering black militancy, urban and rural poverty, student discontent, the Vietnam War, Hoover's administration of the FBI, the military-industrial complex, censorship, government control of the universities, drug laws, conscientious objection to the draft, feminism, gay rights, and other controversial issues.

Such unorthodox broadcasting might be expected to land the stations in trouble. It has. From the beginning there were accusations of communism and subversion, due in part to the fact that in America belief in unfettered expression is usually in itself a left-wing conviction. Nor has survival been made easier by the staff's attempts to penetrate official secrecy. In 1963 the Pacifica Foundation was investigated by the Senate Internal Security SubCommittee to determine possible Communist infiltration. "Informed sources" suggested that the investigation was perhaps not unrelated to interviews broadcast the previous year with two former FBI agents whose anecdotes about J. Edgar Hoover had been unflattering. At the same time, the Pacifica stations' licences came up for renewal by the Federal Communications Commission and, although the decision was ultimately favorable, the procedure was rather less routine than usual.

The fight continues. In April 1989 David Salniker, Executive Director of Pacifica, wrote,

While Pacifica received bomb threats at KPFA because of its reading of Salmon Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, the Federal Communications Commission and [Sen. Jesse] Helms required us to censor sections of the book that contained language offensive to the FCC. It is ironic that on the same day the Bush administration decried the ayatollah's threat to the First Amendment, it was in federal court defending legislation censoring what little literature you can find on the air. (ARM)

A recurring lament of KPFA alumni has been the corruption of standards and the desertion of principles. On September 26, 1991, KPFA moved into new state-of-the-art $2,250,000 purpose-built studios. While some cried "sell-out!" the Folio for that month listed a newly-commissioned piece by Lou Harrison; the West Coast premiere of Busoni's opera, Arlecchino; a Washington report from Larry Bensky on the Robert Gates/CIA hearings; a celebration of the 60th birthday of Gary Snyder; one-and-a-half hours of interviews with Kurt Vonnegut; eyewitness testimony on U.S. war crimes in the Persian Gulf; and an entire day devoted to President Bush's "New World Order", including contributions from Naom Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Daniel Sheehan, and Alexander Cockburn.

Not bad for a sell-out. Although Pacifica's format, style, and even content have changed with the years, Lewis Hill's legacy continues to yield a dividend. Like the co-operatives, the Living Theatre, Black Mountain College, the civil rights movement in the early sixties, and certain segments of the underground press, Pacifica Radio has been a salutary experiment in democratizing the sort of institution which is usually controlled from above.

Even since the establishment of an external board of directors, interference with the act of broadcasting has been minimal compared with any other privately or publicly owned media outlets whatsoever. The results are sometimes mediocre, but occasionally spectacular: not because Pacifica's staff have been uniquely talented, but because they could afford the luxury of habitual integrity. They have helped to demonstrate that the most important facts about any source of information are who runs it and what they stand to gain.

Direct listener support provides a reliable assurance that the audience is not being manipulated for unspecified ends, be they commercial, political, or even paternally altruistic. In a time of increasingly centralized information control, such an assurance is precious indeed.


This preliminary history of KPFA's beginning was written in 1992. Since then, changing priorities of the Pacifica Board of Directors at the national level have led to substantial alterations in KPFA's programming. Rather than re-write the final section, which is now itself a part of KPFA's history, I have appended a recent article.

John Whiting is a free-lance writer and international sound designer based in London and working throughout Europe and America. In the 1960s he was a volunteer and then Production Director/ Program Producer at KPFA, where his happy memories include technical production for Erik Bauersfeld's legendary series, Black Mass. In 1993 he published the first installment of KPFA's history, which he is struggling to complete before it becomes an obituary.


ARM David Armstrong, "Little network that could". San Francisco Examiner, April 1989.

BAI Esther Bankoff, telephone interview, 7 October 1991.

BEI Erik Bauersfeld, telephone interview, 7 October 1991.

BUX Frank Buxton and Bill Owen, The Big Broadcast 1920-1950. New York, NY: Flare Books/published by Avon, 1973.

CGI Gertrude Chiarito, telephone interview, 8 October 1991.

FRI Fred W. Friendly, Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control... London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1967. 

HJI Joy Hill, telephone interview, 28 January 1992.

HLV Lewis Hill, Voluntary Listener-Sponsorship: A Report to Educational Broadcasters On the Experiment at KPFA, Berkeley, California. Berkeley, CA: Pacifica Foundation, 1958.

HDP Vera Hopkins, "Drama on Pacifica Radio". Unpublished monograph, July 1978. 

HGP Vera Hopkins, "Growing Pains, with special reference to KPFA". Unpublished monograph, 1987. 

HPR Vera Hopkins, " Pacifica Radio Sampler". Unpublished monograph, May 1984. [A bibliography of memos, letters and ephemeral publications.]

HRI Morris Horowitz, telephone interview, 7 October 1991.

KOC Christopher Koch," Pacifica" (1968). Reprinted in the KPFA FOLIO, February 1972.

LEA Barbara Leaming, Orson Welles: a Biography. New York, NY:Viking, 1985.

MEE Eleanor McKinney, Editor, The Exacting Ear: The Story of Listener-Sponsored Radio, and an Anthology of Programs from KPFA, KPFK, and WBAI. New York, NY:Pantheon Books/Random House, 1966. 

MEI Eleanor McKinney [now Sowande], telephone interview, 30 January, 1992.

MSI Edward Meese, telephone interview, 30 January, 1992.

PRVPacifica: Radio with Vision since 1949, Berkeley, Pacifica Foundation, 1989.

REX Kenneth Rexroth, "The Beat Generation". Transcript, talk on BBC Third Programme, October 1966.

SRI Robert Schutz, telephone interview, 8 October 1991.

THO Elsa Knight Thompson, Obituary. San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle, February 13, 1983.

TTI Trevor Thomas, telephone interview, 7 October 1991.

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