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Radio and Pacifica: an early history - part two


[ From: http://www.radio4all.org/fp/shadow.htm ]

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



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 records), Jazz Archives (each devoted to a single classic musician or group), and Modern Jazz Scene (a similarly detailed analysis of contemporary jazz).]

1:30 FRANK O'CONNOR: 'The Mirror in the Roadway'. 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 illustrated talks on Latin-American music, by Robert Garfias.

3:10 FIDELIO. Beethoven's opera performed by the Vienna State 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 the 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.]

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, and The Los Angeles Chronicle.]

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 that...in 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.

PRV Pacifica: 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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