Segments in this Video

Introduction: KPFA- On the Air (01:14)


Hear a montage of audio from KPFA in Berkeley, a listener-sponsored radio station.

Protest at Radio Station (02:09)

Police arrest protestors at KPFA studios, where they are battling KPFA's owner, the Pacifica Foundation, over the future direction of the alternative radio station.

Pacifism (01:22)

KPFA's founders, led by charismatic pacifist Lewis Hill, wanted to save the world from war. Hill's efforts began during WWII.

Conscientious Objectors (02:03)

Government put WWII conscientious objectors in a camp to keep them out of public consciousness. Lewis Hill, an inmate there, conceived a radio station to broadcast pacifist ideas.

Subscriber-Funded Radio (01:31)

Hill became a broadcaster but resigned out of disgust with radio's corporate domination. He envisioned subscriber-funded radio to promote ideas.

Forming Pacifica Foundation (02:34)

After WWII, Hill went to radical hotbed San Francisco and recruited from the Libertarian Circle. He envisioned not just a pacifist radio station but schools and other institutions.

Early KPFA Broadcasts (02:56)

KPFA began broadcasting in 1949. Hear Lewis Hill's inaugural address, expressing his idealistic vision for radio, and a montage of poetry, disarmament debate, and discussion of Eastern thought.

Fundraising (01:39)

KPFA had trouble persuading listeners to support the station. Few people had FM radios; KPFA sold FM radios to raise funds and gain listeners.

Hill's Vision (02:54)

KPFA returned to the air in 1951 with a signal reaching the whole Bay Area. Hill sought to make the station a major part of people's lives. Hear a montage of broadcasts.

Red Scare and KPFA (01:26)

Some thought KPFA was communist. They had communists on in the interest of hearing all voices. A woman involved says they had trouble finding articulate conservatives.

Hill's Suicide (02:01)

Ideological struggles over the direction of KPFA took a toll on Hill, who killed himself. KPFA was gaining national attention.

William Mandel (01:49)

William Mandel left the Communist Party and was ostracized by friends and hounded by McCarthyism. He moved to California and hosted a KPFA program on the Soviet press.

Conservatives on KPFA (00:35)

Caspar Weinberger had a KPFA show. Members of the John Birch society had their own show.

HUAAC Hearings Coverage (02:14)

KPFA covered HUAAC hearings in San Francisco, and the protests and defiant defendants. Some credit this coverage with turning the tide against McCarthyism.

Fearless Expression of Viewpoint (01:43)

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a host gave Pacifica's leader the heads-up that he would accuse Kennedy of endangering the existence of humanity; he was allowed to go ahead.

Civil Rights (02:06)

Hear Dick Gregory speaking on KPFA, and other KPFA coverage of the civil rights movement and the gay rights issue.

Bold Coverage (02:13)

Elsa Knight Thompson was responsible for KPFA's bold public affairs programing in the 1960s. KPFA ran Jack Levine's story on FBI abuses and faced intense pressure from the FBI.

Yielding to Government Pressure (01:02)

The FCC threatened to remove Pacifica stations' licenses. Pacifica factions fought over whether to appease the government; Elsa Knight Thompson was fired, but later returned.

Berkeley Free Speech Movement (01:43)

KPFA covered Berkeley student protests as police forcibly removed students from a sit-in.

Vietnam War Coverage (02:34)

Pacifica covered the Vietnam War, fueling the anti-war movement. Hear this coverage, and coverage of the Black Power movement.

Revolution Turns on Supporters (00:60)

Elsa Knight Thompson championed radical 60s dissent, but was herself swept away by it. She sought to impose standards on how radio should be done; various pressure groups rejected her paradigm.

Splinter Groups (02:20)

In the early 70s, "community" came to mean identity groups, a challenge for community radio as factions split off and struggled for power.

Revolution at KPFA (01:35)

Various identity groups pushed KPFA to hire more of their members. The staff went on strike, forcing out KPFA management; the man they inserted as manager was himself baffled by the many factional battles.

Patty Hearst (00:58)

KPFA received a communique from the SLA regarding the Patricia Hearst kidnapping.

Coverage of Major Events (02:26)

Learn about KPFA's coverage of the Three Mile Island accident, and the Iran-Contra hearings.

KPFA Music (01:54)

Most noncommercial stations replaced local broadcasting with NPR, but KPFA did not. They gave voice to unique music and musicians.

New Building (01:07)

KPFA listeners funded a new studio, a monument to KPFA's role in Bay Area life, built in 1991. Lou Harrison composed "Homage to Pacifica" for the occasion.

Cancelling Shows (02:07)

In 1995, KPFA cancelled Bill Mandel's show and other long-time shows. Listeners express outrage at a community forum.

Protesting KPFA Ownership (02:37)

In 1999, Pacifica Foundation made controversial decisions and secretly considered selling KPFA. Staff expressed opposition on-air; listeners held protests.

Credits: KPFA - One the Air (01:51)

Credits: KPFA - On the Air

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KPFA: On the Air

3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



This film pays tribute to the oldest and most ambitious independent, community-based media in the world, KPFA radio. Novelist Alice Walker narrates the vibrant and stormy history of the first listener-sponsored station. The film recounts how KPFA transformed itself into a voice for the radical movements of the 1960s. It surveys the station's spirited coverage of such events as the Civil Rights Movement, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the campus Anti-War Movement and the rise of the Black Panther Party. It covers the KPFA community's splintering into factions in the 1970s, and staff and listeners' demonstrations against the Pacifica Foundation's perceived selling out in the late 1990s.

Length: 56 minutes

Item#: BVL57857

Copyright date: ©2000

Closed Captioned

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