Before there was MSNBC and Current TV, before there was The Huffington Post or The Daily Show, before there was the progressive blogosphere, before there was (and then wasn’t) Air America, there was Pacifica Radio.
Pacifica Radio was born out of the peace movement of the World War II era. It was founded in Berkeley, California by Lewis Hill, a Quaker, conscientious objector and news reporter who refused to broadcast state propaganda and wanted to start a media outlet that was not controlled by war profiteers. Hill founded KPFA in Berkeley in 1949. Ten years later, its sister station went on the air: KPFK in Los Angeles. Then over the next two decades came three more stations: WBAI in New York, KPFT in Houston, and WPFW in the nation’s capitol.
Over the nearly six and a half decades since KPFA’s founding, Pacifica Radio has been an unapologetic and uncompromising mouthpiece of the anti-war movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-colonial movement, the women’s movement, the student movement, the free speech movement, the LGBT movement, the movement for a nuclear-free world, the anti-apartheid movement, the immigrant right’s movement, the Central American solidarity movement, the sanctuary movement, the environmental movement, the prisoners’ rights movement, the Occupy movement and the movement to get money and corporate influence out of American politics.
Over those years, Pacifica Radio brought the Beat poets to the public airwaves. It stood up to McCarthy and faced an investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee for Communist subversion. It sent volunteers to the South to cover the emerging Civil Rights Movement; the son of the network’s then-President was murdered along with two other activists while registering black voters in Mississippi as part of Freedom Summer. It showcased some of the world’s most prominent voices against the Vietnam War, and it put Seymour Hersch on the air breaking the story of the massacre at My Lai. It broadcast a live interview with Che Guevara. The KPFT radio tower was bombed twice by the Ku Klux Klan during its first year on the air. It saw internal strife and underwent a turbulent unionization drive by its staff (labor-management conflict at Pacifica persists today). It won journalism awards for its coverage of the Iran-Contra hearings and for Amy Goodman’s reporting for Democracy Now on massacres in East Timor by Indonesian occupying forces. It syndicated editorials from Mumia Abu-Jamal, “live from Death Row.” It covered the Zapatista uprising in Mexico. It broadcast interviews with alleged “eco-terrorists,” animal rights activists and anarchists before they were sent to jail for crimes of political dissent. It has served as an indispensable tool for activists and communities that lacked a political voice, both in the United States and abroad.
As a media outlet, Pacifica Radio’s impression upon American social and political history has been significant; its impact on progressive, left-wing activism has been practically unrivaled.
The above video was produced by my video production company, Dog Park Media, for the Pacifica Radio Archives. Housed in Los Angeles, the Archives preserves these voices of American history that were channeled through Pacifica’s studio microphones, into its broadcast towers and then through millions of living room radios, car stereos, and headphones all over the country. These voices include: Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Jane Fonda, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Rachel Carson, Betty Friedan, John Coltrane, Pete Seeger, Noam Chomsky, Bobby Kennedy, and hundreds more.