LEGENDARY BERKELEY RADIO STATION FIRES LEGENDARY
TALK SHOW HOST
BACK STORY: Berkeley, California's KPFA/Pacifica radio station, the only radio station in America to have 10,000 of its listeners demonstrate against it, finds itself in another controversy.
After receiving what its program director said were hundreds of complaints from a segment of its "progressive" audience, KPFA abruptly, capriciously, and with no warning fired award-winning
author, journalist, and broadcaster Peter Laufer from his lively Sunday morning radio talk show.
Program Director Sasha Lilley cited "negative audience feedback" and said her reasons for canceling the popular show were "intangible" but that Laufer was "just not right for Sunday." Lilley offered to tell the public that Laufer was leaving "to go on to bigger and better things." Laufer insisted that she better tell the public that he was fired because that was what he was telling the public. Laufer believes, based on letters and email, along with op-eds in the "alternative press", that a group of malcontent KPFA listener-activists orchestrated a smear campaign against him because he is, as these critics wrote, "not a person of color" and because his credentials (he's won virtually every prestigious broadcast journalism award) are "too mainstream."
"The KPFA bumper sticker says 'Free Speech Radio' but apparently mob rule is more accurate," Laufer mused from his Sonoma County coast side home, enjoying his first Sunday morning off in the six months since he inaugurated the KPFA show. "Ever since my undergraduate days,
Berkeley has symbolized diversity. But today's incarnation of KPFA wants to march in a lockstep of so-called politically correct speech. I did the show as a labor of love -- the salary about paid for my bridge tolls, gas, and a Sunday dinner out. I am profoundly disappointed and concerned to see that as commercial radio continues to homogenize, a longtime bastion of innovation in the non-commercial radio world reacts with predictable narrow mindedness. If you can't count on KPFA for tolerance of a diversity of views, what can you count on? Of course I harbor no desire to return to their airwaves after being treated in such a shabby fashion."
Peter Laufer is author of over a dozen well-received books of social and political criticism; his most recent works probe the lives of soldiers opposed to the Iraq War and promote open borders with Mexico. A former NBC news correspondent -- where he produced and anchored the
first nationwide radio show on the HIV/AIDS crisis -- Laufer has reported the news worldwide, and he won a Polk award for his documentary on Americans in prison overseas. In his own backyard he shared a Peabody award as a member of the KCBS news department when he
co-anchored the station's coverage of the 1989 earthquake that devastated the Bay Area. He created the "National Geographic World Talk" radio show, and is co-anchor with publisher Markos Kounalakis of the radio program "Washington Monthly on the Radio." He guest
lectures at universities worldwide on media issues and his print journalism is seen in a diverse array of publications from Penthouse to the London Sunday Times magazine. Details of his work can be seen at www.peterlaufer.com.
Laufer sent the following open letter of protest to Nicole Sawaya, newly installed as the Pacifica Foundation Executive Director, the network of progressive radio stations that owns KPFA, and Dave Adelson, the Pacifica National Board Chair.
Dear Nicole Sawaya and Dave Adelson:
I am profoundly disappointed that your Berkeley station KPFA has given in to an orchestrated and hysterical campaign to remove me from my Sunday morning talk show. Of course I was not doing the job for the meager amount of money I received. I mistakenly believed that KPFA
had a commitment to a lively and diverse approach to free expression performed in the context of creative and professionally produced radio theater. I took on the show when it was offered to me for the opportunity to practice live radio art, theater and journalism for my hometown audience.
My surprise firing was a tacky act and unworthy of the distinguished role Pacifica has played in American media. Sasha Lilley, the KPFA program director, reached me via telephone on my vacation in New York to inform me that my role was terminated. Lilley said, and I quote from notes I took during the phone call and from a follow-up email I received from her, "I really like what you do on the air. You are certainly a team player and I have really admired what you have brought to the airwaves." Nonetheless, with no warning, I was given my verbal pink slip.
During the brief phone call, Lilley cited
correspondence she had received from listeners who, she said, did not like my
act. When I asked her why these letters were not brought to my attention
prior to this termination call, she hemmed and hawed an apology and allowed as
how that was probably a management mistake. In a subsequent call I
pointed out to her what any longtime
radio professional knows : were I to have known a cadre of listeners was organizing an attack on my tenure, I could easily have mustered an equal or greater response from my proactive audience of loyal Sunday morning listeners. Instead, I serenely was cranking out excellent
programming, left unaware by Lilley and the rest of the KPFA management of my vulnerability.
Radio aficionados may be amused to know that only once did Sasha Lilley specifically chastise me for my performance. It came after I found an old Viewmaster abandoned in the studio just before air time one day. I clicked its shutter and was mesmerized by the familiar "ca-chunk" sound of my youth. When the show started I offered the first person to identify "the mystery sound" a prize: the book written by my first guest that day, autographed by the author. "I hate the
mystery sound," Lilley told me later, and I cancelled plans for it to be a running moment of frivolity on my otherwise serious show.
My firing came two days after I moderated a benefit for KPFA in Berkeley featuring Naomi Wolf and Daniel Ellsberg -- an event that raised thousands of dollars, and where the hundreds in the audience broke into hoots and hollers of applause when I introduced myself from the stage as the anchor of the KPFA Sunday show.
As an added bizarre twist, the firing came on the eve of a feature article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Ben Fong-Torres about me and my talk radio career. In it Fong-Torres cites my seminal book "Inside Talk Radio: America's Voice or Just Hot Air?" and reports "Laufer
knows his stuff. He's qualified to offer an update on the state of talk radio -- albeit from a decidedly left-of-center viewpoint." He notes I founded talk stations in Berlin and Amsterdam, and that my talk radio career dates back to the first-ever talk station. "Today," he writes, "he hosts 'Sunday' a live program on KPFA." But Chronicle readers who tuned in after reading the paean to my talk radio expertise heard instead Sasha Lilley herself on the air, hosting my program, with the halting explanation, "We've parted ways with Peter Laufer." Firing is in her management toolbox, but apparently missing from her lexicon.
What gives in Berkeley? Is this the KPFA that I have known and loved? This bodes sour for the future of radio in America. If you can't trust Pacifica to protect avant-garde yet highly professional radio, what can you believe in? Has the spirit of George Bush's intolerant regime reached the trenches of Berkeley?
Sincerely and with regrets to report this news to you,
PETER LAUFER ON THE AIR IN D.C.
Esteemed globe-trotting reporter Peter Laufer is now on the air in Washington D.C. San Francisco and about a dozen other markets with a one-hour weekly talk show sponsored by Washington Monthly magazine. Laufer's co-host is Markos Kounalakis, President and Publisher of Washington Monthly, who, like Laufer, has an extensive history of world-wide news reporting. The program covers politics, government and culture and has become a dynamic forum for journalists, policy makers and others to discuss the issues of the day.
Monthly on the Radio originates from the magazine's offices in San
Francisco and is broadcast in San Francisco, Sundays at 10pm on KABL. The
program can also be heard on XM'x POTUS '08 channel. Polipoint Press is publishing
an anthology of interviews from the first year in early 2008 titled
"Hope Is a Tattered Flag".
Laufer has also taken a page from Jane Oliver's book of rare and distinctive automobiles by acquiring a 1974 Austin FX 4 London taxi, which he brought back to California after a stint working with Kelvin MacKenzie at talkSPORT, a program heard throughout Great Britain. Laufer had his taxi restored in Sonoma County. "See it sparkle!" he brags.
Armstrong and his Vets-to-Vets group in Connecticut are featured in the second
of a two-part article (Nov 11,12 07)by Los Angeles Times photographer, Luis
Sinco, who took
the picture of a soldier in Fallujah who became known as the "Marlboro
marine." The marine came home from the war with post-traumatic
stress disorder. After a very tough time, he reconnected with the
photographer, who gave him a lot of support, driving roundtrip from West
Virginia to West Haven, Connecticut, to contact Moe's organization several
times. Armstrong is quoted throughout the piece, which is both moving and
infuriating. He tells Jive95, "Vet to Vet is in forty sites across
America. I am starting to open up whole states now like Missouri and
Tennessee. Each One, Reach One, Teach One Gladly, Teach Gladly, Learn,
those are our mottos. 203 937 3850 is where you can order the video if
you are interested. Ask for Patricia Crann."
Part One Part Two
MELLOUGH TRIBUTE TO KSAN
DJ & musicologist Miles Mellough has written a tribute to KSAN on his most interesting website, BirdsWithBrokenWings.com
JIVERS CELEBRATE AT 'SUMMER OF LOVE' MEMORIAL CONCERT
The 40th Anniversary Celebration of the "Summer of Love" was held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on Sunday, September 2, 2007.
a review by a Gen-Xer.
BENSKY HANGS UP HIS HEADPHONES
Larry Bensky, longtime newscaster, reporter, commentator, activist and teacher, has retired after 38 years on the air, from KSAN in 1969 through KPFA, KBLX, California Public Radio, NPR and Pacifica Radio.
"I'm leaving," he said via e-mail, "because I've done KPFA, Pacifica and radio long enough, and because I just turned 70, and want to do as yet uncertain other things while I still have, hopefully, years and health."
His final "Sunday Salon," which aired April 29, drew visits from Scoop Nisker, Dave McQueen, Mal Sharpe, Peter Laufer, Jan Sluizer, and KPFA vets Bonnie Simmons, Denny Smithson, Kris Welch, Susan Stone, Bari Scott, Aileen Alfandary and Nicole Sawaya, whose dismissal as station manager caused an uproar, and who is now at KALW-FM.
More friends and fans joined him at "A Tribute to Larry Bensky" on June 3 at King Middle School, 1781 Rose St. in Berkeley. Bensky talked about his career with Pacifica historian Matthew Lasar.
I asked Bensky, who was Pacifica Radio's national affairs correspondent from 1987 to 1998, for a few career highlights, and he replied: "Covering Jonestown's strange rise and ghastly finale from San Francisco (I narrowly missed being on the plane with Congressman Leo Ryan and the journalists); covering the election and murder of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, and the subsequent community sorrow and outrage, all for KSAN; the Iran-Contra hearings for Pacifica; and, perhaps the lowest but most deeply affective broadcast, the all-night saga of the execution of Robert Alton Harris from outside San Quentin, for KPFA, in 1992."
Bensky, who won a George Polk Award for his work on the Iran-Contra story, will continue to contribute on occasion to KPFA and Pacifica. If he's got second thoughts about bowing out, he says, it'd be because "I wish we were further along the impeachment track with the worst president I've ever endured in my lifetime, and that I were a part of broadcasting events leading to his well-deserved dismissal and disgrace."
Despite the challenges terrestrial radio is facing, Bensky believes it'll always be around. "In the end, it will always remain true that people want to, and need to, have information so that a movement to right the wrongs of our society and our planet can continue to try to grow," he says. "And people will always want to hear voices and stories of each other. I'm proud of the few drops I've been able to contribute to those indispensable streams over the years."
Berkeley, June 1st - KPFA Radio 94.1 FM has hired award-winning journalist, broadcaster and documentary filmmaker Peter Laufer. Laufer will host the popular Sunday morning program, formerly called Sunday Salon, following Larry Bensky's retirement. Laufer, who got his start in KPFA's news room, has won many of the most prestigious awards in broadcast journalism including a George Polk Award and Peabody Award.
Laufer worked at the legendary freeform rock station KSAN and was a member of the award-winning KSAN news team that reported on the shootout at San Quentin Prison that occurred during the attempt at breaking free George Jackson. While a correspondent for NBC News, he also reported, wrote, and produced several documentaries and special event broadcasts for the network that dealt in detail with crucial social issues, including the first nationwide live radio discussion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. "Healing the Wounds" was an analysis of ongoing problems afflicting Vietnam War veterans. "Hunger in America" documented malnutrition in our contemporary society. "A Loss for Words" exposed the magnitude and impact of illiteracy in America. "Cocaine Hunger" was the first network broadcast to literally trace the drug from the jungles of Bolivia to the streets of America, and alerted the nation to the avalanching crises caused by the consumption of crack cocaine."Nightmare Abroad" was a pioneering study of Americans incarcerated overseas.
Laufer has written on issues ranging from the imprisonment of Lori Berenson in Peru to the rightwing Minutemen militia on the US-Mexico border for AlterNet, Mother Jones (where he set up Mother Jones Radio), and other alternative publications. Lauferâ€™s books include "The Question of Consent: Innocence and Complicity in the Glen Ridge Rape Case" about the rape of a developmentally disabled schoolgirl by a gang of her classmates and the effect of the case of the health of the local community, "Inside Talk Radio: America's Voice Or Just Hot Air" about the rise of conservative radio, and most recently "Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq", published by Chelsea Green. Other books have focused on US-Mexico immigration, migration in Western Europe, and the US invasion of Iraq.
"Over the last several years my friend and colleague Larry Bensky performed radio magic Sunday mornings"," says Laufer. "He combined an array of intriguing guests and audience participation with his own curiosity and thorough knowledge of current affairs to create a radio show that entertained while it informed. It is a privilege to seize the KPFA microphone now that Larry's decided to retire from the show."
"Peter brings a stellar background in journalism, strong progressive politics, and intellectual substance to the program," says interim general manager Lemlem Rijio. "We are very pleased that he will continue the tradition of thoughtful, in-depth programming on Sunday mornings".
Laufer's program can be heard from 9-11am on KPFA 94.1 FM or KPFB 89.3FM in the Bay Area and KFCF 881.FM in California's Central Valley, or online at kpfa.org. (see update top)
BBC, pirate radio and KSAN vet, Johnnie Walker has published his autobiography. From pirate radio to Buckingham Palace and an MBE, Johnnie tells the amazing story of how he came to be one of the best known and most loved broadcasters in Britain with a voice recognized by millions. Obsessed with music, the young Johnnie longed to move the crowd with the kind of beats he found irresistible. Deejaying in local dance halls and pubs around his childhood home in Solihull gave him a taste for playing his beloved music, and his success showed he had real talent. A great future beckoned. With luck and not a little front, he swung himself a slot on the newly launched pirate radio station Radio England, and Johnnie Walker's incredible career began. Now his book tells the full and extraordinary story. Buy it here. Johnnie was interviewed recently by Johnnie Black for Music Week magazine, a prominent European weekly. He talked about his time in the U.S. and at KSAN in the interview.
Raechel Donahue was recently honored by the Museum of Television & Radio with a "She Made It" award. This is the second year of the annual awards to outstanding women in media. Rae was part of a distinguished group receiving honors this year including; Rosanne Barr, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Carole Burnett, Arlene Francis, Jane Pauley, Lily Tomlin, Judy Woodruff and Betty White. More information and photos here. (that's Rae in the back row between Lily Tomlin and Tracy Ullman.
Jane Oliver, the Jive95's traffic czarina for many years, was always fond of '50s cars, so when she received an inheritance from her late father, she went out looking for one. In Tokerville, Utah, she found a car small enough to fit in her garage. It was a rare 1938 Willys four-door sedan and Jane snapped it up. She then researched car-restorers until she found a Willys specialist named Vinnie in New York. She shipped the car to Vinnie and a year later got it back with some custom changes, including a 350 engine and an Ooga ooga horn. Jane hired a local upholsterer named Coker to trick out the interior with leather and finally got it finished just as the inheritance ran out. Jane named her car "Nemo," not after our buddy at KSAN, but after the infamous captain. "This car glides," says Jane. "It's just a rocket!" She takes it out for Sunday morning cruises when the locals are at church and traffic is light. More pictures of Nemo here.
A recent article by Mark Brown in the Rocky Mountain News, reports on the campaign song that Rickie Lee Jones recorded for last November's election. Along with members of Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jones recorded a song of complaints about Republicans. Customized versions of the song were created for any campaign that requested them. Numerous Republican politicians were targeted by the jingles by name.
"Bones" Joan Goldsmith has given up on finding the end of the rainbow in New Mexico and split from Santa Fe back to the Golden State.
P. Young, former DJ and newsman at KSAN and later a multi-instrumentalist
composer and performer, has released his latest album, Isophonic Nation,
which features music for Native American
flutes, Kalimba, voice and electronic accoutrements.
has, since the days of his groundbreaking ensemble, Infinite Sound (1750 Arch
Records), played bamboo flutes, including the Shakuhachi, although until now he
has not incorporated them into his recorded compositions. His favorite bass
bamboo flute was made for him by the late great Raphael Garrett who played and
recorded with John Coltrane and who taught Roland some of the most advanced
breathing and improvising techniques that he still employs. Roland always
traveled with his bass flute and played it as a breathing, posture aligning and
centering instrument while on the road.
few years ago Roland traveled to New Mexico and met Sky Redhawk who introduced
him to the Native American flute, verifying one of Roland’s views of life that
“when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Roland was
captivated by this instrument and acquired several Native American flutes while
touring New Mexico. The Native American
flute, along with the Japanese Shakuhachi and the East Indian Bansuri, is the
premier and most antiquitous of wooden flutes. Roland plays red and white cedar,
birch, and walnut Native American flutes.
his return from his inspiring trip to New Mexico Roland devoted day and night to
the theory, study and practice of this infinitely complex and simple instrument.
He noticed that many of the concepts that he has employed on the
clarinet, bass clarinet and soprano saxophone translated into a new level of
breath and posture on the Native American flute. He started composing and
recording and the results are 11 richly unified compositions that reflect his Isophonic
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"I used to be a headline, but now I'm just Old News " . . . Lloyd Jones