Introduction

From: Active Radio

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Active Radio begins with the early history of broadcasting in the United States, outlining the circumstances in which a small, powerful group of corporations came to control the vast majority of “our” radio channels. How did commercial stations succeed in convincing both the government and early listeners that they, not the educational, religious, and civic broadcasters, best served “the public interest ”? During the 1920s, pioneering noncommercial broadcasters faced immense difficulty keeping their bearings as the federal government via its newly formed Federal Radio Commission (1927) transferred nearly all broadcasting licenses to commercial stations. Between 1920 and 1934, a contest over control of the airwaves occurred, one often occluded from research and textbooks in media history. Without the full means of producing a “consensus” they would over time obtain, corporate broadcasters needed to muster all their resources to convince the American listener and the U.S. government that their oligarchic control of the airwaves was inherently democratic and based on public service. One vital site of this struggle occurred over licensing. Consider that approximately one quarter of the broadcast licenses distributed by the secretary of commerce between 1920 and 1925 were for noncommercial stations; many university channels in particular offered their audience an eclectic if erudite schedule that provided for an all too brief moment a viable, partial alternative to the entertainment of the corporate media.1 In his important work Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, Robert McChesney has argued that the corporate control of the airwaves was not decided until the defeat of the Hatfield-Wagner Amendment INTRODUCTION For the first time in the history of American broadcasting, an opportunity is offered listeners to maintain a radio station distinguished by its candor, the unique quality of its programs, and its freedom from commercials. —KPFA Folio, August 1951, read on the program “KPFA’s Sixteenth Birthday” 1 to the Federal Communications Act in 1934.2 By the time Pacifica was founded in the late 1940s, the legacy of early noncommercial broadcasters and their incisive critiques of corporate media was but a faint echo. Chapter 2 provides an overview of twentieth-century pacifism, the political vision that gave the network its name and ideals. The oldest dissident movement available for study and moral guidance, the struggle for peace has had an illustrious career, spanning the millennia with its plea for dialogue, negotiation, and trust. That human disagreement and competition need not be physically concussive seems a truth obvious beyond utterance; that warfare brings in its wake “an unending , universal mourning-wail of women, parents, orphans,”3 should, one imagines , have led humans to beat their swords into ploughshares millennia ago. Yet as we see in a century during which the carnage of battle has claimed hundreds of millions of victims, mostly civilian, the quest for peaceful human coexistence remains an elusive goal. One of the central aims of this book is to document and evaluate Pacifica’s passionate search for a “moral equivalent of war.” Pacifica was forged during an era of epochal transformation in the means of battle— the atomic age with its nuclear weapons and “security” based on mutual assured destruction. Lewis Hill, the young conscientious objector who guided the formation of Pacifica in the years following World War II, well understood that human technological genius had moved the apocalypse from religious myth to scientific challenge and government policy. After working for a Washington, D.C., radio station in 1943, Hill lamented the media’s conspiracy of silence, entertaining and distracting rather than educating the public during and after World War II. How, he and his pacifist comrades wondered, might radio be deployed toward transforming our inclination toward violence and aggressive posturing—toward ending what the Quakers called “war and the occasions of war”? In answering this question, Hill and his comrades molded a radical critique of the emerging military-industrial complex and national security state, support for social justice and civil liberties, and an abiding personal taste for avant-garde culture into the basis for daily radio programming. Through the responsible use of broadcasting, the men and women who established the Pacifica Foundation in northern California in 1946 were certain that radio was an indispensable means to educate “people of goodwill” about the futility of war, and further that broadcasting could and must be used as a means to hasten the end of all social injustice. Its original articles of incorporation declared Pacifica’s mission to be: In Radio broadcasting operations to engage in any activity that shall contribute...