4. The Development of the Pacifica Network

From: Active Radio

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Early Ambitions and Expansion A 1948 prospectus seeking donations for KPFA promised donors that “after an initial period of stabilization,” commercial revenue would support the station. More than that, “its income will eventually create a surplus providing for its own expansion or the establishment of other stations.”1 Although these business plans did not come to pass precisely in the manner imagined, airing Pacifica’s signals and ideals beyond the Bay Area remained dear to the hearts of many in the foundation. The earliest goals of Pacifica had anticipated that the foundation’s enterprises would include a bookstore, a publishing house, and other media outlets.2 One project, long under discussion but never to be realized, was the publication of a monthly literary journal modeled on the BBC’s Listener. Articles, poetry, transcripts of programs, and a monthly broadcast schedule would reach a national audience as well as serve Pacifica’s Bay Area subscribers. With advertisements on a quarter of the journal’s proposed seventy-two pages, this self-supporting venture would grow to be independent of the radio station. 4. The Development of the Pacifica Network Every year of [KPFA’s] life there has been internecine warfare here. There is a very simple explanation for this. The people who work at the station are individuals with strong minds and strong points of view. That’s why they’re here in the first place. . . . The station programming is for people with strong opinions. It would be a sad day indeed at KPFA if things are comfortable. . . . I can foresee no future time when KPFA will be smugly sitting here on a nice income with everyone feeling satisfied saying, “We’ve made it, fellas, now we can just coast along.” . . . We’re still a brawling, vigorous, active, impassioned bunch of people working here. And as long as you have this kind of people involved at this station, you’ll never have a nice, comfortable sitting-back kind of feeling. We attack, and we are attacked all the time. —Al Partridge, KPFA manager, “KPFA’s Sixteenth Birthday,” KPFA, Pacifica Foundation, 15 April 1965 63 Hill had also kept close contacts with colleagues in educational television and indubitably maintained visions of expanding into that realm as well. In 1951 he was central in the formation of the Bay Area Educational Television Association, which was responsible for the newly licensed “educational” station KQED. The thought that noncommercial television would follow in the path of educational radio appalled Hill. He wrote a colleague in 1951 that the first problem in developing educational TV is to get it completely separated from the history and organization of “educational” broadcasting. We must face the fact that the main use of university radio stations has not been to form a cultural bridge between centers of learning and occupational classes. . . . There is no evidence that these stations and their organizations (NAEB, etc.) even understand the basic functional obstacles to development of new art forms. . . . Moreover , the people in charge of educational stations are tied either to state legislatures or to boards of trustees which inevitably represent tendencies close to the commercial and conservative part of the community. . . . The real poets and musicians are working like hell at every conceivable job, and most of the best political thinkers are not in politics. These people are continually producing the real stuff of our century.3 Hill closes this letter with a call for permanent government subsidy for noncommercial television, overseen by an independent committee, with income supplemented by audience subscribers—in other words, a program very similar to the one ultimately recommended by the 1967 Carnegie Commission on public broadcasting that launched the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Hill’s preoccupation with KPFA limited the amount of time he could spend developing plans for educational television. Nonetheless, his vision of noncommercial listener-sponsored television has had a lasting legacy. San Francisco’s KQED public radio and television outlets hired many of the staff and volunteers from KPFA.4 Its fund-raising efforts, modeled on Hill’s principles of listener sponsorship , would be one of the central paradigms for PBS a decade later. Nonetheless , the expansive system of public broadcasting that emerged in the late 1960s became far more dependent on government and corporate backing than Pacifica, accounting in the main for its more timid approach to programming. The grant from the Ford Foundation in 1951 led to an aborted effort to establish an AM outlet for KPFA in the Bay Area. Several years...