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Active Radio

Pacifica’s Brash Experiment

1999
Author:

Jeff Land

Active Radio

The essential book on the origins of the influential Pacifica radio network, in time for its fiftieth anniversary.

In April 1949, KPFA in Berkeley, California, went on the air. From the beginning, the station broadcast an utterly new combination of political commentary and cultural discussion, dedicated to creative expression and dissent. In this fascinating account, Jeff Land tells the heroic story of the Pacifica radio network and the practical model it pioneered for liberatory alternatives to commercial mass media.

Land’s study succeeds in showing how Pacifica prodded and reacted to the various progressive social movements of the Cold War era. Fascinating reading.

In These Times

In April 1949, KPFA in Berkeley, California, went on the air. From the beginning, the station broadcast an utterly new combination of political commentary and cultural discussion that reflected founder Lewis Hill’s vision of a radio station dedicated to creative expression and dissent. In this fascinating account, Jeff Land tells the heroic story of the Pacifica radio network, exploring not only its role in the culture and politics of the postwar world but also the practical model it pioneered for liberatory alternatives to commercial mass media.

A network of five stations (in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Houston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.), Pacifica has been actively involved in nearly every progressive political movement of the past fifty years. The network has risked the loss of its licenses and made errors of judgment and taste; its transmitters were bombed; its personnel have been arrested and jailed. Yet it pioneered a number of media innovations, listener sponsorship and call-in radio among them. It has made history: on Pacifica stations, Seymour Hersh broke the My Lai story; the FBI’s illegal internal surveillance program was first publicly revealed; the Firesign Theater gave its first performance; and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” made its public debut.

Using tape archives of radio programs, interviews with participants, and unpublished material on Pacifica, Land chronicles the turmoils and triumphs of this radio network that served as a model for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. Rich in anecdote, Active Radio is both an engaging account of Pacifica’s past and an assessment of its significance to postwar culture in the United States.

Active Radio

Jeff Land, a longtime activist in grassroots ecological politics, has taught at the secondary and university levels since 1979.

Active Radio

Land’s study succeeds in showing how Pacifica prodded and reacted to the various progressive social movements of the Cold War era. Fascinating reading.

In These Times

Pacifica’s history, legacy, and shortcomings are the penetrating stuff of Land’s new book. Active Radio’s larger theme rings ever more true: Except for Pacifica and the rare community radio station, radio—like television and the Internet to follow—has contributed little to ‘lasting understanding’ and plenty to narrow interests of the monetary sort.

Mother Jones

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the independent Pacifica Radio Network, Land, a media critic and activist, recounts the network’s history in a tight, accessible narrative. For Land, Pacifica embodies the power of the First Amendment, exemplifying the salutary effects of the ‘disruption of convention encouraged by vigorous dissent.’

Publishers Weekly

This history flows smoothly and provides an informed, documented (with primary sources), and interesting story of the rare, now almost extinct phenomenon of independent broadcasting.

Choice

Active Radio is an evenhanded, sympathetic account of Pacifica Radio. It is an insider’s narrative about just how Pacifica was so groundbreaking and why it has been so chaotic.

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Engaging reading.

Library Journal

Active Radio

Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. The Rise of Corporate Broadcasting
2. Lew Hill’s Passion and the Origins of Pacifica
3. Listener-Sponsored Radicalism on KPFA
4. The Development of the Pacifica Network
5. Free Speech Radio
6. WBAIand the Explosion of Live Radio
7. Beloved Community

Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Pacifica Programs
Index