The KPFA Crisis #5312 - Thoughts from Lorenzo Milam

From: "Sex and Broadcasting"

Copyright Mho and Mho Works
All Rights Reserved

A Brief Story about Radio Politics

I started out by telling you that the theme of Sex and Broadcasting would be the potent need, we all have, to communicate. I got sidetracked a bit on the FCC and all those Civil Service fiefdoms which don't give a good goddamn about you and me, and the sweet tangled parts of our personalities. I told you how they live by rules and laws -- which is supposed to give us a great sense of security, but for those of us who have read some about Eichman and Hoess, we get a bit ancy about the 'true' bureaucrat. (One of the great lessons of Nazism is that paper-pushers have a tremendous capacity for evil, and a tremendous ability to isolate themselves from that evil.)

But there is another vital part of listener-involved community alive free form radio which I have not communicated. And, since I am damn sick and tired of writing and rewriting this book, I'll have to stuff it here at the end, like some shirt-sleeve dragging out of the side of the suitcase.

What it is is that I have yet to tell you about the fears. That big choo-choo train, streaming down the line, a gold letter plate screwed in the boiler marked:


Some community radio station people have good reason to wake up and sweat at night. The staff at KPFT Houston kept thinking Why are we being so silly? Why do we have all these imaginary fears? Then these imaginary fears turned into two very unimaginable blasts in the transmitter shack. And KDNA fears as I have mentioned came in the door with Remington 12 Gauge Shotguns.

And KPFA. There's my next book. Growing up inside me right now, a sprout and shoot which will render me sleepless for the next two years as I have been for the last two weeks getting you out of my system

Old KPFA. The first. In a long line. KPFA. On the air in 1949. Off the air in 1950. On the air in 1951. And, in 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 et al: that was when the staff tore each other apart. Each day. Hourly. Endlessly.

There was good reason for the KPFA people to be scared for the first 10 years of the station's life. The United States was locked in The Fear of the Red Beast. It was a rumor that John C. Doerfer, recently of Wisconsin, friend of you-know-who, Chairman of the FCC, had vowed that he would get that son-of-a-bitching station off the air.

Fortunately, the country grew up some, and Mr. Doerfer was caught with his hand in a cookie-jar known as the George B. Storer Company company yacht. (Regulators should be social virgins, and not fishing cronies with those they are supposed to be regulating. Doerfer, surely one of the worse FCC chairmen, left office shortly after the news got out. He is now working for -- ready?-George B. Storer.)

But listen: the fears of the community radio people, I am loath to tell you, come as strongly from within as without. It works like this: people like you and me who are involved with strange and honest broadcast operations have a looseness in the brain-pan. We (you and I, love) operate best through tension, insane schemes, and bizarre fears. We seem to create nests of slander, inwit, neurotic outrage, and mental dyspepsia.

I tell you all this not to cover you and me and the existing community stations with calumny. But rather, to suggest that as you move towards getting your operation on the air, you should also set about defusing the madness inherent in the people who will come to be volunteers or staff for you.

See: commercial radio stations have a built-in defusing process which is make-money. You don't have that. What you have is a group of dedicated sincere people who want to Do Good and Right. And they are all crackers. Aren't we?

Choose your fellow workers carefully and well. Get people who are stable and loving and involved, but get people who have a life outside the station. Because they can drive you (and it) balmy.

Listen: the reason KRAB was such a benign operation through its first five years was not just because Seattle is such a benign city where the outrage of free speech has been tolerated up through the ages. Nor is it because for the first Ave years we were convinced that no one ever listened to us: what with our two hour concerts of Korean Temple Bells and weekend extravaganzas of the music of Dahomey. No -- it was because Nancy and Gary and Jeremy and James and I were careful to people the station with richly self-contained individuals. Good people, who loved listener-supported community radio, and what it could do for our minds; but, individuals who valued life outside the station.

It was not just that we took a couple of gallons of Mountain Red to the board meetings; it wasn't that we practiced an anarchistically politically detached wryness in our daily lives: it was, most of all, that we had a loud early warning system which went off whenever 'political' types came in the door. And I ain't talking about communists or John Birch Society members.

You will have hundreds of volunteers. They, and your board and staff, should be apolitical. Apolitical in the most inner sense. Apolitical in that you can only survive through openness, warmth, and a militant avoidance of rumor. You must be a lightning-rod.

I can tell you all this, but I am not so sure that I can really tell you, unless I were to meet you face-to-face, belly-to-belly. It's all tied up with Existential mental sets, whatever the hell those are, and the willingless to confront the peas hiding under the mattress. You must you should please try to defuse (read diffuse) intrigue and rumor. You will survive longer than -- if not as brilliantly as -- all those committed, secretive, artistic, tortured political boobies who try to convince us that their creativity is tied to their troublesome difference.

There is a story I have to tell you about all this. It is right where it should be: at the end of this book, at the beginning of all others. I told it to Larry Q. Lee, the resident wag of Pacifica, right after he called me "The Peter Pan of Listener Supported Radio." If I can tell him, I can certainly tell you:

It concerns Lew Hill. He started the whole listener-supported radio station thing in this country. He is the Father of Us All. Or was, until, in 1957, on a windblown hill outside of Berkeley, in a 1953 Dodge, with the windows rolled up, with the motor running, with a green water-the-lawn garden hose snaking from exhaust pipe to left side vent window, he did himself in.

Why did you do it, Lew?

And Gertrude Chiarito the Great Earth Mother of KPFA for 18 years from the miniscule beginnings until the harpies ran her away in 1966, dreamed a dream. A dream, a horrible dream, which tells you and me all about the crazy madmaking tear-apart weirdness which is the community of community radio:

It is late at night. It has been raining very hard. It is after midnight. There is a banging at the door of my apartment. I put on my robe and run downstairs, open the door. There is Lew Hill. His clothes are all sopping wet. The rain is pouring down his face. "Why, Lew," I say: "You can't be here. You're dead." YOU CAN'T BE HERE. YOU'RE DEAD.

"No," he says. "I'm not dead." I'M NOT DEAD. "It's just a rumor, spread by my enemies," he says. IT'S JUST A RUMOR. SPREAD BY MY ENEMIES. SO THEY CAN TAKE THE RADIO STATION AWAY FROM ME.

(Text Copyright Mho & Mho Works, All Rights Reserved)