Cover image for Pacifica radio : the rise of an alternative network
Pacifica radio : the rise of an alternative network
Lasar, Matthew, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 277 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Corporate Subject:
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HE8697.75.U6 L37 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the public radio landscape, the Pacifica stations stand out as inn0ovators of diverse and controversial broadcasting. Pacifica's fifty years of struggle against social and political conformity began with a group of young men and women who hoped to change the world with a credo of non-violence. Pacifica Radio traces the cultural and political currents that shaped the first listener-supported radio station, KPFA FM in Berkeley, and accompanied Pacifica's gradual expansion into a 5 station network.

In this expanded paperback edition, Lasar provides a postscript ("A Crisis of Containment") that examines the external pressures and organizational problems within the Pacifica Foundation that led, in early 1999, to the police shutdown of network station KPFA. Lasar, an admittedly pro-KPFA partisan in the conflict, gives a first-person account, calling it "the worst crisis in the history of community radio."

Yet Pacifica Radio is about more than just the network's recent troubles. It is the story of visionary Lewis Hill and the small band of pacifists who in 1946, set out to build institutions that would promote dialogue between individuals and nations. KPFA took to the air in 1949 with stunningly unconventional programs that challenged the dreary cultural consensus of the Cold War. No one in the Bay Area, or anywhere else, had heard anything like it on the airwaves.

The first edition of Pacifica Radio, which made the San Francisco Chronicle's non-fiction bestseller list, was praised as "fascinating reading" by In These Times, "Lasar has an eye for paradox, irony and contradiction," wrote the Santa Rose Press Democrat, "but he is first and foremost an able and astute historian."

Author Notes

Matthew Lasar holds a Ph.D. in history from Claremont Graduate University.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Larger libraries will want to consider these studies of the interaction of politics and the media. Historian Lasar examines the first 20 years of the Pacifica Radio Network, founded by pacifists to spread their ideals through dialogue but forced in the McCarthy era to become a forum for dissent silenced by mainstream media. On charter station KPFA in Berkeley, California, Pacifica's founders, conscientious objectors, tried in early programming to make the ideals of pacifism and nonviolence meaningful to listeners. But the demands of fund-raising and aggressive anticommunist pressures muddied their goals, allowing observers to describe the station, with some accuracy, as pacifist or activist or apolitical, or even cultural programming for the elite. With on-air personalities like Alan Watts, Pauline Kael, and Kenneth Rexroth, KPFA (and, later, sister stations in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Washington, D.C.) drew small but committed audiences and set patterns that later "alternative radio" would follow. But the Pacifica Foundation's vision of a new kind of community built on dialogue was restated as a defense of dissent phrased in the language of traditional American individualism. Littlewood--a professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Illinois, Urbana, formerly a print reporter and a congressional aide to Bob Dole--notes that "horserace" journalism is not new in the United States: it goes back to at least the 1820s. From the pony express to the Internet, Littlewood traces that history, examining factors that explain how "the journalist's perceived need to 'call elections' as quickly as possible [has] influenced the reporting of political news and with it the conduct of election campaigns." Useful historical perspective. --Mary Carroll