Active Radio: Pacifica's Brash Experiment / Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network

Article excerpt

Active Radio: Pacifica's Brash Experiment. Jeff Land. Minneapolis, MN and London, UK: University of Minnesota, 1999. 179 pp. $42.95 hbk.

Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network. Matthew Lasar. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1999. 277 pp. $24.47 hbk.

When I was a Los Angeles-based correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) in the mid-1980s, I listened regularly to two kinds of radio: the all news stations (mostly for their vital traffic reports), and KPFK-FM, the Pacifica Network's affiliate. On KPFK, I knew I would hear voices and points of view not heard anywhere else. These included reports from El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America (and the rest of the world) about leftist rebel movements, brazenly partisan journalism about radical politics in the United States, as well as unusual, haunting (again, often politically charged) music that even public radio stations were not airing.

Jeff Land and Matthew Lasar, both selfidentified social activists, have written sympathetic, yet nuanced histories of the fivestation Pacifica Radio Network (its other stations are located in New York; Houston; Washington, D.C.; and Berkeley). From its founding in 1949 on the cusp of the Cold War, Pacifica radio has been a loudspeaker for leftist radical politics in the United States. These institutional biographies, Active Radio: Pacifica's Brash Experiment and Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network, offer a window to an often neglected part of U.S. social, Political, and cultural history.

Through its first decades as part of the post World War U.S. pacifist movement, to its stances against the Vietnam War and other U.S. militarv interventions, Pacifica Radio deliberately and purposefully marginalized itself from the U.S. mainstream. It rejected commercialism, and unlike public radio and television, it also refused most government assistance, relying on its fiercely devotedalbeit sparse-audience for support. Today, 80 percent of the network's budget is provided by listener donations, the rest bv foundations and individual grants.

This, however, is not to imply that Pacifica Radio has ever catered to its audience in the traditional sense of the phrase. Rather, as Lasar details through rich oral histories of KPFA's broadcasters (many now in their eighties), working for Pacifica was selfconsciously understood as part of a larger political commitment, a dedication to free speech and the progressive movements of the latter half of the twentieth century. …