Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Radio Free Coltrane: Free Jazz Radio as Revolutionary Practice

Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Radio Free Coltrane: Free Jazz Radio as Revolutionary Practice

Article excerpt

What's on the radio, propaganda, mind control

And turnin it on is like puttin on a blindfold

Cuz when you bringin the real you don't get ro-tation

Unless you take over the station

And yeah I know it's part of they plans

To make us think it's all about party and dancin

And yo it might sound good when you spittin your rap

But in reality, don't nobody live like that

-Dead Prez, "Turn Off the Radio"

Long marginalized by the preoccupation with the visual arts in Media Studies, radio remains a fundamental semiotic technology that continues to determine the parameters of cultural supremacy around such core issues as democracy, citizenship, and capitalism in American life. On the streets below academic ivory towers, radio still counts as a critical ideological battleground between local communities and big capital. San Francisco's 89.5 FM KPOO, the only Black-owned radio station west of the Mississippi, professes dedication to radical inclusivity - the critical ingredient of democratic participation and citizenship - and features as an emblem of its inclusivity four hours of the music and wisdom of late great jazz innovator John Coltrane. Created and hosted by the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, The KPOO Coltrane Uplift Broadcast spins Coltrane's extensive oeuvre as though the 1960's revolution in black music and politics from which Coltrane's art was born still raged on. The Uplift Broadcast is still one of the few spaces on the radio dial where women are included in the history of jazz innovations, where the decidedly non-commercial sounds of free jazz are played, where music is valued for its healing properties, and where spiritually democratic ethics such as the unity of all religious ideas are professed. The Coltrane Uplift is in all respects a brilliant example of the possibilities for transformative counter-hegemonic discourse through radio technology.

Exhaustive critical anthologies and historical treatments of similar independent, pirate and micro radio programs in Media Studies, such as Michele Hilmes Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio and Jesse Walker's Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America, have set the stage for more academic analyses of mass culture as a possible site of counter-hegemonic practices, but few disciplines outside of Cultural Studies have critically engaged the role of radio in the context of contemporary representations of race, class, gender, and sexual identity. Clearly, critical Radio Studies is an emerging discipline testifying to the ubiquity and centrality of radio even in the contemporary era of cable television and the Internet.

Emerging critical studies of radio substantiate perhaps the deepest hopes of Cultural Studies theorists: the notion that mass culture is not consumed passively but is rather an important technology of identification and resistance. Cultural Studies theorists have consistently analyzed radio in terms of its potential for creating imagined communities of interest and counter-hegemonic ideologies of democracy, citizenship, and capitalism.

Pre-dating the British Cultural Studies movement by a decade, Frantz Fanon outlined the evolution of radio in colonial Algeria from an ideological tool of the French colonial class to an instrument linking all Algerians with the day-to-day activities of the revolutionary front. A Dying Colonialism offers a critical exegesis of culture and cultural technologies in the service of Algerian revolutionary activity (1954-1962) including radio and the Islamic cultural practice of veiling. Radio became central to competing French colonial discourses and native Algerian resistance. Fanon wrote, "Since 1956 the purchase of a radio in Algeria has meant, not the adoption of a modern technique for getting news, but the obtaining of access to the only means of entering into communication with the Revolution, of living with it" (83). …

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