Not quite sure whether to celebrate or to moan on the one year anniversary of the shut down by Pacifica, community radio station KPFA did a little of both Thursday.
To mark the anniversary, KPFA hosted an all-day open house, free concerts and a late-afternoon commemorative picket at its Martin Luther King Jr. Way studio.
“It’s really hard trying to figure out how to treat today,” said Susan Stone, KPFA director of Drama and Literature. “Are we simply marking the date, are we commemorating it or are we celebrating it? For some, celebration is kind of (strange) because it was a very gruesome day.”
The whole ordeal began March 31, 1999 when KPFA General Manager Nicole Sawaya’s contract was terminated by Pacifica Executive Director Lynn Chadwick. Protesters gathered in front of the station in the following days and weeks and held demonstrations and rallies.
On July 13, Pacifica locked up the station and began airing old tapes.
“There is a lot of wear and tear psychologically on the station because there has been no settlement with Pacifica over the status of our general manager or settlement in apology or otherwise to Nicole Sawaya, whose termination still wrinkles all of us,” Stone said.
KPFA aired special programming throughout the day, which included live performances from 10 a.m. to noon. A dozen different artists and groups each played five-to-10-minute sets, illustrating the station’s eclectic sound.
Kokomon Clottey, the last performer was one of the musicians who had participated in the demonstrations a year ago. The drummer from Ghana, performing with his group the Rhythm Tribe said that celebrating community radio is important to him, which is why he chose to return for the anniversary.
At noon, standard programming resumed with Living Room, hosted by Kris Welch, who revisited the events a year ago as heard on KPFA. She also played never-before-heard clips of demonstrators outside the station July 13, 1999, chanting “Free speech radio, we want our station back.”
At 12:30 p.m., halfway through the program, Welch came out of the building and set up at a table on the sidewalk to finish her broadcast. A crowd gathered around to hear her discussions with guests, including Larry Bensky, who recapped his experiences from last year.
“A year ago I was one of the folks listening at home and I got down here as fast as I could,” said Bensky, a longtime KPFA broadcaster who was fired by Pacifica April 9, 1999.
Flashpoints, the show that was airing when host Dennis Bernstein was removed from the studio by armed security guards last July 13, also broadcast from the street from 5-6 p.m.
People slowly showed up for the picket during mid afternoon, carrying signs that negatively depicted Pacifica’s corporate nature and demanding free speech for KPFA.
“This continues to show the symbol of, hey, we are not going away, we want free speech radio,” KPFA Volunteer Tony McNair said.
Rudy Posch of Los Altos showed up at about noon, wearing a hat that featured stickers promoting Ralph Nader for president, Food not Bombs and of course, KPFA.
“It’s a very grassroots thing to do,” Posch said of his apparel. “I couldn’t afford to bring a TV, but it’s easy to make a hat.”
KPFA’s intent of the day’s events was to recap its recent history, show how far it has come and look ahead. John Sheridan, intern on the Local Advisory Board, said that it was also a good time to promote the upcoming LAB elections.
“Where we stand now is I would say we are in tremendous suspension because we are still operating somewhat effectively, though on reduced circumstances,” Stone said. “But we are waiting for Pacifica to own up to its mistakes and also to come clean with us about a collective vision that really speaks to what we need.”
Staff writer Ian Buchanan contributed to this story.