Recent especially terrific listening at the only really people-powered media out there inspires this morning's blog. Mr. Bib probably should have timed this celebration of So Cal Pacifica Radio KPFK 90.7 FM to appear during the recently concluded fund drive, but there's no reason you can't demonstrate your good taste, solidarity, stubborn insistence by going to the website and pledging now or mailing an old-fashioned check to the station at its Cahuenga Blvd West address. So much good and exceptional and vital and encouraging happens on the alternative air there, mostly absent any acknowledgement from the other media. What is the sound of one's hands clapping? Applause, but you'd never know it from the near black-out of the one media outlet which, because it cannot and will not and should not try to compete with the rest of the media should also celebrate once in a while, and brag on itself. Perhaps the announcement last week of Ralph Nader's new Saturday morning 11 a.m. program, with funnyman and smart political observer David Feldman — and its debut yesterday — will merit a big feature piece in the Los Angeles Times? I can dream.
And I do dream. Radio, voices, especially smart voices reading and speaking or singing or
reciting poetry is still the closest to actual dream. Listening, carefully, closely, and imagining one's self in the conversation, the argument, the sing-along, the community, the moment is the enduring beauty (and perfection) of the perfect medium. I was reminded of that when Uncle Ruthie, host of the long-running family show “Halfway Down the Stairs” invited her kid and grown-up listeners last Saturday morning to mail her their dreams. “We read your dreams at KPFK” is what she said, in fact, evoking the Situationists not to mention making that connection between the audio art form which dominates my own listening-learning life and the transcendent communication-machine of frequency modulation. I think Ruthie's easy-seeming throwaway line might in fact be the next slogan for the station, currently “People-powered radio” or, occasionally, “Radio for the 99 per cent,” both of which in their construction and syntax and provocation
please me. But a station which not only features the only (!) family programming in LA, a feminist politics show, a disability awareness and rights hour, the historian Jon Wiener, a long-running Native American culture and activism program and “The Pocho Hour of Power” is in many ways already fulfilling my dreams (ambitions, imagination) even as it struggles with fundraising, attacks from within and, yes, disregard from people who know better – or should know better! – in the commercial and NPR media world. Again, people who cannot, even on a good day, really imagine that the Pacifica Radio shoestring operation built mostly on love, mutual aid and volunteerism can threaten them, can they?
Or maybe it does, by way of used to be called vis a vis other liberation-politics movements,
“the threat of a good example.” Think, remember revolutionary Nicaragua. Happily, there's more of that as yesterday comedian David Feldman and comic/director Steve Skrovan debuted their terrific “The Ralph Nader Radio Hour.” It's sixty minutes of two smart, funny guys asking, provoking, sometimes playing devil's advocate to the all-American hero about whom Skrovan made a terrific documentary called “An Unreasonable Man” (available, as they say, on Nexflix.)
Not too inside-baseball I think to point out that the 11 am Saturday slot used to be “Smiley and West” until NPR types booted Dr. Cornel West off that show. Clever and visionary KPFK Program Director Alan Minsky seems to have jumped into action with a show whose national-international analysis on economics, politics, consumer rights brings another legendary progressive to the air. So that, unlike the kind of dreams which mark a well-rested human sleeper, it is possible to dream along with the programmer-activist-comedian-singer of the hour or half-hour of your choice seven days a week. Some of the best of those are people who know how to ask questions and present arguments, among my favorites Ian Masters and Lila
Garrett. I especially dig it when those two bring on elected officials who challenge both the too-easy “they're all the same” fatalism about public office and the actual politics of what passes for, well, partisan politics. I'm talking about Bernie Sanders, often a guest on Masters' “Background Briefing” as well as weekly on Thom Hartmann's show. Or Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson on “Connect the Dots.” Or Tom Hayden, Dr. Gerald Horn and Jackie Goldberg on “Sojourner Truth,” Margaret Prescod's Friday morning roundtable.
And please don't get me started about “Uprising!” with Sonali Kolhatkar, because I just won't stop. Her regular top-of-the-show feature involves chatting with a rotating roster of smart thinker-analysts, my own faves just now being Robert Jensen and Adele Stan. And, is it possible that only in the last week I have heard Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky and an interview with the author of a new bio of Stokely Carmichael on my favorite radio station, not to mention (but, see, I do mention!) the always-excellent weekly editions of “Truthout” with Peter Z. Scheer and Blase Bonpane, the grand old dude of Liberation Theology, countering the “religious programming” on television Sunday mornings with his own righteous anti-war campaigning, and the newish labor show “Re:Work” (cause where else are you going to find a pro-trade union solidarity show?), and the excellent “Digital Culture LA” segment by Brittany Gallagher on “Digital Village.” Easy enough to just keep the radio on all day, preset at home or in the car, or visit the KPFK website to take in the whole program schedule, with recent changes. Finally, because it is that kind of a Sunday morning, some vintage but still urgent agit-prop from the scrapbook of memory that once animated Paris 1968.
Rough translation: “The very development of class society to the stage of spectacular organization of non-life thus leads the revolutionary project to become visibly what it already was essentially.” – Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
Yes, the “dream” of radio for the people and against the corporate whitewash of real life is most easily, elegantly an audio/aural one, more perhaps a soundtrack to the dreaming than visible. All power to the senses. All power to the imagination! Turn it up, loud. Put a sticker on your bumper, or “like” the station on Facebook.
All of this reminds me of another terrific book, presumably a “kids' book,” no kidding, called Americans Who Tell the Truth, which of course includes among its portraits the man of the hour, of his own radio hour now. It's for all ages, and has been shown as an art show around the country. You can check out the website associated with the original book and this ongoing portrait gallery project, maybe even find your favorite truth teller, a lot of them talking or truth-telling on KPFK. Amy Goodman, still one of the best reasons to get up at 6 AM Mon-Fri, with her “Democracy Now!” is there of course.
Finally, it's nearly springtime, which is book culture time. Here's a Bookly spring calendar heads' up: April 5, Literary Orange AND Women For: 29th Annual Great American Write-In. The next day “Santa Monica Review Presents…” reading at Edye Second Space, Broad Complex in Santa Monica, April 6, 4 PM. Tix at Brown Paper Tickets. SMR booth both days and Bibliocracy Radio live broadcast on Sunday at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC, April 12-13.
Americans Who Tell the Truth, Robert Schetterly, Puffin, 48 pgs., $11.99
Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.