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KPFA - ON THE AIR Bookmark and Share

56 minutes, 2000,  
Producer/Director: Veronica Selver, Co-Producer/Writer: Sharon Wood

KPFA On the Air pays tribute to the oldest and most ambitious independent, community-based media in the world, KPFA radio. Novelist Alice Walker narrates the vibrant and stormy history of the first listener-sponsored station. KPFA On the Air is a case study of the pitfalls and possibilities confronting any experiment in media democracy.

KPFA grew out of the conviction of Lew Hill and a small group of fellow World War II pacifists that the best hope for peace in the dawning nuclear age was open dialogue between people of different points of view. They actualized these ideals in a listener-supported radio station which would offer ideas not products. Broadcasting for the first time in April 1949, KPFA became a rare voice for cultural and ideological pluralism during McCarthyism and the conformist 1950s. Alan Watts, Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg and Linus Pauling shared the mike with Caspar Weinberger, Edward Teller, the father of the H-Bomb, and the John Birch Society.

KPFA On the Air recounts how KPFA transformed itself into a voice for the radical movements of the 1960s. It surveys the station's spirited coverage of such events as the Civil Rights Movement, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the campus Anti-War Movement and the rise of the Black Panther Party.

The documentary doesn't cover up the fractious culture of the station; rather it illustrates that communities are themselves in constant formation, change and contention. KPFA On the Air traces how after the movements of the 1960s, the station painfully reconfigured itself into a multi-cultural coalition of various programming collectives.

As KPFA On the Air was being edited, the non profit Pacifica board which owns the station, fired a number of long-time programmers and subsequently locked out the KPFA staff. Rumors spread that the board might sell KPFA's frequency, and a mobilized, militant listenership took to the streets in protest, ultimately reestablishing community control over the station's programming.

KPFA On the Air will astonish anyone who turns on a television, radio or computer as well as students of journalism, mass communications, and community sociology. It provides a rare glimpse of an alternative path for American media.

KPFA On the Air is a presentation of the Indpendent Television Service (ITVS).

For more information about KPFA On the Air visit www.itvs.org.
"A wonderful history, not just of one station, but also of the enduring vision that radio, if freed from the shackles of commercialism, can elevate us politically, culturally and spiritually...Highly recommended for communication studies and American political history."
Susan Douglass, University of Michigan
"A poignant look at almost 50 years of American history as seen through the revealing lens of the world's oldest independent radio station. This brilliant video allows us to hear the remarkable range of voices . . . that have made KPFA unique. It will help students gain a vivid sense of the immediate past of their own society."
Robert N. Bellah, University of California, Berkeley
"A compelling documentary about the station that launched public broadcasting in the U.S. Here is a riveting look at the crisis and triumphs of the boldest experiment in the history of American broadcasting...A must see for all concerned about the future of community broadcasting and independent media."
Ralph Engelman, Long Island University (and author of Public Radio and Television in America: A Poli
"KPFA’s history provides a powerful lens through which to study the role of media in a democracy, the evolution of public broadcasting, and the social function of public affairs in mass media. It also provides a fascinating way to chart several generations of American social and political activism."
Pat Aufderheide, School of Communication, American University
"A fascinating, educational and moving film. Students will learn that the struggle for voice in a multicultural democracy, even in progressive organizations, is continuous and necessary."
Bernadette Barker-Plummer, Chair, Media Studies Department, University of San Francisco


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