1999 KPFA Crisis, Berkeley Police Department, Clinton administration, Dennis Bernstein, Dr. Peter Phillips, KPFA, KPFA On the Air, KPFA's 67th Birthday, KPFA/Pacifica Radio internal conflict, Nicole Sawaya, Pacifica Radio Network, Project Censored, Remembering Camp KPFA, Susan Stone, Tracy Rosenberg
LUMPENPROLETARIAT Today is free speech radio KPFA’s 67th Birthday. So, the nation’s (and probably the world’s) first non-commercial, listener-sponsored, radio station was born on April 15, 1949. And to commemorate KPFA’s birthday, Project Censored has aired the most important broadcast of the day by deciding to remember the day back in 1999, which almost became the day free speech radio KPFA was killed under the Clinton administration and Clinton’s cronies, such as Janet Reno, when (as Flashpoints reports) ex-CIA and ex-FBI armed thugs occupied KPFA radio, under then-Pacifica Radio Executive Director Lynn Chadwick and then-Pacifica Radio Chair Mary Frances Berry. But KPFA’s free speech family came to the defence of free speech radio, engaging in civil disobedience, and ultimately prevailing in court and winning a democratic governance structure, providing a model for free speech radio to fluorish around the world. Listen (or download) here. 
[Working draft transcript of actual radio broadcast by Messina for Lumpenproletariat, Project Censored, and Flashpoints]
“On today’s show, we honour KPFA’s 67th birthday on the air by interviewing our own Dennis Bernstein from KPFA‘s daily Flashpoints show regarding the history of the 1999 KPFA free speech strike and protests in Berkeley.
“We’ll also hear clips from Susan Stone‘s [Remembering] Camp KPFA documentary from that period of our history.
“We hope you’ll stay tuned. (c. 1:25) [theme music: “We Want” by Junkyard Empire]
DR. PETER PHILLIPS: “Welcome back to the Project Censored show. As we celebrate KPFA’s 67th birthday today, we are doing a one day pledge drive to raise funds for the station. As always, the basic membership is just $25 a year.  And, for those of you who are able to give more, we are offering some very special thank-you gifts.
“It’s KPFA’s birthday today. Our thank-you gifts are a pair of documentaries from KPFA. We are offering the DVD, KPFA On the Air. Your pledge of $100. And we’re offering Remembering Camp KPFA. This is the chronicles, the tumultuous, inspiring days of 1999 when the community rallied to demand the return of the radio station from the control of the rogue board of directors. We are playing some excerpts from that audio documentary during the programme today.
“Many of you listening will remember the 1999 crisis, when the network’s board of directors began taking, increasingly, heavy-handed actions to control what was going on at the station, including firing Nicole Sawaya, our—the station manager at the time.  The board even placed guards inside KPFA. And the breaking point came when those guards confronted longtime programmer, Dennis Bernstein to try to remove him from the station, a confrontation, that we all heard on the airwaves. They called Berkeley Police to evict the staff from the building. KPFA supporters began rallying in front of the station. Then, it was a 24-hour-a-day vigil, that grew into Camp KPFA. (c. 3:15)
“Dennis Bernstein is with us today and is going to help us remember this. And we’re gonna talk about those events and play you some clips from the documentary, that we’re talking about, [Remembering] Camp KPFA, that was done by [Susan] Stone. 
“So, let’s start out with you. What are your rememberances of that day, when you were dragged out of the station?”
DENNIS BERNSTEIN: “Well, Peter, thanking you for inviting me. We thank the staff at KPFA. And it is a happy birthday. It is a pleasure and honour to have it passed along to us by Mitch [Jeserich] and Q, our current boss [i.e., Quincy McCoy] here at KPFA. And, again, with you, Peter, it’s always great because we have a long history working together, the work, that Project Censored has done with what we’ve done here at Pacifica. So, now, you’re part of the family. (c. 4:02)
“Let me flash on a few memories. And let me take it from breaking the stories because it was, was it July 13th? I can’t remember the exact day. Everything’s slightly fuzzy. But it was clear, from what was happening in the station leading up to this fatal moment, that this new board, that had taken over control of Pacifica had a different vision for the station. They were giving all kinds of orders. They had hired intensive security. Ultimately, they had locked down with a security detail that was made up of former FBI and CIA agents here.
“But it became clear that something was gonna change and we might very well lose the network. At that point, there was a memo, an email leaked to me that detailed how one board member was testing, checking out, what these radio stations would be worth. And we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars. (c. 5:17)
“So, at the point at which I learned that they were, literally, thinking about selling one or all of these stations, maybe getting a hundred million dollar fund and becoming Pacifica and giving grants to whoever they wanted or whatever—we don’t know really what was going on. But we got the memo. We knew they wanted to sell our beautiful, scrappy fight-back stations. And I knew this was going to happen.
“At about 5:50 in the afternoon, with about four of these armed guards sitting out in front of the studio right here—and you could see their weapons. It was sort of interesting being in the station. These guys would lean over and you would see like a little weapon poking out. You know. You could see, maybe, there was a little automatic weapon or something like that here in pacifist KPFA.
“But, in any event, I walked past the armed guards. I came into the studio. I had this memorandum. And we did our show. I can’t remember what else was on the show that day. But I knew, as soon as I gave this information out, all hell was gonna break loose. And it did.
“I came out of this studio, where we are now. And the manager, that this board had brought in from Houston, Garland Ganter, to shut us down told me: ‘You have to leave the station now.’ And I said: ‘Well, my keys are upstairs.’ He says, ‘I’ll bring you your keys.’ At that point, I went charging up the stairs with him behind me and these three or four armed guards. They tracked me up into the newsroom. I was outside the news studio. I knocked on the door. Aileen Alfandary was out front. She saw that I was being tracked by about three or four people. They opened up the door to the ongoing news. The news had just begun. I think it was a story about health care, that was playing.
“I went into the live studio. These agents followed me in and they started trying to grab and drag me out of the studio, at which point we knocked the tape off the air, that was playing the health care story. And what people heard was me yelling at these guards and saying things like: ‘Do you know where you are? Do you know where you’re standing? Do you know this is a pacifist radio station? Keep your weapons in your holsters.’
“And a few more minutes, and then we were shut down. But it was long enough to bring thousands of people out, who surrounded the station, a hundred, many—this place was packed. There wasn’t room inside the station because it was a sit-in going inside, outside. Later on, somebody showed me pictures that they brought up a couple of police wagons to arrest lots of people. But they couldn’t drive them out because about five people had lied down under the police wagons, so the police wagons couldn’t move without running over the protestors. (c. 8:18)
“Van Jones arrives out of breath, comes running up the stairs, where I’m still facing off with these guards, starts screaming and yelling and saying: ‘This is the most important media story in this decade. We’re gonna fight for this station. And on we went.”
DR. PETER PHILLIPS: “Dennis, I was driving home to west Sonoma County at that time, when I heard you on the air. I had to stop. I mean I, literally, had to stop and scream in the car. And, of course, we were there the next day. My wife, Mary, and my friend, Paul, came down, as did many thousands of other people. It was an amazing confrontation, that evolved from that. It’s certainly an important part of our history. It’s not unheard of, in the history of KPFA, certainly, but an amazing community response—”
DENNIS BERNSTEIN: “Totally.”
DR. PETER PHILLIPS: “—came in in a very big way.”
DENNIS BERNSTEIN: “And it led to protests of tens of thousands of people in the streets, protests, that were covered around the world because it was such an amazing thing in the so-called free United States of America that a radio host could be dragged—”
DR. PETER PHILLIPS: “Dragged out.”
DENNIS BERNSTEIN: “—off the air. I got calls from Hong Kong.”
DR. PETER PHILLIPS: “That’s really amazing. To hear a little bit more about that, we’re going to play an audio documentary. These are excerpts from Remembering [Camp] KPFA. It’s a collection of some of those occupiers, that was produced by Susan Stone, a KPFA producer for a long time. So, let’s hear some excerpts from that report.” (c. 9:56)
[Excerpt from the audio documentary Remembering Camp KPFA]
SUSAN STONE: “On July 13th, 1999, agents of the governing board of the Pacifica Radio Network pulled programmer Dennis Bernstein off the air at KPFA in Berkeley, California. Bernstein had been detailing Pacifica’s plans for selling Pacifica’s license.
“Within hours, Bernstein and 51 other KPFA programmers, staff, and supporters were arrested and hauled off to jail. And the station was shut down and locked. Management’s lockout was to continue for the next 19 days.
“Agents of the National Board of Pacifica had a legal right to muzzle Dennis Bernstein on the air in mid-sentence because the Pacifica Foundation owns KPFA’s licence and assets. Why they would commit such violence upon a family member is another story, a story of greed and lust for power on the part of Pacifica’s governors, a story of loss of nerve, of willingness to depoliticise their programmers’ voices in order to boost Arbitron ratings. (c. 10:57)
“KPFA enjoys the counsel and support of its listeners’ Local Advisory Board, L-A-B, or LAB, for short. And this body cried foul to the Pacifica National Board. But the LAB had no representation on the National Board. And, anyway, Pacifica no longer seemed interested in local listener input.
“Since its founding in 1949 as the first non-commercial, listener-sponsored radio station in the country, KPFA-FM has always sparked controversy. Internally, the station has endured periodic crises, financial crises, personnel crises, mission crises. However, in July of 1999, KPFA faced its severest threat yet—this time from its licence holder, Pacifica. During that tumultuous month, the people, whose voices you’re about to hear, held firm against Pacifica on the pavement in front of the radio station. They were fighting for KPFA’s life.” (c. 11:59)
UNIDENTIFIED CAMP KPFA WOMAN: “They had fired this very popular general manager, Nicole Sawaya.”  They had fired and banned other staff people, like Robbie Osman, who talked about the crisis. But I think, for me, it was sending in the armed guards was showing how totally outrageous these people were.”
TRACY ROSENBERG:  “Well, we talk about Dennis [Bernstein] getting yanked. But we don’t always mention why he got yanked, which was, of course, the revelation of backroom deals regarding the sale of WBAI in New York or KPFA in Berkeley, which are community assets, that were built by the sweat and tears of hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, that were, basically, being sold off for the private benefit of 13 people.
“And I think the revelation that the sale of the station was so on the table, that it had been talked about consistently, to the extent of getting quotes on the value of these radio stations was something, that I think for all of us was kind of a lesson in what a big ride we were really being taken for and how we had to stop it now.” (c. 13:03)
UNIDENTIFIED CAMP KPFA MAN (ADDRESSING CAMP KPFA) : “And that we have delegations coming here, and that we begin to think of this as a long struggle. And it’s not gonna go away. And we’re gonna make it ungovernable. And we’re gonna get creative. And someone’s gonna find out who these phantoms are. You know? If any of you remember that thing, that we put out back in ’64 about who the regents are. Someone oughta find out who these people are. We have to let them know that we will not go away. And we will keep coming back.
“So, I’m here to pledge my support. And, if it is appropriate, I will certainly go to jail tonight. And I am sure that the support will be here. And this is just the beginning of a struggle I believe will be victorious. Thank you. [applause from Camp KPFA audience]” (c. 13:46)
TRACY ROSENBERG: “The 14th of July, I was standing in front of KPFA protesting with a million other people. And I saw the riot police lined up from one side to the other of the street, you know, blocking all access to a media outlet, but not just any media outlet, but a community media outlet. And I just kind of sat there for a second and thought: You know, I’ve seen this in the newspaper in other countries, far away. But I’ve never seen it right here in so-called my country. And it appalled me. And I knew that I would do whatever I could do.
“And the next day I found myself on the second floor of KPFA dragged away to Berkeley jail. And the next night I was a camper.” (c. 14:31)
CAMP KPFA MAN: “I think I came a week later, after I had read about it; I think it was in the Berkeley Daily Planet that KPFA had been locked out where Dennis Bernstein had been pulled off the air. I was getting ready to do my show on Free Radio Berkeley. And Larry Butler, who was not here at this point in time, told me about it. And, then, I read about. Then I said: Well, let me go down here and do what I can do to help. Because I used to listen to KPFA in high school and junior high, from elementary on up to the present.
“And, then, I started hearing all these sirens—you know?—going down the street, rushing and going down towards KPFA. And, so, one of the things I did, I said: Let me go see what all the noise is about. So, I get up there to MLK and University. And I see all these riot cops standing out there in riot gear, batons and everything.
“And, so, Larry said: Why don’t you just come over and join in? And the minute I saw the riot cops, I said: Well, let me just go ahead and do what I normally do best, is be an activist. So, I jumped right in there and helped to defend KPFA.”
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: “When I heard that Dennis was pulled out and then the programmers were locked out of the station, I came running. I live a few blocks away. And I was just furious. And, when I came and saw all the cops in the riot gear, the scene was absurd to me because this voice is so crucial and non-violent and necessary to everybody’s survival here in the states and the world. KPFA can be heard internationally. And it’s an alternative voice, that’s really rare.
“So, I came out and was here. I had to continue to work my job. But I was here every morning and then at lunch time and in the evening until about eleven. And I camped out one weekend. And I was just really impressed by the way everybody pulled together and people just came out of the woodwork with resources and energy and creativity that it just blew me away because that was such a tenuous time and so scary. I just felt like this incredible institution—50 years old, or 49 at the time, I think—was slipping away.”
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: “We got back to the station. And Medea Benjamin was saying: Camp KPFA! We’re gonna camp right here! We’re gonna take this! And I said: Okay. That’s the thing to do. So, the next day, I brought my little tent and, you know, pitched it in the middle of the street. And there we were. There were barricades in front of the station.”
[End of audio documentary excerpt]
DR. PETER PHILLIPS: “You just heard an excerpt from Remembering [Camp] KPFA, an audio documentary from the 1999 struggle of KPFA. (c. 17:27) [SNIP]
DR. PETER PHILLIPS: ” [SNIP] ”
[SNIP] (c. 59:59)
Learn more at PROJECT CENSORED.
[This transcript will be expanded as time constraints, and/or demand or resources, allow.]
Project Censored with Special KPFA 67th Birthday Programming (hosted by Dr. Peter Phillips), 13:00 PDT
Listened to: all (of live broadcast)
- Intro by Dr. Peter Phillips: [TW] Interview with Dennis Bernstein on KPFA’s 1999 struggle for survival.
- (c. 1:25) Susan Stone documentary and archival audio.
- (c. 14:00) Tracy Rosenberg [not identified, but she’s a personal acquaintance, so I recognise her voice]
- (c.15:00) Free Radio Berkeley broadcaster
- (c. 16:00)
- (c. 23:00) Dr. Peter Phillips appeals for listener support and offers the “KPFA History Pack” and the “KPFA Allies Pack”, which features all of the feature speaker events broadcast on KPFA during the last 15 years. Dennis Bernstein joins in appealing for listener support, noting that he was born in the same year KPFA was born.
- (c. 29:00) Dr. Peter Phillips goes through a timeline of historical highlights in the history of KPFA, including its birth on 15 APR 1949.
- Dennis Bernstein notes that even KPFA/Pacifica founder Lew Hill was kicked off KPFA’s board, as an example of the internal challenges, which have confronted free speech radio KPFA.
- (c. 31:00) Audio clip from Remembering Camp KPFA circa 1999.
- Free Radio Berkeley broadcaster mentions how homeless people came to support KPFA, including creating a “chain gang” of people who chained themselves to the radio station in solidarity
- (c. 33:00) Tracy Rosenberg
- (c. 48:00) Another audio clip from Remembering Camp KPFA
- (c. 51:00) Tracy Rosenberg
- (c. 53:00) Back to Dr. Peter Phillips and Dennis Berstein on-air appeals for listener support
 Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving: Project Censored, this episode hosted by Dr. Peter Phillips, for Friday, 15 APR 2016, 13:00 PDT. [N.B.: Per past experience, this broadcast may or may not be deleted by the KPFA authorities two weeks after the initial broadcast date, as it’s a special broadcast.]
 A $25 donation, or four hours of volunteer work with KPFA, grants one an annual KPFA membership, complete with voting rights in KPFA’s board elections and other decision-making processes.
 Perhaps a Freudian slip, perhaps, not, but Dr. Peter Phillips actually said, “Sharon Stone”, but surely he meant Susan Stone, a former KPFA worker.
 I can’t recall exactly when it was installed, as I didn’t visit the station as frequently as I had before and after 1999, but I remember there was for a long time something of a memorial altar set up by the KPFA staff in the lobby of the radio in honour of the exiled general manager Nicole Sawaya. I remember Sawaya used to do a periodic radio broadcast, entitled The Managers Report to the Listeners. Sawaya created a sense of ownership of free speech radio amongst its listeners. And she always seemed fair and true to Pacifica’s noble mission of social justice through critical free speech radio. It was truly sinister that she was fired for being a good general manager by the corrupt usurpers of power, which had gained control of the Pacifica National Board. “It’s a minefield”, Nicole Sawaya would tell me over the phone one day, circa 2007, after I had faced persecution by the new KPFA interim-general manager Lemlem Rijio under the more forceful Sasha Lilley, then-Programme Director, for simply volunteering as a KPFA Local Station Board election assistant and taking seriously the complaints of LSB candidates facing problems with the election process. Sawaya advised me to “take the high road” and not stoop to the level of the corrupt factions still lingering within KPFA.
- “KPFA New Outreach Effort: Whistleblowing, possible defamation of character, and corruption” by Felipe Messina, IndyBay, Friday Dec 21st, 2007 4:55 PM
- “KPFA: New Outreach Effort–TV Broadcast on Comcast Channel 29 in S.F.–Whistleblowing…” by Felipe Messina, Thursday Jan 3rd, 2008 2:23 AM
- “KPFA ALERT: Local Station Board meeting next week! (01.12.08)” by Felipe Messina, Sunday Jan 6th, 2008 8:36 PM
- “KPFA Millionaire Local Station Board VP Calls Casey Peters “Incompetent” by We Need More Millionaires, Monday Jan 14th, 2008 3:17 PM
- “KPFA Transcript: December 2007 KPFA Local Station Board Meeting Public Comment” by Felipe Messina, IndyBay, Sunday Jan 20th, 2008 12:16 PM
- “KPFA Alert: “KPFA, Labor And The Elections” TV Broadcast on S.F. Cable Ch. 29” by Felipe Messina, Thursday Jan 24th, 2008 8:25 PM
- “KPFA Pacifica Flashpoints Slashed By Management With Collusion of CWA 9415 Union Officials” by repost, Thursday Oct 9th, 2014 9:49 AM
 The interview subject in this segment is not identified during the broadcast. But I recognise her voice as Tracy Rosenberg, as she’s a personal acquaintance since 2007. Rosenberg is a long-time media activist with Media Alliance; and she has served on KPFA’s Local Station Board for years. She was also a key figure in the 1999 KPFA-FM lockout.
 After repeated listens, this voice is starting to remind me of Larry Bensky, who used to host Living Room and, then, Sunday Salon on KPFA. But maybe not because Benksy wouldn’t be talking about not knowing who the “phantoms” behind the scene are, who are the people in power considering selling off KPFA and the Pacifica Radio Network.
Currently, Larry Bensky hosts Piano on Sunday (or Saturday?) mornings on KPFA. But Bensky’s days as a political analyst seem to be behind him. Bensky is someone I used to listen to regularly in the late 1990s when he hosted Living Room. But, after learning more of the KPFA politics behind the scenes, especially after the 1999 KPFA Lockout, I came to find many groups of people, particularly people of colour and the more radical Left, Bensky started to look like one of the bad guys within KPFA’s internal factions. It was hard for me to understand, at first, why there were so many flyers plastered around Berkeley during the 1999 KPFA Lockout, which were brutally critical of Larry Bensky. Today, this seems similar to the way KPFA’s legendary Elsa Knight Thompson eventually came to be seen as old hat over the years as new voices of the radical Left emerged, such as that of the Black Panthers.
[17 APR 2016]
[Last modified 07:16 PDT 24 APR 2016]