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The Black Hole at KPFA

April 14, 2009

by Denise Barns

The April 8-14 issue of the East Bay Express features a 5,576-word cover story on Minister of Information JR.
The April 8-14 issue of the East Bay Express features a 5,576-word cover story on Minister of Information JR.
KPFA, the bastion of radical radio, will be celebrating its 60th birthday this week. It is almost cinematic looking at the issues this left-leaning radio station will be mired in at the same time it will be blowing out its candles.

For 60 years, KPFA has been legally and morally committed to achieving the Pacifica mission of racial understanding, yet here it is 2009 and still there’s no Black public affairs show anywhere on its scheduling grid! And yes, the station is located right in Berkeley on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, only blocks from where the Black Panther Party was founded.

If the station is so radical, why doesn’t it have a Black public affairs show? Whites have Democracy Now, which comes on twice daily, and Against the Grain. Latinos have La Raza Chronicles and La Onda Bajita, Asians have APEX Express and American Indians have Bay Native Circle.

“Shut up and keep dancing” is what KPFA’s management team is telling the Black community by giving Black programmers access only to music slots – with the exception of Walter Turner’s Africa Today, which is expected to cover the Black world in one hour a week.

The black hole created by this lack of a Black public affairs show has yawned wide and deep in recent months as the rumblings of revolution in Black Oakland have grabbed headlines and prime time around the country … but barely a whisper on KPFA. A few brave souls have broken the implicit taboo against covering the police beating of KPFA programmer Nadra Foster in the KPFA studios in August of 2008, but not many and not often. Nadra is still fighting false charges that the current management conjured up, but you would never know that listening to the station.

For millions tuned into mainstream media, the videotaped police murder of Oscar Grant and the rebellions that followed ushered in the New Year with a vivid view of the police war on Black people. Commercial media dug up evidence and ran probing interviews day after day, week after week, vying for listeners, viewers and readers hungry for more. To KPFA management apparently, though, the story was hardly newsworthy.

In the aftermath, community organizing of all kinds with a fervor not seen since the days of the Panthers should be finding a forum at KPFA, but it’s not. Police retaliation against the journalist best known for his coverage of police terrorism, Minister of Information JR, by brutally arresting him and charging him with a felony at the first rebellion, was covered by all the other Pacifica stations around the country but barely mentioned at KPFA, even though he’s one of KPFA’s many unpaid staff members.

The next battle in the police war against Black Oaklanders, ending in the tragic murder of Lovelle Mixon and four police officers, once again gripped the national media while leaving KPFA largely speechless. Minister of Information JR’s Block Report interview with Mixon’s family was the only coverage on the daily prime time show Flashpoints.

The truth is, for this middle-aged Black woman who grew up in Richmond and San Francisco and now lives in Oakland, the Block Report is the only reason I contribute to KPFA fund drives. No one else speaks to me about issues that are on my radar. I just learned from a recent hit piece in the East Bay Express – the cover story no less – that the Minister of Information JR, who reported on the KPFA airwaves on all of these cases, is a volunteer with no regular time slot.

The East Bay Express article says that his Block Reports, which cut through racial barriers to fulfill the Pacifica mission of racial understanding better than any show I know, are “sporadically” played on Flashpoints, and I occasionally hear him presenting issues of concern on the shows Transitions on Traditions and Hard Knock Radio. I looked on the KPFA website, though, and couldn’t find him mentioned anywhere.

By ignoring one of the best Black journalists on the West Coast, one who can break down the most complex and controversial issues so that people of all colors can understand and discuss them productively and who emboldens those he interviews to speak their hearts and minds, revealing the pain of injustice that fuels racial conflict, KPFA is reviling the Pacifica mission. Block Reports, on the rare occasions I hear them on KPFA, are to me an oasis, a safe space where I know Black people’s intelligence and the issues we care about will be aired fairly and respectfully.

Today’s Chronicle, in a front page story noting KPFA’s 60th birthday, reported that this powerful station, with a signal that reaches the millions of people who live in the northern third of California, is currently drawing only about 150,000 listeners a week. “Broadening the audience, particularly among younger listeners,” is the goal, according to station management.

I know who can best help KPFA achieve that goal. I see the young people in my neighborhood jump to tune in KPFA whenever they hear a Block Report is coming on. Why can’t KPFA management see the solution within their grasp? Why are they treating JR like a leper when it comes to giving him and our community the time slot we want?

When a Black man is president of the United States and an East African woman is general manager of KPFA, is a Black public affairs show too much to ask for?

As KPFA turns 60, I’m going to be thinking hard about whether I’m respecting myself by supporting a station that some people in the Black community have been calling “Apartheid Radio.” Wouldn’t I be paying to be discriminated against? Around income tax time every year, I hear many KPFA programmers asking similar questions about whether to resist paying Uncle Sam until he does the right thing. What’s the difference?

Am I and the Black community supposed to be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of KPFA when our community is not deemed important enough to be given a public affairs show? Why doesn’t KPFA offer the Block Report a prime time public affairs show for the Black community and pay the brotha before some other station that recognizes his talent scoops him up?

Oakland writer Denise Barns can be reached at

26 thoughts on “The Black Hole at KPFA

  1. Ann Garrison

    This was the cover story??? I read it online; didn’t realize it was the cover. You wouldn’t even have to know anything about J.R. or this story to see what an illogical piece of work this was. The author doesn’t even say whose agent he thinks J.R. is.

  2. Ann Garrison

    I read a number of comments on the East Bay Express story right after reading it, and then spent quite a bit of time composing one myself, but unless there’s a glitch in the Express’s system, there are now no comments on “J.R. Valrey, Agent Provocateur.” The author of a story, or a post to the You Tube, Facebook, or whatever, usually has the right to delete unfriendly comments, and it looks like Benjamin Taylor has eliminated all those on his. Some were, indeed, really viciously racist, and mine critiqued the story’s logic, and intellectually innocent concept of journalistic “objectivity” which he claimed J.R. lacked. Sorry to say, despite spontaneously spending nearly an hour on my response, I don’t believe I saved a copy.

  3. jade stone

    The east bay express story was such phony journalism. We need more people like JR who are capable of reporting the truths that people need to hear.

  4. carlo

    East Bay Express did an interesting story. I had no idea that JR was on the phone to Yusef Bey IV the night before Chauncey Bailey’s murder. Put’s the SF Bey View in a new light. Chronicle and Oak Tribune have stories this morning about Broussard telling the whole story about the Bailey murder, down to the most gruesome detail. JR is just the disinformation minister of the YBMB and Nation of Islam cult’s propaganda wing.

  5. s Murph

    I am a consistent viewer of Democracy Now but it is not surprising that KPFA has no Black public affairs show on its programming grid. The goal of the media in this country (I do not care how radical left leaning or liberal) ever since the fifties and sixties has been to keep the Black community as DIRT ignorant as they can without any VOICE that anyone can hear or listen to. One way of doing this has been to dump all Black public affairs/news shows on all commercial radio/TV even BET is no exception (and it is not Black Entertainment Television but Black Exploitation Television). The last thing that the powers that be want is to have a well informed and knowledgeable Black community with a VOICE that can be heard by anybody.

    The one reason that the Civil Rights movement was so successful is because Black folks were talking TO each other (as opposed to talking AT each other like we do today) and the events of that time made it to the news rooms around the world. During the seventies there was a brief period of time when Black journalism was in vogue but the White power structure did not want a informed and knowledgeable black populace and from the late seventies to the present the destruction/suppression of Black News in media has been on going KPFA is no exception.

    As Ms Barns notes in her article there are public affairs shows for other ethnic groups on the KPFA programming grid but none not one on there for US. Ms Barns mentions JR’s Block Report which is popular with the current young generation. The problem is that if any Black public affairs program is going to happen the person who is going to be the headliner or main commentator HAS TO BE one that the radio station chooses and or is comfortable with. Apparently JR does not fit that description (even though he is a volunteer and is I suspect a known person to KPFA). If any one is going to be on the air they have to be vetted and approved by the station, in other words THEY PICK instead of US picking who will speak for us and to us. So even in the nonprofit world of media if the program/commentator is too raw or gets to close to the inconvenient truth that no one wants to look at much less deal or presents a view that is not part of the main stream (READ socially acceptable) then that program/ commentator will not make it to the airways IE BLACKED OUT!!!

    Here are some articles that go more in depth on this subject some more food for thought.


    S Murph

  6. Malaika H. Kambon

    17 April 2009

    The Black Hole at KPFA…

    Very interesting title.

    It should be expanded to include the entirety of the poli-tricks which govern the Pacifica Foundation, because KPFA isn’t the only station which deliberately excludes significant AFRIKAN programming.

    It should be noted that KPFA also has a habit of deleting significant programming from its archives, as well as its well publicized habit of oppressing (read: attempting to lynch) AFRIKAN Women.

    In the late 80′s and 90′s a similar situation to that of KPFA now, existed at KPFA sister station KPFK, according to Dr. Kwaku Person-Lynn, who is one of the most prominent African producers, scholar-authors living today.

    He says that …”during a seven day a week, 24 hours of programming, there were basically two or three one hour public affairs programs designed for communities of Afrikan descent; a token effort, to say the least.

    In 1985, a program was created to help alleviate this problem, Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend, a 30 hour special, featuring lectures and interviews from the most prominent Afrikan world scholars and thinkers on the globe, generally broadcast during a weekend in February, Black History Month. It has broadcast, off and on, for eight years, and evolved to become the most popular and listened to program in the history of the station. Part of the proof was demonstrated during the one time it participated in the station’s on air fund drive in 1992. During that period, the station raising $10,000 in one whole day was considered a good day. Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend, without premiums, incentive gifts given to listeners pledging a certain monetary amount to the station, rose $15,000 in 45 minutes. This had never been done throughout the Pacifica five station network, and solidified the popularity and acceptance of the program by listeners of all cultural backgrounds.

    Ironically, Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend was taken off the air the following year due to severe organized right wing conservative efforts. This was during a period when Black intellectuals were undergoing an intense fierce and brutal national attack for presenting and challenging information that had been disseminated throughout academia and the public for centuries, primarily from a European perspective, and denying the role of Afrikan peoples participation in world history and development.

    KPFA gave him minimal time once, for one day, then cut him off as well.

    I heard the Pacifica Foundation’s call for volunteers in the latter part of 1973. I walked in the door of KPFA and was hired, ‘off the street,’ as a volunteer to do programming.

    At the time, I knew only how to turn on a radio.

    For the next 10 years, I met and spoke with nearly all of the AFRIKAN Freedom Fighters who were in the state – usually at UCB or SFSU – taking classes for skills they would need to rebuild their respective countries – if they survived the wars – and produced local national and international news stories focusing on the AFRIKAN Liberation struggles of their countries: Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Zimbabwe, Azania, Angola, the Cape Verde Islands, etc. from the perspectives of the freedom fighters – not the AP and UPI and other corporate wire services.

    Tapes of every single one of those shows – daily and weekly broadcasts – of programs called Africa News, Before The News, and After the News; have vanished into thin air.

    I was not ever paid, (In fact, during that time, only 15 people of the roughly 300 who worked at the station were paid, and they were all administrators and nearly all white) and barely averted a Nadra Foster like situation: (My besetting sin was in thinking and expressing the viewpoint that so-called progressive KPFA should function more like Radio Rebelde in CUBA. This was viewed as a threat to the security of the station.)

    Given the true history of KPFA, why should anyone of color who is serious about struggle support the apartheid radio of KPFA, KPFK and/or the Pacifica Foundation?

    Why do we keep being active supporters of our own oppression?

    I very rarely even listen to KPFA anymore… The 6:00 evening ‘news’ with M. Miracle is a particularly offensive travesty; the miracle is that it is still on the air.

    Everything else, with rare exception, is a corporate white out of AFRIKAN Liberation… as the article above says, an example of a ‘shut up and keep dancing…’ (n***a) attitude, the 21st century audio version of a willie lynch directive.


    Fascinating that that is exactly what the enslavers of AFRIKAN people ignorantly told our enslaved Ancestors from Angola who invented the martial art form called Capoeira; and told our enslaved Ancestors in AYITI (Haiti)

    We smiled… and then we danced and danced those knives right into the enslavers’ eyes…

    War Without Terms,


  7. carlo

    umm…actually, sMurph, there’s no public affairs show for Pacific Islander Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Cambodian Americans, Laotian Americans, Chinese Americans, Russian Americans, Turkish Americans, Iranian Americans, Jewish Americans, Ethiopian Americans, Somali Americans, Indian Americans, Pakistani Americans, Afgani Americans, Kurdistani Americans…

  8. Alice de Tocqueville

    Does Hard Knock Radio not count? I wouldn’t really call that a music show, although it is sometimes. Where do you tune to to hear Mumia’s reports?

  9. mary Post author

    Hard Knock is a hip hop show. We love it, but it’s not a Black public affairs show.

    Mumia’s interviews come from Prison Radio, at

    Mary Ratcliff, editor
    SF Bay View

  10. carlo

    I especially like the part in the East Bay Express article where JR states, regarding his phone call to Yusef Bey 4th the night before they murdered Chauncy: “I don’t remember it being around midnight,” Valrey said. “It may have been around 10. We don’t have a bedtime, neither me nor Yusuf Bey, as far as I know. To speak for myself, I don’t have a bedtime, so we don’t just stick to white business time, 9 to 5.”


    Apparently, white business time is 9 to 5, and Black business time is usually sometime after dark, located outside of a crime victims apartment or home, planning thier burglary, rape, or murder.

    Thanks for clearing that up JR.

  11. Ann Garrison

    I’m glad that the San Francisco Bay View doesn’t delete comments, like the East Bay Express, so those of us who follow the discussion here, at least know who’s out there, listening and responding, including vicious outright racists like Carlo.

  12. carlo

    Criticizing the state of Israel doesnt make one an anti-semite.

    Criticizing the Bush administration doesn’t make one anti-American.

    Chauncey’s criticism of Your Black Muslim Bakery doesn’t make him a racist.

    Criticizing JR for his weak defense of his activities with an organization that, ultimately, harmed the black community and murdered one of its truth telling journalists doesn’t make me a racist.

  13. brian

    editor ratcliff wrote:

    “Hard Knock is a hip hop show. We love it, but it’s not a Black public affairs show.”

    the 4-5 pm slot occupied by hard knock radio is supposed to be “a dynamic, top-quality community/public affairs show, appealing especially to young people and people of color, using as many apprentices as is possible and feasible.” it would be entirely appropriate to devote a significant fraction of those five hours each week to black public affairs, whether under the auspices of hard knock or not.

  14. Ann Garrison

    Carlo, this is the paragraph I called racist:

    “Apparently, white business time is 9 to 5, and Black business time is usually sometime after dark, located outside of a crime victims apartment or home, planning thier burglary, rape, or murder.”

  15. carlo

    thanks James.

    And Ann, I was merely commenting on the minister of disinformation JR’s hilarious assertion that 9-5 is “white business time” and pointing out that it does nothing for his case to assert that Black people do their business at night. Plenty of Black people do business between the hours of 9-5, so those hours are neither white nor black. They are called daytime hours.

  16. Ann Garrison

    But, Carlo, what you said, word for word, was:

    “Apparently, white business time is 9 to 5, and Black business time is usually sometime after dark, located outside of a crime victims apartment or home, planning thier burglary, rape, or murder.”

    I do think it would be an excellent idea to withdraw that comment, if that’s what you want to do.

  17. carlo


    Note that the sentence you quote starts with the word “apparently”, the intended meaning being, ” according to JR’s statement, seemingly, outwardly appearing as such; professed; pretended: as in, an apparent cheerfulness concealing sadness, or, in this case, an apparent ridiculous assertion concealing guilt…….”

    My meaning was that, if one were to take JR’s statement at face value, only white people do business during the day, while black people are free to conduct business at night, a statement which is ridiculous on its face as well as fraught with irony, because, at the time he was having a phone conversation with Yusef BeyIV, the bakery folks were in fact planning a murder!! In other words, it’s not an explanation as to why they were talking on the phone so late, i.e. we are black, so that’s just when we talk. It just makes him look like he is grasping for straws, and is, in fact, morbidly comical.

    If you are offended by that statement, then I would merely assert that what you should truly be offended by is JR defending and obfuscating the actions of a murderer, as well as the killing of Chauncey Bailey itself. The 125+ murders in my town, Oakland, and especially the murder of Chauncey, make me so mad and OFFENDED that I feel like spitting nails. JR and SFBey View function much like the radio propagandists at Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines functioned in Rwanda ’93, or, for that matter, Rush Limbaugh functions in the sphere of right wing militia jerks like Timothy McVeigh; you give people who are already geared up for violence rhetorical justification to take violent action, and it is seldom directed at any larger problem. It is directed at the person who looked at them the wrong way, committed a slight offense or disrespect. Grace, forgiveness, charity, don’t seem to be part of the vocabulary. The problem is that violence, as in war, never limits itself to its intended target, and so you have thousands of innocent victims cut down because everyone is ready to use the gun first, the same one they are going to use for THE REVOLUTION that never comes, and so in the meantime, they use it on their neighbors.

  18. mary Post author

    There is a faction at KPFA which often stresses the lack of black (and other community) programming on KPFA, the pro-democratic faction, of which People’s Radio
    is a part. Unfortunately KPFA governance has been taken over by the anti-democratic faction. More on this later.

    The way programming has gotten on the air at KPFA was through the Program Council (PC) and the Program Director (PD).
    KPFA and its parent foundation, Pacifica (plus Pacifica”s other 4 stations) were subjected to an attempted takeover during 1991 to about 2000, but the listeners, staff, and others won them back in court cases and Bylaws were written which instituted shared (democratic) decision making.
    One of the pillars of KPFA democracy is the semi-democratic
    Program Council (which actually predates the Bylaws). The Program Council evaluates the programming and takes requests for new programming.
    Unfortunately, the undemocratic faction has fought the role of the Program Council (PC) and its sponsor the Local Station Board in programming. In the last 2 years or so a Program Director was illegally appointed by Management,
    who is of the undemocratic faction, and together they forced the PC to stop most of its meetings, characterized it as merely “advisory”, and failed to consult with it *at all*. The Program Director has been making all the
    programming decisions, and her faction has not promoted local community concerned programming, though there were opportunities to add such programs.
    Note that JR and his report are carried by Dennis Bernstein’s Flashpoints. Dennis and Flashpoints are aligned with the democratic faction at KPFA.

    While we would prefer to blame “the station”, and not have to consider the dynamics of the problem, or get involved in station “politics”, we can’t solve the problem without the community being educated and involved in it!

    We need concerned listeners to become, or remain, voting members, in order to vote in Local Station Board elections, and VOTE OUT the so-called “Concerned Listeners” slate, whom I call”the Listeners Concerned with Protecting Entrenched Staff & their Management”. Otherwise, the present situation will continue of having a majority voting bloc of listener reps who are there to rubberstamp the wishes of entrenched staff and their management, instead of providing democratic checks and balances from the listeners, and oversee KPFA governance.

    For example, they recently voted to meet *every other* month, instead of every month as LSBs everywhere have done forever – especially needed in this time of financial crisis in the network. But why meet, when we can just leave
    Management to make all the decisions, which is what we CL are here to do anyway?

    A Local Station Board election is coming up in October,
    so become a KPFA member – a minimum of $25 or 3 hours
    volunteer work for the year – will get you membership,
    vote for pro-democracy candidates *only*, and keep raising
    your voice to KPFA.

    As the election nears there will be information about
    candidates and platforms. Meanwhile, besides the
    SF Bayview, there are sometimes articles and letters in the Berkeley Daily Planet,
    One such article, about the Nadra Foster incident:

    See IndyBay under “Media”. A recent article:

    Or check the People’s Radio website which though not active
    and up to date at this time has much information about
    the KPFA situation:

    [This is the Bay View editor. I'm posting this for Mara, whose browser wouldn't allow her to post it.]

  19. carlo

    thanks James. Even with all of the crime and violence, I love my community in east Oakland, especially the kids I work with. Just a week ago, 3 children were shot at 65th and International, caught in crossfire between 2 groups of young black men, who apparently had no concern for the innocent bystanders, CHILDREN!!!!, standing nearby. A one year old was shot. A 4 year old took a bullet in the chest. What I want to know is, where are the protesters??? I GUARANTEE that this “newspaper”, SFBey View, won’t have a thing about it…largely because there is no way to spin it into the editors larger narrative. Nobody, I dont care what’s going on in your life, nobody has to open fire in a street crowded with kids. Nobody has to rob rape and murder to survive. Nobody.

    Now here come the excuses for the behavior of the young black men who shot those beautiful black children….

    Wait for it….

    wait for it…

  20. Ann Garrison

    I’m not going to excuse gang violence taking the lives of innocent children. Not at all. And I’m sure J.R. wouldn’t either.

    One of the figures I came to admire most in New Orleans, after the flood, was Glen David Andrews, a traditional brass band trombonist, from the historic African American Tremé neighborhood, who appeared at “Stop the Violence!” rallies to urge New Orleans teens to stop killing each other.

    The last time I picked up Glen David Andrews’s story, he and another Rebirth Brass Band musician had been arrested while playing in a traditional second line musical street parade that had gathered in the Tremé a young tube player from the Rebirth Brass band, one of their own, who had died of a heart attack in his early thirties.

    The New Orleans Police arrived with sirens blazing amidst this traditional brass band procession, an expression of the African American indigenous heart and soul of New Orleans and ordered the musicians to disperse and stop making music, at 8:00 P.M. in the evening. They continued to play, and the police cuffed and arrested Glen David Andrews, for playing the trombone, and another Rebirth musician—his cousin, I believe–for playing a snare drum.

    Two of Glen David Andrews’s grade school age nephews were screaming and crying as he and the other Rebirth musician were taken away.

    So, no; I certainly don’t think there’s any excuse for the random gang violence you describe, but I also think that a lot of police effort goes into further traumatizing the community and, in this case I know well, in New Orleans, into criminalizing the peacemakers, like Glenn David Andrews.

    I just looked him up on the Web and it looked like the Rebirth Brass Band has a upcoming gig in Syracuse, and it looks as though he’s still part of it, so I hope tht he’s still encouraging New Orleans kids to “Stop the Violence!” when he’s back home.

    He is a very rooted New Orleans musician, who returned to New Orleans from Houston, several months after the flood, with nothing but his trombone and a small satchel, because he knew that was where he belonged.

    Longstanding roots like those in African American New Orleans also give rise to a commitment to stay and lead, like that of Glenn David Andrews. That’s what we might best consider when asking ourselves what the roots of the violence are, and, how to stop it.

  21. carlo

    I’m glad to hear you dont condone the violence. And touching story about Glenn David Andrews. I dont know anything about that situation, but at first blush, it sounds excessive on the part of the police.

    So does violence only count when cops do it? I know a several dedicated, fair minded police officers, who happen to be black and hispanic, who take the job to try and make a difference in the community and function as much as social workers as police officers. For the police who are out of line, we have the citizens police review board. What review board do we have for the thugs? The police. When this kid Christopher Rodriguez got shot and paralyzed by a criminal while taking his piano lesson, we didn’t call a social worker. We called the police. If you disbanded the police tomorrow, east Oakland would turn into Sierra Leone. There are 125plus murders in my town per year, and many more robberies and rapes, like what Lovey was up to that fateful Saturday morning. 60 people marched in support of a rapist and robber, like he was Che Guevarra. He wasn’t Che.

    I have a theory about the roots of the violence as well. The black community didn’t have the crime rate it currently does before the 1960s or 70s. I have a theory, just a theory mind you, that when a portion of the community rejected King in favor of Malcolm, that everybody decided that getting a gun was the solution. So here you have a gun, waiting for the revolution…not takin no crap off of nobody anymore….now a member of your own community does you wrong, say robs you or disrespects you, so what do you do? Your high minded revolutionary ideals get put on hold or just plain forgotten, while you solve some of your other problems with that gun you’re holding.

    Look at some of the Panthers like Huey who turned a blind eye and condoned drug dealers like Felix Mitchell, who was pumping heroin into the community. That clearly was hugely destructive to east Oakland and its middle class black families, but Huey met with Felix and said live and let live, even developed a drug habit himself! You start with politics and high ideals, add some guns, then when everyone is armed and ready, the ideals wither away and all you’re left with is the guns in the hands of people who don”t really care about politics.

    Like I say, its just a theory. My main point is, we have to get back to Kings message.


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