by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey
The ethnic cleansing of Black and Brown broadcasters off the airwaves this year claimed not only the careers of Luke Stewart, formerly of Washington, D.C.’s WPFW, Weyland Southon, formerly of the Bay Area’s KPFA, and myself, formerly of KPFA, but it also claimed one of its most talented producers, Dr. Jared Ball of WPFW.
No matter what you do in the future, I salute you, Jared Ball, for your enormous contribution to our understanding of issues in our communities worldwide and to our understanding of how media can work in our interest or against us. The Block Report will continue to support you in your future endeavors that involve revolutionary media work.
Here is Jared Ball in his own words explaining his recent dismissal from WPFW, the D.C.-based Pacifica radio station.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell people how you became interested in and later got into radio? When and where was this?
Jared Ball: I first became interested in radio while in college. I started and briefly worked with the sports “department” of our campus radio station. But before long I realized how difficult it is in settings like that to address political issues, so I moved on pretty fast. It wasn’t until I was coming home from graduate school in 2001 that I really began to think about the importance of radio and started to get involved in some local low-power radio projects in Washington, D.C.
I also still count the mixtape radio project we started, FreeMix Radio, that was meant to circumvent an absence on the dial of real Black radical thought and music. That was part of what I understood to be – potentially – the important function radio can still play in advancing elements of our struggle. Eventually, as part of a now defunct organizational effort, I got more involved in WPFW there and soon became a regular programmer.
M.O.I. JR: For out of towners, what is the history of WPFW in the DMV area? How long have you been with WPFW? How long have you been doing your Mid-Day Jazz and Justice show?
Jared Ball: I am far from an expert on the history of WPFW, but I can at least say that it has been on air in more or less its current form since 1977. It has been largely known as a jazz and broadly speaking a “Black music” station with a diverse and mostly “Left” programming body.
I, perhaps mistakenly, always associated with particular programming over the years, like that of Tom Porter, Bob Daughtry and later Damu Smith, so I always took the station to be a Black community and progressive station. That is not to say I was unaware or disinterested in other programming, but this was my focus and what always drew me to that station. I began doing partial production and small news reporting pieces for various programs somewhere around 2002-2003 and became more of a full-time regular programmer around late 2004-2005.
I was first on Decipher, the station’s nightly hip-hop block that many of us had pushed for for years; our show was The Blackademics. I then moved to early morning jazz once a week and eventually Mid-Day Jazz and Justice before finally settling on The Super Funky Soul Power Hour once I took over one of the time slots vacated by the late Ambrose Lane.
M.O.I. JR: When and what reason were you given about why you were recently dismissed from your show?
Jared Ball: Shortly after my show aired Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, I was called and told of my indefinite suspension by general manager Michelle Price, the interim program director Tony Bates, and Gloria Minott who I think at the time was the public affairs director. Officially, Ms. Price indicated that I had broken the zero tolerance policy on publicly criticizing the station and network management.
Though I’ve never been told precisely what I said that broke that policy, I am assuming it was during a 10-minute segment of the show in which I engaged in a “debate” with a friend over whether to keep my show on the air at WPFW given the decisions being made and the treatment I had received from the old and new management. I said that I have serious questions and concerns about all of Pacifica’s national public affairs programming being White, mostly male and mostly over 50 years of age. Those interested can hear the show here and reach their own conclusions as to the legitimacy of the decision.
Officially, Ms. Price indicated that I had broken the zero tolerance policy on publicly criticizing the station and network management.
Unofficially there seems to be a continued move to purge the station of those who have been openly critical – on or off air – of management and network decision-making. Off-air, I had asked Ms. Price how the station and network arrived at these decisions, why other programmers – and yes, I included myself – were not selected, encouraged or supported in developing their shows to meet whatever the standards were or are.
I asked how could it be possible that a network claiming itself to be an alternative – one that will sell Malcolm X, John Henrik Clarke, the Black Panther Party and more during pledge-drives! – could not somehow find any representatives of the world’s majority population to serve as national public affairs programmers. Again, those interested can see here my comments to station management and my final statement on my time at WPFW and move toward developing their own conclusions.
M.O.I. JR: What has been going on recently at WPFW? How has that affected the whole Pacifica network?
How this has affected all of Pacifica I cannot say. It seems part of a process that impacted you and many other programmers, particularly at WBAI in New York. I would say, though, that this affects Pacifica in weakening further its D.C. affiliate, one that should be among the loudest, most diverse and highly political but one that has, as others have noted, been more interested in Black music than Black thought.
I also think this weakens the network, which I still contend would be better served by reducing more of the extravagant salaries executives and managers earn at the network and redistributing those funds throughout the network in order to develop more programming, investigative and radical journalism – all of which I think would increase our audience and impact on those audiences.
This is the only way I see to save the network: Get more radical, more diverse and more involved in producing news.
M.O.I. JR: Ethnically cleansing the airwaves seems to be a trend every few years at Pacifica. What do you think? What are some of the reasons being said behind closed doors for the recent dismissal of Black broadcasters on Pacifica like you and myself?
Jared Ball: I think this is part of a long-standing struggle with White liberalism. From Hubert Henry Harrison to Claudia Jones, to DuBois, King, Malcolm X and Kwame Ture, all – and more – have noted the shortcomings of the White “Left” in dealing with Black people and Black liberation. I also think this is an issue of ideology and politics.
The Black hired hands who carry out management policy at WPFW are there for their commercial and corporate capabilities, not their interest or ability to program the most forward, critically thinking and stylish content. I listen to all their favorites too: I learn a lot from Amy Goodman, Richard Wolff and Doug Henwood, Project Censored and Counterspin – I do appreciate their work.
I asked how could it be possible that a network claiming itself to be an alternative – one that will sell Malcolm X, John Henrik Clarke, the Black Panther Party and more during pledge-drives! – could not somehow find any representatives of the world’s majority population to serve as national public affairs programmers.
But as I have long argued – and demonstrated – they do not have strong track records of including Black, Brown, Indigenous thought, worldviews, perspectives or concerns. And as I have said to our management, I think my show was better than theirs. I think there are plenty of other – and far better than me – world’s majority programmers who could be cultivated into strong national public affairs hosts.
The issue is that Pacifica feels that only these and those like them are worthy of an audience, of network support and of real promotion. So there is simply not a lot of room for people critical of their dominance of public affairs and national slots or critical of the limitations of their perspectives and analyses.
Or if the goal, as it once was at WPFW, is to bring NPR and NPR-like programming and to think that mirroring that kind of programming will improve the economic state of the network, then it stands to reason that those critical of that approach will not find themselves welcomed – certainly not those of us who have publicly equated NPR with Fanon’s description of Radio Alger in colonial Algeria.
Those of us who prefer an approach born of what can broadly be described as the Black radical tradition, including those of us who bring music and particularly hip-hop from that perspective, are less likely to be welcomed. But really, it is just offensive to suggest that WPFW could not find one Black or Brown programmer to promote for the national grid or to air as prime drive time evening public affairs.
M.O.I. JR: How do you look at what just happened in your situation and relate it to emancipatory journalism? What does this incident say about the state of the unfiltered political Black male voice in the media?
Jared Ball: I, too need to be reminded that my initial interest in emancipatory journalism – a philosophy of journalism that presupposes an on-going colonialism and need for bottom-up, organizationally based journalistic practice – and it being applied to the tradition of the hip-hop mixtape, all derived from an assessment of our media environment that there is no other more viable outlet, on or offline, for that kind of work or expression.
Pacifica and the rest of the so-called “Left” or “alternative” media world have proven themselves in this regard – and long before my removal – to be insufficient at best. I have to also be reminded that the political function of media is to prevent unsanctioned change, which means that, prior to any revolutionary change, there will never be unfiltered Black – or otherwise – women or men in prominent spaces. I think we have to again conclude – or should have long concluded – that the “Left” has not produced such space either and begin again to move accordingly.
Those of us who prefer an approach born of what can broadly be described as the Black radical tradition, including those of us who bring music and particularly hip-hop from that perspective, are less likely to be welcomed.
M.O.I. JR: What is next for you? How do people stay up with your podcasts?
Jared Ball: I don’t know exactly what is next for me. All I know is that I will continue to produce interview and discussion segments – and more – for anyone to use in their media work and that can all be found at IMIXWHATILIKE.ORG.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.