Black sounds silenced at KPFA?

by Kevin Weston

Oakland – Just when I thought I could almost start to trust KPFA, I hear that the Morning Mix may be snatched off the airwaves. I gave my first donation to KPFA ever because of the Morning Mix. To be real – I gave to the Morning Mix because of Block Report Radio on Wednesday mornings, 8-9 a.m.

That’s drive time for me; while I’m dropping my daughter off, I tune in. JR Valrey does a solid job delivering Black sounds through the 94.1 FM signal.

I don’t listen to the radio often; I’m not a big radio dude since podcasts, Sirius, Pandora, MP3s and iPods. Black thought and talk and Black sounds – aural communication guided by the history, struggles, current crisis, triumphs of African-American people in the United States and African people in the global diaspora – is almost nowhere to be found. So if I can find it, I check for it.

I grew up listening to KDIA, KSOL, KPOO – all at the time Black-owned stations – for most of my childhood in Oakland in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

I took them for granted then. Now, other than KPOO, the venerable old war horse of Bay Area Black radio, still cranking on Divisadero Street in San Francisco to this day, Black sounds, other than pop music, are almost non-existent anywhere on the broadcast airwaves.

In the Bay Area, you have a couple of options of significance: the resilient and steadily relevant Alive and Free/Street Soldiers Radio on 106.1 KMEL, the Clear Channel-owned Hip Hop and R&B station Sunday nights from 8-10 p.m., and Block Report Radio on the Morning Mix.

This past Wednesday, Valrey – no stranger to controversy and issues with the station he’s been working with since he was a teen – opened with the news that the Morning Mix, a diversely programed show with different hosts every day during the work week, primetime drive time – could be cancelled.

I want my $150 back, KPFA.

In a media landscape where the dominant images and sounds associated with African peoples are negative, distorted, confused and suspect, losing the Morning Mix/Block Report Radio would be a blow to our community in Northern California.

The first guest on what may be JR’s last show, Black linguist Dr. Ernie A. Smith, is the kind of Black scholar that you’d never know existed leaving it up to the mainstream and alternative media. The interview with Valrey focused first on the history of Ebonics – ebony and phonics or Black sounds – and the information was revelatory. Smith revealed the African origin of language itself and debunked the old colonial European notion of pidgin and creole.

Dr. Smith then gave an articulate and thorough breakdown of the politics behind the 1996 Ebonics controversy in Oakland, but also put that in the context of the mis-education of African American children in Oakland then and now. Valrey’s questions carefully guided Smith and the listener through the white noise of the flash-in-the-pan story, fixated on the sensational, to a clearer truth.

There is no one else in Bay Area doing this kind of work on broadcast radio in 2012.

Supposedly the cancellation of the Morning Mix/Block Report Radio isn’t a done deal. I plan on calling the station and letting them know what it should do. Save the Morning Mix/Block Report Radio, KPFA, or it’s a problem. You won’t get any more bread from me – and you will get talked about.

If you’d like to help the Block Report stay on the air, contact

  • Andrew Leslie Phillips, interim General Manager, andrew@kpfa.org, (510) 848-6767, ext. 203
  • Carrie Core, interim Program Director, carrie@kpfa.org, (510) 848-6767, ext. 209

Kevin Weston, a regular contributor to the Bay View in the ‘90s, has long been the editor of New America Media and YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia. He can be reached at kweston@newamericamedia.org.

Block Report Radio on KPFA’s Morning Mix broadcast March 28, 2012 (click to listen)