Founded in 1946 by Lewis Hill, Eleanor McKinney, and others as a noncommercial, educational, cultural radio in the San Francisco Bay area, the Pacifica Foundation has continued to flourish as a completely listener-supported radio network. The goal behind having listener support was to ensure a grass-roots forum that would support diversity, freedom of speech, and promote programs according to what the listeners want, not what a corporate sponsor wants. Hill's strong beliefs in open communication and freedom of expression helped Pacifica set precedents concerning freedom of speech in broadcasting. Besides the pioneer station, KPFA (Berkeley), Pacifica radio consists of KPFK (Los Angeles), WBAI (New York), KPFT (Houston), and WPFW (Washington, DC). The collection traces the founding of Pacifica and the development of the listener-support system for radio.
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15.0 Linear Feet (10 record storage containers)
380 Tape Reels (approximately 380 audio reels) : audio reels ; 5", 7", and 10"
The Pacifica Foundation records cover the years 1946-1991 with the bulk of the material between 1950 and 1980. The materials in the collection trace the founding of Pacifica and the development of the listener-supported system for radio. Of special interest are the FCC, FBI, and Senate investigations of Pacifica, dealing mainly with freedom of speech. Also of note is the correspondence of founder and public radio visionary, Lewis Hill. Types of documents include correspondence, memos, board minutes, statistics, news clippings, Pacifica program guides, program transcripts, and legal forms.
In March of 1946, Lewis Hill, Eleanor McKinney and others began discussing the need for non-commercial, educational, cultural radio in the San Francisco Bay area. Frustrated with commercial radio, which they perceived as narrow in scope and rushed in delivery, Lewis Hill and this small group of people founded the Pacifica Foundation. Nearly three years after its incorporation date, Pacifica's first station, Berkeley's KPFA, went on the air.
From the station's beginning audience support was quite strong. Volunteers and donations arrived very soon after KPFA began airing, although more volunteers and more money were always needed. Pacifica was granted tax exemption on the basis of being an educational institution, and this also helped with the problems inherent in raising funds from listeners.
As Pacifica's first station, KPFA was the first listener-supported radio enterprise. The goal behind this revolutionary idea was to serve as a grass roots forum; to support diversity, freedom of speech, to be funded by listeners and to program according to their interests and needs, not those of a corporate sponsor. These ideals were supported by the programming style at Pacifica. Examples of this practice were allowing programs to be as long or short as would be appropriate for the subject (not cutting them off to fit into tight commercial schedules), using informal speech style in order to avoid any alienation associated with more formal speech, etc.
Much of this idealism that was so identified with Pacifica was a result of the influence of Lewis Hill, the prime mover of the organization. Hill was a pacifist, who above all else, felt that communication, especially via the arts such as music, drama and literature, could form bonds among people. He also considered discussion of science, religion and philosophy ways to form such bonds, and address the quality of the human spirit. Hill believed that open controversy concerning these and other such realms was a natural and necessary part of learning. As a result, Pacifica encouraged the broadcasting of differing points of view. Over the years, this dedication to freedom of expression created conflicts not only with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but with the Senate (1963 investigation concerning suspected Communist infiltration) and the FBI as well. In spite of a series of investigations and many complaints from listeners who were offended by their seeming lack of discrimination in programming, Pacifica stations did not lose their licenses. In fact, they set precedents concerning freedom of speech in broadcasting, from which communication media have benefited since.
Lewis Hill's vision set the stage for Pacifica and its open door programming policy. His time with the Foundation was not without problems, however. Between 1952 and 1954, KPFA experienced management related problems as a result of the clashing of the founding group's goals and new staff members' ideals. Hill resigned in 1952, and several other workers associated with the station's beginning left in protest of Hill's absence. The new management struggled, and in 1954, Hill returned.
Hill's suicide in 1954 shocked both KPFA staff and listeners. Because of his central role in creating the essence and style of the station, it was unclear how Pacifica would be affected. Instead of losing sight of Hill's vision, Pacifica began realizing plans to expand into other communities, and four stations have been added: KPFK, Los Angeles, 1959; WBAI, New York, 1960; KPFT, Houston, 1970; and WPFW, Washington, DC, 1977. Many affiliate stations have signed on in addition to these core stations. As with KPFA, each of these core stations has struggled to address its audience thoughtfully. For various reasons, each has also encountered resistance from sections of the community it serves. For example, KPFT was bombed twice in its first years, and other stations have experienced internal disagreements.
Pacifica has a unique status in broadcasting history not only for being the first listener-supported radio station, but also for breaking ground in freedom of speech issues, and for taking the risk of providing controversial programming and points of view.
The collection consists of ten series.
This collection contains audiovisual materials. Items that cannot be used in the Special Collections reading room or are too fragile for researchers require that a digital copy be made prior to use. If you would like to access these materials, please contact us prior to your visit.
The Pacifica Foundation records were donated to the National Public Broadcasting Archives, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries by Vera Hopkins in February and May of 1991 and by Adi Gevins in May of 1992.
The print records of this collection have been processed. Aside from some rough groupings of similar material, the collection came to the Libraries in no particular order. The processing archivist arranged files into separate series, but there is overlap among the series. Materials have been arranged by topic, format, and date. Rubber bands and severely-rusted fasteners were removed and replaced with plastic clips. All original folders were replaced with acid-free folders, which were assigned labels.
Audio materials were removed from the print records and have not yet been incorporated in this finding aid. Please contact us for more information about the audiovisual material.