KPFK-90.7 FM at 60: Milestones on the Path of Progressive Radio

  • 08/30/2019
  • James Preston Allen

Compiled by James Preston Allen, Publisher

KPFK (90.7 FM) is a listener-sponsored radio station based in North Hollywood, which serves all of Southern California, and also streams 24 hours a day via the internet. It was the second of five stations in the non-commercial, listener-sponsored Pacifica Foundation network.

KPFK 90.7 FM began broadcasting in April 1959, 12 years after the Pacifica Foundation was created by pacifist Lewis Hill (May 1, 1919 – August 1, 1957), and 10 years after the network’s flagship station, KPFA, was founded in Berkeley. KPFK also broadcasts on booster KPFK-FM1 along the Malibu coast, K258BS (99.5 MHz) in China Lake, K254AH (98.7 MHz) in Isla Vista and K229BO 93.7 MHz in Rancho Bernardo, in the San Diego area.

With its 110,000-watt main transmitter atop Mount Wilson, KPFK is one of the most powerful FM stations in the western United States. The station can be heard from the California/Mexico border to Santa Barbara to Ridgecrest/China Lake. A second 10-watt translator is licensed in Isla Vista, a census-designated place outside Santa Barbara. The transmitter for that station is located atop Gibraltar Peak, allowing its broadcast to be heard over a large portion of southern Santa Barbara County.

Lewis Hill  was a co-founder of KPFA , the first listener-supported radio station in the United States, and the Pacifica Radio network.

Hill  was born in Kansas City, Kansas on May 1, 1919. His father was an attorney who made his fortune by brokering a deal to sell an oil company to J.P. Morgan. His mother’s brother was Frank Phillips, builder of Phillips Petroleum. Hill was sent to Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri because he was too bright for the public school. According to his widow, he “despised” his time at military school, but he completed his first two years of college there and also was the Missouri State doubles tennis champion. He then transferred to Stanford University.

While studying at Stanford in 1937, his interest in Quakerism led him to a belief in pacifism. As a conscientious objector, Hill served in Civilian Public Service during World War II. In 1945, Hill resigned from his job as a Washington D.C. correspondent and moved to Berkeley, California.

  • 1949 — Lewis Hill he established KPFA. To support the station financially, he founded the Pacifica Foundation. He served as Pacifica’s head until his suicide (during a period of failing health from spinal arthritis) in 1957.
  • 1959 — The Pacifica Foundation begins its second station — KPFK. Terry Drinkwater becomes its first General Manager.
  • 1961 — KPFK wins Pacifica’s second George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting.
  • 1962 — The FCC withholds the license renewals of KPFA, KPFB, and KPFK pending its investigation into “communist affiliations.” Pacifica was never cited.
  • 1963 — KPFK runs the very first Renaissance Faire as a fundraiser.
  • 1966 — July 24: The first broadcast of Peter Bergman’s Radio Free Oz.
  •  November 17: The first appearance of The Firesign Theatre on Radio Free Oz.
  • 1972 — George Carlin first listed in 1972 in his monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” The words are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits. KPFK’s broadcasting these words led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation that helped define the extent to which the federal government could regulate speech on broadcast television and radio in the United States.
  • 1974 — The Symbionese Liberation Army delivers the Patty Hearst tapes to KPFA and KPFK. The KPFK manager was jailed for refusing to turn the tapes over to the FBI.
  • 1986 — August 31: Jerker, a Robert Chesley play, dramatizes the reflections of a man dying of AIDS, airs on Pacifica station KPFK. Because it included graphic sexual language, the FCC ruled that it violated an indecency policy.
  • 1987 — Ladysmith Black Mambazo makes their first on-air U.S. radio broadcast on KPFK.
  • 1992 — CPB Board member Victor Gold targets KPFK for strident African American programming and controversial speech aired during Black History month, by filing an FCC complaint.
  • 2002 — As Pacifica implemented its new listener-sponsor-accountability structure and as Pacifica and Democracy Now! settled outstanding disputes from previous years, Democracy Now! spun off with substantial funding from Pacifica to become an independent production
  • 2006 — Pacifica added two new national programs: From the Vault from the Pacifica Radio Archives, a weekly program that thematically repackages archival material, making it relevant to contemporary listeners; and Informativo Pacifica, based at KPFK in Los Angeles.
  • 2007 — September: Pacifica expanded its offerings in multiple media platforms, using “Web 2.0” technology.
  • 2008 — March 14 – March 16: Pacifica suspended regular programming for three days in order to air a live broadcast of the Iraq War Winter Soldier event in Silver Spring, Maryland.

To see the schedule of regular programming and special events broadcasted on KPFK-90.7 FM, visit kpfk.org.

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James Preston Allen

James Preston Allen is the founding publisher of Random Lengths News. He has been involved in the Los Angeles Harbor Area community for more than 40 years.