Sunday July 26, 1998
SPECIAL TO THE SF EXAMINER
Berkeley radio legend still fighting
for free speech
BERKELEY - At age 81, Bill Mandel
still has a passion for free speech.
And the longtime Berkeley resident
says he is willing to go to jail to
prove it, to protest a recent]
injunction closing down Free Radio
On June 16, a federal judge ordered
the permanent injunction against the
grass-roots 50-watt station because it
didn't have a permit from the Federal
Mandel says judge Claudia Wilken's
decision is similar to the efforts of
the 1960 McCarthy-inspired House
Committee on Un-American Activities,
which he says "sought to suppress free
speech by financially ruining people
and organizations of limited means
through the costs of their legal
Mandel was brought before the
committee at San Francisco's City Hall
in 1960 for his radio show, broadcast
by KPFA in Berkeley, and his KQED
television production about the press
and periodicals of the Soviet Union.
By the time Mandel went to testify on
May 13, 1960, his TV show had been
"My producer at KQED said, "Bill, I am
not a courageous man. Tomorrow night
is your last show,' " Mandel
remembers. "When a man tells you he's
a coward, you can't argue with him."
A coward Mandel is not. Excerpts from
his testimony at the Board of
Supervisors chambers are immortalized
in films and documentaries, and
historians say they are widely
considered to have helped launch the
student movements of the '60s.
In a famous line, he told committee
Chairman Edwind Willis, a congressman
from Louisiana, "If you think I'm
going to cooperate with this
collection of Judases; of men who sit
here in violation of the Constitution;
if you think I am going to cooperate
with you in any way - you are insane!"
KPFA kept him on the air after the
committee speech and won the support
of UC-Berkeley students organizing the
Free Speech Movement in 1964. Mandel
was asked to be on the movement's
executive committee that same year.
Mandel retired in 1982, after writing
several books and translating
thousands of journals on Soviet
society. He then focused more of his
time on KPFA, and began to broadcast a
weekly show on Free Radio Berkeley in
The FCC first requested the injunction
against the station and levied a
$10,000 fine against founder Stephen
Dunifer in 1995, two years after he
started broadcasting from an old
bathroom in a communal house on
Alcatraz Avenue on the North Oakland
Dunifer says that the station didn't
apply for the license because the
commission bans stations under 100
watts. Getting a waiver, he says,
would have been practically impossible
and prohibitively expensive.
The commission has granted only two
such waivers since the ban began in
the late '70s. In court records, the
FCC said it prohibited such low-watt
broadcasts because it believed they
interfered with larger radio signals
and emergency communications.
The station's left-leaning and
educational programming included
broadcasts by groups such as Food Not
Bombs, Earth First, Critical Mass and
individuals with obscure interests or
Dunifer has always protested the
injunction on the grounds that it
violates the First Amendment. He
argues that prohibiting low-watt
broadcasts allows only those who can
afford licensing fees and expensive
equipment to have a voice in radio.
"If there is room on the spectrum
(radio airwaves), why can't the
community use that?" Dunifer asks.
Acquiring an FM license costs $2,470.
Other fees are also required depending
on the type of equipment, says FCC
spokeswoman Sharon Jenkins.
In ordering the injunction, Wilken
prohibited anybody who had worked with
Dunifer from broadcasting without a
Dunifer says besides being shut down,
he is equally concerned with the
"overly broad" and "chilling effect"
of Wilken's decision.
The U.S. district attorney's office
for the Northern District of
California says the ruling against
Dunifer is no more broad than usual.
"That is common and standard wording
for an injunction," said Assistant
U.S. Attorney Mark St. Angelo. "If the
judge doesn't enjoin others, the
injunction wouldn't have much meaning
- that's what she is concerned with."
Judge Wilken declined to comment on
Mandel, who is enjoined from
broadcasting, says he plans to
continue his show if arrangements can
be made for him to go to jail in lieu
of a fine of the type levied on
Dunifer. He says that he cannot afford
a fine because he and his ailing wife
live on a fixed income of social
security and savings from his work as
a translator of Soviet academic
St. Angelo says that if Mandel begins
broadcasting again, he will be in
violation of a court order and,
therefore, in contempt of court. While
he won't speculate about Mandel's
fate, St. Angelo points out that
contempt of court can result in a fine
or jail time.
"This is unusual to say the least,"
St. Angelo said. "Jail is a
possibility, but I don't think we're
talking long-term, as far as I can
Mandel is used to such consequences
for speaking his mind.
For his writings on Russia, Mandel was
hauled before two government
subcommittees investigating communism
in the United States in the early
Lifetime of protests
Protests have also had a long-standing
role in Mandel's life. In 1933, he was
expelled from City College of New York
at age 16 for protesting ROTC training
on campus. He met his wife, Tanya,
that same year while protesting a
laundry worker's strike in New York
Mandel was let go from KPFA in 1995
after 38 years at the station. Mandel
says he was fired for violating a gag
order and criticizing the station.
Others say his show on Russia was no
longer relevant at KPFA.
"When the programming changed, his
show was canceled," says Philip
Maldari, KPFA's public affairs
director since 1982.
Still, Maldari says Mandel was one of
the more popular hosts in KPFA's
history for his informed, outspoken
and, at the time, controversial views
about the Soviet Union.
Radio scholars agree.
"Bill thought the U.S. had no shortage
of people denouncing the Soviet
society as the evil empire, and an
immoral entity," says Matthew Lasar,
who recently completed a book about
Pacifica Radio, which owns KPFA. "He
wanted people to understand that the
U.S.S.R. was a multicultural society
and that the Cold War was not as
simple as people were trying to make
Mandel was noticed as an expert on
Russia in 1940 after writing articles
for the little-known American Russian
Institute. Mandel landed the job
because he could speak and read
Russian, which he learned at 14 when
his father took the family to Moscow
to help "build socialism."
Those who have tracked Mandel's
activism over the last several decades
say he takes his causes seriously.
They're not surprised he is sticking
his neck out for Free Radio Berkeley.
"He's not a fanatic," says Marshall
Windmiller, professor emeritus of
international relations at S.F. State,
who first heard Mandel in a 1947
debate on U.S.-Soviet relations while
an undergraduate at the University of
the Pacific. "His whole life has been
crusade on a number of issues, and
free speech is definitely one of them.
I think he's a guy who says, "I have
to keep the faith. I have to to put my
body where my mouth is. I'm not going
to end my life as a wimp; I never have
been one, and I won't now.' "