A Former KPFT News and Program Director Speaks
Editor's Note: This piece makes reference to current KPFT General Manager Garland Ganter, who in some ways is the quintessential New Pacifica employee. The October 1998 Pacifica Board Meeting transcript contains this telling remark from Ganter:
                     " I just wanted to let people know that everyone here are nice, good folks from the KPFT
                      advisory board and staff who just want to kind of lend their moral support. These are not
                      like secret members of the public that are going to accost you."

February 23, 1999


Enclosed is a copy of a speech I delivered about 3 years ago at a gathering of some 80 supporters of a program called "The Music of India", a program that for 19 years had been one of the most highly "revenue efficient" programs on KPFT and which was summarily canceled shortly before this address was given.

It saddens me to recognize that in the almost 30 years of KPFT's existence, not another former staff member of the station has had the sense of history or values necessary to make any kind of summary statement of conditions at KPFT or make any apparent major contribution to Free Pacifica's struggle, even to the extent of helping to provide an
understanding of the events that have transpired in Houston, and how they mirror the struggle in the network overall . At the time of this speech an effort was made to create a group called The Committee for People's Radio that might address the emerging crisis at Pacifica, an effort which unfortunately failed.

I urge those of you who may be in a position to reach out to potential supporters in Houston to do so. In the last few years I have primarily lived in California and New Mexico and am no longer in touch with those who might be in a position to play a significant role there. It has been 18 years since I was on staff at KPFT, and over 13 years since I
voluntarily left behind any function as a programmer there.

There is a certain amount of parochialism in this speech, due in part to the isolation from the rest of the network that KPFT has always endured, and due in part to the cultural nature of the city and to my own relative distance from daily life in the network in recent years. There is also a bit of personalism in this address, which I felt was necessary
in a speech before this particular audience to bring the issues at hand to life.

In any case, it is my hope to fill a bit of the gap about KPFT in your records, and to make the devastating changes that have occurred there part of the record.

Hasta la victoria siempre,
Rafael Renteria


“The Pacifica network is waging war without pity on anything of a
radical or politically vivacious nature.”
                                                  Alexander Cockburn in The Nation magazine

“War is politics with bloodshed. Politics is war without bloodshed.”
                                                  Mao Tse Tung in Revolutionary China

“By way of introduction let me say that my name is Rafael Renteria. I was known at KPFT by another name, which I have since changed. I am half Mexican, half Anglo, and grew up in a Black neighborhood two blocks from
Martin Luther King Boulevard here in Houston.

KPFT first touched my life in 1970, the year of its birth - 25 years ago - the year it was bombed of the air twice by the Ku Klux Klan with the complicity of the FBI. KPFT was one of three forces that directly touched my life at the ages of 15 and 16 and served to radicalize me - to change the direction of my life decisively, to change it permanently.
I especially loved Jeff Nightbyrd’s program. Jeff had been a mover in SDS, a student organization of those times. The other forces that touched me so deeply as a youth were the Black Panther Party and Houston’s underground press, Space City News, which I sold on the streets, and later two papers called Abraxas and Mockingbird, which were
founded by a Black revolutionary named Cliff Smith, who would later, during my time as program director at KPFT, become the first Black radical to do a regular program there.

In any case KPFT influenced me greatly and I was long-since a veteran of many battles there when the station’s current manager, Garland Ganter, came to KPFT from the staid and reactionary news/talk station KTRH. Garland had been a reporter at KTRH who produced the 30 second snippets that pass for news in the boo-zwa media. Even in those days, under the management of Jean Palmquist, Garland stood out in KPFT’s leftist-bohemian atmosphere. I felt he was bad news, a stiff, starchy, by the rules type. Not the type of guy I wished to see in power, not anywhere, and certainly not as News Director of a station in the Pacifica network.

Personalities are important, as are the covers of books - but to understand what’s happening at KPFT today - the destruction of the Music of India and Sheperd’s Hey and many other grave problems, it’s necessary to know something about the history of the station. I believe I can convey the richest and most honest sense of that through the lens of my own experience.

My time at KPFT shaped me as much as I helped to shape the station through the course of several difficult years - years filled with the kinds of struggles the station is going through now. I invested my young adulthood in Pacifica. The joys, the scars and the lessons of that time are an integral part of who I am today. I would like to think I played a
dramatically different role from - the opposite , really - of Garland Ganter’s role.

I was Programming and News Director of KPFT in the late 70’s and that was a very exciting time. It was the era of the rebirth of the Women’s Movement, the Gay Rights movement, the revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua, the upsurge in El Salvador - and locally, the Moody Park Rebellion - an uprising in the Mexican community that occurred when two
Houston cops were given a dollar fine and a year in jail - suspended - for beating and handcuffing a Mexican man, then throwing him in the bayou, saying, “Let’s see if the wetback can swim.” He couldn’t. He died.

So, culturally and politically rebellion was in the air - there was a moment of hope - the lid was lifted , very briefly, before it came slamming down again with the election of Ronald Reagan. We seized that opening at KPFT to make important advances. We set a direction for programming that has only been decisively disrupted in the last three

During that time we expanded feminist and gay and lesbian programming; we began the Persian Program during the so-called Iran Hostage Crisis - in the middle of a hideous storm of anti-Middle Eastern propaganda, when there were pop songs such as “Bomb Iran.” We brought the first Black Nationalist programming to the airwaves - the direct forbears of the work of programmers such as Hitaji Aziz,  J.Don Boney and Reflections Black on Black {all these programs are now gone - RR}; we instituted the first serious Latin American public affairs  programming with Revista
del Sur and Enfoque Latino Americano. To combat the rising tide of Christian right wing fundamentalism we opened the door to the Atheist Hour, the first program of its kind anywhere. We gave voice to the exiled Palestinian community with the Arabic Hour. There was a program for local writers and poets. Every day at 6 AM we broadcasted the Muslim
morning prayers. We experimented with a collectively run music program to strengthen the creative presence of youth at the station and directed the Prison Program to prisoners behind the walls at  Huntsville. Following a funding crisis and an occasion of interference from Pacifica’s national office we reinstituted KPFT’s evening newscast - Life on Earth - a locally produced hour long newscast that was highly regarded in journalistic circles in Houston. Under the direction of an Iranian activist we produced a 12 page program guide that was filled with original art and articles, poetry, philosophy and sophisticated cartoons.

We wanted to do more than communicate with the audience - we wanted to help transform their lives and their world. We wanted to create community. When we were done, KPFT broadcasted in 9 different languages. The station had a vision.

I moved on from KPFT early in the Reagan era and became known as a poet, counselor, teacher and as a revolutionary activist. At one point there was a n attempt on my life.  - I was shot at. My car was burned. I faced
a potential 30 years in prison for my political beliefs and leadership. And I became known at KPFT as a symbol of the “bad old days” when Pacifica was a radical network and when the paid staff at KPFT were, frankly, quite poor.

Sjhortly after I left, the Reagan administration began its assaults on Pacifica and at a national level the network began to creep slowly into a defensive position - somewhat apologetic, more and more backpedaling to avoid attacks and to appease the government. The so-called limousine liberals began to gain ascendency in and control of Pacifica during this time.

Garland Ganter’s apparently anomalous - strange - and unseemly rise to power at KPFT was in fact, an indirect expression of, the fruit of, these power struggles at a national level. His rise is a product of the Reagan/ Bush Kultur Kampf.

Kultur Kampf means “culture struggle” - it's a term literally adopted from the Nazi regime in Germany that many republicans openly use to describe the ruling classes’ cultural, social and political war against the left, against the so-called Viet Nam War Syndrome, against the counterculture, against women, immigrants, the poor, the homeless, the oppressed nationalities - against what is called “political correctness.”

It is a war that intensifies daily and which, right now, is taking dangerous leaps forward.

Most of all, however, Ganter’s rise to power at KPFT is a product of Pacifica’s timid, mis-shapen response to that war... its failure to resist and to refuse to be complicit in undermining itself and its own premises - its failure to come to grips with the terms of Culture War...its failure to grasp the magnitude of the stakes in this war...its failure to declare cultural war in kind on its ruling class enemies - enemies who are now baying at the door with a greater danger than the bombings of 25 years ago Elements of the ruling class are seeking to destroy Pacifica systematically and in its entirety. Rather than counter attack its enemies and rally its allies, Pacifica headquarters has, in the words of Alexander Cockburn, chosen to “wage war without pity” against anything and anyone of a radical nature that may exist in its own network. As Mao Tse Tung said, “ War is politics with bloodshed. Politics is war without bloodshed.”

Here, then, is a partial record of Pacifica’s failure, of its betrayal, as it has played out locally. A partial record of the kinds of changes that have occurred at KPFT since Garland Ganter has been on staff, first as New and Public Affairs Director, then as Program Director and now as General Manager:

KPFT’s locally produced news programming has been completely eliminated.

Mid-Day public affairs programming no longer exists.

There is no longer a single public affairs program rooted in the Latino community - a community that makes up fully a third of Houston’s population.

The Persian Program - founded by anti-Shah/ anti-Khomeni activists - was eliminated at a time when there was imminent danger of war between Iran and U.S. imperialism, as the U.S. had warships in the Persian gulf.

The Arabic Hour - one of the most intellectually respectable programs on KPFT, was eliminated. When? During Desert Shield - as the U.S. prepared to go to war against Arab Iraq to seize strategic control of the world’s oil supply.

Gay programming has been significantly cut - its been depoliticized - it is no longer the force - or the threat - it was when KPFT volunteer programmer Fred Paez, a high profile gay activist, was murdered by Houston Police.

Lesbian programming has been driven off the air - including Breakthrough - a hugely popular program that was one of the stations’ highest revenue generators.

There is now one hour of feminist programming each week.

Peace, Pipes and Visions, the Native American program, is gone.

The Atheist program is gone.

The Viet Namese program is gone.

The Chinese program is gone.

The Pakistani program -gone.

At least one Black program has come under severe attack. {Only one Black program remains today at KPFT, and an African music program - RR} The Program guide has virtually ceased to exist.

Variety in musical programming has been dramatically curtailed.

Now the Music of India program is gone after 19 years of service. There is not a single Asian program left on KPFT.

And Gary Coover’s brilliantly produced Celtic music program, Sheperd’s Hey has fallen, because Gary stood up and spoke out.

Each of these programs intimately affected the lives, the growth, the passions, struggles hopes, and lonely sufferings of entire communities of people.  Real people.  Each one of these programmers touched someone where they were isolated, empowered them where they were powerless. Together, in the aggregate they said, by the simple fact of their
existence on one medium of communication- that we can be together, that we don’t have to be alone anymore- that our lives and our world can be transformed-everywhere.

Such, then, is the record.  The diversity, the hope of KPFT is not just dying- it is systematically being killed.  In the latest issue of the Houston Press, Garland Ganter says that blandest of words- homogenization- is “too strong” a term to characterize these changes, changes which in fact represent a protracted assault on and betrayal of the values that Pacifica has long embodied.

And, while it is true that this assault did not begin with Garland, it is equally true that it must end with him.

If not, within 3 or 4 more years there may be little left to show that we ever intended KPFT to serve the people.

Pacifica Houston has clearly lost its’ sense of purpose and direction. I will leave it to you to decide whether the attacks on so many minority programs are a product of conscious or unconscious racism.  But one thing is clear- there can be no more administrations at KPFT that do the right-wing’s hatchet work for them under the guise of gaining a larger
audience and more money.  Making more money is not why Fred Paez died. It is not why KPFT was bombed off the air.

Before discussing the road forward- and it is a road that will be full of twists and turns, I would like to take a moment to honor Meena Datt and the Indian and Celtic communities for standing up to be counted. And I would especially like to honor Gary Coover for the daring stand he has taken.  I know the pain of being excommunicated from something one
loves so dearly.  I, too, was removed from the air under a different manager, as many have been, for my own rebellion- a decision that was later reversed.  But the rule that Gary broke should have been broken. The shroud of silence had to be torn. There is a rule that prohibits KPFT programmers from discussing “internal” station matters on the air with those the station is meant to serve, the listeners and sponsors, those who make the station possible. That rule was instituted in the mid 70s following a general strike by KPFT programmers and other volunteers in which the stations’ building was taken over for several weeks and the management was literally locked out.  Listeners came to the doors and windows to bring food and drink to the strikers locked inside.  People did their best to reclaim the station as their own.  Of course the listeners have a right to know what’s going on.  It was right to have broken that rule.  It’s right to
rebel against reactionaries.  It’s right to take a stand and to speak from your heart.  We honor Gary, and we will celebrate the day when the Music of India and Shepards’ Hey return to the air.

But this is not only a struggle to reinstate two banned programs.  It is not only a struggle for justice for two communities that have been grievously wronged.  It is a struggle for the spirit and direction of a key progressive institution at a time when the system is waging a very real war against oppressed people here and internationally.  And
although there are real differences among us based in class, gender and national culture it is the workings of the system itself that have brought us together in opposition to it.

Let us speak bluntly then.  Managers have been overthrown before at KPFT.  I personally led one such successful revolt from within the station in 1979.  It’s time for another.

What we are combating, however, is not a person.  What we must combat and defeat is the outlook within Pacifica that has given rise to Ganter’s administration.  It does no good to remove a deader if the policies and the philosophy behind those policies are not defeated as well.  Ganter’s predecessor and apparent mentor, former manager Barry
Forbes, was run out of town- but the same policies have continued under Ganter’s administration.  In the course of this struggle we must maintain a balanced perspective.  We are not against Pacifica, we are for it.  In this respect I would like to issue a grave warning.  Any effort to challenge the license of KPFT would be wrong and disastrous. Such a move would play directly into the hands of the powerful forces in this country that would like, not to rectify Pacifica, but to destroy it.  Otherwise, we should wage an all sided social, political, economic and even legal struggle.  Among the key elements of our strategy should be to mobilize listeners and sponsors of the station, to wage a media campaign and a legal campaign.  Under sufficient fire in the public eye and faced with strong dissension within, no manager can long stand.

There are important challenges ahead, but there is no need to become perplexed or bewildered.  We should feel secure in our strength and not act too hastily.  The storm clouds are gathering- the rain will fall and the lightening will come.  That is nothing extraordinary.  We should be patient for a few moments longer.  We should pause and consider everything carefully.  We should meet and lay down our strategy.  It is my hope that we can challenge one another to learn a new outlook in the course of this struggle.  If I have conveyed anything in my story tonight, I hope it is the importance of truly understanding the context and meaning of our actions in this situation.

Finally, then, as a community of immigrants- especially for those of you who are Muslim- it is vital that you come to understand deeply the realities of American racism, its’ history of genocide, the so-called anti-immigrant hysteria that is being whipped up from the highest levels of power- the Mexican-bashing in California and nationally and how that
may effect your communities’ future;  It’s important that you understand skinheads, the new militias, the meaning of the growing trend of right-wing terror, the nature of Christian fundamentalism and it’s fascistic agenda.  If you can deeply grasp these realities then it will become obvious- at a much deeper level than that of the cultural pleasure you may receive from a given program- why this struggle for the spirit of Pacifica is also a struggle for your children's futures- and for your lives.


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