Frisco Vista received the following e-mail, reproduced here verbatim:
LEGENDARY BERKELEY RADIO STATION FIRES LEGENDARY TALK SHOW HOST
BACK STORY: Berkeley, California’s KPFA/Pacifica radio station, the only radio station in America to have 10,000 of its listeners demonstrate against it, finds itself in another controversy.
After receiving what its program director said were hundreds of complaints from a segment of its “progressive” audience, KPFA abruptly, capriciously, and with no warning fired award-winning author, journalist, and broadcaster Peter Laufer from his lively Sunday morning radio talk show.
Program Director Sasha Lilley cited “negative audience feedback” and said her reasons for canceling the popular show were “intangible” but that Laufer was “just not right for Sunday.” Lilley offered to tell the public that Laufer was leaving “to go on to bigger and better things.” Laufer insisted that she better tell the public that he was fired because that was what he was telling the public. Laufer believes, based on letters and email, along with op-eds in the “alternative press”, that a group of malcontent KPFA listener-activists orchestrated a smear campaign against him because he is, as these critics wrote, “not a person of color” and because his credentials (he’s won virtually every prestigious broadcast journalism award) are “too mainstream.”
“The KPFA bumper sticker says ‘Free Speech Radio’ but apparently mob rule is more accurate,” Laufer mused from his Sonoma County coast side home, enjoying his first Sunday morning off in the six months since he inaugurated the KPFA show. “Ever since my undergraduate days, Berkeley has symbolized diversity. But today’s incarnation of KPFA wants to march in a lockstep of so-called politically correct speech. I did the show as a labor of love — the salary about paid for my bridge tolls, gas, and a Sunday dinner out. I am profoundly disappointed and concerned to see that as commercial radio continues to homogenize, a longtime bastion of innovation in the non-commercial radio world reacts with predictable narrow mindedness. If you can’t count on KPFA for tolerance of a diversity of views, what can you count on? Of course I harbor no desire to return to their airwaves after being treated in such a shabby fashion.”
Peter Laufer is author of over a dozen well-received books of social and political criticism; his most recent works probe the lives of soldiers opposed to the Iraq War and promote open borders with Mexico. A former NBC news correspondent — where he produced and anchored the first nationwide radio show on the HIV/AIDS crisis — Laufer has reported the news worldwide, and he won a Polk award for his documentary on Americans in prison overseas. In his own backyard heshared a Peabody award as a member of the KCBS news department when he co-anchored the station’s coverage of the 1989 earthquake that devastated the Bay Area. He created the “National Geographic World Talk” radio show, and is co-anchor with publisher Markos Kounalakis of the radio program “Washington Monthly on the Radio.” He guest lectures at universities worldwide on media issues and his print journalism is seen in a diverse array of publications from Penthouse to the London Sunday Times magazine. Details of his work can be seen at www.peterlaufer.com.
Laufer sent the following open letter of protest to Nicole Sawaya, newly installed as the Pacifica Foundation Executive Director, the network of progressive radio stations that owns KPFA, and Dave Adelson, the Pacifica National Board Chair.
Dear Nicole Sawaya and Dave Adelson:
I am profoundly disappointed that your Berkeley station KPFA has given in to an orchestrated and hysterical campaign to remove me from my Sunday morning talk show. Of course I was not doing the job for the meager amount of money I received. I mistakenly believed that KPFA had a commitment to a lively and diverse approach to free expression performed in the context of creative and professionally produced radio theater. I took on the show when it was offered to me for the opportunity to practice live radio art, theater and journalism for my hometown audience.
My surprise firing was a tacky act and unworthy of the distinguished role Pacifica has played in American media. Sasha Lilley, the KPFA program director, reached me via telephone on my vacation in New York to inform me that my role was terminated.
Lilley said, and I quote from notes I took during the phone call and from a follow-up email I received from her, “I really like what you do on the air. You are certainly a team player and I have really admired what you have brought to the airwaves.” Nonetheless, with no warning, I was given my verbal pink slip. During the brief phone call, Lilley cited correspondence she had received from listeners who, she said, did not like my act. When I asked her why these letters were not brought to my attention prior to this termination call, she hemmed and hawed an apology and allowed as how that was probably a management mistake. In a subsequent call I pointed out to her what any longtime radio professional knows: were I to have known a cadre of listeners was organizing an attack on my tenure, I could easily have mustered an equal or greater response from my proactive audience of loyal Sunday morning listeners. Instead, I serenely was cranking out excellent programming, left unaware by Lilley and the rest of the KPFA management of my vulnerability.
Radio aficionados may be amused to know that only once did Sasha Lilley specifically chastise me for my performance. It came after I found an old Viewmaster abandoned in the studio just before air time one day. I clicked its shutter and was mesmerized by the familiar “ca-chunk” sound of my youth. When the show started I offered the first person to identify “the mystery sound” a prize: the book written by my first guest that day, autographed by the author. “I hate the mystery sound,” Lilley told me later, and I cancelled plans for it to be a running moment of frivolity on my otherwise serious show.
My firing came two days after I moderated a benefit for KPFA in Berkeley featuring Naomi Wolf and Daniel Ellsberg — an event that raised thousands of dollars, and where the hundreds in the audience broke into hoots and hollers of applause when I introduced myself from the stage as the anchor of the KPFA Sunday show.
As an added bizarre twist, the firing came on the eve of a feature article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Ben Fong-Torres about me and my talk radio career. In it Fong-Torres cites my seminal book “Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice or Just Hot Air?” and reports “Laufer knows his stuff. He’s qualified to offer an update on the state of talk radio — albeit from a decidedly left-of-center viewpoint.” He notes I founded talk stations in Berlin and Amsterdam, and that my talk radio career dates back to the first-ever talk station. “Today,” he writes, “he hosts ‘Sunday’ a live program on KPFA.” But Chronicle readers who tuned in after reading the paean to my talk radio expertise heard instead Sasha Lilley herself on the air, hosting my program, with the halting explanation, “We’ve parted ways with Peter Laufer.” Firing is in her management toolbox, but apparently missing from her lexicon.
What gives in Berkeley? Is this the KPFA that I have known and loved? This bodes sour for the future of radio in America. If you can’t trust Pacifica to protect avant-garde yet highly professional radio, what can you believe in? Has the spirit of George Bush’s intolerant regime reached the trenches of Berkeley?
Sincerely and with regrets to report this news to you,