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FEATURE Looking for Real Enemies BY MICHAEL KING Since this is partly a story about a small group of wannabe revolutionaries, it’s useful to recall a bit of bitter wisdom out of Karl Marx: “Hegel remarks somewhere that great events and personalities in history reappear…. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Consider that classic reflection a sardonic commentary on what follows. Earlier this year, the Observer reported \(August 6 and November radio network, centered at KPFABerkeley but with reverberations across the country, including Houston, home to Pacifica’s KPFT. Although the network still broadcasts the best independent news reporting in the U.S., organizational tensions had grown over governance decisions of the Pacifica Foundation’s national board. The climax was a mid-summer lockout of staff at KPFA at immediate issue was the firing or suspension of news programmers for vicussing internal station matters on the air. At Houston’s KPFT, the broadcast faade is much more peaceful; after a 1995 purge of eclectic community and ethnic shows, station programming is dominated by folk and light rock music, to the delight of the station’s balance sheet and the dismay of listeners who believe Pacifica’s activist tradition has been abandoned. Meanwhile, at Austin’s fledgling community station, KOOP \(established in principle as a “cooperative” and broadcasting since governance and direction had grown nastier and nastier during the last two years culminating in a lawsuit by disgruntled members against the station’s board, and a related dismissal of programmers, for violating the station’s gag rule by discussing internal station matters on the air. The battle at KOOP began to look like a miniature version of the battle at Pacifica if you turned it upside down and held it in front of a fun-house mirror. And through that lens, it also looks like a disheartening example of the too-common inability of supposedly progressive organizations to deal adequately or democratically with the racial, class, and political tensions that inevitably arise when people of different backgrounds attempt to work together for the common good. At the moment, after an intense year of emotionally charged and very public battles, the KOOP struggle appears relatively quiescent. Although the lawsuit is still pending, the largest protests have died down, and after a bitterly contested series of station elections, management insists that fundraising is improving and the members are full of enthusiasm. They announced this good news at the annual general membership meeting, held on a Saturday evening in mid November, to which some 2,000 station members had been invited. In attendance were approximately thirty station programmers and staff, perhaps ten non-programmer members, one lonely free speech dissident. And one reporter. On the air, little of this controversy audible. \(KOOP is actually half a station; it splits its non-commercial 91.7 FM frequency, roughly day and night, with U.T.student station KVRX. A Jim Ellinger Austin’s other community radio station, KAZI, follows earlymorning talk with popular music aimed at the city’s black commueclectic mix of off-beat music \(acoustic folk to rockabilly to jazz to show tunes to lounge to rap to various Latino and Latin-American station governance and the news and public affairs programming: an extremely uneven mix of polemical discussions \(better on local pseudo-Marxist rants, and random, undigested, and usually unattributed Internet postings. On a recent week of the “KOOP Evening News,” for example, one could be told breathlessly that at a demonstration in London, “4,000 leaflets were distributed,” that the Argentine health-care system is entirely inadequate, and that the heroic Spartacist League was single-handedly holding the line against the Klan in New York City. Even the political deviations are comical. On a “libertarian” news program, listeners were treated to sneering denunciations of gun-control laws, followed by 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 10, 1999