‘Don’t Use Our Music To Drown Our Voices’

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 By Starr Bowie

Carrying signs and chanting slogans such as “Take back WPFW,” “Social Justice Takes No Holiday” and “Whose Station? Our Station!,” more than a dozen protestors braved the blistering heat outside the temporary studios of Washington, DC community radio station WPFW on July 5 to protest an abrupt holiday programming change that eliminated alternative views on “Independence Day” and world affairs.

Those gathered, from Concerned Members and Supporters of WPFW (CMS), also supported the attempt by veteran Native American programmer Jay Winter Nightwolf to enter the studios to broadcast in his 1 p.m. time slot, in defiance of the unannounced pre-emption of his show by station general manager John Hughes. When Nightwolf attempted to enter the building shortly before 1 p.m. Hughes stood inside the glass entry doors and locked out the nationally-acclaimed host, not only from the studios, but from the office building housing them. “The Nightwolf Show” was to feature the prominent historian and human rights activist Dr. James Anthony Hall, author of the acclaimed book, Earth Into Property, which explored the relationship between the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and the making of global capitalism. In its place was a mixture of instrumental programming and light banter about July 4th cookouts and upcoming concerts.

“WPFW is a station for jazz and justice and we’re here today to tell John Hughes to not use our music to drown our voices,” said the author and artist Esther Iverem, co-host with Verna Avery-Brown of “What’s At Stake” on Wednesday mornings. “While I love party music, it should not replace our voices on struggle and history. Bump and grind music —not even jazz, which is part of our mission—was featured all day on July 4. While I love to party, that programming should not replace alternative voices on the meaning of Independence Day. It flies in the face of the station’s historical mission as a “jazz and justice” resource for the community.

According to the statement handed out by CMS, which is made up of listeners, paid and unpaid staff, station programmers, and other volunteers for the Pacifica Radio station, WPFW has always been in the forefront of regional media efforts to raise the consciousness of its listeners regarding political developments now and in history that impact on the well-being of diverse communities.  It has particularly offered an alternative vision of national holidays by those struggling to expose injustice and support human rights.  Considering that holiday periods allow new listeners time away from their everyday work lives to explore new media, Friday’s protestors proclaimed their view that it is crucial to offer programming at those times that introduces the station as a vehicle for alternative views and voices.  Not to take advantage of such periods to maximize outreach to new audiences and to uplift regular listeners sabotages the station’s ability to survive in accordance with its mission.

On June 28 a management representative told Jared Ball, host of the Friday11 a.m. program “The Super-Funky Soul Power Hour,” and J. Winter Nightwolf, host of the 1 p.m. program, “The Nightwolf Show,” that their shows would be among those to be replaced on July 5 by jazz programming “in celebration of” the July 4th holiday.  There was no consultation with the programmers, despite the fact that both hosts had planned and announced on-air the programming for that day.  Ball had already promoted his show on Nelson Mandela, the iconic leader of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

“This is a community-supported station,” said Nightwolf to those gathered and to a TV cameraman who recorded the rally. “Out listeners give their money to support our shows and programming yet we have no say in our programs and programmers being removed, pre-empted or disrespected.”

Iverem added that in this year, marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the pivotal year of 1963 in the Civil Rights Movement, the station’s programming was a disgrace. “All of these significant historical markers require our attention as we continue to face rising unemployment and underemployment, failing schools, grossly inadequate health care, crushing housing shortages, escalating food costs, a voracious privatized prison industry, police brutality and war abroad.  We need to protect the vehicle for grassroots organizing provided by WPFW, our safeguard of freedom of speech, more than ever.”

CMS, which can be found online at thepeopleforwpfw.com, was formed in December of 2012 when the current station management unilaterally enacted sweeping grid changes without consulting programmers or community representatives. The organization has made significant gains in restoring several programs to the grid through broadly-supported petitions, letter-writing campaigns, community leafleting, town hall meetings, rallies, and street demonstrations.  CMS mounted a recently successful multi-faceted campaign to prevent management from moving the station to a property owned by ultra-right wing media conglomerate Clear Channel.

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