Sunday, January 18, 2015

Think Tank: A Modest Proposal To Occupy Radio To Benefit The Oakland Music Scene and Black Culture In Solidarity With #Blacklives Matter, #TheBlackout Collective, and media activists like #DaveyD

Scene: A Think Tank Underneath the Trees Behind the Oakland Museum of Art Adjacent To The Currently Closed Kaiser Performance Center

Alicia: a 30 year-old Oakland woman
Julian: a 20 somethng Oakland man

A: “If we want to stop pricing people out of this increasingly unaffordable city, create anti-gentrification and anti-violence strategies, and help employ, educate, and empower more people, I think we have to start with the radio.”

J: “The radio?  No one cares about the radio anymore….and I speak as a musician. We got the internet. And back in my dad’s day, he could get his music out by selling cassettes on the street….Radio’s been irrelevant for decades.”

A: “Obviously some people care about the radio, or the large corporations wouldn’t have worked so hard to gain control of it, and keep us off of it…..”

J: “It’s always been that way…”

A: “Nah. My grandfather was a great personality DJ on a black radio station. He helped organize the community at least as much as the blatant activists. He had say in what was played on the radio, and some of the great R&B (and even Jazz) musicians were loyal to him, so they’d let him promote their shows even if he couldn’t pay as much money as the white promoters. They’d play his shows because he got them on radio. He worked closely with small local record labels and store owners….and many more made a decent living than we do today

J: “Those days are gone.”

A: “But we could bring them back….”

J: “How?”

A: “We could get some folks together to buy a radio station. The FCC still has three radio stations licensed to Oakland, and the programming from none of those radio stations originates here. That is criminal! Two are owned by IHeartRadio (which is really Clearchannel in Drag) and one is owned by Disney. But the good news is the one owned by Disney is now up for sale….”

J: “And you really think we can get some folks to put a bid in that’s going to compete with Clearchannel, or Entercom or any of those large corporations. The banks have discriminatory loan policies. You need money (or “credit”) to make money….

A: “Look at the history. Before Disney bought it out, KMKY (1310) was the Bay Area’s premier soul and funk station—one of those great right-of-the-dial stations Gil Scott Heron spoke about. In the 40s and 50s, when it was called KWBR, this station helped create the vital black middle class Oakland had at the time! It was so successful, Memphis’ legendary black station WDIA bought it. As KDIA, It helped break Sly and The Family Stone and other local acts or ‘content providers’. This wasn’t too long ago, though it's largely erased. Later, Oakland mayor Elihu Harris and Willie Brown owned it. The late great Chauncey Bailey was the public affairs director. They knew this station’s importance to Oakland’s black community, but couldn’t bring the glory days of the station or Oakland’s middle class back because of the changes that occurred to Black Radio nationally at the time. DJS had less and less power and, as corporate Program Directors and automated formats took over, radio lost its connection to the community. There are quite a few alive today who remember how this station fell, but very few who know how, back in the 40s and 50s, it succeeded in helping coalesce a positive cultural identity and made strides in achieving economic self-determination for many in Oakland. We are in such dire need of that today, and podcasts ain’t doing shit! But even though times and technology have changed, I know that if we study how this station helped dethrone the tyranny of large corporations back then, we can create a station that revitalizes the economy and culture today in ways that will benefit Oakland as a whole! Surely, we could get political leaders who remember the history interested today-- We just have to spread the word. Lobby City Council members, the mayor, Barbara Lee.

J: “I think you got too much faith in the system….”

A: "No, but I got a lot of faith in the radio, terrestrial radio, as a means of cultural production, for better or worse."

J: "Why does it have to be terrestrial radio? Why not a podcast?"

A: "Because terrestrial radio is based in a place, and because there’s a finite number of stations. Thus, each station MATTERS more than yet another podcast. Not that I don’t think we shouldn’t start a podcast too—just that it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself."

J:  "But we still have to raise money in order for our demands to even be heard."

A: "Not necessarily if we exercise our right to peacefully protest in front of KMKY. We could plan a strategic occupation that would show that BLACK LIVES MATTER and BLACK CULTURE MATTERS at least as powerfully as the actions by the Blackout Collective, and others do….A consumer boycott may not have much effect these days (as our spending power is less than it once was), but highly visible protests of existing radio stations (even if they play black music) will help get the discussion and negotiation going."

J: “How can we convince the activists that it’s relevant when hardly anyone cares about finding their music or news on the radio anymore, especially AM Radio!"

A: “That’s only because they’re not getting what they want. Radio abandoned US; we didn’t abandon it! Believe me, if we can do this, people in the community will stand with us!"

J: “If we’re going to get a bunch of folks to protest, occupy shut-down KMKY 1310….or the other 2 stations that Clearchannel has transmitters for in Oakland, obviously we can’t count on this getting media attention, since they’re the ones who own the media. It won’t just magically happen overnight. Those stations don’t even have studios in Oakland. KNEW 960 has a studio in SOMA, and most of its syndicated right wing music-less programming is piped in from some placeless ETHER!”

A: “Good point, but back when the FCC did its job a little more than it did now, it told these stations they must originate their broadcasts inside Oakland; not LA or wherever...”

J: “That didn’t stop them from doing that.”

A: “Sure, but I mention it just to let you know we got the law on our side. We have a legislative demand, and if it’s not met, we’re prepared to take over the radio station….by force if necessary!

J: “We still have to be smart about tactics. We obviously need some tech savvy people who could immediately flip over to our programming. And couldn’t they over-ride whatever we’d do with these frequencies from their national headquarters?

A: “All these stations—no matter how placeless—still have transmitters that have to legally send their signals out from Oakland. I know a few people from the industry—basically discontented pawns pushing buttons for the man—who could work it from the inside.”

J: “But the owners of the media conglomerates got guns, the militarized police will rally on their behalf, and aren’t afraid of killing us….and the FCC isn’t going to regulate them, or side with us….they got bought off with kickbacks.”

A: “But if people knew what the FCC was supposed to do, they’d know that these stations are NOT operating in the public interest, serving local communities. We need to educate them….”

J: “You’re talking a very long-term plan, changing the entire culture, just like the corporations were able to do gradually over the last third of the 20th century. It’s a catch 22. If we want a voice, we need the radio or TV to tell people why it’s important to take over the radio! Otherwise, we’ll lose the public relations battle; we’re gonna be painted as a bunch of radical, revolutionary, extremists…”

A: “So we need to be smart and work on several fronts at once, and not let the corporate media know our plans until we got our ducks in a row.”

J: “That’s almost impossible to do---not just because of phone-tapping and their ability to hack, but because it’s hard to find a place to organize when most kids—and even adults-- know more about the corporate approved or pushed programming (music and talk) than they do about the brilliant musicians and talkers in their own neighborhood.”

A: “But our demands are, frankly, very modest. All we ask for is one (1) non-corporate run commercial radio station per town, or market. And we will need to work on the legal front at the same time we plan an action to Occupy Radio. Write manifestoes, use podcasts while we still have a modicum of de jure net neutrality, even work on a block-by-block grassroots level through word of mouth and fliers and folks on bikes and street corners and community centers and Black Student Unions spreading the word. Yes, bring back house parties that are also organizational meetings—hush harbors for the mass media era. Link up with the “Fuck the police & the (In)justice system” protestors---and win over the intelligentsia skeptical of those kind of protests on the grounds that they’re too superficial and ultimately ineffective. Radio can help build the wider coalition that is a crucial site for the struggle. We can make room for radio personalities who want a solid basis for black capitalism, as well as revolutionaries. We encourage a wide range of opinion, like KPOO does.”

J: “But you want the station to be commercial, right?”

A: “Yeah, the community run stations like KPOO don’t bring money back into the community….”

J: “Don’t say anything bad about KPOO….”

A:“I wasn’t! I love KPOO. KPOO’s an important resource, ally, teacher, and in many ways this station would be based on them.”

J: “But you want it to be commercial? That’s a big difference that will require compromise---compromise with the very forces we’re struggling against. How else are you going to find advertisers? The game is rigged against us. The corporate advertisers don’t even care about ratings. We could prove more popular than them, and still not get advertising.”

A: “We’ll get locally black owned businesses..”

J: “There aren’t enough of them to go around these days….and the few that are left are struggling.”

A: “We’ll give them very cheap advertising rates, maybe operate on a barter economy the first year….We’ll encourage start ups and work with others starting new businesses. Run on enthusiasm, people power. Strength in numbers. It’s got to be a long term plan, and both can benefit if we think long term. In the meantime, maybe we put out a challenge to celebrities like Jay-Z, E-40, Richard Sherman, Chris Rock or Spike Lee to help underwrite it first…and if we struggle, we’ll just make sure the DJs and Radio personalities will be willing to work for less money at first. It can’t be any worse for them than the podcasts many of them do for little or no money. Our goal is a worker owned collective

J: “That ain’t going to be easy…”

A: “But you grant it’s not impossible. Musicians and other unemployed and underemployed culture workers (content providers) from the creative class will see how it benefits them….that it’s just one arena in a larger, more comprehensive, struggle. We’ll get white allies….”

J: “Watch out. They may just want a piece of the action, and find yet another way to make money off us and rob us.”

A: “We just gotta be vigilant, and stand our ground. That’s where our parents’ generation failed in the 70s and 80s. In radio, people like Frankie Crocker. I know quite a few whites who’d rather give their money to a black man whose music has given them pleasure (and even saved them) than to a white Corporate Person. “

J: “I know others who are deluded enough to think they already are giving their money to a black man or woman while they’re really giving it to white companies.”

A: “We can teach them the real deal, and if there are any black folks deluded enough to think that way, we can teach them too….and they’ll feel the benefits of this lesson in their pocketbooks……at the very least, the music will be better, more vital.

J: “Civic pride will grow with self-determination.”

A: “And maybe the working class whites will also demand their own locally owned radio station once they realize they can’t get ours.”

J: “Great, there’s room on the dial for them too. But—don’t ever forget-- more whites like listening to black music than blacks like listening to white music—that’s the dirty little secret the corporations don’t want us to know! So even if the whites take over 960AM while we got the other Oakland station (like 1310 and/or 910), they can’t do without what we’ll provide. Sure, some of the local black talent may cross over to the white stations, and eventually maybe even to the white run corporate stations, but if we’re vigilant, they can’t coopt it. As my grandfather told me, in order to cross over, there has to be a place to cross over from!

A: “The DJs and radio staffers need to be very resourceful, and understand that music stretches beyond the mere ‘entertainment industry’---that it’s political, spiritual, and holistic…”

J: “Yeah, but it’s still gotta be fun. “

A: "We don’t have to get all ‘it’s good for you’ as if that’s going out of your way. Just let it seduce. I think that’s what people crave, if given a chance. The owners will never willingly give that chance, unless they make a tactical error like they did in the 1940s…."

J: "Before we can get to that, we need other short term goals, or strategies and tactics established….this is why I brought up a podcast."

A: "Yes, we’ll use the podcast forum as a testing ground. Do as much as we can do there as if a podcast can make the radio superfluous. It can’t, and the corporations know it--but let’s make sure this podcast is different than most of them, that it’s connected to local communities, and broadcasts from barbershops. Beauty salons, restaurants, corner stores, bars, nightclubs, house parties in ways that can re-establish connections in a fragmented community. Show unity in diversity against a common enemy. And make it clear we value small, sustainable, businesses, that smaller is better, since history teaches that when we try to compete with large corporations on the own terms, we always lose. We need to make them responsible to us—and if we can’t get them to employ us, and operate in the interest of the local community, we have no choice, but to shut them down!"

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