The FCC vs KRAB:
The Adventure of the Short-term License Renewal
Aug 5, 1967 to May 14, 1971
In Jan of 1970 KRAB was notified by the FCC its license would be renewed for only one year instead of the normal three year period. Over the next several months will be presented, as best we understand, the story of what led to the short-term license punishment, along with audio of those programs identified as inspiring the FCC's action.
First, a bit of explanation as to the sources for our story: Lorenzo Milam has, of course, written and talked some about the events of 1967 through 1970 – Of the threat to KRAB and to his vision of radio’s potential; of driving the dragon back into its dark lair; and of the vindication of KRAB. I’ve previously posted a short piece that included the FCC’s initial ruling punishing KRAB with a one-year license renewal, the dissenting opinions of Johnson and Cox, and the final Findings and Decision of Ernest Nash. Material from the archives of the law firm of Haley, Bader and Potts, which represented KRAB and the Jack Straw (Memorial) Foundation before the FCC for forty (?) years is now included in the archive. Other material we have unearthed comes from a file labeled “KRAB Case” in the archived papers of former FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson (NJP), and which chronicle events with much more detail than previously available. For use here, the names, addresses, and phone numbers of private citizen informants, complainants, and letter writers have been redacted (by me). If any of you would like to come forward, I would enjoy hearing from you.
It is difficult to say with confidence exactly when KRAB first attracted the attention of FCC authorities. Some might say it was the day Lorenzo applied for a license, but there was no evidence back then that the eye peering out of the pyramid had focused on KRAB. As unusual as KRAB’s programming was, and despite mainstream media’s characterization of KRAB as notorious, disreputable, and "off-beat", there were no significant issues with the FCC during the first five years.
In 1966 I drove to Portland, with KRAB’s Ampex 601, to record Allen Ginsberg at Reed College. He recited, chanted and played his finger cymbals. His performance, I thought, was a good one. I noted on the tape label, however, that the recording contained words that some might find objectionable. I remember Nancy Keith, after auditioning the tape, almost apologetically nixing it, saying it had too much bad language. KRAB was very cautious then, and chose its battles carefully.
Then, along came 1967:
Part 1 - The Tape-Recorded Autobiography of Paul Sawyer
The earliest program guide entry I can find for Reverend Paul Sawyer is a commentary Sep 27, 1966. A Unitarian Universalist minister, then with the Lake Forest Park church, Sawyer’s background, interests, and activities made him a natural for KRAB. He had gone to Selma in 1965, was involved in starting the Free University and the Helix, and he wrote - Guide 104 has this entry on Dec 31, 1966: "L.A. POEMS by Paul Sawyer, minister of the Lake Forest Park Unitarian Church and former resident and lover of Los Angeles, Calif."
In early 1967, as KRAB started staying on later into the night, Sawyer and Jeremy Lansman co-produced an occasionally weekly “Traveling Over The Underground, Grounding The Underwear, Traveling Groundless Through Mankind, Groundless Travels Over The Underman, Manning The Overwear----and other excursions into the soundess of sound”.
Thus it should have not been much of a surprise when a little later that year Sawyer told Lorenzo he had been tape recording his autobiography, and proposed airing the tapes, 30 hours of them, over KRAB. I am summarizing here, so that the documents can be read in sequence, but in a meeting Oct 9, 1967 Lorenzo evidently stated that after auditioning some of the tapes himself, he “found the presentation to be unusual enough so that he felt the listener of KRAB would be interested.” He also stated that at no time when listening to the tapes prior to their actual broadcast did he hear any objectionable words. And so, the program was scheduled for Aug 5, 1967 in guide #119:
Nancy was the operator on duty during the broadcast that Saturday morning. The tapes had been made on Paul's recorder in a format incompatible with the decks in the control room, so his deck was plugged into the patch panel, and Paul himself was riding the gain and changing tapes as required. A short time into the program both Lorenzo (at home) and Nancy heard words that made them uncomfortable. They spoke via telephone. The record is a little hazy here, but Lorenzo may also have spoken with Paul, about somehow turning down the gain when an offending word was en route. There being no tape delay, however, attempts to edit the tape as it played failed. Lorenzo drove to the station, and conferred again with Nancy and Paul. One-and-a-half hours into the thirty hour program the broadcast was terminated. Lorenzo and Paul then went on the air for a brief discussion as to why they had stopped the program, and music was substituted for the remainder.
Unbeknownst to Lorenzo, Nancy and Paul, on Aug 7 a listener, taking exception to the words they heard and evidently not satisfied with the corrective action taken, sent a letter of complaint to the FCC. Attached is the FCC's Report, the complaint, the words they heard, and a letter forwarding the complaint to the FBI. One of the interesting things revealed in these documents is the working relationship between the FCC and FBI.
Click on envelope to open a PDF of the following:
FCC Investigative Case Report, ST-V-4, Aug 9, 1967 (NJP)
Letter of complaint sent to FCC Field Office, Seattle, Aug 7, 1967 (NJP)
List of alleged "indecencies" prepared by complainant and incarcerated in a sealed envelope. It is unclear if the triple-X rated envelope was provided by the FCC, or if they replaced the original with one of their own. (NJP)
FCC Field Office letter of transmittal to FBI (NJP)
We have no record of the sleepless nights between Aug 9 and Oct 10, 1967, when the radio broadcasting careers of Lorenzo, Nancy, and Paul seemed doubtful, and the future existence of KRAB seemed as sure as a coin toss, but it would appear that the lawyers were busy. Because, on Oct 9, 1967 there was a meeting at the Federal Court House Building attended by members of the Board of Directors of JSMF, their Attorney Michael Bader, Attorney Thomas Brucker representing Paul Sawyer, and Assistant US Attorney Jerald E Olson where the facts were reviewed.
On Oct 10, 1967 Assistant US Attorney Olson discussed the case with US Attorney Eugene G Cushing, and it was their conclusion that prosecution of all parties would be declined. In the cases of KRAB and Nancy Keith they found there were no previous instances where they (KRAB or Nancy) had been accused of using obscene language, and that they had exercised good judgment in the prompt handling of the situation.
In regard to Reverend Paul Sawyer they concluded there was no intent by him to excite the prurient interests of the public in the recording of these tapes, and that his sole purpose was in putting his autobiography on tape.
Eventually much of Paul's tape-recorded autobiography did get broadcast on KRAB (in an expurgated version?), in one hour segments from Feb 29 to May 28, 1968. We haven't found the tapes yet, but we have our fingers crossed.
Paul Sawyer moved on from Seattle to Berkeley, Pittsburgh, Plainfield, and Pasadena. Dennis McLellan wrote in the LA Times: "An inspiring and persuasive speaker with a deep, resonant voice, Sawyer was known as a passionate advocate for social justice who believed that one's values weren't worth anything unless one was prepared to go to jail for them. Over the last five decades, he was a leader in scores of nonviolent civil actions against war, nuclear power and the death penalty. In the process, he frequently was arrested. 'I stopped counting at 60,' his wife
Paul passed away in 2010. Here is "A conversation with Paul Sawyer" shortly before his death.
(NJP) From the Nicholas Johnson Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa
Part 2 - FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson visits KRAB, Oct 1967
.....in which we introduce another of our players, one that will inspire KRAB listeners and champion their cause.
Nicholas Johnson* had served as clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. In 1960, he became a law professor at the University of California, and three years after that joined the Washington, D.C., law firm of Covington and Burling. In 1964, at the age of 29, he was appointed by LBJ to be Maritime Administrator. And in mid-1966 LBJ appointed him to the Federal Communications Commission. Acknowledging that he had much to learn about broadcasting, Johnson took the first few months slowly, mostly listening and asking questions. At the end of the year, however, he voted in his first opinion (acquisition/merger of ABC and ITT), issuing a 72 page dissent in which he asserted, among other things, that the FCC’s role was to represent the interests of the public and not bow to the purely profit driven motives of the industry. A couple of months later (Mar 13, 1967), the industry magazine “Broadcasting” in a typically cynical attack on his youth (32 when appointed to FCC) and idealism sniped that he was the “Teenybopper on the FCC”. At KRAB, Lorenzo Milam thought listeners should be able to judge for themselves, and scheduled the following for Mar 27, 1967:
"The Teeny-Bopper of the FCC." L.W. Milam reads the famous dissenting attack on fellow FCC commissioners by the commission's newest member, Nicholas Johnson, from "Broadcasting Magazine."
In October 1967 FCC Commissioner Johnson visited Seattle. What brought him here I do not know, but on the 19th (or 20th) he made his way to 91st and Roosevelt for an interview. As you will hear, Lorenzo does his best to maintain an interviewer’s impartiality and challenge Johnson’s statements, but for all his table top finger thumping it is impossible not to know they share more in common than at odds.
The interview was scheduled in guide 126 for Nov 10, 1967:
Interview with Nicholas Johnson, FCC Commissioner, by Lorenzo Milam; discussing the 'Hearing Process', a new role for the FCC, and new technologies.
* Eventually one reaches an age when it becomes difficult to know with confidence if the stories they are relating come from first hand experience or were appropriated from some one else's memory. I am not sure which this is, but I seem to remember a letter from Mike Bader asking if the Nicholas Johnson announced in the program guide as newly elected to the KRAB/JSMF Board of Directors was the former FCC Commissioner. Nope, we had our own Nick Johnson who came to KRAB in 1963 at the suggestion of the instructor of a course in creative writing (Apr 18, 1963). He participated in a panel discussions about politics and poetry (The Poet and his Responsibility in the Atomic Age, Jul 11, 1963), and, later, produced the long running “Captain Baltic’s Bop Stop”. And much later became a member, and president, of the KRAB/JSMF Board of Directors. He has also made his large collection of program guides available to this archive. For all his contributions to KRAB we thank him. KRAB's Nick Johnson appears in the last chapter of Lorenzo Milam's The Radio Papers, The End.
Part 3 - Reverend James Bevel and the Movement Against Political Suspensions - KRAB Dec 9, 1967 and Jan 24, 1968
Note Oct 2015: Last year, believing that the original "Bevel Tape" as broadcast on KRAB to be lost, I asked the Pacifica Radio Archives to digitize the copy in their collection, so it could be shared here. They complied and gave permission*. Now, one year later, a copy of the Original Bevel Tape has surfaced and we are excited to present it here. This is the Jan 24, 1968 version that begins with the introduction by Lorenzo Milam. This tape was rebroadcast during a marathon on Oct 10, 1971 with the following guide description:
THE BEVEL TAPE: Reverend James Bevel, Movement Against Political Suspensions - So titled for interesting reasons: this tape was first broadcast by KPFA in November of 1967, in a slightly edited version. It was sent to KRAB, where it was broadcast twice, late in 1967 and early in 1968. Reverend Bevel's language inspired a listener to complain to the F.C.C. Thus, when KRAB went before F.C.C. Hearing Examiner Ernest Nash in November of 1970 in a hearing concerning suitability of material for broadcast, THE Bevel Tape was one of the most important programs at issue. Eventually, the entire program was played during the hearing, in response to KRAB's contention that Reverend Bevel's remarks had to be heard as delivered, not just read.
We include this program in the Marathon not for sensationalism, or publicity value, but for the reason it was originally aired: Bevel is an incredibly fine speaker, and in this speech, his anger, frustration, and dedication are overpowering. As in 1968, the speech is preceded by an introduction by Lorenzo Milam. Those easily offended by language, or ideas, should try KBIQ for a while.
In 1967 student activists at both the University of California and San Francisco State University were finding themselves subject to suspension for participation in protest demonstrations on campuses. The students called these "political suspensions" and attempted to mobilize an organized "Movement Against Political Suspensions". In the Fall of 1967 students and faculty at Berkeley held a "teach-in" to discuss the issues and strategize actions. During the first half of the 1960's Reverend James Bevel served as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education. In 1966 he spoke at Berkeley during a symposium about black power. Starting in 1967 he was an organizer of numerous demonstrations protesting the continuing war in Vietnam. Because of his background in both the struggle for civil rights and against the war, and his reputation as an articulate, rousing, speaker, he was invited to participate in the November 1967 teach-in.
Nov 17, 1967 - The teach-in was recorded by KPFA, at the UC Berkeley Pauley Ballroom; A copy of the tape was sent to KRAB.
Dec 9, 1967 - At KRAB, Program Director Pam Plumb played the tape received from KPFA on her Saturday morning program;
Dec 18, 1967 - FCC engineer/inspector Frank T Roach begins an investigation with a visit to KRAB, where he collects the program log of Dec 9th, and confiscates the tape of the Bevel speech;
Dec 19, 1967 - Frank T Roach returns with the tape and log, and conducts an inspection of station;
Dec 26, 1967 - Program is scheduled in guide, but broadcast is cancelled
Jan 24, 1968 - After a meeting of the Jack Straw Board of Directors, the program is rescheduled with this description: The James Bevel Tape. This program is discussed at great length on page 2 of this guide. It is the complete version as confiscated by the local office of the FCC on December 17, 1967. KPFA. (R).
A transcript of the speech by Reverend Bevel as broadcast on KRAB was prepared in 1970 for the hearing regarding the short term license renewal. Click here to read it*. Tip: (You can read along while listening to the audio)
After deliberation by the Jack Straw Memorial Foundation Board of Directors, the Bevel speech was rescheduled and rebroadcast on KRAB on Jan 24, 1968. See article by Lowell Richards in the Helix, above (click on program log). Lorenzo Milam introduced the program. Click here to read a transcript of his announcement*.
*Since an actual off-the-air recording of tyhe Bevel Tape as broadcast on KRAB is now available, the recently digitized Pacifica version has been retired.
Here are shared a few documents relating to the actions of the FCC, between Dec 1967 and Mar 1968. Note: some names have been redacted.
1. Dec 20, 1967 - Report ST-V-22
On Dec 18, 1967, 9 days after the broadcast of the speech, FCC Engineer Frank T Roach visits KRAB. This is the Investigative Case Report filed by RC Dietsch, Engineer in Charge of the local FCC office. Included also are various exhibits.
2. Jan 17, 1968
A KRAB listener who had heard the interview of FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson in Oct 1967, now writes to Commissioner Johnson about hearing the Bevel speech and the confiscation of the tape. Other KRAB listeners also write in support of KRAB.
3. Jan 14, 1968
Commissioner Johnson writes to Curtis Plummer, Chief of the Field Engineering Bureau, regarding Frank T Roach's inspection of KRAB on Dec 18.
4. Jan 24, 1968
Commissioner Johnson responds to the KRAB listener (#2 above).
5. Jan 26, 1968
Another Investigative Report from RC Dietsch, including the statement of Frank T Roach in response to the letter of Commissioner Johnson to Curtis Plummer,. Also here is CJ Skreen's and Vic Stredicke's writing in the Seattle Times about KRAB's rebroadcast of the Bevel tape on Jan 24, 1968.
6. Mar 14, 1968
Curtis Plummer writes to Commissioner Johnson about FCC's handling of complaints
7. Nov 9, 1964 - Background
History of FCC liaison with the Department of Justice
8. Jul 7, 1967 - Background
Memorandum "When not to call the FBI"
And the outcome?
Regarding the complaint in the summer of 1967 about Paul Sawyer's autobiography (see above), Dietsch had turned it over to the Department of Justice. The DOJ determined there was no cause for criminal action, and therefore dropped the case.
Regarding Reverend Bevel's speech, the Investigative Case Reports based on Roach's "investigation" and issued by Dietsch were sent to the FCC offices in Washington, DC, which took no further action with them. All the self righteous indignation and outrage of Roach and Dietsch, the accusations of indecency, obscenity, and sedition, came to nothing.
We are gradually working our way to the hearing of 1970, but keep in mind that KRAB and Jack Straw were never, in 22 years, cited, fined, or prosecuted for obscenity.
Documents 1 through 8 courtesy the Nicholas Johnson Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.
*Bevel and Milam transcripts courtesy the archives of the law firm of Haley, Bader and Potts, and the Jack Straw Foundation.