Crisis At KPFT


On May 12, 1970 a bomb planted by a member of the KKK tore through the transmitter of the Pacifica affiliate in Houston, Texas knocking it off air only two months after KPFT began broadcasting.

Five months later the transmitter was bombed again while the station was playing Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant“.

The second blast took KPFT off the air for another three months.

Station management invited Guthrie to perform “Alice’s Restaurant” live as the station commenced transmitting again on Jan. 21, 1971.

It’s a story well known to the long-time programmers, staff, and listener-members of KPFT Houston, a testament to the perseverance of the little radio station that could in the face of a changing media landscape and dwindling listener-subscribers which nonetheless has stood as a cultural icon of Houston for nearly half a century.

Today the 47-year-old station faces a new crisis in a long string of which have plagued the Pacifica network for decades and threatens to take them off the air, this time for good.

On Jul. 14, another blast hit KPFT.

This time former interim General Manager Dr. Obidike Kamau was terminated by Pacifica Foundation’s Interim Executive Director Bill Crosier after less than 90 days on the job, which set the KPFT community ablaze.

Crosier cites severe, even existentially threatening financial difficulties as the cause for relieving Dr. Kamau from his position which he held for less than three months.

Those in support of Dr. Kamau’s reinstatement however claim racism is the primary motivation for his removal:

The Pacifica Foundation owns KPFT and, as of publication, carries as much as $7 million in debt.

I am Jacob Santillan, former reporter, and anchor with the local news department at KPFT, whose news director was recently laid off as part of this mid-July personnel shakeup and to whom I’ll be eternally grateful for starting me on this journey.

I stepped away from KPFT in September 2016 to focus more time on my continuing education studying journalism.

KPFT Houston however is responsible for my introduction to radio which I’ve loved ever since and which led me to decide on journalism as my life’s work.

I’ve since parted ways with KPFT and Pacifica both professionally and politically but I’ve taken on this project because no matter where I am today, tomorrow, or years from now, I’ll never forget where I came from which is why what happened mid-July captivated my attention and concern.

What we have in store for you is a series of interviews myself and Annika O’Brien conducted over the past few weeks with a few people who captured our interest with regard to the crisis at KPFT.

We didn’t intend for this to be a comprehensive set of interviews, but did want to talk to a number of people with something of an inside view of the station, in this situation, historical perspectives, as well as those at the middle of this crisis and to give them the opportunity to say their piece.

We’ll almost certainly follow up as time passes and this story develops, but for now we begin with Doyle Odom, former afternoon engineer, with whom I worked on KPFT News, and who is the current host of KPFT’s Radioactive, which airs Monday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight.

We turn to him for one inside perspective on the Crisis at KPFT:

Part 1: Doyle Odom, KPFT Programmer

Part 2: T.C. Smythe, Former Local Station Board Member

Part 3: Bill Crosier, Pacifica Interim Executive Director

Part 4: Nick Economides, Local Station Board Treasurer

Part 5: Dr. Obidike Kamau, Former KPFT Interim General Manager

Additional Content

KPFT Emergency Meeting Audio