Jul 16, 2019

March 3, 1971: Fillmore West

Airwaves, the collective that came together as a result of the KMPX firings, is having a benefit on Wednesday, March 3 at 8 p.m. to pay for airtime on KQED/FM. Tuesday they were denied the 12 hours daily they had been granted by KQED execs.
But they’re going on with the benefit to get a people’s radio station on the air. Come to Fillmore West and see the Grateful Dead, Shades of Joy, the New Generation Gospel Singers, and the Gestalt Fool Theatre Players. Donation is $2.50.

(from the Berkeley Tribe, 26 February 1971)

WAVY GRAVY  (excerpt)
Airwaves had a benefit at the Fillmore West last week, trying to get together enough bread to make community radio happen. Thanks to the appearance of the Grateful Dead and some last-minute cooperation by the three local commercial FM stations which Airwaves hopes to replace, the Fillmore was sold out and the collective, after expenses, has a little less than $7,000 in its treasury.
The benefit was a great party as well as a financial success. Hot Tuna appeared at the last minute and asked to play; they were fantastic. The New Generation Singers, Straight Funk, and The American Indian dancers balanced out the night, which lasted from 8 until the Dead finished a 2 ½ hour set at 3:30 a.m. For many, the night’s highlight was the imagination of the Gestalt Fool Theatre family.

(The rest of the article details the Airwaves/KQED financial negotiations.)

(from the San Francisco Good Times, 12 March 1971)



A brief history of the Airwaves collective: 
They first surfaced in the news in November 1970, as a group of people who had been fired from KMPX.

12/2/70 Ann Arbor Argus:
"KMPX shut off the transmitter in the middle of a broadcast by the KMPX staff collective...[and] shut down until its management could find new disc jockeys and perfect a new program format...
A KMPX disc jockey said it: "The airwaves belong to the people, not to the goddamned corporations."...
The KMPX staff collective...wanted to control programming. They wanted to help make hiring decisions...
Management [said] that the staff collective was "violently revolutionary"...[and] made it clear that even political music programming would be banned...[and] insisted that it have complete control over hiring...
The collective locked itself into the studio...[and] KMPX management issued a press release immediately, stating that...[it was] impossible to deal with the "revolutionary collective" and that the station would go off the air..." 

11/20/70 Berkeley Barb:
"Airwaves Collective is the new name of the KMPX Collective members who seized the station for the people for a few brief beautiful hours before they were suppressed by the station's corporate owners...
The collective...demands the freedom necessary to produce a true people's radio." 

"Exorcising KMPX," 11/20/70 Good Times:
"People are continuing to work towards true community radio. KMPX is back on the air, the KMPX Collective has split up, but the necessary groundwork is still going on.
KMPX went back on the air Friday with a regular old rock 'n roll format... About 100 people gathered outside the new studios to make known their displeasure at the offing of the old staff which had tried to do some righteous work...
The [Collective] faction remaining calls itself Airwaves...[which] has also called for a continuation of the KMPX boycott."

Airwaves issued a group communique that ran in the underground papers with their proposals for action: "Airwaves (formerly the KMPX Collective) consists of brothers and sisters who can no longer function within the increasingly repressive context of commercial radio."
The 12/4/70 Good Times and 12/12/70 Berkeley Tribe ran requests from Airwaves for contributions and participation from the people. "Forces are perceptibly moving to return the airwaves to the people. At this very moment a new collective is getting together for the sole purpose of obtaining time on the air to create a kind of programming the people want and need, and which has proven impossible to maintain with any of the caPIGtalist conglomerates which have obtained control of the people's media... Anyone who is interested in making community radio a reality should hook into it now... For Airwaves to work effectively as a community service it will need to grow out of the support and participation of everyone."

"Airways Lives!", 12/18/70 Berkeley Barb:
"Airwaves, formerly the KMPX collective, expects to be back on the air beginning in March on KQED FM. By then all basic details should be worked out.
A month ago members of the collective approached KQED-FM. The station currently broadcasts only in the daytime. The collective asked to take over with programming from 11 PM until 11 AM seven days a week. [ . . . ] [Details of financial negotiations follow.]
Benefits to get Airwaves off the ground will begin late in January with a Grateful Dead concert. Once they are on the air the collective hopes to get some foundation financing...
The old KMPX collective were with KMPX until their brothers and sisters were fired two months ago. Airwaves is now open to any persons or organizations who want to be a part of it."

1/1/71 Berkeley Barb:
"Airwaves Collective - formerly KMPX Collective - is rapidly progressing in its negotiations with KQED to take over 12 hours of air time. If they can get $24,000 together, they will be able to run the station in the night hours."

There was a benefit for Airwaves on 1/17/71 at the Alternative Futures Commune: "multi-media event to benefit Airwaves, peoples' radio trying to get programming & production studio together. Rock bands - Straight and Wildflower - films & theatre by the Gestalt Fool." (Good Times 1/15/71) 

In February '71 the Airwaves Collective broadcast a few nightly programs on KQED: "A people's radio has somehow managed to get on the air. But it's only a demonstration, so listen quick. Your support is important." (Good Times, 2/12/71)

"Airwaves Speaks Out!", 2/12/71 Berkeley Barb:
"Airwaves - a people's radio collective - will be on the air at KQED-FM (88.5) tonight, Sunday and Monday from 11 PM to 2 AM.
It's just a step. It doesn't mean a change in direction on radio. Not yet. What it does mean is that the Airwaves Collective, after over two months of negotiating, has been allowed four three-hour programs beginning Thursday night as a demonstration to the powers at KQED of what the collective has in mind for radio aimed, not at money or ego, but for people.
What the collective is attempting to liberate is twelve hours a day, seven days a week at KQED-FM (11 PM to 11 AM). It should be easier than it's been. KQED now is only on the air from 3 to 11 PM.
But KQED, even though licensed as a "non-commercial community radio station," is nervous about 25 or so assorted freaks saying they're a collective and wanting to use the facilities of the radio station to broadcast to the people as THEY want, not the way it's USUALLY done.
[ . . . ]
What's so frightening about Airwaves? For one thing, it's not structured (philosophically or organizationally) like media people are used to. It has no Leaders. (This has been particularly hard to KQED to relate to. Who's responsible? Who makes the decisions? That sort of thing.) The Airwaves Collective has an office in Project One. There are weekly meetings open to the community. And, as a people's collective, the people are encouraged to participate. [ . . . ]
[Struggles will be resolved] as more community organizations and people become involved with the collective... In the meantime, the immediate purpose of the Airwaves Collective is to restore access and active involvement in radio to those who think it's important to have an alternative to the bullshit & moral cowardice that now passes as radio on the FM and AM radio stations." 

"Radio Revolution," 2/19/71 Good Times:
"People's radio became a temporary reality last week as the Airwaves Collective broadcast four pilot programs on KQED-FM (88.5). The programs...were test shows insisted upon by KQED management before they commit themselves to regular programming.
Airwaves has proved that professionally excellent, non-commercial radio that serves all sections of the community can be achieved when people who care work together. In addition to a very far out selection of music including ethnic music of all types and little-heard jazz and rock, Airwaves presented several right on features [including interviews with various community and workers' activists, and a Gestalt Fool Theatre 'psychedelic revolutionary radio serial']. . . I Ching coins were thrown on the air to determine the prospects for the Airwaves future.
[ . . . ]
Although the pilot programs were excellent, the future of Airwaves' programming is uncertain. Negotiations between the Collective and KQED management are still going on, but the question of the amount of money that KQED will require the Collective to pay for air time still isn't resolved. Airwaves is aiming for a 12 hour daily program, which would fill a lot of the time that KQED-FM is currently off the air. Management wants Airwaves to meet the operating expenses of those 12 hours.
The money part is tricky. KQED is "non-commercial" and depends for its existence on contributions...from its listeners/viewers and grants from foundations. The Airwaves Collective will have to raise most of its money the same way (though foundation money doesn't seem too likely). But you can only get support from listeners if you're on the air. And KQED hasn't allowed Airwaves on the air yet, regularly.
In the meantime, Airwaves is planning a benefit for March 3 at Fillmore West with the Grateful Dead, Shades of Joy, the New Generation Singers, American Indian dancers, and the Gestalt Fool Theatre Family. Admission will be $2.50.
If you missed the Airwaves broadcasts, come to the benefit and rap to the people who are getting alternative radio together. It is also important to write to KQED management expressing your support for people's radio."

The 2/26/71 Good Times and Berkeley Barb reported on a meeting between Airwaves and KQED management which went nowhere as they didn't agree to terms, KQED now only granting Airwaves 15 hours a week. 
"Airwaves Gets KQED Static," 2/26/71 Berkeley Barb:
"This Wednesday (March 3), the collective will have a benefit at the Carousel (Fillmore West)... Even though the collective has agreed on lowering the usual admission of $3.50 to $2.50, they expect enough money to pay the costs of two months at KQED-FM.
From there they expect to do a monthly Airwaves Benefit, always a multi-media affair that would be as much an event for the community as a benefit. Those benefits and genuine listener support...would enable the collective to make itself viable on the $ level."

3/12/71 Good Times:
"A few days after the benefit, Airwaves was notified by KQED that the terms of its tentative agreement, which had been in negotiation for three months, had been totally revised.
KQED now is claiming that Airwaves must pay for time at $25 an hour, at least, instead of the $6-8 an hour which was the working figure until recently. Also, the station now proposes a maximum of 20 hours a week (the collective had asked for 12 hours a day...), so that the self-aggrandizing "special interest" paid programming now on the air four or five hours a day can continue to feather a few salaried nests, without the threat of community participation in so-called public radio.
Airwaves is now faced with the...[possibility] of other radio alternatives (neighborhood radio, pirate radio, production studio for community use). The cost of buying the cheapest of the supposedly available Bay Area FM stations is estimated at a cool $750,000."

According to the Good Times, "After leading the Airwaves Collective on for months...and even agreeing to sell them time at a cheap rate, KQED backed down rather than risk irritating their liberal subscribers by allowing real people's radio on the air during time they don't even use."
With KQED uncooperative, Airwaves decided to take the independent-production-studio route, and resurfaced in a September '71 history of the collective.

"Stay Tuned Folks," 9/3/71 Good Times:
"After several months of hard construction work and internal reorganization, Airwaves Collective is about ready to open its sound studio in Project One. The studio and control room facilities will be used to tape news and features of the alternative culture and the revolution, and to produce tapes free for community groups.
Larry Bensky, an original organizer of the collective, ran down a five point plan Airwaves has adopted to serve the community while trying to remain self-supporting.
"We'll make news and feature tapes about local events to send to alternative radio stations here and abroad... We plan to make tapes for community groups who need to promote events or bring their message to the people... We'll teach people how to use audio equipment.
"In order to finance our sound studio, we plan to produce some commercials for products or rock groups, especially unknown groups, that we consider righteous. As it is now, a lot of money spent to advertise rock music and our own cultural events is going to pig advertising agencies. If we were receiving that bread, it would be funneled back into the community by financing our free services. It would help us all to fill each other's needs...
"We also plan to do supplemental news coverage of San Francisco events for radio stations..."
Airwaves Collective has evolved from a large open organization which tried unsuccessfully to deal with established liberal broadcasters, to a much smaller, tighter group, which is going to remain strictly independent.
The collective came together late in '70 after the staff of KMPX was thrown off the air for demanding equality of pay...a relevant news department; more women and Third World employees; and the freedom to air news, features and music that reflected the community rather than the successful FM rock station format. [Several members], unemployed but undeterred, formed a group which later merged with some community people working with the Gestalt Fool Theatre on an adventure serial [on KQED]... The entire group started working on ways to produce, finance, or find a broadcast facility for true people's radio.
Since KSAN and KMPX were strictly into the commercial bag, the collective began negotiating with KQED for a block of time to be produced and broadcast by members of the collective. Meetings dragged on for months as KQED management kept upping the ante for the cost of air time and producing new objections to the whole project. Although management claimed that their main concerns were with costs, security of the building and equipment, and adherence to FCC regulations, their biggest problem was in accepting the idea of a collective. They constantly demanded that there be one or two people who they could deal with and who would be responsible for any problems.
In the meantime, the collective had grown to the point where 30 to 50 people would show up for meetings that developed into interminable political arguments and personality clashes. Committees and subcommittees were formed and people in the collective began losing personal touch with one another.
All the efforts of Airwaves went into a pilot program that KQED allowed the collective to air as a test before granting any permanent time slot. For four nights in February, people's radio lived as the collective aired technically sound, non-commercial programming that served all segments of the Third World, revolutionary freak communities in San Francisco. Not long after the pilot programs, negotiations with KQED broke off because the station had tripled their originally stated price for air time. The collective had been thoroughly fucked over by the liberal management of a non-commercial radio station that is required by FCC regulations to serve all segments of the public.
A few weeks later Airwaves held a benefit at Fillmore West which had been planned to raise funds for the KQED air time and the construction of a sound studio in Project One. Huge crowds showed up to hear the Grateful Dead and other groups, but few people took the time to rap with Airwaves members about what they were trying to do. The benefit made $7000 on the promise of people's radio and a good bill of entertainment.
Since the KQED venture had fallen apart and there was no immediate channel for using the money to air righteous programming, the collective decided to use the money for the studio, which would be completely in the control of the involved people.
When the prospect of immediate air time died, a lot of people left the collective. Those who remained made plans for building the studio... Some new people joined and heavy work began. Unfortunately communications between the collective and community petered out as Airwaves became totally involved in the construction. Suspicious questions were raised as to what happened to the $7000 that was raised to finance community radio. That money was being invested in equipment and building materials, but the community didn't know that...
"No one in the collective is receiving a salary now and we have no plans for a salaried staff in the future. We hope to make enough money so that all Airwaves people will be able to survive. As it now, we have no money at all." [ . . . ]
Community groups who are interested in having Airwaves produce tapes for them should call the office... The sound studio can be used to group raps, panel discussions, and rock groups."

Airwaves thereafter vanished from the news.


  1. Just a very brief account of the benefit here; the only new revelation is that Hot Tuna played unannounced. The show report doesn't mention Shades of Joy as playing, leaving their appearance uncertain, but instead names Straight Funk (a very obscure local band which I think only played a few benefits in early '71, including a previous benefit for Airwaves). The Gestalt Fool Theatre group is said to have been "the night's highlight."
    I couldn't find any audience memory of this show, but the Fillmore West sold out, Airwaves made $7000, and it was "a great party" that lasted til 3:30 am (on a Wednesday night!). But a later article reveals that one of Airwaves' goals was not accomplished: the people who came just wanted to see the Dead, not "rap with Airwaves members."

    Garcia & Saunders had a show advertised at the Matrix that Wednesday; I assume Garcia played that and then hurried over to the Fillmore, since the Dead didn't go on til about 1 am.

    There being so little information about the show, and Airwaves being such an obscure organization, I decided to look up the history of the group the benefit was for, which turned out to be fairly interesting. Pardon the long non-Dead digression!
    It appears Airwaves approached the Dead early on, since a December 1970 article says the Dead would play a benefit for them next month; but it was postponed, and they scraped together another smaller benefit in the meantime. As things turned out, despite the event's success it appears to have done little more than postpone Airwaves' demise.

  2. re the flute player

    Can you give me a time-stamp? I just listened to the Good Lovin' (crappy computer speakers, admittedly) and did not hear flute.

  3. jchastain at LL offers the times below. Time ... for me to break out some headphones.

    some instance of flute in Good Lovin' (there are likely more):
    5:10 - 5:35
    6:04 - 6:30
    8:30 - 8:41
    13:36 - 13:48

    flute is pretty buried, but it's audible

  4. Yep: buried and barely audible, but noticeable in the right channel (so he had his own microphone). Headphones required! It's likely the flute player only showed up in the Good Lovin' encore. Given how he can hardly be heard in the mix, I wonder whether the audience could hear him at all....but at least they could see him.

  5. How do we know he had his own mic?

    1. Since we can hear the flute at all, he must have been somewhere near a microphone. All the vocals (and most the instruments) are mixed in the center in that song, more or less mono; since the flute is heard off to one side, it indicates he wasn't using one of the mics they were singing in. A good place to hear this is at the start of the last verse around 13:40.
      Listening to the audience between the last few songs, we can hear that the audience was recorded in wider stereo than the band in that part of the show. (The mix changes drastically during the set, you can hear it being fiddled with in Truckin'.) Since the flute was recorded so poorly, it's possible that it actually wasn't in the recording mix at all, but what we're hearing is the echo of the flute out in the room.

    2. Yeah, the latter is more what I was thinking - that the flautist was kind of off to the side somewhere, and we just pick it up along with whatever other random stuff bleeds into one of the mics. It's a little bit of a different interpretation - was he up on stage playing with the band, or did some random tripper wander into the wings and start trying to lead the rats out of the "Carousel".

    3. In those days there were certainly plenty of people who'd just hop on stage with the Dead and do their thing. Given the flute's sporadic presence, it may well be some random audience member and not any musician we know.

  6. Any information on the poster for this show? First off it says Carousel Ballroom and not Fillmore West (even though that renaming happened in 1968), and the date on the poster is 3/3/70. I don't see an artist signature anywhere. Maybe it was some kind of freaky joke on the part of the artist? Maybe he/she was just really high??

    1. The poster artist was Miranda Bergman, who would become known as one of the Haight-Ashbury Muralists.
      I don't know why the year is off (or why there's even a year listed on the poster).
      But calling the place the Carousel seems like a tip to a particular audience: those who still remembered the theater as the Carousel (even though that name had been defunct since '68), and missed those days. It's maybe a subtle indication that the benefit will be run the old freeform community way, not under Bill Graham's hand.