Radio Free Coltrane:
Free Jazz Radio as Revolutionary Practice

Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Fall 2006, Volume 5, Issue 2

Nicholas L. Baham III
California State University East Bay

What's on the radio, propaganda, mind control
And turnin it on is like puttin on a blindfold
Cuz when you bringin the real you don't get ro-tation
Unless you take over the station
And yeah I know it's part of they plans
To make us think it's all about party and dancin
And yo it might sound good when you spittin your rap
But in reality, don't nobody live like that

-Dead Prez, "Turn Off the Radio"

Long marginalized by the preoccupation with the visual arts in Media Studies, radio remains a fundamental semiotic technology that continues to determine the parameters of cultural supremacy around such core issues as democracy, citizenship, and capitalism in American life. On the streets below academic ivory towers, radio still counts as a critical ideological battleground between local communities and big capital. San Francisco's 89.5 FM KPOO, the only Black-owned radio station west of the Mississippi, professes dedication to radical inclusivity – the critical ingredient of democratic participation and citizenship – and features as an emblem of its inclusivity four hours of the music and wisdom of late great jazz innovator John Coltrane. Created and hosted by the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, The KPOO Coltrane Uplift Broadcast spins Coltrane's extensive oeuvre as though the 1960's revolution in black music and politics from which Coltrane's art was born still raged on. The Uplift Broadcast is still one of the few spaces on the radio dial where women are included in the history of jazz innovations, where the decidedly non-commercial sounds of free jazz are played, where music is valued for its healing properties, and where spiritually democratic ethics such as the unity of all religious ideas are professed. The Coltrane Uplift is in all respects a brilliant example of the possibilities for transformative counter-hegemonic discourse through radio technology.

Exhaustive critical anthologies and historical treatments of similar independent, pirate and micro radio programs in Media Studies, such as Michele Hilmes Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio and Jesse Walker's Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America, have set the stage for more academic analyses of mass culture as a possible site of counter-hegemonic practices, but few disciplines outside of Cultural Studies have critically engaged the role of radio in the context of contemporary representations of race, class, gender, and sexual identity. Clearly, critical Radio Studies is an emerging discipline testifying to the ubiquity and centrality of radio even in the contemporary era of cable television and the Internet.

Emerging critical studies of radio substantiate perhaps the deepest hopes of Cultural Studies theorists: the notion that mass culture is not consumed passively but is rather an important technology of identification and resistance. Cultural Studies theorists have consistently analyzed radio in terms of its potential for creating imagined communities of interest and counter-hegemonic ideologies of democracy, citizenship, and capitalism.

Pre-dating the British Cultural Studies movement by a decade, Frantz Fanon outlined the evolution of radio in colonial Algeria from an ideological tool of the French colonial class to an instrument linking all Algerians with the day-to-day activities of the revolutionary front. A Dying Colonialism offers a critical exegesis of culture and cultural technologies in the service of Algerian revolutionary activity (1954-1962) including radio and the Islamic cultural practice of veiling. Radio became central to competing French colonial discourses and native Algerian resistance. Fanon wrote, "Since 1956 the purchase of a radio in Algeria has meant, not the adoption of a modern technique for getting news, but the obtaining of access to the only means of entering into communication with the Revolution, of living with it" (83).

In the 1990s, Kathy Newman explored the impact of national advertising on black radio on Civil Rights Boycotts. Researching Memphis Tennessee's WDIA, the first black-owned radio station in America, Newman argued, "Black radio helped to bring the economic impact of postwar black buying power into the national spotlight, and, when white-owned Southern businesses began to rely more on black patronage, the stage was set for Civil Rights activists to use the boycott as a tactic in the struggle for increased social, political and economic justice."

Newman's work is predicated on critical perspectives advanced in Susan Douglas's Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, from Amos 'n' Andy and Edward R. Murrow to Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern. Douglas introduces the notion of "imagined communities" created through "active listening" of radio and analyses radio as a battleground between consumerism and anti-consumerism. Douglas writes, "Radio has been the mass medium through which the struggles between rampant commercialism and loathing of that commercialism have been fought over and over again.... Listeners both acquiesced to and rebelled against how radio was deployed by the networks" (16).

In 2000, John Hartley investigated Bertolt Brecht's experiments with radio in the 1920's in "Radiocracy: Sound and Citizenship" and argued that radio "remains one of the pillars of civil society, combining entertainment and democracy, sound and citizenship." Hartley uses the terms "radiocracy" and "democratainment" to describe the union between public and private life and democracy and entertainment through radio technology. In the 1920s, "Bertolt Brecht would declare that radio could be 'the finest possible communication apparatus in public life,' if only it 'knew how to receive as well as transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him'" (156). Hartley writes extensively of Brecht's early experiments with radio and suggests that while Brecht had hoped radio could create communities that could bypass the ideological apparatus of the state, British and American broadcasters in the 1920s were attempting to prevent such a relationship and transform radio into a purely commercial technology: "The eventual dominance of commercial broadcasting, as opposed to other cultural forms, was not inherent in radio technology. Nor did radio arise from an existing social need – as Brecht pointed out, 'it was not the public that waited for radio but radio that waited for a public.' It won that public by commercial methods in the USA and by the brute force of monopoly in Britain" (156).

Neither Fanon, Douglas, Newman, nor Hartley postulate a simple cause-effect relationship between radio and political engagement. Instead, radio is envisioned as a semiotic technology creating discursive "possibilities" for identity and community formation. Musician and theorist Mat Callahan perhaps best expresses this when he writes, "Music and politics directly correspond at one point: belonging. This is yet another word that in English has two completely contradictory meanings. This belongs to me. Or, we belong together. Ownership versus membership. Exclusion versus inclusion" (136). The importance of radio is its interjection and contribution to public discourses surrounding the central ideologies of democracy, citizenship, and capitalism. Newman explains, "But culture still determines, in part, the identities available to be organized. Radio helped create the possibilities for a consumer movement in the 1930s. It also helped to provoke some of its most effective and outspoken leaders. Radio became a target of consumer activists, as well as a means to further the goals of the movement itself."

Critics such as Chela Sandoval understand the importance of activist radio and the study of such. In Methodology of the Oppressed, she draws on Frantz Fanon's analysis of The Voice of Fighting Algeria, elaborating a five-part anti-colonial praxis from the ethnographic details. Her methodology includes the use of semiotics, deconstruction, meta-ideologizing, democratics, and differential movement. Inspired by Roland Barthes and Frantz Fanon, and directly responding to Frederic Jameson's pessimist outlook on effective opposition in an increasingly globalized, postmodern world, Sandoval explains the five "technologies" of the methodology of the oppressed:

First, Barthes's semiology (what Anzaldua calls “la facultad," or Henry Louis Gates, Jr. calls "signifyin'"), his "science of signs in culture," comprises one of the fundamental technologies of the methodology of the oppressed. The second, well-recognized technology is the process of challenging dominant ideological forms through their deconstruction, what Barthes calls “mythology.” The third and “outer” technology is what Barthes calls “revolutionary exnomination,” and what I call “meta-ideologizing” in honor of its activity: the operation of appropriating dominant ideological forms and using them whole in order to transform them. This third technology is absolutely necessary for making purposeful interventions in social reality, whereas the previous two technologies, “semiology” and “mythologizing,” are “inner” technologies that move initially through the being of consciousness itself. A fourth technology of the oppressed that I call “democratics” is a process of locating: a “zeroing in” that gathers, drives, and orients the previous three technologies – semiotics, deconstruction, and meta-ideologizing – with the intent of bringing about not simply survival or justice, as in earlier times, but egalitarian social relations, or, as third world writers from Fanon through Wong, Lugones, or Collins have put it, with the aim of producing “love” in a decolonizing, postmodern, post-empire world. Differential movement is the fifth technology, the one through which, however, the others harmonically maneuver. In order to better understand the operation of this mode of differential movement (which is of a different order than differential social movement and consciousness), we must understand that differential movement is a polyform on which the previous technologies depend for their own operation. Only through a differential movement can they be transferred toward their destinations, even the fourth, “democratics,” which always tends toward the centering of identity in the interest of egalitarian social justice. These five technologies together comprise the methodology of the oppressed, and the methodology of the oppressed is what enables the enactment of the differential mode of oppositional social movement. (83)

If we accept Fanon, Douglas, Newman, and Hartley's analyses of "imagined communities" and the centrality of citizenship, democracy, anti-colonialism, and consumerist v. anti-consumerist ideologies, we can reach significant conclusions about the critical roles played by particular community stations and specific broadcasts and broadcasters (e.g. The Coltrane Uplift Broadcast) on marginalized communities of color in the contemporary corporatist environment of radio. If we add Sandoval's five-pronged methodology of the oppressed, we should arrive at an even more nuanced view of specific methodologies employed by radio activists in the construction of insurgent ideological positions.

KPOO and the Coltrane Uplift Broadcast

The cultural history of African American radio in the San Francisco Bay Area speaks to the impact of these particular struggles over radio technologies on the lives of marginalized others and provides another important ethnographic lens. In 1969, KPFA founder Joe Rudolph started a community-based media education center called Fillmore Media that taught people how to use the then-emerging video technology to benefit their communities. In 1971, with the help of broadcasters Lorenzo Milam and Jeremy Lansman, several community organizations with no prior radio experience applied for an FCC license to begin broadcasting community issues on the premise that any community group with something to say should be able start a low-powered radio station to serve that community.

St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church co-founder Archbishop King was involved in the tumultuous beginnings of KPOO. King remembers, "I was there in those meetings and very much involved in the transition as it became a black owned radio station when they were taking over the station." Jesse Walker speaks to what amounted to a black "takeover" of KPOO when he quotes Lorenzo Milam, "…it was a good station – a good KTAO or KRAB type station. But then the black radicals moved in, and began to raise hell… They didn't think it was black enough, or giving enough time to black issues. Which wouldn't have been an issue, except it turned out one of my board members was on their side. And that really blew everything; that was too bad. So, instead of having yet another internecine battle in the operation, we went to a meeting with the black radicals and I said to them, 'Well, shit, why don't you guys just take over the station. I'm tired of it.' So we gave it to them" (139).

Since its beginnings in 1971, 89.5 FM KPOO has featured a weekly program every Tuesday from noon to 4pm called "The St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane Uplift Broadcast," broadcasting "four hours of the music and wisdom of St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane." Current Uplift host Reverend Sister Wanika King-Stephens remarks, "This show has been here almost as long as this radio station." The Uplift Broadcast is produced by the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, an institution that since its incorporation in 1971 has recognized Coltrane as a saint and his music as the product of divine meditation with God. Rev. Sis. Wanika King-Stephens, eldest child of the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church founder Archbishop Franzo King and the third producer/host of Uplift, spins the “healing sound discs” of St. John and reads from an extensive catalog of Coltrane quotations collected in the church's publication, Coltrane Speaks.

The Coltrane Uplift program has recently been selected amongst San Francisco 7x7 magazine's editors picks for favorite Bay Area independent radio broadcasts. While San Francisco 7x7 errs in their characterization of the core beliefs of the Coltrane Church, they implicitly recognize Coltrane's importance to particular black communities: "The only African American owned station west of the Mississippi worships John Coltrane, courtesy of the Saint John Coltrane Church, an SF institution since 1971. In between his fiery improvisations, host Wanika King-Stevens pipes in: 'Live it clean, live it right and live it for the Lord.' Praise John!" (“Cat’s Meow” 93).

The Coltrane Uplift Broadcast is a central expression of the Coltrane Church's many outreach programs, which include food and shelter programs, counseling, music lessons, hatha yoga classes, and concert performances by the church band, Ohnedaruth. From a small storefront sanctuary now located on Fillmore Street in San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood, a community of faithful devotees has spent the past forty years raising the name of the greatest son of this so-called dying art form, one John Will-I-Am Coltrane. (Incidentally, “Will-I-Am” refers to God’s words to Moses uttered from the burning bush. In Exodus 3: 14, it is written, “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”) Influenced by the work of the prolific Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan, they recognize God as sound and honor John Coltrane as a high priest of sound who sought mystical union with God through a creative amalgam of the twelve bar blues, free improvisation, and exotic eastern scale forms. For the faithful, Coltrane's prolific recordings mark an extension of the New Testament, a new millennium testament in the universal language of sound. Coltrane's life, words, and wisdom are at the heart of a distinct ideology known as "Coltrane Consciousness" which includes religious holism, anti-racism, anti-war and anti-poverty politics, and vegetarianism.

I listened to the KPOO Uplift broadcast every Tuesday during my first year of doctoral dissertation research with the Coltrane Church and tape-recorded each full four-hour session as a means of further immersing myself into my fieldwork situation. At that time, the program was hosted by Sister Mary Deborah Williams who used the program as a virtual gathering of church members and devotees. She shared testimonies from Coltrane devotees of what the music had done for them and of miracles performed through Coltrane's music and words. When she played requests, she explained the rationale that listeners had for song selections. Many listeners were experiencing particular trials in their personal lives. Some were praying over global concerns that had been the topic of the day's news broadcasts. When requested, Sister Williams would share these thoughts and create a prayer circle of the program, allowing the collective power of Coltrane devotees to empower the individual listener. Sister Williams would also give instruction in prayer and meditation and discuss what "listening" meant in Coltrane's terms.

My interests here are with the specifics of how an oppressed people construct counter-hegemonic ideologies through the semiotic technology of radio in spite of the constraints of the dominant ownership of radio. The Coltrane Church is a spiritual, aesthetic, and political organization that has long sought to place realpolitick demands upon music and religion that far exceed traditional bounds. In realpolitick terms, practices initiated by the Coltrane Church suggest a range of ideological "possibilities" and counter positions against broader contexts of local, state, federal, and international politics.

In the wake of my seven years of ethnographic experience with the Coltrane Church (1994-2001) and continuing affiliation with them as a lay minister and musician, I have come to understand striking parallels between the union of KPOO and the Coltrane Church (1971 – present) with the work of Frantz Fanon. In the present article, I want to make more specific connections with Sandoval's specific reading of these five distinct "technologies" in Fanon's body of work and provide an interpretation of them in the production of the KPOO Coltrane Uplift Broadcast.

Specifically, I want to argue (1) that the semiotic technology of the KPOO Uplift Broadcast challenges dominant evaluations of the cultural relevance of jazz music (indeed all forms of music) in terms of its commercial viability and dominant misrepresentations of the innovations and contributions of women. (2) The Uplift Broadcast foregrounds these dominant representations as mere artifacts in the construction of dominant cultural power. (3) The Uplift Broadcast's challenges to dominant representations are critical in ideological conflicts regarding belonging and ownership in American aesthetic and cultural histories and are bound up with broader notions of what it means to be an American citizen. (4) The Uplift Broadcast's deconstructive activities are focused on alternative and decidedly anti-capitalist and gender inclusive definitions of jazz and these specific terms and the general terms of democracy, citizenship, colonialism, and capitalism through the "audio iconography" of John Coltrane. (5) Borrowing from dominant cultural examples of using radio technologies to build community and consensus, the KPOO Coltrane Uplift Broadcast engages in meta-ideologizing activities to construct its own prayer-circle and ideological community of worldwide Coltrane devotees. (6) The KPOO Uplift Broadcast clearly implies a democratic principle of the unity of religious ideals and gender inclusivity in drawing on Coltrane's varied spiritual and aesthetic influences and bolsters its possibilities of claiming the world as community with seamless differential movement through the varied spiritual and gender domains claimed by Coltrane. All of these specific activities contribute to the general counter-hegemonic disidentifications with dominant notions of democracy, citizenship, colonialism, and capitalism.


On the use of semiotic technologies in Fanon's oeuvre, Sandoval writes: "…we need look no further than to Fanon's stated aim in writing the book [Black Skin, White Masks]: 'to demonstrate to white civilization and European culture' that what it 'often calls the black soul' is, rather, 'a white man's artifact.’” Sandoval continues, "For here Fanon is not only pointing out the proclivities of dominating cultures to treat racially different 'souls' as commodities – objects or produce to be bought and sold; if souls too can be artifact, then Fanon's challenge to the colonizing culture is that the 'white man' may have misread the 'raced' and 'cultured' natures of colonized peoples, that the image of the colonized cultivated by the colonizer may be only an artifact engineered by that imagination to serve its own needs for superiority. Even more threatening for the colonizing mind, Fanon's charge implies that dominant reality itself might be a similar construction." Sandoval's interpretation of Fanon's semiotics embraces the "reading" of signs of domination as the essential primary activity of oppressed people: "Throughout the de-colonial writings of peoples of color, from Sojourner Truth to Tracy Chapman, this profound commitment to sign reading emerges as a means to ensure survival" (85-86).

The KPOO Coltrane Uplift broadcast self-consciously recognizes dominant cultural conceptions of the limited commercial viability of jazz music – and specifically free jazz – as artifacts rather than real "facts." This recognition of the dominant cultural "reality" of jazz in particular as mere construction undergirds the most important premise of the KPOO Coltrane Uplift Broadcast and indeed of all Coltrane Consciousness: the dominant cultural perception that jazz is dead and no longer functions as a contemporary cultural tool because of its relatively weak commercial sales. With long waning sales, jazz becomes little more than a quaint museum piece of times past. The Uplift Broadcast wants to transform jazz into a spiritual medium capable of radical healing and transformation, effectively removing the music from the discourse of money.

Rev. Sis. Wanika King-Stephens positions her program as a "breath of fresh air," emphasizing jazz as a music that has a substantive connection with the immediate quotidian needs of people: "I think we're really a breath of fresh air. I get calls from listeners and in talking with them I get to see what John Coltrane was trying to do as far as giving people what they need through the music. I get to see that through their testimonies. How they met their soul mate through John Coltrane. People say, I was feeling down today. So I get these types of testimonies all of the time." Here, King-Stephens treats Coltrane's art as a healing medium.

The Coltrane Uplift Broadcast also rejects the American corporatist measure of aesthetic viability in terms of sales and dollar values to embrace more esoteric and spiritual values of music performance and production. The broadcast fundamentally attempts to keep alive the notion that the jazz and blues of African American culture remains relevant in contemporary black America as a forum for spiritual redemption and political activity. In other words, the broadcast promotes jazz and blues as a living, present tense culture.

King-Stephens comments, distancing her program from corporate radio: "This is definitely not mainstream. Four hours of John Coltrane is a rebel act. I hear Bob Marley saying, 'Soul Rebel.' It's outside of the norm, outside of what's accepted. The rebels are the ones that push things, they push the limits, and I see that happening with this show. The more we play John Coltrane here, the more we keep pushing it and pushing it, and it forces the outside world and more mainstream areas like your jazz stations to play more John Coltrane because they are starting to see that people want this. They think they know what the people want and they want to dictate that. But the people can handle a heck of a lot more than people who are in control of the mainstream think that they can."


Sandoval's analysis foregrounds Fanon's mandate that subjugated classes must not only semiotically interpret these artifacts, but also deconstruct them as such: "Fanon argues that subjugated classes must fully take in (must 'semiotically' read, if you will) such artifacts and their meanings. But then (avoiding insanity), these artifacts are to be deconstructed in a fashion that can allow the social projection (the meta-ideologization) of new and revolutionary meaning systems in order not only to ensure survival for the powerless, but to induce social justice" (86). Further, Sandoval highlights the explicit deconstructive work of Fanon: "Fanon's 1951 imposition of the image 'black skin/white masks' on a white colonizing culture provided one means by which to interfere with and move the colonial relations between the races; his aim was to deconstruct the kinds of citizen-subjects that colonialism produced" (86).

The Uplift Broadcast deconstructs dominant omissions of women and the anti-commercial free jazz movement through the construction of playlists that re-integrate women and free jazz music into the broader histories of jazz styles. In this manner, the playlists of the Coltrane Uplift Broadcast present powerful alternatives and continuities of expression.

In addition, Sister Deborah's and Sister Wanika's playlists move seamlessly through the many stages of Coltrane's evolution as a musician. I also grew in my overall appreciation of the full range of Coltrane's music through the program. Sister Deborah always planned her programs in terms of certain themes, often choosing to cover the entire Atlantic period on a particular Tuesday or to deal with later Impulse! Recordings while Sister Wanika comments on her organization of the playlist: "From 12 to 1pm I'll play all Impulse! And you can see the pattern on the playlist. From 1 to 2 is when I break it up. If I have an interview, that will happen at the 1 o'clock hour. Different music will happen at the 1 o'clock hour. The suggested CD of the week. And then from 3 to 4 is no holds barred. That's when I tend to go free. "

Sister Wanika’s organization of the playlist is aimed at representing the total evolution of John Coltrane's music and creating a sense of "balance" for listeners. Here, Coltrane's free jazz can be effectively understood as consistent with the total body of his work. She comments, "With the free jazz, what I was really trying to do was create balance because for me there's the John Coltrane that plays the ballads and the standards and the hip stuff and then there's the latter John Coltrane that plays the out stuff. So I try to represent a little bit of all of that in the show for all of the listeners because everyone that's listening can hear what they love about John Coltrane. People that want to hear more the outside stuff. People that want to hear more of the inside stuff. I know that everything that John Coltrane said and recorded is important and needs to be heard. So I see myself as trying to represent John Coltrane in a very honest way by including all of those aspects."

An Uplift Broadcast listener posted the following comment on the Internet in 2001 regarding King-Stephens’ playlist: "Listening to ‘The Uplift Broadcast’ on KPOO in San Francisco (a radio show hosted by an Elder of the Church of St. John Coltrane). I knew earlier Coltrane, but drew the line at A Love Supreme. That album was borderline for me and anything after seemed too noisy. But the radio show blended new and old Coltrane and I began to see threads and acquire a taste for the Interstellar Space/Live In Japan era. It was the texture of his horn, the way it seemed to emulate screams. Must have been in a ‘dark’ mood during that period, because that music, which I think of as dark (I know some hear praises to god in there, such as the church, obviously) worked." This particular listener's response suggests that King-Stephens has achieved her goal of presenting balance.

The Uplift broadcast also deconstructs traditional notions of the role of women in jazz music. Playlists show the inclusion of ballads by Carmen McRae and Abbey Lincoln into the Coltrane programming. The inclusion of these artists accomplishes a number of critical deconstructive projects: (1) it affirmatively locates the accomplishments of women within the broader history and evolution of jazz music; (2) it asserts the musicianship of women singers, equating singers with instrumentalists; and (3) it affirms the creative genius of women. King-Stephens comments, "As a woman it was important for me to make women a part of the contribution because this is not strictly a man's world when you talk about jazz music. There were a lot of great women who were responsible for making tremendous contributions to the music. Traditionally, in the past, the show [Uplift] has not included women or even other artists other than John Coltrane so I wanted to be able to bring in the women and the vocals."

Indeed, the show itself, which has always been hosted by women – except for a brief period in which Archbishop King hosted the program between Williams’s and King-Stephens's tenure – re-inserts women into the tradition of jazz. Interestingly, King-Stephens specifically uses this term "tradition" in referring to the lineage of Uplift broadcasters and links this tradition with the important uplift of women through the music: "This show to me is about tradition. I really feel like I am a part of the tradition, carrying on something that's already been laid down. I've been a part of the show since I was a teenager with Sister Analahati who pioneered this show. She would let me come in and sit around and I could read a couple quotes and I learned from her and I also was privileged to watch Archbishop King sit with her and go over the programs and lay down the foundation for this show. Sister Analahati took me under her wing and its empowering. It was a part of my life's learning experiences. I'm actually now working with Sister Erin. I feel like now I'm passing on the tradition. There's a joy in being able to share with the next generation. So, really what I'm doing is carrying on the tradition that's already been laid down as far as coming here and playing the music and sharing Coltrane Consciousness with people and sharing personal testimonies also."


Sandoval reads Fanon as urging a practical strategy of building political action on the troubling ground of colonial categories. This practice is more than merely the logic of casting down your ideological bucket where you are à la Booker T. Washington, and it blends an element or immediacy and practicality with ongoing mandates for radical transformation. Sandoval writes, "Indeed, the title Black Skin, White Masks suggests a 'meta-ideological' operation: a political activity that builds on old categories of meaning in order to transform those same racialized divisions by suggesting something else, something beyond them" (85).

The use of the KPOO Uplift broadcast to propagate the notion of the divinity of John Coltrane best exemplifies this meta-ideologizing activity. Here the church engages in the very forms of creative mythmaking that have lent a host of European and European-American historical figures an aura of divinity and cultural significance. Squarely locating their alternative saint within traditional Christian practices of canonization and specifically locating Coltrane within Judeo-Christian teleologies, the Coltrane Church builds upon troubling colonial practices and ultimately deconstructs them. Simply put, black men and women have achieved limited sainthood status within European-American religious institutions and the demonization of their bodies and souls was always a critical and fundamental aspect of cultural constructions of Other-ness that contributed to racist public policies. The Coltrane Church and its Uplift Broadcast locates John Coltrane within traditionally exclusionist notions of Christian divinity and then asserts the spiritual healing power of his music.

King-Stephens eloquently speaks of the meta-ideologizing of Coltrane as divine saint and the accompanying construction of African American jazz music as divine: "I do believe that John Coltrane has a formula in this music that truly gives to people what they need. I don't know what that is but I do know that as the host of this show it is important for me to be here to insure that that continues." This is perhaps the most central proposition of Coltrane Consciousness, that sound has spiritual power and is the true essence of God.

The Coltrane Church remains widely misunderstood by mainstream critics. Critic Eric Nisenson ends his book on Coltrane's spiritual quest with a little sarcasm directed at the Coltrane Church: "Far more bizarre is St. John's African Orthodox Church in San Francisco, the 'St. John' being John William Coltrane, or St. John 'Will-I-Am' Coltrane, as he is called by church leaders" (264). In an analysis of the production and impact of Coltrane's path-breaking A Love Supreme recording, Ashley Kahn refers to the Coltrane Church: "Some have even come to worship the man and the album on a weekly, institutionalized basis" (xx).

Yet both Eric Nisenson's and Ashley Kahn's books demonstrate the contemporary willingness of jazz critics and historians to abandon narrative objectivity and embrace the spiritual mythos of Coltrane. Kahn admits, "Though I consider myself a dedicated agnostic and diehard rationalist, I am ready to admit that there is much that can seem the handiwork of some eternal force under spiritual direction" (xx). Nisenson also admits, "I can't help feeling that Coltrane would have approved of this church's humane and compassionate services, although he was far too genuinely humble-and shy- to feel comfortable having a church named after him" (264).

The Coltrane Uplift Broadcast ultimately attempts to substantiate their claims on the spirituality of Coltrane's music and person. King-Stephens speaks to this process of using the Uplift Broadcast to formulate and propagate the message of Coltrane's divinity: "I think that what they were trying to do, and it was really Archbishop King's dream, is to play that sound out to the world to spread Coltrane Consciousness and the radio broadcast was very effective and immediate tool that had immediate results in spreading those sound waves out there. And at that time to the Bay Area."

Democratics and Differential Movement

The fourth and fifth of Sandoval's technologies are bound up with egalitarianism and social justice. Continuing with her interpretation of Fanon's title Black Skin, White Masks, Sandoval writes, "Fanon's metaphor also enacts and is driven by a moral code that demands equality where none exists (black=white, skins=masks)" (86). While Sandoval gives little more treatment to the technology of democratics in Fanon's work, it is clear that democratics are central to the transformative activities that are the end product of meta-ideologizing. Democratics are the normative end game of meta-ideologizing, the activity that involves reversals in the colonial ideological order, where what is slave becomes free and unequal becomes equal.

Ultimately, the broadcast builds an alternative community that might through radio technology. King-Stephens comments, "I get calls from listeners that are so grateful that this show is here. In talking with people that listen to this show I really get to see what John Coltrane was trying to do as far as uplifting people with the music. I see that manifested through their testimonies. Stories about how they met their soul mate through the music of John Coltrane or they might say that they were feeling down today or maybe they're not feeling good in their bodies and thank God the show is on today. So I get these types of testimonies all the time so I really feel like it's just all an extension of what John Coltrane was trying to do and was doing while he was here and that is bringing the music to the people, a music that does have the power to heal. There is definitely a Coltrane community. I do feel a sense that people are praying with me. I do. People call and tell me, the Lord just spoke to you and told you to play that because that's what I needed to here. I hear testimonies like that and it's just so encouraging. I think that there's one story of Pinky, that's her name, and she'll call me every now and then to remind me that she's still listening and there's another brother who calls who's in chronic pain. He listens to the show all of the time and it just makes him feel better. Pinky met her soul mate through John Coltrane and she has a great story."

In Fanon's work, this final and unifying mode through which all previous technologies are implemented and realized includes what Sandoval has termed "differential movement" and quite literally encompasses the vast array of perceptual domains through which all four previous technologies may be expressed.

The Coltrane Church ultimately uses the Uplift Broadcast to communicate a particular form of differential movement, specifically its belief in the unity of religious ideals. King-Stephens speaks of her current desire to grow in communicating the Coltrane Church's unity of religious ideals: "I would like to get out there a little more on the unity of religious ideals because I feel that for me that's really where I'm at right now. We get into it a little right now with the Coltrane Consciousness. We get into the Sufism and Hazrat Inayat Khan and reading some of John Coltrane's quotes where he says that he believes in all religion. This is where I'm at. This is my highest hope for the show, to go into that area. I'd like to bring in more Sufism, bring in the Koran, bring in texts from all the different major faiths and relate it to the music, as long as it could play into the music some way that made sense. Because I think the times call for it. That's what St. John is about. He said 'I believe in all religions' and that is the bottom line." At its best, expansion of this principle can further open the broadcast to global communities.

There remains substantial resistance among the so-called "jazz establishment" to the differential movement that King-Stephens has approached through her broadcast. That establishment, also referred to as Jazz Traditionalists or "The Jazz Right" by Herman Gray in his book Cultural Moves, appears to fear that such democratization and global differential movement will ultimately lead to a dilution of "real jazz." Loren Schoenberg, writing for Ken Burns "Jazz" website specifically questions whether global inclusivity has meant the dilution of jazz: "Jazz has developed exponentially since the 1960s. As it gained status around the globe as a music representing freedom, musicians have freely integrated jazz elements into their own musics. Out of this symbiosis, many genres have evolved which bear little relation to jazz's American roots. This is the fate of a universal art form, and it should be welcomed. Take, for instance, the recent efforts of the Japanese pianist/composer Masahiko Sato, who has been integrating the jazz idiom with that of traditional Japanese music. One offshoot of this movement has been to raise yet again a question that has been debated since the 1920s: What is jazz?"


Government de-regulation, in particular since the dawn of the Bush era, has clearly enabled dramatic corporate consolidation, accelerated and solidified the elimination of independent and locally-owned stations, silenced alternative music as well as alternative spiritual and political expression, and deepened the divide between the community and the media. Although the age of radio (1930s-1950s) has long passed, radio has nevertheless come to play a significant role in the growth of fundamentalist Christian politics and the consolidation of Republican Party power since the 1960s. In an interview with Democracy Now!, a daily news broadcast of the independent Pacifica Radio Group, Bill Moyers commented on the corporatization of media and the conservative war on public broadcasting: "I think we're at a moment in American history that is unique. I think we are in danger of losing our democracy because of the domination, the monopoly of power being exercised by the huge economic interests, both directly and indirectly. In public broadcasting we need to get back to the revolutionary spirit of dissent and courage that brought us into existence in the first place, and this country does, too" (Goodman).

Moyers specifically calls for greater inclusion in public broadcasting: "Public Broadcasting has failed on many respects. We've not been enough of an alternative. We need a greater variety of voices on Public Broadcasting, conservative, liberal and beyond conservative and liberal. But it's still the best alternative we have for providing the American people with something other than what is driven by commercials, corporations, and the desire constantly to sell, sell, sell. You cannot get anywhere in the Public Broadcasting universe the kind of information that you provided in the opening of your broadcast with your news summary. That's not the news summary you're going to get on CNN tonight or Fox News tonight or ABC or CBS. Public Broadcasting still unfulfilled, still flawed, still imperfect, my message is to remind people what's at stake if we allow it to go under" (Goodman).

The Coltrane Uplift Broadcast's counter-hegemonic activities are focused on inclusion and a democratic theme consistent with the improvisatory nature of their Sunday church services that welcomes visitors and congregation to improvise along with church musicians as they feel called to do so by the Holy Spirit. While the broadcast specifically re-integrates commercially under-valued free jazz music and women as innovators into the jazz canon, it also creates an alternative community through radio and fundamentally redefines an anti- or extra- commercial purpose for "jazz" and American aesthetic production.

KPOO, as an institution, exemplifies an even broader democratic practices and differential movement, suggesting a unified coalition of oppressed voices, creating a community through KPOO. They describe themselves as follows: "KPOO is a community-based nonprofit, noncommercial radio station that caters to the needs of populations traditionally underrepresented in the mainstream media. In addition to broadcasting a wide variety of music not typically heard on commercial stations, KPOO focuses on topics of concern to minorities, women, GLBT, low income households, and youths. KPOO broadcasts the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency meetings every Tuesday at 4 pm. KPOO specializes in jazz, reggae, salsa, blues, gospel, and hip hop music. KPOO serves the Bay Area's Latin community with several bilingual programs a week, and also produces programs concerning Irish Americans, Arab Americans, women issues and Native American concerns. KPOO broadcasts live the weekly meeting of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and non-stop election night coverage. KPOO also uses the airways to educate the community about important issues such as AIDS prevention, health concerns, use of the new technologies, prison affairs, and consumer protection.”

Dead Prez empowered their hip hop audiences in 2002 with a powerful anti-corporate radio manifesto that called for action and active engagement with media and thoroughly deconstructed mass radio as an artifact of the collusion between capital and culture.

Turn off the radio!
Turn off that bullshit! (freak-freak y'all)
Turn off the radio!
Turn off that bullshit! (freak-freak y'all)
Turn off the radio!

The Coltrane Uplift Broadcast on KPOO, which commences every Tuesday at noon with its "A Love Supreme" manifesto demands similar engagement with the technologies of radio. While no direct causal relationship between a radio broadcast and progressive cultural or political action can be legitimately established, the Uplift Broadcast suggests a range of alternative possibilities against passive acceptance of dominant cultural representations of democracy, citizenship, colonialism, and capitalism.

Fanon's interest in radio was consistent with his broader anti-colonial projects. He was centrally concerned with how radio in this case could destroy citizen-subjects produced by colonialism. It is clear that contemporary FM and AM radio are dominant technologies transmitting a language of supremacy and that on-going ideological battles are being waged by independent and community-based radio activists. Bill Moyers' commentary on the recent struggles of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting against the advancement of right-wing political interests speaks to Fanon's perception of the fragility of citizen-subjects: "The right wingers that now control the United States government are against everything public. This is only one of the fronts in their long war to privatize anything public in this country supported by the United States government. So the only way these budget cuts are going to be resisted is if people across the country reach out to Republicans, to the moderates in their states and in Congress, the few of them that there are, and say we don't agree with this. And I'm not sure that even that's going to work. I feel more pessimistic at the moment about the future of Public Broadcasting than I ever have in my 35 years, despite the Nixon attacks, despite Newt Gingrich's attack, because these right wingers are organized. They've got Tomlinson at CPB. They're taking over the governance of Public Broadcasting at that level, and they don't pay any attention to opposition or to protest or to pressure. They are actually dogmatic and determined in their agenda. So it will take a bipartisan response to what is happening by the right wing. But I'm not optimistic about that because the Republicans, for the first time, have given up on Public Broadcasting" (Goodman).

The battle against the advancement of corporate supremacy in radio is well chronicled by Jesse Walker, who notes that corporatization in recent years is concomitant with significant growth of pirate and Internet radio. Walker's work documents that community, independent and pirate stations began legally and illegally contesting the limits of radio broadcasting regulations as soon as the first federal regulations were passed in the Radio Act of 1912. Many of these efforts culminated in the community radio movement of the 1960s and 1970s from which KPOO and the Coltrane Uplift Broadcast emerged.

What we are talking about is radio as a contested space, as a technology of dominance, as a tool of democratic self-determination, and as a workspace for either destroying or building political consciousness and resistance. In order to appreciate the social and political implications of the KPOO Coltrane Uplift Broadcast, we have to understand radio as central to citizenship in a democratic society and as a place where citizens can be either erased or projected in the world. This fact has cultural, political, spiritual and existential implications for those seeking to reclaim self and identity in a corporatized and heavily politicized environment in which power operates to erase dissent and difference.

The KPOO Coltrane Uplift Broadcast properly belongs within the history of insurgent radio that includes everything from Josh White's appearances on southern black radio during World War II to Mumia Abu-Jamal's appearances on Berkeley's KPFA. The broadcast is clearly engaged on its own limited fronts in semiotic battle with dominant representations of citizenship, democracy, capitalism, and colonialism in America. For anyone interested in methodologies of the oppressed, the struggle for relevant radio – of which the Coltrane Uplift Broadcast is a small but significant player – would appear to provide an ideal lens for examining the mechanics and efficacy of counter-hegemonic struggle.

Works Cited

Callahan, Mat. The Trouble with Music. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2005.

“Cat’s Meow.” San Francisco 7x7 July 2006: 93.

Dead Prez. “Turn Off the Radio.” Turn off the Radio. Full Clip Records, 2002.

Douglas, Susan. Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination from Amos ‘n’ Andy and Edward R. Murrow to Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern. New York: Random House, 1999.

Fanon, Frantz. A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press, 1965.

Goodman, Amy. “Bill Moyers Interview.” Democracy Now!

Gray, Herman. Cultural Moves: African Americans and the Politics of Representation. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 2005.

Hartley, John. “Radiocracy: Sound and Citizenship.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 3.2 (2000): 153-159.

Kahn, Ashley. A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album. New York: Viking Penguin, 2002.

Newman, Kathy. “Radio-Activity: Reconsidering the History of Mass Culture in America.” Cultural Matters 2 (2003): matters/issue2/newman.htm

Nisenson, Eric. Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.

Sandoval, Chela. Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000.

Schoenberg, Loren. “Beyond the Sixties: A Take on Modern Jazz.” Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns.

Walker, Jesse. Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America. New York: New York UP, 2001.

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