articles about Maria

This is the first one

Making Air Waves
By Daniel Zoll, San Francisco Bay Guardian - June 19, 1996 - photo Jeffrey Blankfort
Maria Gilardin's TUC Radio might be the last truly subversive voice on the dial.


THE REVOLUTION still won't be televised -- not even on pay-per-view -- but with a little effort you might be able to catch it on the radio. That is, if you know how and when to tune in to the work of independent radio producers like San Francisco-based Maria Gilardin.

On Gilardin's Time of Useful Consciousness  programs you'll hear about such subjects as "Corporations and Propaganda," an hour-long documentary on political scientist Alex Carey's work on the rise of corporate control in the United States.

Since 1980 the 48-year-old Gilardin, an artist turned activist and radio producer, has generated groundbreaking programs on a range of issues spanning the third world debt crisis, Wal-Mart, food distribution, biotechnology, and NAFTA. In the last four years Gilardin has focused on global trade, economics, and democracy with programs showcasing thinkers such as Michael Parenti, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, and Jeremy Rifkin.

Her approach is outwardly radical: "For me, the most compelling thing is that propaganda, which we all associate with fascism, is actually more necessary in a democracy, because you can't force people to do what you want -- you have to control their minds," Gilardin said.

At a time when a handful of giant media conglomerates control more than half the nation's broadcasting outlets, and when supposedly independent outfits such as National Public Radio are becoming increasingly addicted to corporate underwriting, Gilardin's TUC Radio continues to report on the untold story: the impact of the big corporations on society. And despite the massive and growing barriers preventing her type of public-affairs programming from getting on the air, TUC is reaching thousands of listeners around the world.

Homegrown politics

TUC Radio is based in Gilardin's two-room loft in an artists' co-op in San Francisco's Mission District. Sitting in a rope hammock amid the ordered clutter of her living room, Gilardin explains how she got into a line of work that is virtually extinct -- and how she produces her broadcast-quality programs in her own apartment.

The tall, brown-haired Oakland native speaks softly with a Swiss accent. The accent she says she inherited, along with her anti-technology streak, from the Swiss grandmother who brought her up. "I was raised by someone who was born in the last century, and she raised me without television," she said.

Gilardin still doesn't watch much television, but the otherwise devout neo-Luddite has a state-of-the-art digital editing system set up in the closet. The system, which she controls with a four-year-old Macintosh computer, is the radio equivalent of a desktop publishing station. "It is very empowering to have the opportunity to pick your own topics and produce independently of a station," she said.

Gilardin and fellow radio veterans Annie Esposito and Bruce Haldane cofounded the TUC Radio Collective in 1992 in Mendocino. The trio came across the name for their collective in a pilot's handbook. TUC stands for "Time of Useful Consciousness," a term for the amount of time a pilot has left, after experiencing oxygen deficiency, before he or she loses consciousness.

"We thought the metaphor was appropriate," Gilardin said. "That's the time we're in right now."

A former producer and host at KPFA-FM in Berkeley, Gilardin now broadcasts her show by renting space for $100 an hour on the public-radio satellite. The satellite, called Galaxy 4, beams her work to more than 400 stations around the world. She also distributes her recordings to stations and individuals directly through mail order.

Her 1995 13-part series "The Secret Side of Global Trade," on GATT and NAFTA, was carried by more than 60 stations and generated mail from all over the world. One shortwave station in Costa Rica, Radio for Peace International, has broadcast everything she has ever produced.

Gilardin says it is hard to make the rent some months, but that demand for her tapes is growing slowly but steadily. Just the other day, for instance, the operator of a micropower radio station in the Mendocino mountains asked if he could broadcast "The Secret Side of Global Trade." He didn't have enough cash to buy all 13 parts, so Gilardin accepted a bottle of homemade wine and a big bag of onions in trade. At that rate, she's not going to be buying her own station anytime soon. "But I had a great onion soup last night," she said.

The airwave squeeze

Most independent radio producers survive by selling stories to national networks such as NPR, Monitor Radio, and Public Radio International. Gilardin knows of only a few other independents who are able to make a living through self-distribution. Notable examples are David Barsamian of Alternative Radio in Boulder, Colo., and Frieda Werden of the Texas-based Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS).

Public stations typically play independent shows like Gilardin's between blocks of network programming. But space is becoming tighter now that NPR and Pacifica are pressuring affiliates to pick up longer and longer blocks of national programming, leaving stations little room for other types of shows.

"This makes for a very sad homogeneity within public broadcasting and displaces community and volunteer programmers," Gilardin said.

Gilardin produces with a light touch, preferring to let her subjects do most of the talking. As an example, she inserts a tape from "Democracy: What Went Wrong," her 12-part series of commentaries featuring author and academic Michael Parenti.

Rather than a musical theme, the tape begins with a powerful audio collage, which she learned how to create while working on radio dramas at KPFA.

Fade-in: a fife and drum playing a Revolutionary War marching tune. ("I dug that up to remind us that this was once a beautiful idea -- democracy," Gilardin said.) The tune is then drowned out by a slick-sounding national anthem, which in turn gives way to the noise of military helicopters.

It's a fitting introduction to the series, which begins with a lecture on America's two-party monopoly and how the electoral system is rigged to discourage the development of alternative political views.

Gilardin has earned the distinction of being the first person banned from the Pacifica Radio Network and all five of its member stations. A longtime Pacifica fan, she was a founder of the Women's Department at KPFA and eventually became the station's director of development. Her show, Midnight Becomes Eclectic,  largely dealt with environmental issues.

Gilardin's relationship with KPFA went sour in the winter of 1992 after she discovered an internal Pacifica document titled "Strategy for National Programming," which she said was a blueprint for shifting Pacifica away from being community-based radio to becoming a more centralized national radio network.

According to Gilardin, the document revealed that Pacifica was planning to start going after the same corporate foundations as NPR. That was a dramatic new direction for Pacifica, the first listener-sponsored station and a symbol of community-based media. "That's why it has been devastating to those of us who have worked there," she said.

A Pacifica board meeting in Los Angeles in June 1993 led to the banning of Gilardin. She claims that the board closed the meeting without allowing her and other protesters to make three-minute personal statements, at which point she called on those in attendance to refuse to leave the room until she and others had had their say.

KPFA officials called the move violent and barred Gilardin from all five Pacifica stations, she said. Pacifica executive director Pat Scott and other station management were away at a meeting in Washington, D.C., and were unavailable for comment.

Ironically, Gilardin's tapes are still being played on KPFA (in fact, they have been aired during pledge drives several times), but she is barred from entering the station premises.

Making connections

What sets her work apart from mainstream broadcast media is that Gilardin connects the political dots. Many of society's most pressing problems -- jobs moving overseas at a time of record corporate profits, the dismantling of social services, the destruction of the environment -- can be better understood in the larger context of economic globalization. If you haven't heard that term on the evening news, you shouldn't be surprised. It refers to the radical restructuring of the global economy -- and almost every aspect of our lives -- in the interests of large corporations. Free-trade treaties such as NAFTA and GATT are the central tools of the restructuring process.

"The earth is not dying," Gilardin likes to say, borrowing a line from 1960s folk singer U. Utah Phillips. "It is being killed, and those who are killing it have addresses and names."

Those names, you learn from Gilardin's tapes, include Mitsubishi, Cargill, and Wal-Mart, to mention just a few.

Gilardin produced TUC's first series, "The Secret Side of Free Trade," in the summer of 1992. She was caretaking a ranch in Mendocino at the time, and she did much of the work in a cabin in the middle of the forest. The pastoral setting made for some unusual conditions. "I had to wait for the blue jays to go to sleep before I could start recording," she recalls.

The series provided a soapbox for voices of opposition to GATT and the creation of the World Trade Organization. Created by U.S.-based global corporations, GATT sets the rules for about 90 percent of world trade. Gilardin's series, which featured interviews with Noam Chomsky, Jerry Brown, Mark Ritchie, Walden Bello, and many others, revealed how GATT was a gift to global corporations at the expense of local communities. It revealed how any member country's domestic laws, including environmental regulations, could be challenged if they are deemed to be trade barriers.

"I thought this would be a huge debate, that everybody would be passionately discussing the GATT," she said, "but it was the biggest silence I ever heard in the media."

The summer Gilardin produced the GATT series was also the summer Wal-Mart came to town. She remembers the day she heard that the giant retailer had won approval to pave over a nearby peach orchard on the Russian River for its latest store. She spent the summer researching and fighting Wal-Mart and producing programs for the local community radio station.

In a 1992 article for the Anderson Valley Advertiser  titled "Inviting the Cannibals for Dinner," Gilardin exposed the economic havoc Wal-Mart had wreaked on communities across the country. "Wal-mart was really my first encounter with a global corporation," she recalled. "Globalization comes in many different forms, and Wal-Mart shows that it affects us very locally."

Besides producing radio, Gilardin is a dedicated activist working with groups such as Toxic Links Coalition, which is fighting the proposal for a power plant in Bayview-Hunters Point and the expansion of the Chevron incinerator in Richmond.

She is also a member of the International Forum on Globalization, an alliance of 60 researchers, activists, and writers from more than 20 countries who joined together after the passage of GATT to respond to the threats of economic globalization.

Jerry Mander, acting director of IFG and senior fellow at Public Media Center, says Gilardin was the first radio journalist who understood the crisis of globalization. "She really follows these complex stories and just works herself to the bone until she gets them on the air," Mander said. "She's very admired by everyone in our organization for her integrity and depth."

Gilardin is optimistic because people are finally starting to look critically at the global economic processes that have been unleashed by trade agreements like GATT and NAFTA. She has been particularly affected by a recent editorial in the International Herald Tribune.

"Corporations should start taking the backlash against globalization seriously," the article warned. "Globalization is causing severe economic dislocation and social instability." The editorial warns that this backlash could turn into open political revolt that could destabilize the Western democracies.

The fascinating fact, Gilardin said, is that the piece was not written by a lefty like herself but by the head of the international business lobby group World Economic Forum, which was one of the architects of the GATT, and of globalization.

"It's a frightening quote," she said, "but I'm really glad to see that for the first time since I began this work, people who had an important role in designing globalization are admitting that it is causing serious problems."

San Francisco Bay Guardian, June 19, 1996