Houston Music

The Day The KKK Bombed KPFT

Yesterday morning during KPFT's biannual pledge drive, the station was paying homage to recently deceased color-barrier breaker Lena Horne by giving away copies of her biography Stormy Weather and highlighting a 40-minute interview with the black singer/actress about her relationship with whites in the entertainment industry and civil rights activists like W.E.B. DuBois.

Forty years ago today, the station, which had been on the air for only two months, was bombed by Jimmy Dale Hutto, a Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan who objected to the Pacifica station's Progressive forum and messages such as Horne's.

According to the blog Arcane Radio Trivia, KPFT is the first, second and only radio station in the United States to have its transmitter blown up by terrorists.

This year, the station celebrates its 40th anniversary as the fourth Pacifica radio station in America and the first listener-supported radio in Houston. The nine-minute video above details the first bombing and the station's founding.

According to Houston Indymedia, members of the Klan orchestrated the bombing by ingratiating themselves into Houston's early-1970s progressive political scene.

Space City!, in its Nov. 14, 1970 issue, reported that two well-known Klansmen - Louis Beam and Jim Hutto - were picked up driving with their lights off near a local radio station after a bomb threat had been called in. They were equipped in paramilitary garb, "with several rifles, a bottle of gasoline and a walkie-talkie." They had been spotted near the Space City! office earlier in the evening.

They were released without charges. Louis Beam -- who was implicated in the KPFT bombing and the bombing of a Socialist Workers Party headquarters in Houston -- would himself become a Grand Dragon, spend some time on the FBI's most wanted list, be acquitted of sedition and become a leader of the Aryan Nation and the Christian Identity movement.

Frank Converse admitted that the Klan had members working undercover in the police and city government. And, "for over two years we kept Klansmen working in the SDS," he said, but added that they had pulled them out for fear their cover would be blown.

It goes on:

Jim Hutto had in fact successfully infiltrated Houston SDS for a bit, selling himself as a working class hero. The Klan attempted to infiltrate the Space City! staff but scrawny and clueless "Mike Love" didn't fool anyone for long. In what - through the coolness of retrospection - seems genuinely knuckleheaded, a couple of staffers actually went to a cross-burning and photographed Love in full Klan regalia. Space City! ran the photos in the next issue.

It took the station nearly three weeks to get its transmitter back up and running. The second bombing occurred in October of the same year, as Arlo Guthrie's song "Alice's Restaurant" was on the air, taking the station down for three full months. Hutto apparently bragged to someone that the KPFT bombings were the greatest thing he'd ever done.

This led to his arrest by the FBI for conspiracy in the KPFT bombings, as well as plots to blow up the Pacifica stations in Berkeley and Los Angeles. Ironically, the man who turned him was Russell Rector, an informant who had joined the Klan at the behest of the FBI.

According to a now-defunct online bulletin board for supremacists, the Klan were not very big fans of Rector, who is apparently in the Witness Protection program. Also according to that board:

Jimmy Hutto was charged with conspiracy as the Federals has no evidence as to who actually committed the bombings. Though no doubt the station needed to be bombed to hell, there is no evidence Hutto planned such a patriotic Christian act.

The station has also been the target of some bizarre violent incidents in recent years. In 2008, a knife-wielding man demanded access to the studio. He was arrested without incident. The year before that, as the station was wrapping up its Spring pledge drive, someone fired a bullet through the station's front window, narrowly missing station programmer Mary Thomas. That crime has never been solved.

Hey, some people can't stand those pledge drives.

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Shey is an experienced blogger, social media expert and traveler. She studied journalism at Oklahoma State University before working as a full-time reporter for Houston Community Newspapers in 2005. She lived in South Korea for three years, where she worked as a freelancer.
Contact: Brittanie Shey