In Memory of Deena Kolbert – A Builder in Community Radio

At Garberville, CA for the Grassroots Conference hosted by KMUD

In Memory of Deena Kolbert – A Builder in Community Radio

Rest in Peace March 16, 1939 – January 30, 2019

Last January 30th saw the passing of New Yorker Deena Kolbert, a pivotal person in the history of community radio.

Deena pioneered the inception of today’s Pacifica Affiliate Network, which has distributed radio content and provided support services since 2003 to more than 200 community, college, Internet and low power stations throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. This helps bring progressive grassroots voices to cities like Denver, Tampa, Detroit, Seattle, in addition to small towns and rural areas. In co-foundering the network, Deena carried herself with open-hearted authority and generosity. Here is a slice of community radio history, which Deena helped make possible:

  • Pacifica’s prior affiliate program had collapsed during the Corporate Takeover of Pacifica at the close of the 20th century when almost all of Pacifica’s affiliates terminated their relationships.
  • In 2001, Deena set out to rebuild Pacifica’s affiliate relations by traveling to visit many of Pacifica’s former affiliates and re-established personal connections. 
  • The trusting relationships Deena built proved pivotal when, in 2002, Pacifica sought to rebuild its affiliate network. Deena took an active role in the rebuilding process. As a volunteer she provided essential contacts, information, and insight.
  • Deena volunteered countless hours working closely with Ursula Ruedenberg, who was employed to coordinate the rebuilding efforts. She continued to travel to conferences and Pacifica National Board meetings in this effort. She was a dedicated teacher, diplomat, spokesperson, innovator, friend, and the glue that brought together the people necessary for rebuilding the affiliate network.
  • Deena served on a PNB-assigned committee to establish the new affiliate program. She then served on a PNB Affiliate task force to further develop it. She approached this work with a deeply humanitarian and holistic approach, mixing management expertise, pragmatism, and a racy appetite for fun and adventure.
  • Deena was also an activist as a WBAI producer in the New York City fight to “Stop the Corporate Takeover of Pacifica.” She was co-leader of a New York based activist group, Concerned Friends of WBAI. She expressed her deep love of being a New Yorker with her own radio show, City Watch, at WBAI, which covered NYC social issues. Like many, she deeply loved and believed in Pacifica’s mission of grassroots progressive community.

Ursula Ruedenberg, Pacifica Affiliate Network Manager says: “Deena and I had a ‘Same Page Coalition.’ It was an honor to share this journey with someone of her caliber.”

Marty Durlin, former manager of KGNU Boulder/Denver CO, KZMU Mob, UT, and co-founder of the Grassroots Radio Conference says: “Deena was a force, she always made a contribution, pushing for what she thought was right and equitable, always fighting the good fight. After circling each other and sparring a bit, we became friends, and I visited her several times at her wonderful place in NYC. I found her ideas and guidance very helpful. While she was prickly and insistent, she was also generous and funny.”

Norman Stockwell, former Operations Coordinator, WORT, Madison, WI, says: “A passionate advocate for community radio, Deena stepped up to the plate to help re-form the Pacifica Affiliates Network. Bringing her wisdom and skills as a counselor. Deena was able to calmly and powerfully help the new affiliates program develop a vision and structure that honored the contributions of diverse community stations across the country, as well as the historic mission of Pacifica Radio as a voice for listener-powered community broadcasting. Deena’s patient guidance and clear-headed participation helped make the vibrant Pacifica Affiliates Program into the strong force that it is today.”

Behr at KMUD, Redway, CA says: “I met Deena Kolbert in 2000 during the struggle to save Pacifica.  I was in New York and when people there heard I was with Pacifica affiliate KMUD they said ‘you need to meet Deena.’ This was the beginning of an 18-year friendship.  She opened her home to me and friends numerous times. Her generosity and hospitality was huge.  We’re going to miss you, Deena.” 

Rosalie Hoffman, New York City media activist and radio producer at WBAI-Pacifica, says: “I was with Deena during her last months and was inspired to witness how she accepted death as a natural part of the life cycle. She was a generous and caring friend until the end, attentive to everyone around her.”

Deena’s son, Stephan Kolbert says: “What made her special was her unending quest to go deeper and be real with others.”

Deena Alice Margolin was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 16, 1939 and grew up on Long Island and Westchester County just North of New York City. Not the usual “girl’ for her time, she loved the city, its jazz clubs, and rich cultural life. After graduating from SUNY Geneseo, Deena became a Speech Pathologist and Audiologist at the Rusk Institute in NYC. She eventually began working with clay and her son attributes his parent’s divorce to the fact that “she turned half of their bedroom into a pottery studio.” As a single mom, Deena owned and ran Clay Crafts, a storefront pottery studio and school on the Upper West Side. Deena offered classes to hundreds of students each term. She had an apprenticeship program; it was in a retail store; in its height she represented over 100 other artist. She did special orders, production, design.

Her business came to an end when she became ill with cancer. She and her friends researched different studies regarding treatment. They found a doctor in Great Neck who would to do a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy, when no doctor in the city would.

When Deena recovered, she travelled, explored spirituality and religions, and ended up working in city housing for a couple of years, while running a jewelry school serving young men and women, most with GEDS and/or adjudicated. She eventually landed as a senior policy analyst for Community Food Resource Center (CFRC) in New York City. She helped community-based organizations maneuver the red tape of government food entitlement programs. During her time at CFRC, she piloted food programs that could be duplicated nationally. At this point she was working on a city, state, and federal level to make her programs work and adhere to requirements in each jurisdiction.

While at CFRC she became active in progressive radio by producing and hosting a program on WBAI called City Watch. City Watch covered NYC social and political issues, but she always used some of their air time to highlight progressive artists, especially spoken-word artists. In 2001 she joined the struggle to stop the corporate takeover of Pacifica, that led to her work in the affiliates network.

I her later years, Deena re-invented herself by going back to school and becoming a licensed Life Coach. Her last years were spent coaching internationally. She shared these final years with family, when she brought her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild to live with her in her beautiful old apartment on New York City’s Upper West Side, overlooking the Hudson River, where she passed away.