Michael Taylor, a reporter for Pacifica station KPFK in Los Angeles, has been murdered. Friends believe the execution-style shooting may have been related to Taylor's involvement in developing a micro-power radio station.
Taylor's body was found April 23 in a vacant lot near railroad tracks in south Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. His hands were bound and he had been shot several times, reports say.
A former homeless man who, according to a friend, had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, Taylor turned his life around after he entered KPFK's 15-month apprentice program. As a reporter he had an interest in stories about police brutality, gangs and homelessness, associates say. He also reported on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose conviction for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1982 became an international cause celebre. At least once, Taylor traveled to Philadelphia to cover the death-row inmate's well-publicized appeal for a new trial.
One friend says Taylor was an activist on behalf of Abu-Jamal, and some speculate that Taylor was killed as a result of his reporting or activism. "He was very much interested in issues surrounding his community, and unfortunately rather fearless in his pursuits," says KPFK volunteer programmer and engineer Doran Barons. "He was definitely in areas--he didn't create friends in certain areas."
Others say Taylor had inadvertently become involved with suspicious and possibly dangerous people in an attempt to start a micro-power radio station, perhaps L.A.'s first. Bob Marston, an occasional KPFK volunteer who was building the underground station's transmitter, says one of their co-workers on the project was threatened when he and Marston tried to back out of the project. "Michael never told me about the type of trouble he or we were in," says Marston. "Toward the end, in the last two weeks, Michael decided to pull out of it, too."
Marston says that several days before his body was found, Taylor was visited in his home by two young men who "took him from his place." Whether he was forcibly taken is not clear. Whether Taylor's roommates called police also is not clear.
Sources say other people may be in danger. At least one person involved in the project moved to a new residence after Taylor's murder.
Like many Pacifica volunteers, Taylor was frustrated with the direction in which the network is taking its programming. "They're getting away from controversial subjects," says Marston. "They don't want to attack corporate culture." Taylor spoke out against KPFK management at a rally this spring. His involvement in the unregulated world of "micro-radio" was born of that frustration.
Stephen Dunifer, perhaps the best-known "guerrilla" broadcaster because of his continual court battles with the FCC, says the number of micro-power stations in the country is "in the hundreds." He helps support his 24-hour station with revenue from the sale of kits he sends to folks wanting to set up the underground outlets. The kits contain the workings of "inexpensive, broadcast-quality" transmitters designed by Dunifer.
Marston says he is not giving up on micro-radio in Los Angeles, that there are several groups trying to start up stations.
Taylor is described by virtually one and all as a warm, gentle man with an avid interest in bettering the world. With his "wonderful smile and a cracked tooth," says Barons, there was never a time when Taylor "wouldn't stop a conversation to ... acknowledge you, [say] 'How are you doing, it's good to see you, and what are you up to?' That is the tragedy of this whole thing. He was a good person trying to do good in the community."
Gail Christian, head of Pacifica's National Program Service and temporary manager of WPFW in Washington, says she remembers Taylor showing up at WPFW's door unexpectedly. He didn't have a place to stay, but wasn't worried about it, she says. "He was a guy with a big smile, and he knew it was going to work out. Me, I need a hotel reservation and in-house movies or I don't leave home."
"We will sorely miss him," she says. "It's just sad. And I keep thinking how horrible it would be to have your hands tied behind your back waiting to be shot."
In recent days there was a memorial service in Los Angeles for Taylor, who is survived by two daughters. He has been buried in Oklahoma, where he grew up.