FCC audiotapes released under FOIA to be made public on website

by Brian Csuk

(Brian Csuk is the manager of http://www.icehouse.net/zodiac/.)

In August 1998 I asked for copies of the 25 audio cassettes and 4 reel-to-reel tapes, and/or transcripts of tapes FCC engineers had made of Peoples Temple radio traffic. Last November I got a call from Larry Clance at the FCC letting me know that they couldn’t find the tapes in their archives. It turns out the tapes weren’t even in the same building as the FCC archives. They turned up in a cardboard box at the FCC’s Columbia, Maryland monitoring station. The only other things in the box were an 80-100 page log of the transmissions, which was unreadable from being photocopied numerous times. Also included was a copy of the court subpoena ordering the FCC to turn over the original tapes for use at the grand jury that was considering indictments in the case against Larry Layton. The FCC never got the originals back, but did make copies before they turned the tapes over.

Since the tapes had never been released before, the FCC had to go through the material to see if there was anything that needed to be redacted, a process that took three and a half months. I eventually got copies of everything but the reel-to-reel tapes: the FCC wanted to charge me $175 to make a dub and refused to grant a fee waiver.

The quality of the recordings varies from excellent to almost unintelligible. The topics covered range from a short discussion of the TV sitcom “Fernwood Tonight” with Martin Mull, to Jones talking about pulling the settlement out of Guyana and going to Europe. Also included are conversations with Jones, Tim Stoen, John Stoen, Deborah Layton, Maria Katsaris, Sharon Amos, and Paula Adams, among others.

I was not the first person to ask for these tapes. In 1979, James Reston, Jr. (author of Our Father Who Art in Hell and the NPR documentary Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown) filed an FOIA request with the FCC for the tapes. The FCC denied the request, citing article 605 of the Communications Act of 1934 which specifically deemed commercial shortwave radio transmissions as confidential. Reston appealed the denial but was turned down. That was the end of it until 1980, when the Communications Act was amended making article 605 no longer confidential. The tapes sat there for eighteen years and no one asked for a copy until I did in 1998.

I am in the process of uploading the audio so that they can be heard as audio files on the Internet. Stayed tuned!

Last modified on March 17th, 2014.
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