I was a DJ for a while there. Street-legal and everything: Barry and “Jake Squid” and I, plus assorted various and sundry others, were in the mood back in 1992 or ’93 to do a spoof of a radio-soap-corporate-sponsor-variety-hour show: The Granny Applethorpe’s Fluid Hour of Power, said fluid being a snake-oil nostrum that could do anything, derived from some mysterious seepage from grandmothers everywhere. —Granny Applethorpe’s sponsored “The Cravingtons,” a weekly soap opera about a bunch of UMass Amherst inside jokes, as well as musical interludes and other stuff, the details of which escape me. There was some good or at least fun writing in it all, looking back on what doesn’t escape me with the benefit of rose-colored hindsight: Scott DiBerardino’s snappily brilliant commercial for Product (“It makes life adjective!”), say (and I would be remiss if I did not tag the sine qua nonpareil talents of Pete Fernandez, who wrote all the jingles and performed them single-handedly; I’ll be further remiss if I didn’t get his name right, geeze), or the outrageously tongue-twisting battle of inverted doubly and triply looped regressively ingressive super-duper Pig Latin battle that Barry and I mapped out (and then wrote out phonetically, so our cast wouldn’t kill us), and I still regret that we never got around to recording “Jake Squid’s” hilarious political commentary, Count Pointer-Point, which would have run something like this:
STENTORIOUS ANNOUNCER: And now, Count Pointer-Point, on the Bush Administration’s will-we or won’t-we stance towards Syria.
COUNT POINTER-POINT: There! It’s right there! Jesus, what’s wrong with you! It’s right in front of you! Are you blind or something? Look! There it is!
Ah, youth. —We broadcast four episodes and got a fifth in the can (am I remembering this right, folks?) before the unremunerated strain killed it, but before we broadcast it, we had to get FCC licenses as DJs, which was easy enough to do through the UMass Amherst community radio station. We logged our hours running fill-in shows throughout the summer before Granny Applethorpe’s was set to premiere, which was a lot of fun: rummaging through the station’s collection of CDs and vinyl for stuff to play on a whim or cueing up stuff lugged in from our respective private stashes, replicating our favorite cuts and juxtapositions from mix tapes of yore. “Jake Squid” masterminded a race between the Donovan and Butthole Surfers versions of “Hurdy-Gurdy Man,” sliding the volume in and out between two different turntables, which was about the height of our avant garde experimentation (at least, while I was in the booth). (I seem to recall that the Surfers won, but I’m not sure what.)
The reason we did this, of course, was that radio sucked. —It was gratifying to get phone calls telling us that we were playing great music, that Granny Applethorpe’s was the weirdest goddamn thing they’d ever heard on the radio, or the one time I was in the booth alone at three in the morning reading “The Last of the Winnebagos” over a randomly ambient soundtrack and then at maybe half past four I got a phone call from a guy who’d pulled over in the parking lot of the diner outside of Greenfield and stayed there, listening, so he wouldn’t risk outrunning the signal till I was done, and I’d like to think it was because we were doing something special or cool or good but for God’s sake we were just fucking around, we were grabbing stuff at random off the shelves and slapping it on the turntables because it looked cool. The only reason any of us community-based small-town DJs got any traction at all with those shows is because everything else sucked worse.
—That, and Connie Willis is a great writer. “Winnebagos” will break your heart.
Radio still sucked in 1996, of course; even out here in Portland, where everything is better except the fall foliage. I was writing for the nascent Anodyne at the time, which had offices in a certain building downtown with a politically conscious landlord; we shared space with such rabble-rousing troublemakers as the Cascadia Forest Alliance and a pirate radio station.
Radio must’ve been on my mind, because for our press pack I’d written up a “review” of KNRK’s one-year anniversary concert at popular nightspot La Luna; a review that had turned into a jeremiad against the encroaching corporatization of radio and its concommitant increase in sucking. —NRK (“Anarchy,” get it?) was one of Entercom’s stable of “alternative” radio stations, though at the time the term (which had doubled me over in paroxysms of laughter the first time I saw it as a category in a Sam Goody’s) was being phased out to make room for “modern rock,” They were most famous for a giant mural ad painted on a building downtown of a tattooed back: tattoos, yeah, hip, cutting-edge, pierced, black leather, ’90s, yo.
Anyway: that piece never saw the light of day, really, except to prove to potential advertisers that we had street cred or something, so when I learned there was a real live pirate DJ in our building that I could interview, I was amped to do something with all the notes I’d amassed about corporate schlock radio. It took a little doing, and I don’t think I ever learned his real name, but I managed to spend a day with DJ Schmeejay and tour the facilities of Subterradio, 88.7 on your FM dial (those facilities consisting of a 100-disc CD changer hidden in an unused janitor’s closet in said certain building downtown; he told me the transmitter itself was “in the West Hills,” but he knew I knew he was lying), followed by a week-long research binge on pirate radio thanks to the Multnomah County Library (which had an amazing small-press history of pirate radio that doesn’t seem to be there, now—maybe it was an early edition of this?). I interviewed Paul Griffin of the Association for Micropower Broadcasters over the phone, and learned all about Stephen Dunifer and his tussle with the FCC over Free Radio Berkeley, which had won its first battle in court (but would go on to lose the war; the peace itself is as ever muddled and undecided).
I ended up being more happy than not with the article. It was only my second piece of actual reportage, and it shows (as do the reasons why I’m now a second-string blogger and freelance cultural critic, rather than a journalist; that shit is hard). It got a brief mention in another local rag, which was nice. —About a month later I got a note from Larry, our ad salesperson extraordinaire, to call the FCC. Which was weird. Weirder still was that the phone number left turned out to be disconnected. At the time, I thought maybe it was something similar to an incident from a few years before, when a select group of friends was using that phone card number which charged back to some asshole lawyer creep who’d fired one of those friends, and another one of those friends thought it’d be really funny to prank call everybody else as “the phone police”—but Subterradio then went dark. Turns out the FCC spotted his antenna on the roof of that certain building. —He came back, skipped up the dial, moved his transmitter to a couple of different places, inspired the Pander Bros. to do a comic and then a compilation album, and then, well.
KNRK’s still around though. Hip? Cutting edge? It appears to be Cuervo and Bud Light and Maxim, yo. Ah, well; plus ça change and all that.
Subterradio’s gone; Dunifer lost; Clear Channel won the Oklahoma land rush Clinton sparked when he signed the 1996 Telecommunications Act into law. Decades of law and regulation designed to keep broadcasters mindful of their responsibilities to local communities were undone, and stations could suddenly be traded like million-dollar baseball cards, and radio now sucks worse than ever. The micropower struggle I wrote about in 1996 had one notable victory, of sorts: the FCC grudgingly set up a low-powered FM broadcasting license that was compromised enough to make no one at all happy. (In a shocking display of indecorous hardball, NPR fought strenuously against it.) —You might also remember a flap over internet radio, which is still trying to make some noise.
Pirate radio still flies its Jolly Rogers, and LPFM community stations are doing some good, but the fight has moved on: to television, now. FCC Chairman Michael Powell wants to do to television what the 1996 Telecommunications Act did to radio. And it might seem like there’s nothing to save on television—after all, the news is all winnowed down to a couple of points of view, the right and the far right, and whole chunks of the upper channels are blasted wastelands, some Big Content corp leveraging its back catalog of panned and scanned movies and clipped TV reruns down its own boutique cable pipeline into your house—but keep in mind: things can always get worse. And they will.
What’s disheartening to note is the shift in the battleground: with radio, it was a fight for the chance to say what we want, over who had a hold on the transmitters, and whose voices got a chance to be heard. With television, for God’s sake, it’s a fight for the chance to watch what we want. We’ve given up on the means of production. It’s out of our league and out of our hands. We’re struggling to record what we want when we want, to find shows that aren’t numbingly dumb or bowdlerized not for content but to make room for new ads, to dredge up some news that looks like it came from the planet we’re currently living on. We’re being lectured by network execs about minimizing our bathroom breaks when commercials are on.
Things can always get worse.
The one line from this piece I wrote back in 1996 that stays with me has nothing to do with radio or piracy or corporate hegemony, whatever that might be. It’s something Schmeejay tossed out with a studiedly off-handed lilt when the subject of politics came up. He was all about the music, but he didn’t mind running commentary, live or taped; he just had one dictum: “We just want to make sure that whatever we do, it’s educational, that it isn’t just about the wrong that’s going on, but about what we can do about it.”
The wrong that’s going on. —Sometimes, of course, the very act of talking about the wrong that’s going on is doing something about it. That is in a sense what this sinistral end of the Islets of Bloggerhans is all about, Atrios and Digby and Skimble and their ilk; the incomparable Bob Somerby; David Neiwert and his astonishing survey of “Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism,” which has everything to do with radio and 1996 and Clinton and monopoly and fighting for the right to be heard. (I don’t pretend to know what the dextral end is all about. Puffery and amateur McCarthyism, I imagine, but that’s my own shortcoming. Isn’t it.) But sometimes, of course, that isn’t enough; sometimes, all that is required for evil to triumph is that good people do nothing but bitch and moan.
Radio sucks; this is a given. There is no local content. There is nothing exciting or new. The talk is nothing but dextrously nasty ditto-chamber bloviating. There’s 20 minutes of bad commercials for every hour, and there’s few enough advertisers that you’re hearing the same commercials every goddamn hour. (Or more.) Record sales are down, way down, for the major labels who play the payola-lite games that are the only way to get on the radio these days, and you can’t just blame P2P and CD burning; sales are up for indie labels who rely on word of mouth, on small-venue concerts and giveaways, on internet distribution. Arbitron ratings show that overall Americans are listening to radio 10% less than they were in 1996.
(The thing about things getting worse is it’s not just us that get the short end of the stick.)
Anyway. This was supposed to just be an introduction for the article I wrote back in November of 1996 about Subterradio and micropower and the FCC, and it’s ended up almost as long as the thing it’s introducing.
If you want more, keep reading.
- is of middling height, and neither his hair nor his eyes are of a startling or unusual color, nor is there anything distinctive about his voice;
- came up with his moniker because he was tired of—but no, he doesn’t want me to mention that;
- was once kicked off the air for saying “erection” into a live mike;
- loves music, and has big plans for Portland;
- once bought a 15-watt transmitter from Steve Dunifer, of Free Radio Berkeley, which he is using to broadcast 24 hours a day at 88.7 on your FM dial. Without the benefit of a license from the FCC.
DJ Schmeejay doesn’t want you to know who he is. He doesn’t want you to know what he looks like. He doesn’t want your adulation or recognition.
He just wants you to listen to his radio station.
“Well, look,” he says to me at the end of our interview. “Thanks for the publicity. I think.”
His ambivalence is understandable. This is what most folks call pirate radio, outlaw radio, clandestine radio. Its practitioners tend to prefer the term “micropower,” these days, claiming that what they do is legal under the First Amendment, but the FCC does not as yet agree. Steve Dunifer has been handed a $20,000 fine for operating Free Radio Berkeley; Richard Edmundson has been fined $10,000 for broadcasting San Francisco Liberation Radio. Napoleon Williams, who runs Liberation Radio in Decatur, Illinois, woke up one night to find cops battering down his doors and guns waved in his family’s face; local papers reported the next day that he had plotted the murder of a couple of vice cops, though no formal charges were ever filed. Perhaps more to the point: Paul Griffin, who runs the Association of Micropower Broadcasters, tells a story about a Spanish-language micropower station who thought a little publicity on the cable station Telemundo might be a good idea; they let TV cameras film them at work in their broadcast space, then watched as “a little publicity” turned into a three-night-long sensationalistic exposé on “radio illegál” and a visit from the FCC.
So Schmeejay was only half-joking when he took me to see the home of Subterradio and said with a half grin, before unlocking the first door, “You’re really just this FCC guy who went undercover with this magazine so you can pose as a reporter and get me to let you in here and then bust me, right?”
Maybe three-quarters joking. But still.
My editors want me to talk photo op with him: “No way,” he says. “Not if I can be recognized.”
“Maybe from the back?” I suggest. “Working with your equipment?” This is before I hear Griffin’s story.
“No,” he says firmly. “Not in the space. Besides, from the back…people would know. Some people would know.”
“Maybe with a bag over your head?” I say, and we both laugh at the image of the Unknown Broadcaster.
“No,” he says. “No pictures.”
The FCC doesn’t want you to hear Subterradio, or anything like it. “The law is very precise: no one can broadcast without a license.” Or so says David Silberman, an attorney for the Federal Communications Commission. The only problem is that such a license can cost around $10,000 once you’ve paid all the application fees; it’s been estimated that start-up costs for a radio station to meet bare-minimum FCC specs are in the neighborhood of $250,000.
Kinda out of the reach of folks like you and me.
There is a rationale, of course; you don’t want the airwaves too crowded, and there are over 6,900 licensed conventional FM stations in America already. Besides, there’s big money in radio, what with advertising and all. The airwaves are a national resource, given into the stewardship of the FCC—why not sell them as dearly as possible?
Of course, the people who’ve bought a slice of the airwaves want their investment protected from upstarts who might step on their signal, or compete with them for an audience “unfairly,” without the benefit of a license. “The operation of unlicensed radio stations is in direct violation of FCC Rules and Regulations,” says an FCC “notice of apparent liability,” the letter they send to warn unlicensed radio stations to cease and desist. “Their operation may endanger life and property by causing harmful interference to licensed radio operations.”
Obviously, Schmeejay and Subterradio are not endangering anyone’s life by pumping out fifteen watts of music 24 hours a day on 88.7. It’s that second word, property, that’s the key. Broadcasters pay big money for their licensed slots on the dial, and that chunk of the national resource now belongs to them. And they don’t want anybody messing with their property.
What are they so scared of?
“There’s nothing good on the radio,” says Schmeejay. “It’s all the same. You listen to NRK here, and then you go to San Francisco, and you hear about Live 105, their alternative station, and you think it must be cool, and you tune in, and it’s the same shite. The same old shite.”
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that NRK and Live 105 are owned by the same company. More on which later.
“Ever since I was a kid—I used to have a kit, from Radio Shack or something, and I would broadcast a show in my house. I’d wait by the radio, you know, to record just the right song off it. It’s always been my boyhood dream to share music with people.”
So when he heard about Steve Dunifer and Free Radio Berkeley a year or so ago, he began pestering Dunifer to sell him one of the micropower transmitter kits which Dunifer manufactures and sells. “I had to bug him for about a year. He only sells to certain people, who understand what he’s trying to get at with micropower broadcasting. I finally had to meet him in person, travel down to Berkeley and talk to him, face-to-face, before he decided I was the right kind of person to have one of these.”
That was a few months ago. With some help from a couple of somewhat more technically savvy friends, Schmeejay installed the transmitter, got it up and running, and Subterradio, the Space Station, was on the air. Schmeejay estimates about $3,000 of his own money has gone into getting the station on the air. “I’d bought a real state-of-the-art amp, but for some reason that made everything sound awful. Way to bass-y. So we switched to this piece-of-shit thing that was kicking around, and it sounds much better.” He shrugs. “Maybe it’s because we broadcast in mono.”
For the past three months or so (dates, like so many other details, are vague), the station has been in a sort of test mode, automated for most of the time, with only occasionally live turns. “It’s hard to categorize the music we play,” he says. “For me, there’s really only two kinds of music: good and bad. I hate labelling and categorization.”
When pressed, he will admit that a lot of what they play would fall into the “rhythm culture”: acid jazz, techno, trip-hop, ambient. We’re listening to the station as we talk; a Luscious Jackson remix comes on. “But we also play stuff like this,” he says, “or Ani DiFranco, or Beck, or the Beastie Boys—but we play what doesn’t get played on other stations. Different mixes. Or ’50s stuff. Charlie Parker, Stan Getz. Esquivel.” He looks a little uncomfortable after this spate of labeling and categorization. “We play music that needs to be heard,” he says, simply.
Response has been, well, “horrific” is the word he uses to describe it. He estimates, from the volume of calls they’ve been getting, that Subterradio may have as many as 500 to a thousand listeners on any given day. “We gave away tickets to the Meat Beat Manifesto show, a 10th caller kind of deal—we got a hundred some-odd phone calls for that. Horrific. I feel this tremendous responsibility to return all of them.”
He grins. “Crazy people call us. We’ve got this guy, Marty, he’s adopted us, he’s our ‘roving listener,’ he’ll call in every day and let us know where and when he’s picking us up. ‘Hey, guys, I’m up on Mt. Tabor, you’re coming in loud and clear.’ Or this other person, who calls in to say they are moving downtown, they’ve heard us, but they can’t pick us up where they’re living in Beaverton. I’m not kidding.
“We do get some complaints. We have this show we do from 10ish to 2ish evenings called ‘Joy in Repetition,’ and sometimes people will call and say that we play too much of that techno stuff. And there was the time we were on autopilot, and Marty called in to let us know a song was skipping. But even the people who complain say that it’s better than everything else out there.”
When Subterradio is on “autopilot” (like so many of us, Schmeejay has to contend with a day job; even with his associates, there can’t be somebody there, live, 24-7—at this point), it is left in the care of a multi-CD changer hidden behind a wall in an unspecified location “somewhere in the west hills.”
Think about it: this CD player, loaded with somebody’s favorite CDs and set on random shuffle, has been delivering what some folks think is the best radio Portland has to offer.
“We even got praise from a DJ at NRK, who shall remain nameless, a self-described ‘corporate radio whore’ who’d love to come do a show on our station, and play the kind of music he wants to play, instead of what they tell him.”
It didn’t used to be like this, of course. An easy thing to forget, but. Alternative music—excuse me, modern rock—didn’t exist until about seven years ago. As late as 1969, FM radio was considered a passing fad, something that would never topple the mighty AM Top 40 stations. Epic battles over the ethics of the very idea of supporting a mass medium with advertising dollars and product sponsorships were still being waged in the ’30s—losing battles, to be sure, but. And in the ’20s…
In the early ’20s, the magic of radio was still something visceral; its power to obliterate distance and bring people together had folks huddled over contraptions made from cheap crystals and wires and oatmeal cans and gutted telephony, tuning in programs from far-off Kalamazoo or Parsippany. A real sense of community was felt; magazines like Radio Broadcast sponsored contests in which listeners competed to see who could pull in the furthest signal. And radio stations participated in what were called “silent nights”: for one night a week, radio stations would go off the air, to allow people who lived close to their antennas to pick up distant signals that were otherwise overwhelmed. These silent nights weren’t legislation, or regulation—they were a suggestion from the Department of Commerce, which had jurisdiction over radio broadcasts at the time.
Things changed, as they are wont: mostly in 1934, with the passage of the Communications Act and the creation of the Federal Communications Commission. By this time, money was talking, and radio stations had long since stopped the silent nights. Give up airtime to a competitor? How quaint. The task facing Congress and FDR’s New Deal was to create and regulate a national radio while avoiding the looming spectre of monopoly—and without nationalizing radio, as every European country had done. Giant broadcasting companies had already invested a great deal in radio, and those investments had to be protected. There was an attempt to preserve something of the community of ’20s radio: the Wagner-Hatfield Amendment to the Act, which would have set aside 25% of the airwaves for nonprofit community stations, and allowed them to sell airtime to defray expenses—but the path of least resistance was taken. The Federal Radio Commission was renamed the Federal Communication Commission, and given unrestricted powers in the granting of broadcast licenses.
In 1978, in the interest of regulating the sudden boom of FM radio, the FCC banned all FM broadcasts of less than 100 watts. In the deregulatory frenzy of the ’80s, the three-year rule was stripped away (used to be that someone purchasing a radio station had to hold onto it for three years before selling it, to ensure that broadcasters would take a long-term interest in the community they served; no more). And early this year, Clinton threw out the restrictions on the number of radio stations any one corporation can own, launching a station-buying frenzy which culminated in the highest price yet paid for a single radio station: 90 million dollars for WAXQ in New York City, by Entercom—which promptly traded it to Viacom for three stations in the Seattle area: KBSG FM, KBSG AM, and KNDD, which joined the Entercom family of KMTT FM and AM, in the Seattle area, and KGON and KFXX and KNRK here in Portland, and Live 105 in San Francisco, and more, in Houston, Pittsburgh, Tampa…
How many newspapers in Portland aren’t owned by Newhouse? How much of the television you watch isn’t owned by MTV and HBO? How many companies are ultimately responsible for the movies Act III chooses to carry?
“It’s based on the First Amendment,” says Paul Griffin, describing the defense strategy in United States v. Stephen Dunifer. “There are so many radio stations being bought up by media conglomerates that minority opinions, anything that might offend the advertisers, are being shut out entirely. There’s a real lack of diversity, a real danger to our right to free speech.”
Dunifer is the man behind Free Radio Berkeley, which began broadcasting in 1993. He wanted to start a populist movement of low-power community radio stations, while challenging the FCC’s ban on low-wattage FM transmissions, and so he began building kits for 5- to 15-watt transmitters which he sold to interested groups throughout the US, as well as Mexico, El Salvador, and Haiti. Thus was “micropower” born.
Griffin read about Free Radio Berkeley, and Dunifer’s fight with the FCC, and began volunteering wherever Dunifer needed help; this help ended up becoming the Association for Micropower Broadcasters, a loose affiliation of about 20 or so micropower stations throughout the country, which publishes a newsletter and a taped radio show, both called the AMPB Report, tracks records currently played on micropower stations, and offers updates on Dunifer’s court case and other news of interest. It also helps coordinate record company promo discs and materials. (Yes, in a classic case of the right hand not caring what it does to the left, record companies love having pirate radio stations play their music as much as any other. Air time is air time, whether legal, il-, or quasi-, right?)
Dunifer isn’t interested in (utter) anarchy on the airwaves; remember, he’s very particular about who gets his kits. What he wants is for the FCC to create a micropower FM registration service. If you found a clear spot on the dial, you’d mail fifty bucks and a registration form and boom! Radio Free You. (Canada already has something similar in place.)
The FCC doesn’t agree, and in 1993, shortly after Free Radio Berkeley began broadcasting, they served Dunifer with a notice of apparent liability. Unlike legions of unlicensed radio broadcasters before him, Dunifer didn’t shut down, he didn’t shift to a new frequency, he didn’t move his transmitter to a new location, or put it in a van, or stick it on a boat and sail out into international waters. He introduced them to his lawyer, Luke Hiken, of the National Lawyers’ Guild. And whether you reduce it to free speech, or the voice of the community, or the image of Hiken holding up one of Dunifer’s transmitters in court and proclaiming that people have a right to use these things, or to the fact that there’s just nothing good on the radio, dammit, the defense worked. So far. In a hearing in January of 1995, Judge Claudia Wilkin handed the FCC a significant defeat when she denied their preliminary injunction to prohibit Free Radio Berkeley from broadcasting.
Both sides currently await her decision on the overall case.
DJ Schmeejay fills me in on the Subterradio plan for world domination:
“Reggae and dub in the mornings. Because that’s the way we like our mornings to be. Afternoons: a little bit of conversation, editorial, discussion. We do a bit of this already, but we want to do more.”
“Yeah,” says one of his associates, passing behind us on some mysterious errand.
“He wants more conversation,” says Schmeejay. “We already play something called Truth Serum, we just want to make sure that whatever we do, it’s educational, that it isn’t just about the wrong that’s going on, but about what we can do about it.
“Then evenings would be trip-hop, acid jazz, drum and bass—like a really good party, we’ll build it up, and build it up, to maximum bpm, and then bring it down again. And then from 2 am to 6 am it’s ambient, to sort of cool down.”
This is, of course, a rough approximation. “We’ll play anything that’s not too booty, local bands, local DJs that aren’t getting airplay, the more the merrier. Send us your tapes. We’ll also be doing weekly shows, like Courtney Taylor and Pete Holmstrom will be doing a space rock show on Sundays called The Space Station.”
And further ahead? “More power, or relays to additional sites, for more coverage, definitely. I want this to be for everybody. Everybody who wants to be involved.” Another grin—”The more the community writes in, the more the community supports us, the more leverage we have.”
I might have exaggerated the danger to Schmeejay just a tad. Make no mistake, free speech over the airwaves is powerful stuff: the Menomonee Warriors’ Station provided a center for Indian rights in Wisconsin in 1975; Napoleon Williams’ Liberation Radio has spoken out against police brutality in his predominately black neighborhood, and helped lower the number of police abuse cases there; Radio Zapata broadcast news of the Chiapas rebellion gleaned from the internet to sympathetic farm-workers in the Salinas Valley. Even when it’s just the music, the impact can be dramatic: Radio Caroline, an English offshore pirate station, splintered the BBC’s hold on radio when it became the first source to play the Beatles, the Who and the Rolling Stones to an English audience, back in 1964. Radio One, Two, and Three have been playing catch-up ever since.
But the FCC is lying low these days, waiting to see which way the wind will blow on the whole issue of micropower, and as long as nobody raises a stink they can’t ignore, Schmeejay and Subterradio should be safe from threatening letters, multi-digit fines, and trumped-up police raids (please imagine your faithful correspondent crossing fingers and knocking wood simultaneously as he types this; he hopes you do the same as you read).
It’s just the romance of it all; the undeniably satisfying “Fuck you!” to the powers-that-be which comes along with the secrecy, the paranoia, the code names and the transmitters hidden behind secret walls. That, and something else:
“It’s about the music,” Schmeejay tells me, shortly before he’s called away. “I don’t want to be recognized for this. I’d like to just overhear some people talking about the station, and about what they thought about it, and for them not to realize it was me. That’d be great.”
And that’s all it ever really took for most pirate radio stations throughout history: stations like Radio Free Radio, the Voice of Laryngitis, the Crooked Man, the Crystal Ship, WGHP (With God’s Help, Peace) or the Voice of the Purple Pumpkin, Secret Mountain Laboratory, the Voice of Voyager, Radio Ganymede, the Voice of FUBAR (Federation of Unlicensed Broadcasters on AM Radio), or WUMS (We’re Unknown Mysterious Station, perhaps the longest-lived pirate ever, who broadcast from 1925 – 1948, and whose equipment, upon retiring, was requested by both the Ohio Historical Society and the Smithsonian); and now Free Radio Berkeley and Subterradio—
The realization that nothing good was on the radio, and the drive to get up off their collective ass and do something about it.
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