Sunday, December 20, 2015

40 Watts from Nowhere: A Pirate Radio Memoir

Just finished 40 Watts from Nowhere yesterday, a decade old memoir revolving around setting up and running two pirate FM radio stations in California in the mid-'90s.  It goes about the way you'd expect: a big idea is born, setup pains, weird shit happens, shit gets weirder, FCC steps in and shuts things down.  It's an interesting story, but ultimately it is a story from another time and another place.  It's 20 years in the past, and internet streaming sites and LPFM have rendered all of this UHF-beams-in-the-night drama obsolete.

Still, there are some jewels to be found along the way to the final bust.  Specifically,
  • If you're going to do marginal stuff, keep your co-conspiritors to a minimum.  A radio station needs DJs, but the member roll sort of got out of hand.  Be picky about who you trust.
  • The happenstances that keep the FCC off these two stations' backs seem improbable, even farcical, but they're just the normal SNAFUs that occur frequently at the intersection of regulation and technology.
  • If you're doing marginal stuff, don't be surprised if you get zapped for somebody else's marginal stuff.  And vice-versa.
  • If you leave your apartment key under the dog dish on the porch and let a bunch of unpaid DJs know where it is so that they can come and go as they please, don't be too surprised when most of your worldly possessions go missing.
  • Dating a heroin junkie is never a good idea.  Never.
  • Letting a mainstream TV crew into your pirate radio station may be an even worse idea than dating a heroin junkie.  You won't have any say in the story they make of the footage, and they'll just make up some lurid narrative to draw gawking eyeballs.  It's what they do for a living, like a cat that catches and kills songbirds.  You can't even be mad at the cat, only at yourself for opening the door to this abuse.
  • If you can see your remote gear getting raided, going up and confronting the raiding party isn't going to do any good.  Instead, it's called "getting arrested."  Remote gear is expendable and deniable – that's why you made it remote to begin with, right?
  • Despite all of the above, you should absolutely go do off the wall stuff like this, especially if you can dragoon a few friends along.
It was a fun, quick read but, as I said, it's a tale from another time and place.  Currently, it's out of print, but still reasonably priced online.  Tune in later in the week for a grab-bag of pirate radio and its present descendant forms.

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