Showing posts from 2003
When Another Pirate Steps On Your Signal

We've got a weird one here. Someone with a BIG fucking transmitter (bigger than ours) is going on air periodically, 2-3 hours at a time, and playing the same 5-6 lame songs over and over, or just broadcasting dead air on top of our frequency.

We have no idea why.

We've tracked it, and found it moves. Whoever it is has mobile capabilities. Clever, really. Similar to our own approach. Makes them very difficult to locate

Why someone would go to this trouble I have no idea, but it's clear we can't do anything about it. Call the FCC on them? Yea.. right. First: that's against what we believe and second, it brings them down on US more than the 'evil' pirate.

We've offered, on air, to work it out. No response. Just the periodic stomping behavior.

So, we've come to the conclusion we do nothing. We don't turn ours off, we don't acknowledge them and we just soldier on. Eventually they get tired of i…
Dealing With The Press

One thing I've found is, if you've been around awhile on air, the local newspaper guys are going to decide you're worth writing a story about.

This is both good and bad.

The more press you get, the better known your operation becomes and the more heat you (potentially) bring down on yourself. AND the more listeners you get. Two edged sword.

And it can turn on you. Most newspapers (even smaller cities, like ours here in Boulder) are owned by a big media conglomerate. Most of those have radio interests somewhere in the corporate structure so, most of them have, at some level, really good reason to kill you off. They don't always do it, but you really should research the roots of who owns the newspaper that wants to do a story on you.

I think you'll find those that are owned by companies that also own radio station, usually, find you evil. Those that aren't, find you advocates of free speech and generally support you. Not always (some…
People Reading- I'll be damned.

It's always amazing me that people actually READ this thing. My last entry was read by at least one of our DJ's and, for some reason, he decided it was directed at him (It wasn't). This required I explain myself and intent.


I should know this by now. People love to read things into what other people say. They particularly like to do it if you're someone who set's policy or makes decisions for a group. Human nature, I know, but man- can't life just be a little simpler?

One of the thing you'll find when you're running a pirate station, especially if you subscribe to my benevolent dictator model is the need to be aware of whatever you say as something that will be repeated, interpreted and subject to the 'round robin' effect. You know the party game where everyone get's in a circle and one person whispers something to the person next to them, and so on and when it gets to the last person they re…
Trials and tribulations of pirate radio parenthood.

THIS is being a parent. Running a pirate radio operation is alot like being the parent of a couple of dozen kids. Maybe Jr. High teacher is an even better comparison. I just had another discussion with one of our youngest and most vocal DJ's. She's been with the station for some time and hasn't learned the finer arts of human communication yet. If she's unhappy, she sends an email out to everyone screaming about an imagined injustice (usually something I've done) and get's everyone stirred up and upset.

To date this has happened about a dozen times. Usually what you have to do is calming explain why you did what you did and why it's good. Hold their hand and let them calm down. Let everyone discuss it for awhile and eventually it dies away. Often some good comes from it. A policy get's changed, a why of doing things is improved, a voice is heard. All goodness.

All MAJORLY stressful for the t…
On regular meetings and communications.

One thing I've found to be important with pirate radio is the need to have regular group meetings that are required. You've got to have a time when a highly diverse group of people can just hang. And a time to go over the regular operations of the studio.

KBFR is self supporting, so we use these meetings to collect dues as well. We add up all the expense from the previous month, divide by the number of DJ's, and that's the dues for the month. Seems to work well.

We also go over the expenses so everyone is clear on what we're spending money on (studio rent, cell phones, equipment repairs, internet access, utilties, etc.). Currently we run a cost of about $500-600 a month which works out to about $25 per DJ per month.

The average meeting has several components:
- Dues and budget review
- Systems update (computers, networks, STL operations)
- CD production (we do a thing called Studio Free.. a regular in studio local music …
Trust and Anonymity

Had an interesting thing happen over the last few days. A fellow that I've known for awhile now and completely trusted threatened to 'turn us in' to the FCC.

He produces a alternative world view show that, at times, pushes the limits. He works with another pirate in his state (Florida) that broadcasts this show (and it's also played on a local 'legit' AM station). He posts this show around the internet and we've been known to air it on occassion.

One of our DJ's, it seems, called him a jew hater. Or at least, that's what he thought (actually, the DJ said something about people in Florida being down on jews, no reference to anyone specific according to the DJ). Maybe not a smart thing to say on the DJ's part, but we don't censor shows in any way so, hey, anyone who wants to make an ass of him/herself is more than free to do so.

Regardless, this person in Florida took EXTREME offense. He called it libel and threate…
If you're interested in getting a look at our studio operatins manual, drop me an email. Carl Nimbus, our technical director, as put together a 22 page set up manual for the other technically minded in the group to work off it. It lays out all of our systems, how they work together, how we access them directly and remotely and how it all plays as one big distributed system. It's current made up of 10 computer systems in several locations using streams and WinVNC connections to control it from pretty much anywhere. Good stuff. Good job Carl!
Well, it's be awhile since I've posted. Much going on. We're getting a benefit concert moving forward in January. It's amazing how many local bands are willing to play for free. We originally wondered if we'd be able to find enough really good bands with a following that would come and we now have about twice what we can put on stage. I good problem I suppose. Just goes to show you, if you really support the local music scene, it'll support you. We're particularly thankful to The Fox theatre which is letting us host it there at very favorable terms. It's good to be part of the commnity.

What should you use? We've looked at several different programs and tried about half a dozen. For playing MP3's, there's just nothing as good as the standard: WinAmp. But, not the latest version. The 3.X version is a little on the bloated side and it doesn't support the hundreds of add ons that work only with the 2.X version of WinAmp. And it's still free.

We use version 2.91 (from We use it with RockSteady DSP plug in (a great little plug in that equalizes the volume, both up and down, giving your station a very nice sound.. not too loud, not too soft). Just search for RockSteady on the website and download it. We use the 'harder' compression setting (middle setting).

For streaming, we found a very cool little application called SimpleCast from Spacial Audio. It costs $49 and it's rock solid. It also supports MP3 Pro (a new format that makes a 64kb stream sound more like 96kb,, some say 128kb). Be sure…
Some technical info on using a wifi connection to stream your stations signal: Stick with 802.11G

We had weeks of problems with the B protocol, we finally got a G router and a G card (internal PCI card for a PC) and it's working wonderfully.
CORRECTION CORRECTION.. I said in a recent post.

That is WRONG

Is it DIYmedia.NET - Best damn site on media freedom around. Check it out. You won't regret it.

Say it over and over Monk DIYmedia.NET .NET .NET .NET

Ok.. I feel better now. Sorry John.
Now here's a new one... the transmitter, running at about 150 watts, IF you put it close enough to the WIFI connection running into the computer, can KILL that WIFI connection. The STL (studio Transmitter Link) setup we have sits crammed into one of those rubbermaid porch storage unit things. The one's that fit in a corner.. so it's SMALL inside... not alot of room (but it's waterproof when you put a tarp over it and they're cheap). More room would be good, but we just don't have it.

Carl Nimbus finally isolated it to this.

What do you do then? Sparky, our engineer, says create loops (3, about the size of 4 fingers wide) running into all your gear with any wires. Particularly the antenna into the transmitter (and at the base of the antenna.. which you should do anyway). This acts as a trap for the electromagnetics flying around and helps keep the area cleaner of 'spray'. We haven't implemented it yet, but once we try it.. we'll see if i…
My buddy John Anderson from sent this email to me (see my comments following his email)- Just so anyone reading this blog knows... if you email me regarding this blog and it's contents, it's fair game for use in this blog. Email from John Anderson:

Ah, my zealous one. there is too a value in so-called "vanity radio."
Please do remember that not all may aspire to the level of
sophistication that you do in station operation, nor are all willing to
take the risks of such unabashed operations. That does not, however,
make such hit-n-run type stations less valuable.

***They demonstrate the technology and the fact that this form of civil
disobedience is pretty damn easy and can be done by just about

That is valuable. So, it might not reflect a depth and breadth of "the
community," and the size of the audience is (generally) smaller, but
that's the drawbacks of limited operation. Given the choice of all or
nothing, I would …
Leadership & funding. Gotta have it, but, how do you do it in a way that works for a group that is, by nature Anarchistic in nature? And, almost always, volunteer to boot? There's certainly no money to PAY anyone in a pirate operation (at least none that I've ever seen).

We also have the added issue of KGNU, the local public radio station in Boulder. They live off of donations, and are NOT NPR affiliated (which is a most cool thing). IMHO, they're the best public radio station in the country. So, you can't really do fund raising without taking away from them (at least to some degree).

We've tried a few things, but on leadership we've found that the benevolent dictatorship works the best. The key word here is BENEVOLENT. And this really ONLY works with small (a few dozen, at most) people in a group. One person has to be in charge and they MUST listen to and be sensitive to all the other members wants and needs (and responsive to them). If they aren…
So what kind of programming shoud a pirate radio station be putting on? I've heard that 'just music' is a waste. Somewhat true, but if you are putting on 'just music' with no commercials you're doing one hell of a lot to change the paradigm of radio. Commerical free music is something that you can only get by playing your own CD's and MP3's, or by paying $10 a month to a sat. based radio service (and you'll have to shellout $100 of more for new equipment).

So, 'just music' is powerful. Very powerful.

That said, once you've got a station up and running, you've now created an incredible platform for any kind of 'message' you want to put out there. Be it music that people don't normally hear, local musicians that don't normally get any kind of airtime, commentary on a broad range of subjects or news that's not mainstream.

A pirate radio stations got to use it's resources as well as it possibly can. Each st…
The Van!

Ahhh the van.... We love this thing. An entire radio station in a van. We have a computer, big hard disk (about 1/2 the complete KBFR library), dual CD players, mics and mixer with a transmitter and 1/4 wave magnetic mount (for the roof) antenna running it.

We also have a wireless router that allows us to hook into the internet at several hot spots around Boulder. These are wifi based and we find them by driving around and finding open routers (wardriving) and by using wifi connections that listeners offer us in their homes or businesses (we just park out front and hook in wirelessly to the internet).

When we're hooked into the internet, we can stream, live, to the STL from pretty much anywhere in Boulder.

When we don't have a wifi connection (or feel like REALLY putting out a signal) we simply drive up flagstaff or one of the other roads that lead up into the mountains and fire up the transmitter (150watts). Man.. being 1000 feet above town is like being on on…
If you're running a pirate station, in my opinion, one thing you've just GOT to do is create a platform for local musicans. Getting that PO box set up for bands to mail their CD's to is damned important.

We've also set up a room in the studio (which, in case you're wondering, is a completely legal 'internet' radio station). Several mics, a nice big mixer and a dedicated recording computer. This allows a band to set up and do a live show in the studio (which we record... something we call "Studio Free").

That signal is streamed out over the internet for anyone to listen to.

The broadcast part happens with the STL (a computer, mixer, wireless connection to a nearby 802.11b router in the area) and a transmitter with a 1/4 wave antenna up in a tree (the whole set up sits in an outdoor waterproof box). We log into the STL with WinVNC and simply 'stream' the signal from the 'internet radio station' studio.

Viola! Live band on the…
Ha! listed this thing as something worth reading. I don't know if that's true or not, but now that I suspect someone might actually be reading this thing, I guess I'm going to have to write things with the thought in mind you might actually read it.


I'll get you for this John. ;-)

On another note- met with Carl Nimbus (who's acting sort of as the operations/station manager right now) and he's getting the studio part of the operation very nicely automated.

We're now running 5 PC with XP Pro with one machine acting as the primary server. We've got just under a terabyte of disk space (about 980GB) linked up with dedicated drives for the KBFR library (about 300GB) and drives for each DJ and for newly ripped CD's.

We use WinVNC to control the studio remotely (as well as the STL-Stuido Transmitter Link). It's working well, but we're still having some problems with the internet link. We have DSL in the studio and Comc…
Seeing some pick up in local music activity and venue interest in supporting us. Pick's doing a great job of keeping us in the 'eyes' of the local venues through his own contacts.

Hope to see more local acts doing live studio free shows in the near future. Blue's working on it along with Pick. Alot of work but, damn, what a platform for these guys.
We're having a hard time keeping the stream stable for some reason. Moving the output of the studio to the STL works most, but not all, of the time. The system has gotten so complex in some ways (with so many potential points of failure) that I'm just not sure how we CAN make it more stable.

So, for now, it requires a fair amount of babysitting. It's generally easy to fix. Just long into the remote STL computer/transmitter setup using WinVNC (the free program you can use to control a computer remotely) and restart the stream. All the BURG (Boulder Underground Radio Group) DJ's know how to do this so we're, reasonably, on top of it.

However, there are times, especially during the day, when the stream will go down for an hour or two (sometimes more) before someone can get to the STL via the internet (either from home/business or studio) to get it restarted.

Ahhh.. pirate radio. You just never know what to expect. ;-)
There's really a need to expand what's happening with pirate radio. This idea of creating a network of pirate radio stations (1000 over the next 10 years). The only way to do that is to come up with a sort of template that's reasonable and easy to replicate.

First, we need a model of how an individual station runs. What's works? What are the social structures that seem to stand up over time? This includes a primer on how to get started, who to trust, who not to and how to keep your station on the air and safe from FCC interference for as long as possible (if not indefinitely). This includes clear legal advise provided by our legal council in plain English with specific procedures on what to do in any conceivable situtuation.

Second, we need a clearly written technical primer on equipment and setup of a pirate radio station with clear drawings, suggested equipment and suppliers and, potentially, negotiated deals with those equipment suppliers for special pricing t…
I've been thinking about the FCC's recent announcement that they'll be allowing up to 1000 LPFM licenses that have been rotting in the system to go foward and I've been trying to decide, is this good?

I've come to the conclusion that no, it really isn't. Mostly because it's a spin thing... Powell, the FCC chairman, is getting nailed by the public and congress for being too 'big media business friendly'... so he's doing this mostly to counter the (correct) perception that he's anti-local media. When a Scripts newspaper (like the Boulder Camera) does a positive article on pirate radio, as they just did, you know that the FCC's gone too far. This whole LPFM thing is, now at least, a red herring. It's a way of saying: 'hey, we give them a way to get licensed... so the unlicensed guys are just being jerks'.

But, if you think about it, that's just not true. Most of the LPFM license applications that were accepted were from…
CONTACT info: If anyone's actually reading this, which I doubt, feel free to drop me a line sometime. My email is MONK@KBFR.ORG. That's our website as well ( Live stream of the station and other fun and interesting info. We've also got a mailing address: 1750 30th Street #565, Boulder, CO. 80301. And the studio line is 720-276-4493. If you leave a voicemail for me the DJ's will make sure I get it.
Trying some new things today. The internet stream to the remote location has been flakey so we put a 100GB hard disk in that machine loaded with music. We can control it remotely via WinVNC (a free program that allows you to bring up the screen of a computer that's far away via the internet). Works great. I can log into the computer from my house, the van, the studio, anywhere with a web browser and internet access, log into the computer, and adjust the playlist. The only thing I can't do is go live on air via mic (yet.. working on that).

Imagine the possibilities! A little box that holds a transmitter, computer, small mixer and a wifi connection device that's picking up a local wifi hot spot along with an antenna on the roof and you've got a complete radio station that you 'hide' almost anywhere that's got 3-4 (yea... three or four) square feet of space, a power outlet, and a nearby wifi connection.
Having a hard time keeping the internet connection/stream up today for some reason. The local DSL guys who give us access aren't doing an overly great job. Right now we're using that stream to move the signal across the internet to a remote site for broadcast and an unreliable internet connection just isn't a good thing to have. Make damn sure you've got reliable internet access if you're going to do reasonably 'safe' pirate radio.
Tag line: Radio So Good, It's Illegal. Anyone have some ideas of other tag lines? Would love to hear them.
Rules for running a safe pirate radio station:

1) NEVER use real names. If the FCC can't get a real legal name to attach an action (fine) to, they don't have any leverage to stop you. In your group, always use alias's, even day to day. This is your best protection against getting shut down long term. You may get shut down short term, but if they don't have a name, you can come back over and over again.

2) If you're running hot (i.e. a transmitter IN the studio you're broadcasting from), eventually, you WILL get a visit from the FCC. DO NOT let them in without a warrant. Regardless of what they say, they CAN NOT come in without that warrant.

3) DO NOT talk with them. Say "I have nothing to say to you, you're on private property, please leave". Even if they have a local cop with them (which is likely) you don't have to let them in and you don't have to talk with them. They are generally very good at drawing you out and getting you …
Got a call from a reporter today that writes for The New Yorker, Wired, etc.. looking for an angle on how to position the big media companies against the loss of a local voice in media (in this case, radio).

Trying to decide if it makes sense to talk with him. One of the great strengths of being a pirate is the underground nature of it. The lower your profile, the better. The higher you get, the better target you are.

That, unfortunately, has to be balanced with the need to get the word out about what we do and why it's important. You have to take the risk of being 'known' to be supported (which also targets you).

Still deciding what makes the most sense. We've been getting alot of media attention lately, and a small film crew is doing a documentary on us that they plan to submit to the Sundance Film Festival.

Tough choice. Good one to have, but tough nonetheless.

How do we run Boulder Free Radio? We use technology to the fullest to create a semi-safe environment to broadcast a 150 watt 'unlicensed' signal to 95.3FM in Boulder, CO.

We work out of several 'fixed' studio locations. We also operate out of a mobile van setup. The van has the ability to 'plug in' to antenna sites setup around Boulder (antenna's in tree's and power cords running from houses/business of listeners who support us).

We also use STL (Studio Transmitter Link) setups that use internet streaming.

The STL consists of a computer, mixer, transmitter and wireless (WiFi) connector that allows us to pick up a high speed internet connection. We log into the site and start the 'stream' that comes out of one of our fixed studios. This stream is sent to the mixer, which is hooked into the transmitter, which goes to an antenna (usually in a tree, or on a tripod in the back yard of the STL 'host' site).

Ahhh technology.... The wifi link between the van and the studio transmitter link via an internet stream 'feed' didn't work... we found 6 potential wifi links hours before the show.. come show time.. all of them had disappeared...

The virtues of being mobile. Wifi is wonderful, but it's not ready for prime time just yet.

Getting the van going. We've updated the hardware to include a laptop with 160GB HD full of music (about 1/2 of the KBFR library). We've also developed a system that allows us to tie into the internet via 802.11b (wifi) making the laptop a shoutcast server (using DNS and SimpleCast) that let's us send the stream of a show via internet to an STL (Studio Transmitter Link) that's hooked up via internet several miles away. The STL has a transmitter and antenna and broadcasts the signal. This lets us do a 'live' show at a local venue in a completely safe way (the act of turning on a transmitter is miles away and in no physical way connected to us).

We'll be testing it this weekend at a local club. Should be darned interesting to see if it actually works.
Boulder Weekly

Great reference story on Boulder Free Radio:

I think I'll work on writing a history of KBFR here. And then thoughts on what it means to do pirate radio.. and then, how we do it and avoid the long arm of the FCC and keep them from shutting us down.
Media Freedom

Free Radio and National Networks

Well hell... how the heck do we create a NATIONAL network of pirate radio stations and keep it alive?

That's sort of what we're trying to do with Boulder Free Radio... build a model for a local pirate radio station that says to the FCC: Hey assholes, these are OUR airwaves, the peoples. You're supposed to be making it better for the public interest, not selling it off to the highest bidder.

So.. RPR networks is board. RPR means Real Public Radio (unlike the decidedly NOT public radio oriented NPR). If we can create a network of 1000 pirate radio stations, share resources, information, shows, content, news and view.. all of it.. we can rival NPR. Hell, we can rival friggin clear channel. All it requires is a little coordination and cooperation. Should be an interesting experiment.
A good day at KBFR today. The local 'hot' venue (The Fox theatre) agreed to let us do a benefit for the station. One thing we hate is the idea of begging for financial support from our listeners on the net and on FM, so if we can do a single show a year and come up with about $6K, we can run for a full year and cover all expenses. This is goodness. Finding a local venue like this that supports pirate radio like Boulder Free Radio is a wonderful thing.