Wednesday, December 31, 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 it, or someone else (one of our listeners most likely) will track them down and do something about it, but we've decided to take the Gandi approach. Passive, non-violent non action. (well, sort of the Gandi response). ;-)
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 small papers owned by big companies CAN do good). We are talking to the Boulder Daily Camera here in Boulder right now getting ready to do a more indepth story with them. We'll see if they actually do something good or not.

Either way, be very very careful when talking to the press. Assume they will get some part of what you say wrong. RECORD THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION. Preferably with video. Let it be known that you'll go to the alternative press (the weekly's, college paper, etc.) if they decide to 'spin' your story in a negative way.

And remember that even if the reporter is friendly to your cause, his/her editor may very well NOT be. And in the end, the editor always wins.

Tread lightly and be ready to spirit yourselves away quickly at the first sign of anything (and I mean ANYTHING) that smells even least bit fishy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

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 repeat what they heard and it's SOOO wrong from what was originally said?

Yea.. it's like that.

You're got to encourage everyone to talk to YOU. Call you. Email you directly. Whatever it takes. Communication (to use an overused word) is the only way to keep things on a reasonably even keel.

This is true of all volunteer organizations, but even more so with a group of free speech advocates who are skirting the edge of FCC regulations and, by nature, rebels (I mean, helll, they're fucking PIRATES for god's sake). Gotta keep that in mind. yea.. that too... sometimes I forget. ;-)

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

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 target (usually the guy who's the defacto leader of the station.. in this case, me).

This time I reacted a little differently. I decided that there's a point where someone can beat on you, but if it's the same person, and they keep using the same tactics (public accusation without any private discussion beforhand, the flinging of crap and fear and vague reference to how unhappy everyone is, when it's usually just that one person, maybe one or two others.. tops), it's got to stop. Everyone doing pirate radio with a group larger than 6 will experience this. I'll lay money on it. If you've been around more than 6 months and have a dozen DJ's, you exactly what I'm talking about.

This happened to us about a year ago and it almost shut down the station. I ended up moving the entire setup to another location because of it. It always comes down to one or two very loud very unhappy people. Usually unhappy by nature, and the station just happens to be in their lives at that moment so it get's to be the dog they kick. I used to take it personally, I've come to the conclusion that in a group of 12-20 people there WILL be someone like this. Expect it. Prepare for it. And deal with it.

What I've found works is fairly simple:

1) listen and respond to the concerns. Sometimes it's a real issue. Sometimes it's not. If its real, it should be addressed. If it's you being called on something, and they're right.. you're being a butthead (god knows I can be), admit it, change your mind, change some process, procedures or policies to address it and move on. If it's not real, talk it out. Eventually everyone will see you were right to begin with and settle on what you originally wanted to do (be it policy, shows, playlists, political bend, whatever the issue.. doesn't matter).

As long as it's different people doing it, it's healthy. Keeps the stations collective mind thinking and improving. As it's leader, you've got be both firm and humble. If you're right, you're right. If you're wrong, damn it, admit it and change what needs to be changed and move on.

If it's the SAME person, or a small group, all the time. YOU have a problem. This could be a serious one. It CAN destory your station. If it's the same person or same 2-3 people constantly causing agitation, constantly complaining, it's one of two things: you've got a dog kicker (wife/husband beater... etc. etc.). It's what they do to everyone around them. Pirate radio attracts rebels and malcontents. Usually that's good, sometimes, it's not. Sometimes these folks are just not meant to be part of a group of humans. They really need to be issued a cave, bow, arrow and fresh spring and left alone. They, of course, don't know that, so they go about making everyone's lives miserable. You'll know them when you see them. They can't be made happy regardless of what you do. It's always another issue. They also won't back down from arguments or stances that just don't make sense to anyone but them. They are what we'd call unreasonable (and man, it takes ALOT be unreasonable in pirate radio.. but believe me, they are).

You can do one of two things: Ignore them or kick them out. Ignore them and you'll eventually regret it. They'll slowly tear away at the fabric of family that a well run station develops. your best bet is to simply ask them to leave. This will cause an uproar. Even among your faithful and reasonable folks. It may cause enough of one to kill the station off in it's current form. And that's not a bad thing. If 1/2 your DJ's leave, well, new slots for new blood, and a new sound. I think it's almost required every so often, actually. It cleans out the people that are ready to leave anyway (and yes, some you'll regret seeing leave), but in the end you'll find the station is better because of it. It's organic and constantly rotating folks through is a very good thing and keeps things fresh and interesting.

The second type of person or small group that can cause discord like this isn't a dog kicker, he/she is power hungry. They want control of the station. They want to get on the air and scream kill the president, even if you told them not to. Especially if you told them not to. It doesn't matter to them you'll be getting a visit by the secret service if you do that. It's something they just HAVE to do. And if you won't let them, well, by god, they'll do everything to get you out and take control.

Interestingly, they are very very rarely the folks that started the station. They usually have no real technical knowledge of how to set up and run things (and no interest in learning). They are the hangers on. They are along for the ride, but don't want to do the work, just reap the rewards of a free open platform to scream off of at the top of their lungs.

These folks need to be purged. Good old fashioned soviet style pogam stuff. No other way to do it. And quick. Don't wait, don't contemplate. Once you figure out you've got this problem it's like having termites. Get em out fast or the whole house is gonna come down. They are capable of everything from sabotage and theft to turning you in to the FCC. Trust goes out the window. Don't try to fix it just cut it out and move on.

Now, I'll admit, this is a style of running a station I've always called the benevolent dictator model. Works for me so I use it. We are consensus driven, we all make the big decisions, but if a decision can't be made, at some point, I make it. hence: benevolent dictator. That benevolent part is important. Being just a dictator never ever works. You've got to be in charge, but do it in a way that the power rests with the group and you channel it and focus it when it can't do it by itself. Usually you don't need to do much. A good group will run itself very well for long periods with occasional hicups.. you just have to be there to catch the baby as it falls out the window. Don't miss, if you do, it's messy.

Monday, December 01, 2003

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 show.. and we record it and we're making it into a CD for fundraising)
- Review of upcoming shows and live acts
- Review of DJ shows (types/mix/times)
- Introduction of new DJ's
- Update the DJ phone list
- Reset the key code (the door to the studio/van has a lock box and key code.. you get it by showing up for the meeting. Miss the meeting, and you have to have one damn good reason to get the code. the only way to get it is to show up for the next monthly meeting. Miss that meeting, you're no longer part of the Boulder Underground Radio Group (BURG))
- Assign jobs no one volunteers for
- Go over happenings in town and things we should be announcing
- General discussion on whatever topics the DJ's want to bring up

We take this seriously. So seriously that we suspend people for a month if they don't show up for the meeting. I know, sounds harsh, but it's really the only way to make sure everyone takes being at the meetings seriously. If you miss two meetings, you're out of the group.

If someone can't make a once a month meeting for an hour or two, you've gotta wonder if they're really interested in being involved with the station or just showing up to do a weekly show.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

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 threatened to turn us in to the FCC if we didn't stop airing his show (again, freely distributed to anyone who wants it on the internet) or to 'refrain' from libel.

I, of course, told him to stuff it. I was able to because of anonymity. He has no idea who I really am, which makes it reasonably safe (since we know the FCC already knows we're here.. they've busted us 3 times to date- it wasn't really much of a threat anyway).

I have no idea if his material is anti-jewish. I stopped listening to his show over a year ago because it tends toward subjects I find a little too arcane for my tastes. But I know his views could be considered extreme. Libel, I'm sure, to some people.

It's amazing someone who could throw stones so well would have such a reaction to someone (if, in fact anyone did) throwing a stone in his general direction (i.e. 'the people' of florida).

And this from a fellow pirate. Amazing.

Dumb? yea.. on both sides frankly.

But the lesson is there: Trust No One. Keep you name to yourself and always always always use alias's. It'll protect you even from people that you thought you could trust with the keys to your house.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

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.

Monday, November 03, 2003


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 to get the MP3Pro plug in for WinAmp 2.91 (searh on MP3Pro on the WinAmp site). It works with the streaming standard software- ShoutCast (also from the WinAmp folks- You can download ShoutCast from the Winamp site (free), and SimpleCast from (the Sapcial Audio site.. a couple of guys down in Texas writing some great software for radio stations).

We also use a hunk o iron (hardware) that's both cheap and very powerful. It's the Behringer DSP 9024 Ultradyne. It's not exactly simple, but if you really want to shape the sound of your station (on air or via stream onto the internet) this puppy does it all. You can buy it for around $200 all over the internet (we paid $189 at musican's friend online).

If you have any questions about setup, drop us an email at TECH@KBFR.ORG

Friday, October 17, 2003

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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

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 it works and let you know here.
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 of course choose all.

Thankfully, that is a fictitious choice - there is a "some" in between,
and that is the so-called "vanity station," and there are a lot more of
those types of pirates out there than there are the likes of you. In my
mind it's all part of a movement, so dissin' comrades doesn't seem cool
to me.

I am all for folks assuming the level of risk they are comfortable
with. Some sets of circumstances (like, say, a sense of fiscal
autonomy) allow for the taking of greater risks. It is the taking of
the risk that is paramount. The duration of the broadcast is secondary.

I would like to see a distributed-node time-sharing frequency model
developed - multiple hit-n-run pirates coordinate their broadcasts to
fill multiple hours on a single frequency. Station A fires up on the
frequency from, say, noon to 4pm, when they sign off Station B signs on
the same freq, going from 4 to 8, and then station C does 8 to
midnight. It would break the risk up into manageable bits for the those
less ballsy than you - and would also provide a heretofore-unseen level
of redundancy in case of official friction (provided there's a material
sense of solidarity between the stations), unless the FCC suddenly got

Anyway, yer blog kicks ass - keep it up, it'll make for a great archive
over time!


I think John is dead on right and if I dissed the vanity radio guys, that was NOT the intent. If anyone took offense, please accept my apologies now. Frankly, that's how I started. And the reasons where VERY simple: I couldn't listen to commercial radio anymore so I set up my own station, and I'd always wanted to be on the radio. No social agenda. No sense of community. No platform for local artists and ideas. That all came later. Where I started it was simple: Man.. this is fuckin COOL. And damn was it ever. Still is. It also happens, for me, to have a deeper cause and a broader intent now. But it started out as Vanity Radio for a guy in his basement for me.

Anyway, tiny operations of a few people (or even one person) are great and I agree with John that it's a big part of what pirate radio is about. One of our crew lives up in the mountains and has a little station he calls High Country radio. Great setup, tiny power mostly for him to listen to himself when he's working around the property, but every so often he cranks it up to 150 watts or so and blankets the mountains with High Country Radio. Some times he's there. Sometime's he's not. Like a ghost in some ways....That's part of what it's about.

I also really liked the distributed node time sharing frequency model idea in his last paragraph. If you've got several pirates in one area, that's worth looking into. It's also something we should look into as a pirate station. The only real issue then is finding a PLACE for those 2nd and 3rd transmitters (4th and 5th too... if you want to go on during the day).

Thanks for the comments and for keeping the record straight John.

Monday, October 13, 2003

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't it simply won't work. Volunteers just do not stick around for someone who's a simple dictator doing whatever he/she wants. The person in charge has to create a sort of platform that allows the members of the group free expression. Some rules, but very very few are needed. Ours are: show up for the monthly meeting, pay your monthly dues, no drugs, no guns and no one under 18 in the studio. That's pretty much it. He/she must also be completely and totally fair in everything. Even one slip in this area undermines the benevolent part and leaves just the dictator at the helm. He/she has to be moderator, mediator, judge, friend, confidant, mentor, and sometimes parent. It's not easy and there are times he/she will want to say screw it, I'll just do this alone or with a couple of close friends. That does work but it disengages you from the community and limits what you do with the platform. It now becomes a sort of plaything for the guy running it and reflects, pretty much, just what he wants it to. That's OK, but it's not pirate radio. It's vanity radio.

Regarding funding, if you set your operation up to be low cost (really low cost) you can usually self fund it from the staff paying minimal dues. We pay $25 a month per DJ/member. This covers our rent, phone, internet access and utilities. If we can do this in Boulder (one of the most expensive places around to live with cost of living prices similar to Northern CA.) it's something anyone should be able to do anywhere else in the country.

We suppliment that with selling T-shirts. Although we have problems with DJ's giving them away a bit too much (pretty much killing any profit) eventually we'll get that formula down. Then we'll add coffee mugs. ;-)

Saturday, October 04, 2003

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 station's going to be different, but I personally think that each group should designate a small sub group that's dedicated to creating local news that's specific to the community. A group that searches out issues that mean something to the people that live in that town or area. They should also work at creating a place for people with different (and not always popular views) to get those views out into the collective community discussion.

This may seem obvious, but it's not as easy as it sounds. It takes time and effort, and dedicated folks that do it day in and day out. You've got to find people that are dedicated to the IDEA of creating this alternative platform for news and commentary. Again, each station will be different- some will have a specific political view and leaning and will only create a platform for that point of view. I like the idea of creating a media outlet that's open to anyone who really wants to use it. This creates a promise of controversy, and can be hard to manage, but it's something that doesn't exist in today media world and it's something that's sorely needed.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

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 one very big tower and our reach is incredible. That's one nice thing about Boulder. It's nestled up against some very serious mountains that go straight up.

The computer in the van is also capable of recording, so we will sometimes go to the show. We're trying to find bands that will let us broadcast them from their practice places (garages, warehouses, basements, bars and venues in town, wherever there's some good local music action). We've done a few but would like to get it to the point where we can do it at the drop of a hat. Carl and Sargent Socket are getting it down pretty well and, soon, I'm hoping we'll see weekly live broadcasts (either from the van directly, or via wifi/stream to the STL site).
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 air... but the two are completely seperate.
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 Comcast cable at the STL site and there seems to be a less than perfect sync between the two. Doesn't make sense, it's all IP based internet streaming- maybe the DSL company (Qwest) and Comcast just don't like each other.

So.. if the stream get's 'skippy' (regular dropouts) we now have access to a 100GB drive in the STL machine that lets us run a playlist from the machine that normally takes the stream from the studio or the van (more on the van and how it works in a latter blog). Using WinVNC, we can completely control the remote computer (and winamp's playlist). The only thing we can't do is go live on the mic, but it's ALOT like sitting in the studio, only the machine, and the transmitter, is several miles away. Works pretty well.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

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. ;-)

Thursday, September 11, 2003

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 that makes it easier for and Real Public Radio (RPR) network station to set up and operate.

Seond we need an informal council made up of members from each of the member stations. Due to the geographically dispersed nature of pirate radio (they are, after all, local, not national) and the lack of funds (pirate radio will almost always run on a shoestring), a way of meeting that’s virtual has to be developed. A website/private discussion board type of set up. This group will set the policies and the direction of the Real Public Radio network and steer it towards it’s ultimate goal of becoming a legitimate (potentially fully licensed) network to rival NPR or Clear Channel in scope and number of stations. Or determining that a different route (such as continuing in an unlicensed way) is the appropriate route to take.

fourth, we need a general meeting place for all of the stations to share information. Stories in text and, most importantly, audio. Audio stories, news, music from local and indie artists that aren’t currently signed to large labels, etc. That means a server with substantional bandwidth (for up and downloading) as well as significant server storage space (a terabyte or more). We’ll need discussion boards, file transfer areas and stream hosting services. This is going to be the key.. this server. It becomes our distribution network and the heart of the system that holds together the overall Real Public Radio (RPR) network.

Fifth, we need a well designed and executed plan for developing influence with political and social organizations that starts at the local level (city councils, mayors, county commissioners, local law enforcement, local businessmen/women, the local chamber or commerce), then the state level (state senators, the governor, the state judicial system, larger businesses based in that state), then the national level (congressmen and senators, federal judicial system and large multinational corporations). Although it may sound paradoxical to get these people on the side of locally focused radio media, in every group there will be a supporter. They will be in the minority, but at every level and in every area (both public and private sector) we should be able to recruit support from sympathetic people that believe in the cause of free speech and the understanding that radio spectrum belongs to the citizens for their use, first and foremost, and for the commercial interests, only after the local communities needs have been satisfied.

So these five things: Local station structure, clear & simple technical and legal primer, a governing council made up of station representatives, an advanced set of internet based communication and media distribution services and a plan for influencing local, state and national political, law and business organizations, are the basic building blocks we need to create this national network of pirate radio stations called the Real Public Radio (RPR) network.

I’ll try to expand on each of these five areas here in the future, developing the ideas and approaches in a way that we can than create documents and websites that contain the information in an easy to read/understand and access way.

More to come!

Sunday, September 07, 2003

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 church groups and state highway departments. Now THERE's a great source of diversity in programming eh? And the windows where so tight, and the information so limited, that only people that were very aware it was going on even had the opportunity to move on it. Local groups that would have been great a running a small locally focused radio station did'nt even know it was going on until it was over.

And, of course, nothing's 'opening' for anyone new. If you didn't get your license application in during the windows, you're SOL. No new windows, no new licenses. My bet is ever, and if they do open it again, it'll be years.

And even if we COULD get a license, would the kind of radio we'd be broadcasting be any better than what's there now? If you play a song that has an objectionable word in it, you're subject to a $7000 (per instance) fine from the FCC. If the 'local community' (read: those with money and the loudest voices) don't like your point of view and complain loud enough and contribute enough money to the right politico's.. you're license is going to be up for review damned quickly.

So this gets the philosophical question of... should we even TRY to get a license if the opportunity comes up?

I haven't fully decided on it either way, but I'm struggling to find an up side to it (other than not having to worry about getting a 'knock' on the door from FCC agents someday).
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.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

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 to say things you'll regret later. Don't give them the chance. Don't talk. Period.

4) If they do have a warrant (which is highly unlikely if it's your first visit), let them in. The first visit is a 'search and warn' mission. They want compliance (i.e. shutting off the transmitter) more than anything else. They'd like to get their hands on the transmitter but can't without a warrant (again, something they are very unlikly to have on the first visit). Let them go where they want, but take pictures and record (with a tape or video camera) everything they do. This is useful for talking to the media later and ensuring they don't do anything particularly rude or illegal (which they are capable of.. they are excellent 'social engineers'... getting things through hook and crook they can't get legally).

In general, the FCC agent's are good guys in a bad situation. Most of them are no happier to be there than you are. To them you're a very small problem taking up valuable time. There are only about 400 (I've heard as little as 200) field agents that can do this kind of work and they've got alot of other things to worry about (telephone companies, cable companies, cellular phone companies, that remote control for your garage door opener.. anything that lives in the electromagnetic spectrum that they regulate). They are most likely there because someone (usually a local radio station, usually a clear channel station- they are the most aggressive) complained. Be polite, don't talk to them, turn off the transmitter after you ask them to leave and shut the door and wait a day before going back on air.

Next, if you choose to continue broadcasting from that same location... you're now at risk of a raid (with a warrant). They know where you are, and they can go to a judge and get that warrant (usually to take all your equipment.. and I mean ALL of it. If it has anything to do with sound,they'll take it. Your stereo, your tv, anything they can... although all they really want is the transmitter.. they'll take it all because it makes it harder for you to come back on air).

Your best bet after the first visit it to MOVE locations. That resets the process. They're back into 'warning only' mode.. and the chances of getting a warrant, if you're in a different location (raising the potential that you're a different set of pirates...) resets the legal process, for them, to zero.

So if you move EVERY TIME after a visit, chances are, you'll never get shut down. Just harrassed. So plan for it. Have a new location planned and ready to take you when you get a visit. Move your station overnight and come back up the next day. They'll be back, but it's likely to be 3-6 or even 12 months later.
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).

This keeps the studio sessions 'safe'. The STL host site is someone who's agreed to host a "ham radio re-transmitter'. When the FCC comes and 'busts' the STL site, the host simply tells the FCC that they understood it to be a ham radio setup... they agree to turn it off, and they don't let them take the equipment (saying: it's not mine so I can't give you permission to take it).

That satsify's the FCC (it get's turned off) and since all first contacts are 'warnings', the STL host is only warned. As long as they aren't warned a second time, chances of a fine are almost zero. We then come and take the STL setup away (it's in an outdoor enclosure that's easy to dismantle and move in about 10 minutes).

We then set it up at a different location (with wifi wireless access) and start the process over again.

And, in between, we use the van from the various antenna sites and from a magnet mounted antenna on the roof when we want to be mobile (often broadcasting from the side of the mountains that Boulder is nestled up against).

Monday, September 01, 2003

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.

Friday, August 29, 2003

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.

Monday, August 25, 2003

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.