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.