Saturday, January 31, 2004

I've been thinking: why do we do Pirate Radio?

What's the motivation? Why do we keep bringing it up after the FCC visits and closes us down? Part of it comes from knowing that they don't really have alot of power to stop us. But we also know they'll never stop. It is, after all, the government. They never get tired, and they never forget.

But if we stay swift and unkown, there's no reason we can't outlast them and grow Pirate Radio to the point where it's so big, it has to be made legal, and something the government no longer is able to shut down. Eventually, they'll have to find a way to make it legal and 'legit'. But only if we stay true to our belief that it's important and has to continue on.

Monk started out as a guy with a transmitter in his basement, but that guys long gone. What he is now is group of people, with on of that group becoming leader and taking on the personality of Monk for a period of time, running the station, helping to grow it, and then passing on the name and the dream to the next group that comes in to continue with the cause.

That's how to make Boulder Free Radio (or any free radio station), in a way, immortal. The "Monk" of the moment is who the the person who has responsibility (and technically, ownership) of the equipment. Each Monk passes it all on to the next Monk, and the station continues on.

This structure gives the group cohesion and continuity. It's something you might want to try if you want to create a community station that lasts beyond the presonality of a few of the original founders.

"Monk is a ghost and in many ways, many people"

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The benefit show went great! Several hundred people showed up and the Fox Theater asked us to come back and do another show in two months!

Thanks to the folks fo Boulder for all your support!

To all you pirates... this is a great way raise money for your cause! If you have a local music venue, get some of the local musicians that you've been supporting by playing their music and doing live shows on air to play a benefit show for your station. Feed them and give them a keg back stag (make sure the foods good. You should be able to get a local restaurant to two to donate some kick ass food, we did). If you have it, your local micro brewery's a candidate for donating a keg (again, we found one.. Twisted Pine.. great guys..excellent beer).

Print up tshirts to sell in the lobby. And if you have the ability, copys of CD's from recordings of on air broadcasts from bands that have played in your studio... or shows of your more 'out there' DJ's who are fun to listen to.

Put a donation jar in the lobby too.

We charged $10 per ticket. The venue (The Fox here) get's a percentage, and you get the rest. It's usually negotiable so work out your best deal with them. Remember, what you're doing is completely legal. There is nothing anyone can do to stop you here. We've talked to our lawyer on this, you and all your supporters (the venue, the food and drink folks, etc.) are all doing something completly on the up and up.

This builds alot of buzz around your station and makes you one very cool operation. It also builds alot of community support.. something that's going to be very handy when the FCC finally does knock on your door.

It's also a good idea to get your local newspaper plugged in and on your side. Ours (the Daily Camera, as well as the weeklys.. if you have them) did stories on us up until the night of the show, and then was at the show covering the bands and the scene. More positive buzz. More positive community support.
Boulder Free Radio: Radio So Good, It's Illegal

"Monk is a ghost and in many ways, many people"

Thursday, January 22, 2004


So tonight we find out if Boulder really suports KBFR. If the benefit is a success and we end up actually making enough money to operate the station for awhile.. well.. damn.. we'll just have to keep doing it!

If not, well, that tells us alot. We'll know in the next few hours.
Boulder Free Radio: Radio So Good, It's Illegal

"Monk is a ghost and in many ways, many people"

Saturday, January 17, 2004

The Story of the Dread Pirate Roberts.

There is a story that teaches us a lesson about how a single persona can be a multitude of people and a useful way to run a pirate radio station.

The Dread Pirate Roberts was a feared pirate of the seas off of England in the 1700's sailing a ship called the Black Beauty. Pirate Roberts would raid rich ships owned by the royalty and government of England off the coast of the island. During this time, the Pirate Roberts would choose a apprentice, although the apprentice didn't know he'd been chosen. The Pirate Roberts would teach this person all there was to know about sailing the Black Beauty, and all the secrets of the pirate operation. Where the best places to hide treasure where. Who could be trusted, who to avoid. All the knowledge needed to lead the crew of free spirits.

Every few years, after becoming rich raiding the ships of the rich and powerful, the Black Beauty would dock in London and take on an entirely new crew and the Dread Pirate Roberts would leave with the crew, retiring happy and wealthy. The new crew would be chosen by the apprentice trained by the Dread Pirate Roberts. And, he would take the name Pirate Roberts and the new crew would believe, since he now had the ship and knew all there was to know about it's history and all it's secrets, that he really was the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Over time, the name of the Dread Pirate Roberts became so powerful that a ship approached by the Black Beauty would simply empty of people on lifeboats, without a fight, leaving the booty to the Black Beauty's crew. And on it went, for over a century. The legend of the Dread Pirate Roberts lived long after the first Pirate Roberts was long dead.
Boulder Free Radio: Radio So Good, It's Illegal

"Monk is a ghost and in many ways, many people"
Back on the air.

48 Hours after being visited by the FCC and our compliance in shutting down, KBFR is back on the air.

Special thanks to Sargent Socket for coordinating the teardown and setup almost flawlessly. And to Lash and Friends for finding a new home for our main transmitter (the van, of course, is always operational, you never know where we'll be actually located when we're broadcasting).

KBFR is owned by BURG (The Boulder Underground Radio Group). A group of extremely diverse but in more ways than you would think like minded people who believe in free speech and freedom of the airwaves.

Boulder Free Radio: Radio So Good, It's Illegal

"Monk is a ghost and in many ways, many people"

Thursday, January 15, 2004

BUSTED by the FCC- What happened on 2.13.04

At about 8:30pm (yes, they do work nights- so operating just nights and weekends is no protection: you might as well go 24/7 if you're going on at all), FCC Agents knocked on the door of a house where KBFR had put an STL (Studio Transmitter Link). This STL was fed by a DSL modem we'd hidden in the garage. None of us lived there. It was a renter who had no knowledge of the STL operations (although we hear they acted like us and told the agents to get off the property). They had been told by the owner of the house that it was a ham radio rebroadcaster. This is the same story we gave the owner as well. In exchange, we paid him for his monthly cable modem as 'rent' for the STL space (and we accessed is cable modem to provide the 'ham radio feed').

The FCC then posed as the renters and called the station. On one line (cellphone) they called as the FCC saying they were busting the STL. On the OTHER line (internal DSL line) they called and posed as the renters saying 'Monk' (using my old roommates name, which, of course no one at the studio's ever even heard of)should come quick cause the FCC was there!


The renters of that house have no idea we even exist, let alone having the private number. Nice move FCC- you gave yourself away instantly by trying to 'lure' us in using a number no one but a few of us have and a name no one's ever heard of. To you other pirates: This goes to show you that the FCC is capable of attempted subtrafuge, but not very good at it.

Interestingly, they appear to think one of the owners of this house the STL was at is me. Several years ago, I was the roommate of this fellow. When I was busted the first time by the FCC, it was at his house. Although pissed off (he forced me to unplug it and move out) we are (or rather: were, until this happened) still friends. I met the other owner of the house (his partner) at a party we all three were at. The location of this fellow's house (high on a hill in the middle of Boulder) was ideal for an STL so I asked the fellow (not my original room mate) if we could put a ham radio rebroadcaster in his back yard in exchange for paying for his cable modem as rent. He agreed. He then moved, but bought the house next door as an investment (along with my old roommate). He then SOLD his house, so we asked him if we could just move it next door and continue paying for his cable modem where he moved to. He said sure (I don't think he even much thought about it. Mostly it was a free cable modem to him).

The fellow they think is me (my old roommate) lives in another state now (somewhere in the midwest I think) and moved a month or two before we put the STL at the rental property. I'm sure he's going be good and pissed on this one, but that's the price of free speech. I do thank the FCC for thinking I'm so good that I could run a pirate radio station from 1000 miles away. THAT would be impressive.

We managed to get all the equipment pulled out the next day and are working on getting it set up at another site now.

We've also got several lawyers alerted (in Boulder and S.F.) in the event anything weird happens. Unfortunately, the FCC forces us to do this (use innocent folks as unknowing fronts) to keep our operations going year after year.

This would be SO much easier if the FCC just did the right thing and licensed LPFM, you know? What a waste of time and effort on everyone's part.

This is an interesting lesson as well. HAVE YOUR LEGAL SUPPORT READY. There is almost sure to be a lawyer in your town who has a belief in free speech and is willing to back you pro-bono - i.e. no cost) as our lawyers are. It's a little like having mace in your purse. You hope, if you're attacked by some big thug on the street you have it, but you pray you never have to use it. But make damn sure you can if you have to.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Down we go. Stay tuned (pun intended).

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Here's an email I wrote to a fellow from a local conservative think tank. He wanted to do an article on KBFR so I wrote up a fairly detailed response. I included the entire email thread just for good measure.

Date: Thu, 1 Jan 2004 07:57:15 -0800
To: Jon Caldara
Subject: RE: [KBFR] kbfr article

I can appreciate where you're coming from.

Maybe I can answer some of your questions about what KBFR is about in this

We work out of many environments. We have storage space we rent to keep
equipment in. Sometimes we'll work out of a garage somewhere when we have a
live band (or we'll pull the van up to a band practice studio and stream it
live). Primarily it's a van, though (it's a fully outfitted as a radio
station.. you'd be amazed at what you can fit into a van and how little it can
cost compared to a regular station). If you park a van with 150 watt
transmitter on the side of a mountain (think of it as a 2000 foot tower) you'd
be surprised at how far you can reach and how clear the signal can be. We've
identified all the best locations around Boulder (we use TopoMap software to
get the best locations pinpointed, then we find friendly listeners willing
to 'host' an antenna and power source for us.. more on that later in this

We use pro level equipment from a company out of England. One of our two dozen
DJ's is a professional RF engineer and EE. We're very careful to be good radio
citizens and to have a clean non splattering signal. We use low cost
compression equipment and software to get a good sound and are almost
exclusively MP3 based (you can fit about 100,000 songs onto a 300GB Hard
drive.. which is about the size of our library). We do play CD's as well and
have a dual CD player. We tried supporting albums (with turntables) but found
most of what we wanted we could get in MP3 form, so that's mostly what we go

We have internet access via wifi (802.11b or g) connections that we tap into
around town. Boulder is a very wired city with a lot of hot spots we've been
invited to use by our listeners so we can be almost anywhere and have good high
speed internet access (which is how we stream live).

We also have antenna's scattered around town in tree's, in buildings, on roofs,
and we park the van next to these spots and plug in. Again, local
listeners 'donate' this space (often along with a power source we can plug into
so we don't have to have the van running and burning gas). The Van also has a
mobile antenna that allows us to do it from anywhere, but a larger 5/8th wave
or 1/4 wave antenna well placed gives us better range and sound.

We're not overly political as a group (although some of the DJ's are very
political). We range from far left to far right. We only really have three
rules: no one under 18, no drugs and no guns. That last one was for our
libertarian members. You'd also be surprised if you meet some of us. As an
example, one of our members is a dreadlocked 20 something with a well developed
taste for herb, but a registered republican who owns his own business. Our
DJ's age's range from 18 to into our 50's.

Interestingly, we're not looking for revolution. We're looking for public
access to the airwaves. Currently, radio is almost unlistenable. Our Clear
Channel friends have made it into McRadio. No diversity. The same songs over
and over. Pure commercialism (which we don't condemn, but hell, you've GOT to
balance that with local content, music and views.. something sourly missing
from our airwaves today). We are not, as a group, democrats, republicans,
libertarians or anarchists. We are tolerant of all points of view.

Our view is radio spectrum is a rare and limited resource that's been sold off
to corporate America and NPR (an evil institution, at least in my opinion).
Low Power FM (LPFM), which is what we really are, was cut off at the knee's by
NPR and the NAB in 2000 using lies and fear. I had started the process of
getting a license and had ordered the equipment when NPR and the NAB bought a
couple off senators, faked up a CD to scare congress and got the LPFM rules the
FCC had put into place in 1999 to enable LPFM changed to make it impossible to
have a station in any urban area with humans around. For more detailed info,
see the Boulder Weekly story at:

More links on our website at

I had a choice then, sell the transmitter on ebay or say screw it and put it
up. I put it up. We've been visited by the FCC several times. Interestingly,
we aren't actually doing anything 'illegal'. We are breaking FCC rules, but
it's not something that has a federal enforcement agency with powers to arrest
behind it. The FCC must get a federal or local police officer to enforce a
court order obtained by the FCC through a local or federal judge. FCC agents
have no power to arrest. Each time we're visited we simply move the van (often
we'll leave it in one place for days or even weeks at a time). That resets the
legal process of getting a warrant to seize our equipment (they use an arcane
law now to get a warrant for the equipment, not a person-a maritime law used to
seize pirate ships in the 1800's). The FCC process is: first a warning, then,
get a warrant and take the gear. If you keep moving, each contact is a 'new'
contact and get's only a warning. To date it's worked well.

Several local attorney's have also volunteered their time pro bono to advise us
and, if necessary, defend us (hopefully, as long as we keep on the move, that
won't be necessary). I believe we actually have a better legal team and
resources than the FCC itself right now (they have two lawyers in DC that deal
with radio related legal issues, we've got more than that here on our side in
Boulder, and yet more in other parts of the country waiting to help if needed).

It's time for this. We NEED locally focused radio that creates a platform for
local points of view, local music and local events information.

Our long term goal is to be the nexus of a national network of underground Low
Power FM stations we're calling the Real Public Radio network (RPR). If we can
create a network of 1000 stations over the next 10 years, we become a defacto
entity that has to be dealt with. No intent to be grandious here, but it's not
unlike the USA at it's inception (as I'm sure you're well aware of: the US
was 'illegal' in the eyes of England for some time.. when it became a real
economic force in the world, the existing power structure had no choice but to
recognize it's legal status as a country.. what we're doing is something
similar- our force won't be economic as much as a voice with influence in the
local community). All we really want is to see Low Power FM made fully
legitimate and available in urban areas and opened up so thousands of small
stations can spring up in towns and cities across America, creating a local
voice for the citizens of this country. A platform for local voices of all
types. Something I believe is part of what America is all about.

We believe we can create this RPR network using the internet as our
distribution system similar to how radio networks use satellites today. Each
station can take a 'stream' of content when no one's in the studio, or pick and
choose shows or local music from other parts of the country recorded and
uploaded to a central server or set of distributed servers. I suppose this is
why NPR, specifically, seems so set against LPFM. We could do what they do for
a fraction of the cost and do REAL public radio. Local and relevent to the
listeners. NPR stations nationawide are centralizing as you read this.
Colorado's NPR is all centralized in Denver and all towns in the state hear the
same programming. Nothing local, it's all regional now.

KBFR comes from Boulder Free Radio (BFR) and I put the K on it for the hell of
it when I started. No reason other than that. One guy in a basement messing
around who got pissed off when they changed the rules mid stream and
said 'enough is enough.. let's do something about this'.

in terms of funding, I bought the original equipment (a basic station costs
about $5000 for everything) and, as the group formed (we call it 'BURG'..
Boulder Underground Radio Group) we decided to be self funding. By keeping our
costs low it takes about $25-30 a month per DJ to keep it all going (prepaid
cell phone for a studio line, storage space rent, etc). We're often offered
money by listeners, but we always ask them to, instead, donate to the other
real local radio stations in town (KGNU- a true local/public radio station) and
1190AM (the college station).

We are planning a benefit concert in Jan. Several of the local bands that have
played on air at KBFR have agreed to do the show (they get exposure and air
play.. in exchange) to raise money. Our first benefit concert. People who
come to the show get great music and an opportunity to buy a copy of our CD
(music from the bands that have been on KBFR) or a T-shirt. We don't solicite
donations in any form though. We always give you something for your money
that's solid and of specific value. We do no on air 'please give us money'
campaigns. Our view is, if we take money from non BURG members, we give up a
little of our freedom to do what we do on air. So we always give something in
exchange for money (a t shirt, a CD, a concert).

If this benefit concert goes well, we hope to raise enough money to either fund
the station for several months (up to a year) OR to fund equipment purchases to
start another station in Colorado.

Part of what we're doing is trying to model what an underground station looks
like, how it's run, how it's funded and how it can be replicated by local
groups across the country. Once we get a reasonable and workable model figured
out, and we're getting close, we'll publish it as a how to book (free to
download or for sale in paper form to help raise money).

I hope that answers some of your questions. If you'd still like to talk, I can
give you a call.

Boulder Free Radio

Quoting Jon Caldara :

> I understand your paranoia.
> I run the Independence Institute, a free market think tank, write the
> column for the camera, and work for your enemy, KOA, where I have a late
> night talk show.
> I have been hearing about KBFR from word of mouth, so I tuned it in.
> Great programming. When I heard Monty Python, I knew I should write
> something about it. I am not looking to get you busted, don't worry.
> But before I can write anything I need to chat with you, or someone.
> Can we have a phone call? Need to do it soon, or else I will have to
> write about something else.
> Do you really work out of a van or is that just an image? How do you
> get your signal so clear? Why do you try to run it legit? Why do you
> have call letters?
> -----Original Message-----
> From: []
> Sent: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 4:17 PM
> To: Jon Caldara
> Subject: Re: [KBFR] kbfr article
> Matt replied and told me you're an independent columnist, so we're cool
> with
> who you are.
> We're a bit paranoid, in case you hadn't guessed. Having a federal
> agency
> trying to shut you down for years on end can make you that way.
> No tax money supports us. We're completely self supporting (we add up
> expenses
> every month, divid that number by the number of DJ's and everyone put's
> that
> amount, usually around $30, into the pot). We pay for storage space,
> gas for
> the van, internet access, prepaid studio line cellphone, etc. with that
> money.
> Did a google search on your phone number and got some interesting hits.
> You
> seem involved in quite a few out of the mainstream things. Tell me a
> little
> more about what you do.
> I ask because the last FCC visit we had to our location (we weren't
> there, but
> a friend of the station was) left us with the impression (they said so)
> that
> there was a 'sting' operation in the works to try and catch us. So..
> again,
> we're more than a little paranoid.. hope you understand and don't mind
> us
> vetting you a bit before we talk.
> Monk
> -------
> Quoting Jon Caldara :
> > I just do a column for them.
> >
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From:
> > To:
> > Cc: ;
> > Sent: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 10:04 AM
> > Subject: Re: [KBFR] kbfr article
> >
> >
> > > Jon,
> > >
> > > Why aren't you sending mail from the daily camera domain?
> > >
> > > Matt, do you know Jon? Does he work for the Camera?
> > >
> > > Monk
> > > ---------
> > >
> > > Quoting
> > >
> > > > er...sorry about that, jon. no offence intended, we just have to
> be
> > soooo
> > > > careful...
> > > >
> > > > -sapphire
> > > >
> > > >
> > > > Quoting
> > > >
> > > > > hmm... OK.
> > > > >
> > > > > Well, what DO you think? Good or bad?
> > > > >
> > > > > I've found with editorial folks that they, mostly, already have
> their
> > > > minds
> > > > >
> > > > > made up.
> > > > >
> > > > > In past lives, I've dealt quite a bit with the press and been
> pretty
> > badly
> > > >
> > > > > misquoted and misrepresented (by small publications and the big
> guys,
> > > > like
> > > > > the
> > > > > Washington Post) so I have a VERY jaded view about the whole
> thing.
> > > > >
> > > > > And, we've found, the more press we get, the more heat it tends
> to
> > bring
> > > > down
> > > > >
> > > > > on us.
> > > > >
> > > > > However, if Matt's going to do a story, and we decided we'd
> support
> > that,
> > > > I
> > > > > see
> > > > > no reason, as long as it's coordinated with Matt, for you to do
> an
> > opinion
> > > >
> > > > > piece. If you've already made up your mind, however, I'd prefer
> just
> > to
> > > > let
> > > > >
> > > > > you do your thing without talking at all. If you really don't
> have a
> > > > fully
> > > > >
> > > > > formed opinion yet, we can talk.
> > > > >
> > > > > Let me know
> > > > >
> > > > > Monk
> > > > > Boulder Free Radio
> > > > >
> > > > > Quoting Jon Caldara :
> > > > >
> > > > > > I have know idea what you are talking about. I write for the
> > editorial
> > > > > > page. Had no idea someone else was looking at kbfr. They can
> only
> > > > > report.
> > > > > > I can give an opinion on it being good or bad. I would still
> like
> > to
> > > > > chat
> > > > > > with someone. 303-279-6536
> > > > > >
> > > > > > Thanks
> > > > > >
> > > > > > Jon
> > > > > > ----- Original Message -----
> > > > > > From:
> > > > > > To: ; "Jon Caldara"
> > > > > > Sent: Tuesday, December 30, 2003 4:13 PM
> > > > > > Subject: Re: [KBFR] kbfr article
> > > > > >
> > > > > >
> > > > > > > Jon,
> > > > > > >
> > > > > > > Your music editor, Matt, has already contacted us (and
> talked to
> > your
> > > > > > editor on
> > > > > > > it).
> > > > > > >
> > > > > > > You might want to coordinate with him first.
> > > > > > >
> > > > > > > Monk
> > > > > > >
> > > > > > > Quoting Jon Caldara :
> > > > > > >
> > > > > > > > Hi,
> > > > > > > >
> > > > > > > > Jon Caldara here. I have been enjoying your radio
> station. I
> > am
> > > > > > thinking
> > > > > > > > about writing a column on it for the Camera and need to
> chat
> > with
> > > > > > whoever
> > > > > > > > runs it. Please call me at 303-279-6536.
> > > > > > > >
> > > > > > > > Jon