Thursday, August 26, 2004

Well, here we are, a couple of weeks into the reset of KBFR. We've pared down the number of DJ's from 45 to right around 20. I've got a set of folks as my captains council that are doing a great job of helping pull it all together. And several key folks who are stepping up and taking a very active role in the jobs needed to be done to keep the station going.

But I remain slightly skeptical. Not that I don't believe everyone is committed and pumped up about the restart. It's more of a can it be sustained. These are good people, every one of them. Some of them are truly great people. But I've found that sustaining something like KBFR, over time, can be draining.

I'm not really sure why it is that I keep this going as i do. I'm pretty sure I could just turn over enough equipment to keep it going to these folks and walk away from it and it would keep going.

The hard parts been done. We've gotten it started, learned that the FCC's been bought off by big money/big corporate interests and are not carrying on the public trust in the airwaves as they were chartered to do, forcing us to commit an act of civil disobedience just to put a simple community radio station on the air. We've learned that people really really want this kind of radio. We know that the local music community (which is rich and amazingly talented here in Boulder) desperately want something like KBFR.. We've learned the technical ins and outs of keeping a mobile/fixed/mobile system running and one step ahead- we use low cost computers to run the station, internet access to keep everyone reasonably safe and in plausible deniability and it works. We've learned our legal rights and we've recruited legal support from the local community (we have more lawyers ready to help us than the FCC has working on radio, or so we're told). We've figured out how to support ourselves through collecting dues from our members, having regular benefit shows and doing KBFR presents shows and by selling T-shirts and CD's and other chaka's. And we’ve learned you can be too small to make it work, OR, too big.

And we think we can replicate it. We're helping anyone who asks with information on how to do all this.

The original idea of creating a network of underground stations that rivals NPR or even Clear Channel (1000 stations all over the country) is what keeps me involved, when I think about it. KBFR is the model, the test bed, the place where we see if this is real or just a dream.

I started this thing 4 years ago. And through a lot of hard work, from many people, it’s grown and prospered. And it's clear that's it's not a dream, it's real. And it's also clear that it's just the beginning.

Radio is one of the most intimate of media's. There's something very personal about hearing the voice of a DJ over those speakers in your car, your office, your home, your bedroom. When we listen to radio, we're inviting it into a very private space each of us lives in. It's emotional and viseral. And it's extremely powerful.

Most importantly, radio is the most democratic of media's. It can be used by anyone. It's extremely inexpensive (the cost of a radio is, literally, the cost of a meal at a fast food joint now). You can even be illiterate and still use it to get news, listen to music and stay connected to your world.

A massively distributed network of low powered, community oriented and supported radio stations that exists alongside the commercial world of McRadio is where we need to go. The only way to really do that is to keep plugging away at creating a national network/coalition of underground and low power station.

I used to think this was just pirate radio, but I now think it’s the ‘class’ of low power/community oriented and (generally) non commercial stations that should be concentrated on. Low Power FM (LPFM), College stations and underground stations. Together.

There’s a separate group of folks called the RPR Network here in town that’s working to make this happen. They are not related to KBFR other than being supportive of us being here (and we them). They want to create a system where any non commercial radio station can be a member and they’ll collect original content and music from all the various member stations for redistribution to all the other member stations. They’re creating a sort of national database of audio content with an overlay of intellectual property protection and sharing of programming that’s reminiscent of the open software movement in the computer world. Very good stuff.

I think we’ll work to do what we can to help them, and see where that leads.

In the meantime, the tiny little world of KBFR is reborn, yet again, and we keep movin onward. Old folks who started with us and new folks bringing in new energy and ideas.

I have a rule about whatever I do: if it’s not at fun why do it? When the ‘fun quotient’ falls below 51%, you’ve got to ask yourself: is this worth doing? The couple of months of KBFR saw my fun quotient drop WAY below that 51% number. But it’s back up now. It feels good again and everyone involved seems to really be pulling together to make it a family again.

So, another chapter. It’s kind of like this mutating entity that has the same name (KBFR) but keeps changing, dying and being reborn in slightly (sometimes radically) different iterations. One thing it isn’t: boring. And damned if I’m not having fun again.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Update on KBFR going's on.

As some of our regular listeners may have guessed, the station has been down a week now, and I’ve giving KBFR a lot of thought.

We shut down on Friday, August 6th, locking the van up and wiping the schedule clean. No DJ’s, no shows, just airing a play list created and running on our DJ Computer.

The reasons for this were varied, from an extreme overuse of profanity by our DJ’s (who than claimed it was free speech and if people didn’t like it they could just turn the dial) and a general disrespect for the station itself to several of our captains (the folks who do much of the work to keep things going) quitting in frustration and disgust at the lack of support on the part of many of the DJ’s. We just got too big. 45 DJ’s in and out of the van all week long having a revolving party can be fun, but it leaves one hell of a mess to clean up and it’s not really giving back to the community we profess to serve.

The question I had to answer was: Is this worth it in it's current form? Should I shut it down or should I restart it?

After a lot of reflection and talking to many people (including getting feedback from many of our loyal listeners) I believe hitting restart is the way to go. Restart means just that though. We're going to start from scratch. A core group of us (a Captain's Council) will, over a period of months, reconstitute KBFR from scratch. We'll be inviting back many of the existing folks that were with KBFR before and understand what Free Radio is about, and we'll be bringing in new folks.

Our goal is to fashion a more community aware station that's primary purpose is to build a platform that creates a real voice for the local community. A group of people that takes it's responsibility to it's listeners seriously and works at producing programming that's interesting, informative, entertaining and relevant.

We'll be focusing on playing new and underplayed artists, local artists and uncommonly heard popular artist’s music. And we'll focus on well known genres of music as well as little and unknown genre's, opening peoples ears, and hopefully their minds, to new sounds and new ways of thinking about the world those sounds can bring.

We'll also focus on creating original programming on wide range of subjects, tapping the rich resources of interesting people that live in Boulder. This will happen by talking to and creating shows about people, their ideas and their activities. From university professors at CU and the Thursday Night Cruisers (a 'gang' of 300+ folks who ride their bikes around Boulder once a week in the summer in a moving party) and interviews with local hot spots, music venues, bars and restaurant owners and their patrons to the alternative health community, the traditional and non traditional spiritual, political and environmental movements and the rich group of individuals and organizations based in Boulder that have something interesting to say.

We'll also focus on reporting local news and producing local opinion pieces on things that effect our community. From reporting on the city council meeting going's on and how they manage Boulder's resources and activities at the University of Colorado to the deep, rich music, art's and literature community's ongoing shows, displays and releases of new creative works.

And we’ll produce our own shows about a range of subjects from politics to sex, comedy to the seemingly nonsensical, and we expect some interesting DJ personalities to emerge who do shows that are just plain fun to listen to, for no other reason than they are just plain fun to listen to.

We’ll continue to have bands and artists in the studio to perform live in our Studio Free venue, helping them to get their music heard, and we’ll continue to produce regular CD’s from these Studio Free sessions.

We’ll also continue holding regular benefit shows geared to raising money for improvements for our operation and equipment and to help others expand the Free Radio movement.

In addition, we’ll be helping in the promotion of events all year long with our ‘KBFR Presents’ efforts (from an upcoming ‘all girl bands’ show at Trilogy in September to a comedy show sometime in the next few months). We’ll work with local venues and local promoters to bring great music and great entertainment to the local Boulder scene.

KBFR has been having fun and in it's own self centered way, but it's time we, as a group, really think about what we're doing as a whole and how we're going to use KBFR in ways that enrich the local community. We want to bring local news, views opinion, culture, knowledge, music and arts to the community using the incredibly powerful medium of Low Power FM and Underground Radio.

And we’ll continue to have fun, and, hopefully, provide something fun and interesting for you to listen to. We know that radio is one of the most intimate of media’s, where you invite someone into your home, your car, your bedroom, and you listen, connecting with a voice that’s from the ether, but seems very close.

And lastly, in case this all sounds oh so idealistic, we will never take ourselves too seriously. Because, in the end, if it’s not fun, why do it?

If you’re interested in helping, I’d love to hear from you.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Well, it's been an interesting few days.

On Friday, it became apparent that KBFR had sort of spun out of control (if control is the right word).

So I shut it down. Fired everyone, cleared the schedule, locked up the van. Just a playlist off of a computer running until I decide, is KBFR something worth continuing.

What the hell happened?

Glad you asked: We had DJ's saying fuck (and cunt, motherfucker, shit, cocksucker, nigger, faggot, etc. etc. you get the idea) at a rate of 200 times an hour, PER DJ (with 4 DJ's). It was getting so bad I was getting daily emails from long time listeners asking what happened to the station they loved? It had gotten to the point where people simply couldn't listen to it unless they were alone. No WAY would they try at work or at home with kids around.

We asked folks to moderate, and got a strange response: Hey man, this is FREE SPEECH, you can't tell us not to say fuck!

Well, we didn't. We asked for moderation. Use profanity in context. Like: That fucking idiot george bush killed 5 more kids in Iraq today. Vs: Did you see that fucking faggot fucking standing on the fucking mall looking like a fucking asshole cunt and fucking licking the pole? Fuck man, fucking pitiful. Someone should fucking give that fuck some fucking money.

I am, sadly, not overstating this.

This became a big issue, mostly around free speech, which we wholeheartidly support. Somehow, gratuitous use of profanity morphed into free speech along the way and we became the potty mouthed bad boys of radio. Howard Stern would cringe listening to some of the crap we were putting on air.

Then, to top it off, several of the DJ's started dissing the station, on air, and it's leadership (the folks that do all the work to keep it running). When asked to moderate THAT, they did even more of it.

Sadly, it was done with good intent, and truly horrible execution. Sapphire, our most active and hard working pirate, quit on Thursday because of this disrespect of the station. Her view was if these guys didn't respect the station and wanted to complain about it on air, it was time to move on. No hard feelings.

The problem is, she was putting in 20 hours a week holding it all together. Of the 6 people we consider our Captain's Council, 3 had quit (including Sapphire) in the last month.

Something's very wrong in KBFR land.

So, time to hit reset. End it in it's current form. No station. No shows. Nothing. Not even sure, today, if it'll come back up. I'm going to take this week to think about it and decide if this is really worth doing.

When you ask reasonably for someone to moderate something that's pissing off your listeners (causing them to complain) and you tell your listeners calling in to fuck off and change the dial if they don't like it, you've got to wonder if these folks really need to have a voice on air.

And when you tell them it can bring the FCC down on you even quicker and they ignore it, and when you tell them the FCC has YOUR name (me) and what they do is tattoo'd, personally, on your butt for the FCC to go after, and they ignore it, you gotta wonder: Is this shit worth it?

Right now, no. We'll see how it feels in a few days.