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Is Anybody Listening? 

The beautiful chaos of Kill Radio

Wednesday, May 9 2001
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The first time Lisa Ferguson broadcast live on Kill Radio, she froze.

”Are we on the air?“ she asked Greg Bishop, who had just wrapped his own show, Radio Mysterioso.

”Yes.“

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”Can I say anything I want?“ she pressed.

”Yes,“ he replied. ”You can say ’kill the president‘ if you want.“

Ferguson leaned forward, tentatively gripped the mike, then, shaking her black-and-cobalt hair, spat out, ”Killthepresident killthepresident killthepresident!“

”I dedicated my first show to what a punk-ass coward piece of shit Clinton was for not pardoning Native American activist Leonard Peltier,“ she says. ”All the songs had themes of ’what a loser you are.‘“

”HOT CHEAP SEXY TALK.“ Atop the Davidian Building, at the intersection of Sunset, Hollywood, Hillhurst and Virgil, looms an enormous hot-pink billboard advertising Star 98.7 FM. Danny Bonaduce smirks as Jamie White, lips curled around a cigar, dangles her cleavage before all of Los Angeles. Just below the billboard is a dusty little square window -- in a row of identical dusty little square windows -- behind which a collective of renegade DJs meet weekly to hammer out exactly the opposite of cheap talk: decidedly noncommercial, totally uncensored, live Internet radio. They call themselves Kill Radio.

Though the building is old (Ed Wood had a space here back in the ’50s), the radio room, a stuffy office directly above the Good Luck Bar, appears to have had a face-lift in the 1970s: prefab wood paneling, stained taupe carpet, two sagging plum-velvet armchairs. ”The boss needs us. We don‘t need the boss,“ declares a poster hanging by the door. A black-and-white sign from the North American Anarchist Convention is displayed prominently beside it. And up against the glass pane overlooking the knot of streets below are a makeshift computer console, mixing board and microphone. This setup, however crude, operates as a fully functioning radio station -- but instead of a transmitter on the roof, a DSL line connects it to the World Wide Web, where it broadcasts through the night, seven nights a week.

”I’d like to dedicate this music to my family,“ Matt DeMello purrs in a late-night FM voice, the kind you‘d catch in the wee hours of the morning during a cross-country road trip. ”And Amy, listen in, this is for you.“ DeMello, a native of Hawaii who once attempted the pro-surfer circuit, is as laid-back as his name, and so is his show -- a flow of John Coltrane, Roberta Flack, hip-hop, jazz and blues. Gil Scott-Heron is crooning the lyrics to ”Lady Day and John Coltrane“ when the signal spits, sputters and breaks up. Then the connection goes down . . .

When it comes back up, Chris Wicke is ranting. ”My car broke down, and so I’ve been taking the bus. Which is a good thing. But the public-transportation system in this city is pathetic. It sucks. I waited an hour, at 10:30 at night, for the bus, while the pigs in Beverly Hills were driving around in their SUVs. Fuckin‘ pigs, fuckin’ Beverly Hills, fuckin‘ SUVs . . . Here’s a little R.E.M., and My Bloody Valentine.“ This is d-Central Station, a show Wicke hosts with his fiancee, Ann Sorrells. ”Next week, we‘ll have the Bus Riders Union as guest DJs, and a contest: Who can remember the last time they saw an actual video on MTV?“

It is a nonmarketable chaos that orders Kill Radio. At www.killradio.org, you’re as likely to find Quinn Russell, a 25-year-old feminist-anarchist-activist-vegan, reading, monotonously, out of a book on evolutionary theory, as Kimo Arbas (who goes by ”Mr. K984“), a Lithuanian national who claims to have painted the first hip-hop graffiti mural in his country, playing hyped-up death metal by an underground local band, or Greg Bishop, editor of Wake Up Down There!: The Excluded Middle Collection (essays on UFOs, the paranormal, psychedelia and conspiracies), conducting an in-studio interview with a friend recounting his experiences with Tijuana hookers. And sometimes, due to technological difficulties, just dead air. The music is as often political or multicultural (blackScottishbagpipe blues: ”Amazing,“ says DJ and co-founder Chris Burnett) as it is refreshingly devoid of agenda, as on Hassan Jamal‘s straight-ahead jazz show. The DJs define themselves as a collective, but the only quality that unites them is the lack of a common mindset.

Lisa Ferguson, a petite, ethereal-looking woman with luminous brown eyes and short, spiky hair, says it was Timothy Leary who inadvertently led her to Kill Radio. Leary was like a godfather to her while she was growing up on the LSD-research commune he founded with Richard Alpert in upstate New York. But in her 20s, she fled her hippie roots and bopped from one L.A. punk rock band to the next. She reunited with Leary after she heard he had cancer, and was among the friends and family at his Coldwater Canyon bedside as he died. As a last request, Leary told her to organize the children. ”He sent me on a mission to find the other children from our ’60s revolutionary heritage, whose parents were hippies, Black Panthers, etc., who were lost,“ she says. His last words to her: ”Tune back in.“

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