By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The difference at Kill Radio is intent. Its ratings are small -- anywhere from five to 200 hits per show, approximately 15,000 a week -- but ultimately, ratings aren‘t the point. This is, for better or worse, an anti-profit collective -- with a mission. ”We intend to promote the proliferation of radio in whatever form is necessary in order to challenge the corporate domination of our airwaves,“ says its mission statement. ”It is our goal to further the self-determination of people underrepresented in media production and content, and to illuminate and analyze local and global issues that impact ecosystems, communities and individuals.“ That it’s using the Internet is almost incidental -- it‘s just the cheapest and most accessible medium available. And, as Chris Burnett points out, ”You don’t have to worry about the FCC. It‘s a space for us to experiment and play with, and have a potentially large audience.“
Exactly how large an audience is debatable. ”You could get a bullhorn on a sidewalk and reach more people,“ argues Jay Babcock, an occasional L.A. Weekly contributor and an ex--KBLT DJ who does not have a show on Kill Radio. ”If you have a young, dedicated, energized, idealistic group of people, then go start a pirate radio station. You reach more people in one night of pirate radio -- and it’s much more exciting -- than in three years of broadcasting to two pals on the Internet.“
That‘s exactly what a 21-year-old hacker from Santa Cruz did. On March 8, DJ Monkey Man launched the superpopular Pirate Cat Radio (87.9 FM), which he runs out of his bedroom in Hollywood. ”When I moved to L.A. in January, I expected to see the best in television and hear the best in radio,“ he says. ”But it’s all pointless crap -- we don‘t get to see anything real.“ Monkey Man plays everything from roots reggae to Bach, and even aired all 12 episodes of the BBC radio drama The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. ”No one‘s willing to take a risk. I do my show to add more diversity.“
Pirate Cat Radio isn’t the first such station to kick up a little dust in L.A. It‘s just been a while. KBLT, the now-legendary punk rock pirate station that hit the airwaves Thanksgiving night in 1995, managed to stay on the air for three years. Susan Carpenter -- who until now has used the pseudonym Paige Jarred on air and in print -- started the station because she found L.A. barren territory for music lovers, with too few outlets for DJ experimentation. She chose her Silver Lake apartment because it was on a hillside (”a slope, really“) and for the giant walk-in closet that later morphed into the radio room. ”Eventually, I had a lot of the old-guard L.A. punk establishment as regular DJs: Bob Forrest of Thelonious Monster, Don Bolles of the Germs, Keith Morris of Black Flag and Circle Jerks, and Mike Watt of the Minutemen.“ In its heyday, the microstation named after a sandwich had 98 DJs and was a requisite stop for touring bands: the Jesus and Mary Chain, Judah Bauer from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all played live out of the KBLT closet. ”Keith Morris always said there were phenomenal acoustics in my bathroom,“ she says.
Carpenter is pleased that many of her DJs have found a place to continue their shows. ”Kill Radio is aligned, spiritually, with KBLT,“ she says. ”But I don’t think the Internet is the same -- it‘s not as populist a medium.“ Greg Bishop, who hosted Hungry Ghost on KBLT, adds that Kill Radio is ”a close second in feeling, but a distant second in the way it’s run.“ He feels the clandestine nature of the pirate station drew the DJs closer together. ”It felt like people were more into each other‘s shows, and the family was closer. Maybe because we thought we’d be hauled off to jail any second,“ he says.
In 1998, the FCC‘s ”Operation Gangplank“ shut down more than 500 pirate stations around the country. On October 29, KBLT ”just went out -- I think Kerry Chaos was on the air,“ says Carpenter. The next day, the station went dark for good.
It is Saturday night at the Troubadour, March 31, and Kill Radio is in the throes of a benefit concert that’s taken two months to organize. Local punkpop band the Start is jamming: ”Rise up, and don‘t let them think for you,“ the lead singer snarls into her mike. The place is packed, with 500-some people milling about. Most have come for the lineup -- which also includes Bluebird, De Facto, and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- unaware that Kill Radio exists. There’s a table up against the back wall of the bar piled with fliers, stickers promoting ”the cure for corporate radio“ and a donation box. ”I think there‘s a general sense of urgency among anyone who might feel threatened by the fact that all their news and media input is controlled by the exact same corporation that provides their toilet paper,“ DJ Michele Knapp yells over the music. But the storm of noise drowns out any opportunity to connect with passers-by, and the collective’s black banner, opposite the stage, fades into the dim background.
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