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|Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov|
DJ Monkey Man, who has been running Pirate Cat Radio (FM 87.9) out of his bedroom for the past year, is packing it all in — and up. With just a few hours left before he pulls the plug, Monkey Man is already loading boxes into a U-Haul truck parked in front of Marlon Manor, an enormous beige stucco apartment complex on a quiet residential side street in Hollywood. For someone who has been “screwing the airwaves since 1997” — setting up radio stations in backyard sheds, parking garages, hotel rooms and cars — and who is evidently in love with the word fuck (“Fuck the FCC, fuck them!”), Monkey Man is somewhat of a surprise: He’s a slight, articulate, suburban-looking kid barely over the legal drinking age, wearing an oversized Johnny Rotten T-shirt and black-rimmed eyeglasses held together with duct tape. And his real name, he reveals, is Daniel Roberts.
Since last March, Roberts has been broadcasting around the clock to indie radio fans within a 20-mile radius of his 30-watt transmitter — from Silver Lake to as far west as the 405 — everything from punk rock to classical music to all 12 episodes of the BBC radio drama The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now, he’s moving to Santa Cruz to live with his girlfriend. And so far only one of his friends, fans and fellow DJs has shown up to help him move. “It’s depressing,” he says.
Inside, Adam Ant’s “King of the Wild Frontier” is blasting onto the airwaves, and the house phone, which is also the number announced on-air, rings every five minutes. Ikea-like furniture has been pushed into the center of the living room, boxes and beat-up suitcases are everywhere. It feels like a well-off college senior’s last day on campus: candles burned down to their bases, dried flowers in empty wine bottles, framed movie posters, a lava lamp, a guitar leaning against one wall, volleyball and scuba equipment against another. Wally, a beefy club promoter who is also a DJ at the station, wraps dishes in newspaper while Roberts buzzes energetically between rooms, tossing random items — board games, old Converse All-Stars — into open crates, answering questions and holding a cordless phone to one ear and his cell phone to the other.
“Hey, Andre. Yeah, the transmitter . . . Oh, hi, Mom, how are you? (rolls eyes) . . . Andre, you still there? Hang on a sec . . . I’m okay, Mom, just packing everything up . . . Andre? Like 300 bucks for that . . .”
All the while he takes long drags off a cigarette and crouches down periodically to mark boxes PICTURES or DISHESwith a thick black marker.
At one point, Roberts tells me, he had $5,000 worth of equipment — four computers, two CD players, a tape deck, two record players, and a CD jukebox — in the bedroom. But now, only the transmitter, mixing board and mic remain, alongside a lone PC that basically runs 87.9 by itself, with pre-recorded station identification breaks. “I’m hardly ever around,” he says. “I work full time.”
Originally from the Bay Area, Roberts came south for a Web-design job at Disney (“literally a Mickey Mouse company,” he says, “so disorganized!”) and got Pirate Cat Radio going immediately. “When I first moved to L.A., I expected to see the best in television and hear the best in radio. But it’s all pointless crap. We don’t get to see anything real. No one’s willing to take a risk. I do my show to add more diversity — so it’s not just Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit.” It caught on fast, capturing as many as 600 to 1,000 listeners per hour. (Arbitron, he says, calculates that each caller equals approximately 100 listeners.) “I was surprised by how many people started listening. People â call in all the time and say, ‘L.A. radio sucks, there’s nothing like this out there, it’s the only thing worth listening to . . . ,’ and I totally agree.”
“Tell her about the girl,” Wally chimes in from the kitchen. “The one who wanted to hear the Smiths all the time.”
“Oh, a week ago, some girl called in and said she was gonna commit suicide since I was going off the air.”
The Stubborn All-Stars are playing when another friend arrives to help move the heavier furniture. Jason, ruddy-complexioned with bright orange hair, discovered Pirate Cat Radio while valet parking at the Standard. “I’d mess with the radio, and I heard him. It was the best!” he says. “I’d program it into everyone’s dial — 87.9 . . . 87.9 . . . 87.9 — especially the rental cars.”
In April, the FCC caught up with Roberts and served him with a “notice of unlicensed operations.” He wasn’t completely surprised: “They were the same two people from up north I’d met before,” he says. “They were like, ‘You again?!’” But Pirate Cat Radio stayed on the air. “I moved my transmitter to this guy’s mansion up in the Hollywood Hills — he was a listener, he’d called in. And I didn’t sign the papers. My lawyers gave them the runaround. And then this war happened.” Roberts claims that technically, his pirate radio station has been legal since September 11 due to a clause in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations: “title 47, section 73.3542. If the President says we’re at war, if you’re in the process of applying for a license, it’s legal to broadcast. The FCC would like to say I’m illegal, but if you talk to any lawyer, I’m legal.”