The Face of Pirate Cat Radio 

Screwing the Airwaves Since 1997


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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.”

Whether that is in fact true or not — the FCC disputes his interpretation — Roberts estimates that he will have Pirate Cat Radio up and running again in Santa Cruz within two months. And, he says, L.A.’s Troma Entertainment wants to pick up his feed through the Internet and rebroadcast it in L.A. But today, February 15, the station will nonchalantly slip off the air sometime between 4 and 6 p.m. Roberts says he has no specific plans for a grand finale. “I’ll probably play “Goodbye, Goodbye” by Oingo Boingo and “We’ll Meet Again,” the last song on the Dr. Strangelove soundtrack. I’m sure I’ll say something live, too, but it’ll be completely random — just like everything else.”

The phones start ringing again, all of them at once, but for the moment Roberts has had enough; instead, he leads me up onto the roof, to see the 20-foot antenna (held up by the handle of a swimming pool net) and a panoramic view of Hollywood. On a clear day, he tells me, you can see as far south as Long Beach. I wonder if he’s really going to simply shut the station down and drive off. “Yup,” he says, kicking aside a tangle of cable wires. “I’m gonna flip the power supply, the computer goes off, and then into my car . . .”

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Before he leaves, however, he’s going to first have to deal with — or more likely ignore — one last legal problem. Under the wiper on his U-Haul truck is a parking ticket.

—Deborah Vankin

APPRECIATION: Songs of the Monkey Man

“Crapulence!” That was Monkey Man’s favorite interjection if he cued the wrong record or otherwise messed up on the air. But it was also his succinct way of describing the kind of predictably bland corporate music you could tune into just about everywhere except Pirate Cat Radio. The Monkey Man, who I’ve been listening to almost constantly until he went off the air last week, preferred to keep things simple and instinctive, spinning only what he and his fleeting moods liked. That included everything from the Velvet Underground, Dead Kennedys and the Specials to Naked Aggression, Nerf Herder and Sparks.

Since Pirate Cat’s very existence was a deliberate fuck-you to the FCC — a perfect test of whether or not there really is free expression, and genuine access to the airwaves, in this country — the Monkey Man insisted on heavy-rotating the Diesel Queens’ probably offensive “Man Boy Love,” Killer Pussy’s “Teenage Enema Nurse” and anti-redneck rants from comedian Bill Hicks, stuff you don’t often hear even on college radio. And since no one else dared, the Monkey Man took great delight in gratuitously and cathartically swearing at every opportunity, just like some folks do in real life.

For all his infantile and admittedly silly rebellion, the Monkey Man came across as a sincere fan of radical, populist rock & roll, in all of its ongoing mutations. He was certainly on a more adventurous and open-minded musical quest than condescending classic-rock DJs stuck in a narrow, all-white ’70s-rock time warp. And the Monkey Man wasn’t narcoleptically dull like so many monotone-mumbling, aw-shucks-humble anti-pro college-radio slackers. With his canned sound effects and pseudo-grave between-song admonishments (“If you like a lot of commercials, then you’ve tuned to the wrong radio station!”), the Monkey Man was as charismatic and exuberantly over-the-top as the old KHJ DJs, only hornier and more impatient.

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