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Jeff Cain: Radio Active

Photo by Jack Gould

Silver Lake artist Jeff Cain may just revolutionize radio. He’s figured out a new way to use public air space: For the price of a $100 transmitter, anyone can be a broadcaster. No drawn-out FCC hearings. And it’s all legal. “The problem with huge corporate media is that it’s outlived its usefulness,” says Cain, who’s studying for his MFA at CalArts and eventually wants to teach. “It starts to exist for its investors.”

He discovered that the FCC permits anyone to transmit a radio signal at one milliamp of power, which travels about one-quarter of a mile. He’s recruiting volunteers to put up transmitters all over town (www.rhzradio.net). The more volunteers, the more geographical coverage. Each station owner may then decide individually to broadcast a show that would be downloaded by all the owners simultaneously from the Internet.

“Is broadcast media only popular because it’s easy? If we had smaller media, would we even want it?” wonders Cain, who took his ruminations public when he debuted his radio concept as the centerpiece of a politically oriented group of projects called “Rebel, Rebel” at the New China Town Barber Shop recently. He plans to spend two months on the project, and hopes volunteers will take over afterward. “The only thing that will limit growth are individuals’ willingness to participate.”

Cain, who grew up in what he calls a “ruberb” (a rural suburb) of Kansas City, spent five years as a “plumber for the arts” — freelance fabricating for other artists. Now a technical consultant at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, he also works in video, sound, installation and set design. His work often contains a sophisticated technical dimension. Last year, in collaboration with three artists from CalArts, he connected a video projector and speakers to a VLF (very low frequency) receiver and put together a video installation based on a live feed from the Earth’s magnetosphere.

“Broadcast,” notes Cain, “is just the ability to say something louder than other people.”