Pump Up The Volume

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I am going to leave the Over The Road series here briefly to cover another portion of my Life in the Age of Oil,  which in many respects has much more to do with the Doomstead Diner than my years driving OTR does.

In fact, this period of  my life began very early, around the age of  6 years old in Rio de Janeiro on Rua Joachim Nabuco right off of Ipanema Beach.  That was where I lived from the age of 5 to 9 years old while my Dad (the Pigman) who worked as a Vice President for Chase Manhattan Bank (predecessor before numerous Mergers & Acquisitions since to become JP Morgan Chase, the Bank currently headed up by Jamie Dimon and still of course primarily owned by the Rockefellers) was acquiring small Brazilian Banks for Chase and also making innumerable Bad Loans to the rest of South America.

Rua Jaochim Nabuco

Living also on Rua Jaochim Nabuco was a boy named Randy, the son of a fellow who was working for the United Nations as a Fisherie Expert. I’m going to be vague here about these names but if you read through the references later in this article you probably  can figure out who I am talking about. The names are in the Newz in the Public Record.

In fact it is pretty likely Randy’s Dad was really working for the CIA, not the UN and I think in those days practically EVERYBODY who lived on Rua Jaochim Nabuco was either a Rockefeller Bankster Apparatchik,  FSofA Military, State Department Diplomat, or UN/CIA.  From my POV at the time, the Military Brats and State Department kids had it best, they had access to “PX Priviledges”.  This meant they could get hold of things like Cheerios otherwise unavailable in the Brazil of the Era.

 ALL of the children of these folks went to the same  School, “Escola Americana”, run under the auspices of the United Nations. Randy was 3 years older than I was, but we became friends riding on the same bus to school.  He was Legally Blind, which impacted tremendously on his life in many ways.  One of them was that he became very interested in the Music of the era. At Escola Americana,  he actually got his first”DJ”position over the Loudspeaker system of the school in his Middle School years,after I had left Brazil. Before I left though, we spent many days playing the records of the 1960s era Folksingers like Phil Ochs and early Rockers like  the  Beatles and the  Rolling Stones in his apartment.  Randy also had an old style Reel-to-Reel tape deck to edit music and sound effects and record us.  In those days to edit you physically cut and spliced the tape.  No digital computers and software to do the job for you..  He barely could see, but whether he was Splicing Tape or Soldering Circuit Boards,  Randi would work with the stuff right up to his NOSE, and he was very meticulous. His Gadgets always worked,although he took hours and days often to complete the work.

I lost touch with Randy for a couple of years after that when my parents divorced and I moved back to live in NY Shity, eventually ending up in a McMansion in Flushing, Queens of NY Shity my Mom got as part of the Divorce settlement. That was the House I lived in until I went off to the dormitories of  Columbia University.  By a sort of Coinkidink though, Randy’s UN/CIA Dad  got transferred to NY Shity and bought another Queens McMansion no more than Mile from the one I was esconsed in.  It was an easy Bike Ride away for an 11 year old by that time.  Randy was then around 14, and was not adjusting well to Public HS in NY Shity.  He eventually dropped out.

How Randy spent his time after Dropping out of NY Shity HS was in working in his CIA Dad’s Basement building a Pirate Radio Station. I cannot possibly detail all the battles he had with both his parents over these years, but in the end he mainly won them. He got to the point of setting up a Radio Tower in the backyard, and “WQLB” was born!  Later to be renamed Stereo 9, then later an “RNI” afffiliate.  It operated at the bottom end of the FM Frequency Band at 88.9 Mhz. Power was such it covered most of Queens when switched on.

By the time Randy got his station Operational, I was around 13 years old.  On weekends, I would go over his house, and late at night we would switch  on the Transmitter and begin to Broadcast Illegally far as the FCC was concerned.  The image you see of the Audio Board in the Pump Up the Volume video is the spitting image of the Audio Board we used at the time. Professional Analog Mixing Boards of this type in that period ran into the thousands of dollars, Randy put his together from Radio Shack parts for less than $100 I think.  He was really a fucking GENIUS with this stuff.

 My On Air Alias during this period was “Stony Stevenson”, and I did a regular 3 hour show on Saturday Nights from Midnight to 3AM.  Played Folky Protest Songs from Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan and lambasted the Nixon Administration of the era.   I did that as a 13 Year Old Boy!  My voice had already broken and was pretty close to what it is now, very basso profundo.  You really could not know from listening I was just 13.   I had a nice Fan Club too. Sadly, never got laid by any Groupies, but ego got massaged nicely on air over the Phone Calls we took.  Amazing thing in that era was we could actually take said Phone Calls, and the FCC Nincompoops were so dumb and disorganized they could not find us right off the bat.

Anyhow, we were not the ONLY Pirate Radio Station operating in NY Shity at the time, a bigger one was being operated by a fellow Allan and his friend Joseph Paul in Yonkers.  We eventually got together and became loosely “affiliated” in a Pirate Radio “Network”.  There were many battles though though this period and falling outs between the priniciples.    I fell out of this group  once I went off to Columbia, a couple of years earlier than normal at the age of 16.  Skipped a couple of years through the system of education over the years.

Radio New York International Offshore Broacasting Ship

Allan in particular did not stop his Obsession with Pirate Radio and Free Speech though, and neither did Randy.  Allan went so far as to buy a WRECK  of a cargo ship he named the “Sarah” sitting in a dock in the Boston Harbor.  He bought this ship for I think it was $500.  It was a good 100′ at the waterline I am pretty sure.  Nothing on it worked. The guy who sold it to him I think did it just to get the Docking Fees off his books.  He never thought the thing would sail again.  Allan fixed EVERYTHING, including the fucking engines.  He was an even BIGGER Electronics and Mechanical Wizard than Randy was.  He also put up a tower on it to broadcast from, and finally did get the thing Off Shore of Long Island to Broadcast.  The FCC of course did shut him down in short order though.

Radio North Sea International Offshore Broadcasting Ship

This whole deal was modelled after a similar Pirate Radio adventure undertaken over in Eurotrashland which persisted a bit longer, Radio North Sea International.  In the end though, “Pirate Radio”, which was the effort by a few mostly pretty young  individuals to take back control over the Conduit of the airwaves without going through Goobermint Channels was pretty well squashed out by the late 1980s.

Here is a short history from one of the principals in the Radio New York Internation Offshore Pirate Radio  adventure:

1987 was a strange year for Brooklyn pirate radio station WHOT. The FCC had paid us a visit in November of 1985 (we didn’t let them in), and we never heard another peep from them. The threat seemed like a distant memory due to the lack of any further noise from our friends at the Commission. At the same time, WHOT was exploding. Listenership kept growing in leaps and bounds, and each show seemed like it was more fun than the last one. We had really honed the “WHOT Sound” – a little bit of everything for everyone. Music, talk, comedy, jingles, reverb and punchy, killer audio. It was infectious to everyone involved – both for us AND the listeners.Spring was around the corner when we were first approached by Allan Weiner with a proposal. Allan had operated several New England-based pirates in the 70s and 80s, and Hank and Jim had known him for many years.  He was about to embark on a project of epic proportions called Radio NewYork International – “RNI” for short, as a tribute to the old Radio Northsea International.“RNI” would be the first U.S. attempt to broadcast in the same manner as the legendary European pirates: on a ship, off the coast, in international waters – out of the reach of the FCC. Allan felt that the heart of RNI’s staff should be made up of current pirate operators, and he wanted us to be a big part of it. After giving the project much thought, we decided to do it – if for no other reason, for the adventure. Allan worked towards smoothing over the “pirate disagreements” of the previous year and managed to get most of the New York area pirates on board.The idea sounded crazy, but it also sounded like it could be great. Allan secured an old Japanese fishing trawler to house RNI and turned it into “The Radioship Sarah”, installing transmitters on AM, FM, short wave and even long wave. I wondered if he could actually pull it off…he certainly seemed serious about it.RNI’s eventual goal was to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a variety of programming. The core of the staff would be “the WHOT Good Guys” along with other pirates – Randi Steele (who had been running Stereo Nine FM as “Ed Armstrong”) was named Operations Manager and eventually others like Johnny Lightning of WJPL, along with a non-defined cadre of spurious pirate folk that  came and went throughout the project.Also along for the project was Ivan Jefferies, a WHOT listener who had recently started doing some guest appearances on the air with us, bringing his twisted syntax and genuine good humor to the shows, as well as lending his classic radio expertise to various “special segments”.As RNI neared completion, Hank and I put our lives on hold and traveled up to Boston to help, where The Sarah was being readied for its journey. The studio and transmitters were now in working order, but the ship itself needed a LOT of readying and sprucing up. We spent a large chunk of the early summer sanding, stripping, sweeping and painting. Meanwhile, Jim was in Brooklyn keeping WHOT on the air. Coming into June, the air was thick with anticipation as we closed on the target day to set sail for the waters off Long Island (where RNI would make its home). At night, Hank and I would lay out on the deck and wonder…how will people react? Will the news media cover it? Will people even listen to it?I had never worked so hard on something that wasn’t an actual “job” in my life. As the sail date neared, Hank went back to Brooklyn to take care of some of his personal stuff AND help Jim give WHOT a proper “sign off”. I had already decided to take the summer off and be a bum, so I stayed in Boston to work on the ship with Allan. Those days were rough. I remember hauling two-ton anchor chain in the hot July sun and thinking, “boy, I’m dying…I hope this is gonna be worth it…”.Hank returned to Boston on July 18th with Jim, Ivan and a few other friends that were expected to participate in RNI once it was on the air. That weekend, The Sarah played host to a who’s-who of the New York and New England pirate radio scene, and a party atmosphere permeated the ship’s studio and transmitter room as everyone looked around in amazement…sitting behind the board, fiddling with the knobs and getting themselves familiar with the setup.  It was really gonna happen, and everyone was excited! We even shot some video to record the historic moment.On the overcast morning of July 20, 1987, Allan, Hank, Ivan and I left the ‘dirty water’ of Boston’s Charles River and set sail for the waters off the coast of New York City. It was time for RNI to turn the world (and all our lives) upside down. The Sarah had no working engines to sail on it’s own power, so it had to be towed out by this huge towing ship called The Munzer. When we reached the desired destination, we dropped the world’s biggest (10,000 pound) anchor and that ridiculously big anchor chain, and the Munzer was gone, headed back to Boston. We had reached the point of no return!Allan had secured a small Liberty Launch boat to be used as a shuttle / supply boat for going back and forth from The Sarah to shore. Hank and I jumped on it and returned to Brooklyn to prepare for whatever sort of press reaction RNI would get once the broadcasts started. At the start, each broadcast would be six hours – from 6PM to Midnight – carried simultaneously on FOUR frequencies: 1620 AM, 103.1 FM, 6240 SW as well as an experimental transmission on Long Wave. Allan fired up all the transmitters on the night of July 23rd and played some announcer-free music, just to see if everything was still in working order. RNI’s first ACTUAL test transmission took place the night of July 24th, featuring Allan and Ivan. Hank and I sat on the stoop of his house with a GE Superadio and our hearts skipped a beat when the dead carrier was broken at 6PM ET by an RNI promo followed by “Come Sail Away” by Styx. RNI was actually on the air! The media reaction was immediate and tremendous – WAY more than I had expected from just the first night of broadcasting!The following days were spent entertaining members of the press, who came out in droves. The nights were spent broadcasting. Randi and Ivan did a special midday show for the benefit of the assembled media on the 25th, and Allan and Ivan did another six-hour “test” program that evening. On the third day (July 26th) the FCC finally decided to show up. It was mid-afternoon when the Coast Guard pulled up next to The Sarah with several FCC agents in tow. They boarded the ship, looked around, handed some legal papers to Allan and left – but not before promising they’d be back. Since the ship WAS in international waters, we truly felt we were not breaking any laws. To make this point, RNI kept on broadcasting that very evening, with another 6PM test show from Randi Steele and a post-midnight show from Ivan.While this was all going on, WHOT was still broadcasting (around RNI’s shows) so we could say a proper “farewell” to the HOT listeners. We assumed the launch of RNI would mean the end for all land-based pirates for an unforeseen amount of time, so we wanted to say goodbye in a way fitting of The HOT One – loudly, over three nights. We told the listeners to “watch the news, read the papers – we’ll be back”. Both the print and broadcast media were already covering RNI at saturation level, so we knew the listeners would connect the dots and make the connection eventually.Hank and Jim hit the RNI airwaves with another six-hour test show the evening of July 27th (the plan was to continue with the 6PM to Midnight schedule until launching full 24-hour broadcasts on August 1). As luck would have it, this was at the moment that the press coverage was reaching it’s height. Everyone was running around trying to take it all in, while at the same time worrying about what the FCC’s next move would be. I was busy working the phones like a madman and preparing to do MY first show, which was scheduled for the next evening on the 28th.Instead, July 28, 1987 would become a day that would live in underground radio infamy…

Allan went on to buy a small Radio Station with a License from the FCC in Maine.  I don’t know what happenned to him after that.  I also lost touch with Randy many years ago, last I heard he had moved up to around Bethel, NY near the old Woodstock Festival site.  I had no participation in Pirate Radio after around 1978 or so.  I missed being Arrested on the Sarah with Randy and Allan and Joseph Paul, although I did have the chance to go out with them, which sadly I turned down. Hadda be the experience of a Lifetime. My life had gone in another direction by then though.

When the film Pump Up the Volume came out,  it was Jaw  Dropping for me.  So much of that story came from what we did in the 70s it was incredible.  I am pretty sure whoever wrote that had contact with Allan and Joseph Paul at least, if not Randy also.

Pirate Radio had many similarities to today’s Blogosphere, though it was even more “edgy” since much of it was explicitly Illegal, at least under administrative laws.  In fact, the FCC rarely successfully prosecuted any Pirates, and the smaller ones generally had such sparse listenership it wasn’t worth the expense to try to track them down.  Certainly the dramatization in the film Pump Up the Volume is Hollywood Fiction, but it was a fun movie nonetheless, especially for anyone who was involved in Pirate Radio of the era.

Pirates were fighting very much the same battle against Corporate Control of the Media then that Bloggers fight against the MSM now.  At the time, Clear Channel Communications was busy buying up every Radio Station in the country with the same packaged Playlists and syndicated Jocks like Casey Casem and Talk  Show Hosts like Don Imus.  Alternative music only made it onto some College Stations and the Pirates.  Far as Newz Commenters on the radio in any way deviating from the Konsumerist Message, they became nonexistent and are so to this day.

The internet has changed this dynamic again, with the Podcasts, the Livestreams, the You Tube Channels and of course the Blogosphere.  We do have a chance here again to get the Message Out.  I am glad here as I near the end of my years walking the Earth to do once again what I did in my youth so many years ago now in a short career as a Pirate Radio Disk Jockey and Talk Show Host.  I once again have the chance to….



Knarf plays the Doomer Blues


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