Requiem for a Pirate

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Published on The Doomstead Diner October 8, 2017

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I got the news this week that an old friend, Randy Ripley had died last month, at the age of 63.  Pretty much the oldest friend I had, since we knew each other from childhood in Brasil.  I wrote about Randi a few years ago in my article Pump Up the Volume.  It was an article about the Pirate Radio years of the 1970s when I was a small part of that scene.  Randy ran a small Pirate out of his parent's basement in Flushing, Queens where we both ended up living after spending the 1960s in Brasil.  We were friends from about the time I was 6 years old and Randy was 9 and stayed friends until about the time I left NY Shity to go out OTR as a Trucker.  At that time, I lost contact with just about everyone I had been friends with. I was in my middle 30s at the time.

Even before that though, Randy and I drifted apart, as our lives took different paths quite early on.  I was a top student through Junior High when we spent the most time together and I went on to one of the NY Shity specialized high schools for Science & Math, Stuyvesant.  Randy couldn't manage HS for any number of reasons, and he dropped out in his Junior year.  When he did, he went full on into Pirate Radio, and built his WQLB Radio Station basically from scratch from Radio Shack parts and Army surplus equipment.  It was housed in the basement of his parent's house in Flushing.  During this time, I would usually only see Randy once a week or so, when I would come over to play some chess, watch some TV and then we would go On the Air late at night on WQLB, reaching out a few miles in northern Queens and into a bit of Long Island. My On Air handle in those years was Stony Stevenson (taken from the Kurt Vonnegut novel Between Time & Timbuktu). He didn't have much of an antenna then, later though he got a tower and the reach was further.  We could make Manhattan if it was pointed the right way.

The reasons Randy couldn't hack high school were many.  First off, he was Legally Blind.  He could read, just he had to have a book right up on his nose to be able to do it.  Same when we watched TV together, he would sit up very close to the TV screen to be able to make out what was going on.  What was truly amazing about him though on this level was his ability to do fine work with electronics and audio tape of the era.  He was very meticulous and would work up close to do all the soldering and splicing of tape to make his audio productions, which is what kept him bizzy after dropping out of HS.  If it was just his blindness, Randy could have made it through HS, and probably gone on to an engineering degree with no problem.  But that wasn't his only issue.

Besides being legally blind, Randy was also a homosexual and a hippie and he had no friends in the Queens HS where he ended up, Bayside HS.  He was very anti-establishment and wasn't interested at all in the material they were dishing out there for him to learn.  So he dropped out and retreated to his parent's basement, much to their consternation.  In those years, before Pirate Radio really became his thing and he got WQLB running, I was pretty much his only friend AFAIK.

Battles with his parents were endless, besides being unhappy with him dropping out of skule, they were Christian Fundys and he was totally anti-religion.  He also was running an illegal Radio Station, which certainly would have got them in trouble if he was ever caught (which he never was in those years, the FCC was quite incompetent).  His sexual orientation which at the time he identified as Gay also gave them fits.  After a few years he decided he wasn't actually Gay, but in fact Transgender.  This is well before all this stuff became fashionable, it was not Mainstream at all.  He wanted THE OPERATION to become a She.  In the end, Randi won this battle with them, and I believe they ended up footing the bill for the surgery.

When I went on to college, my visits with Randy became much more sporadic, maybe once a month I would drop in to visit with him at the new place his parents moved to, also in Flushing.  Main reason for the move was he & they couldn't get along in the same living space but they couldn't make a complete break at that time, he wasn't self-sufficient enough.  So they moved into a townhouse type home with 3 apartments, and he had the top floor.  A short time after they moved in there he got the operation and He became a She, now spelled Randi instead of Randy.  She had upscaled her Pirate Station quite a bit, and the apartment also sported a nice living room with a big couch and big color TV (for the era).  It had a kick ass stereo system in the living room with the speakers wired into his Studio, which was one of the two bedrooms of the apartment.  He also generally had on hand a good size stash of Ganja to smoke, and at the time I was a Weed Smoker.  So when I visited with my mom in our Flushing house every so often, riding the #7 Flushing train from Times Square at one end of the line to Main Street at the other end after taking the #1 train down from Columbia, I would buy a 6-Pack of Heineken (my Beer of choice in those years) and walk on over to his house, about 4 blocks away.  Sometimes we would do a Radio Show, other times just watch TV and smoke dope.  On my shows, Randi would do all the engineering and I would just talk.  I never really learned to do all the engineering tasks for running a good radio show by myself.  That's where my Ranting in Audio here on the Diner was born though.  I was in my early teens when I started doing that.

Randi is in the Center, 3rd from the right

After college, our lives drifted further apart and Randi got ever deeper into the world of Pirate Radio as he hooked up with the Yonkers crowd and Allan Weiner, another self-taught genius.  Allan bought a bought a big rusting hulk of a vessel moored in Boston Harbor he named the Sarah, fixed up the diesel engines to make it seaworthy again and fitted it out with a transmitter and studio to broadcast from offshore.  The crew of Pirates all went out on that boat and broadcast as RNI, Radio New York International toward the coast of Long Island.  They lasted about a week as I recall before they were shut down and arrested by the FCC.  I had the opportunity to go on that adventure, but I didn't take it.  I am sorry for that to this day.

I completely lost touch with Randi over 20 years ago, although I got periodic reports from my mother who was friends with his mother, so I knew she kept on with the Pirate Radio and moved from Flushing to Woodstock.  What I only learned in the last week with the news of her death is that many of this crew of Pirates remained in touch with each other for all these years in between, and continued with careers in radio of one sort or another, both legal and illegal.  I find that amazing because I have no friends going back that far in my life.

Randi's life was an odd one, and she certainly did not fit into the society she was born into.  She did have one legit job that I know of, she worked as a producer on the Alex Bennett show on WPLJ early on when I was still in my teens.  I went into Manhattan a few times with her to sit in the control room, and met Phil Ochs not long before he commited suicide.  There was another person who didn't fit well into our society.

Otherwise though, Randi mostly lived off SSI Benefits she got as a result of being Legally Blind, and then after her parents died I am sure she inherited a tidy sum of money from her father, who had a successful career as a drector in the fisheries department of the UN, but was almost certainly really CIA.  So if she did hold any paying Radio gigs later on it wasn't because she had to work, just because she wanted to do Radio.

Pirate Radio holds a lot of meaning in terms of freedom, and the efforts made back in the 70s by the hippies and the malcontents around at the time were worthy efforts, but of course in the end doomed to failure.  Like folks in the Environmental Movement, they got to open the door a crack, but then it got shut in their faces and for the next 40 years since they have been just spinning their wheels in the frustrating attempt to get something besides Corporate Propaganda up On the Air.  For the last few years we have seen the door open a crack again with the advent of the Internet, Blogs, Podcasts and YouTube channels.  That also will shut soon enough, either through Goobermint repression or through economic collapse, it's a race to see which one kills it first.  In the longer term, it's also too energy intensive and complex a medium to continue onward in the post-collapse world.  For a while once the Internet Goes Dark after SHTF Day, Radio may make a Comeback as a communication medium, over the Shortwave transmitters of HAM operators.  Just have to see how that one goes.

Randi never participated much on the Internet, her eyesight precluded that in the early years of mainly text and I suspect she never became comfortable with the medium to switch into Podcasting.  So at 63 years old, she finished her life the way she lived it, as a Pirate Radio freak.  63 is not that old, but not that young either, so she had more or less an average lifespan, a little on the low side these days if you go in to the medical industry grind, which she chose not to do.  Nothing wrong at all with that choice.  I myself am immersed in it, and it positively sucks.

Did Randi have much Happiness through her life?  Not really I don't think but she did find something she had a passion for and pursued it for her life walking the earth, and there is a lot to be said for that also.  I am sure now that she has crossed the Eternal Divide into the Great Beyond, she is setting up a new Pirate Station to broadcast from there.  Tune in at 91.9 on your FM Dial after midnite and perhaps you will catch her show.

You can listen more about the life of Randall Ripley in this Podcast from another old friend of his/hers:

You can read more memories HERE from another friend.

 

 

One Response to Requiem for a Pirate

  • vwclown says:

    I used to have Sirius Radio on every morning and would hear Randi call in to the Alex Bennett and Lynn Samuels shows.  She was a trip and I came to look forward to her input during the G. Dubya era.  Lynn, as an old timey hippie/lefty, was vehemntly against B.O. early on in his campaign and I think Randi was dubious as well.  The hosts would both have lengthy conversations with her and it was entertaining radio.  It's nice to know that Randi was a friend of yours.  Thanks for posting this.  -vwclown 

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