Sometimes, just sometimes, placing rare records, cassettes and live performance audio along with writing interesting articles relevant to that particular post on Kill Your Pet Puppy can be a bit of a chore! Not on this post though…
All the work on this post has been done by various kindly souls to give this particular Penguin a rest. Gerard conducted, recorded and digitalised the interview with our Lord and Master Tony D which was then gently placed on my lap via a kindly email. Gerard also wrote the text to go with his part of this post. Someone else unknown to me took the photograph of Tony D and Gerard on the Brighton seafront.
Crumblestiltskin Gee AKA Dave Also then used snippets of the Gerard / Tony D chat on his radio broadcast on KAOS Radio Austin mixed in with lots of decent period music some of which might have been taken from this blog you are reading now. This radio broadcast may be listened to here;
After this show was broadcast I was asked if I wanted to place it onto KYPP. I told him no problem and “perhaps he could write some background on the radio station just to fill up the post a tad”. While Crumblestiltskin Gee was sourcing information to go along with this KYPP post another radio broadcast, this time dedicated to All The Madmen Records was aired.
Another radio broadcast came spewing forth a week or so later after I went to witness The Mob perform in a police station in Bristol (I kid you not).
A few days ago I received what I had originally asked Crumblestiltskin Gee for “perhaps he could write some background on the radio station just to fill up the post a tad”.
To my amazement Crumblestiltskin Gee not only sent me all the radio broadcasts he has been involved with and which would be relevant to this KYPP blog, including a broadcast all the way back in February 2013 which I was not aware of – ELUDING THE LENGTHENED SHADOW: No Doves Fly Here He also wrote reams on the history of free radio in the U.S.A along with reams of information on the current radio station he is involved with. KAOS Radio Austin.
Along with sending texts on the history and the workings of KAOS Radio Austin we have photographs, Youtube videos and interviews with some of the other KAOS Radio Austin DJ’s and other general agitators involved in the radio station!
Crumblestiltskin Gee even done the layout for his part, meaning with just a little effort on my side I could basically cut and paste the whole thing onto this post!
Not really a lot for me to do really save bolt all the bits together and write this introduction.
Massive thanks to Gerard and to Crumblestiltskin Gee for all the effort placed into making this KYPP post wonderful.
More details of what bands appear and who is interviewed on the Crumblestiltskin Gee’s radio broadcasts mentioned above may be read at the foot of this KYPP post along with the relevant links to those radio broadcasts.
Though this text is written in a heatwave, it’s easy to forget that spring got cancelled this year, replaced by a winter that went on forever and seemed like it was never going to stop. Even when the Wicked Witch died, Narnia continued.
It was, then, a relief to see the sun making it’s first appearance of the year as I waited on Brighton station for the appearance of Tony Drayton – the man behind the fanzines Kill Your Pet Puppy and previously Ripped & Torn.
I’d just finished a series of spoken word commentaries with Chas, the bassist from Flowers in the Dustbin, going through all our songs, and been pleased with the results. Now my idea was simple enough – I wanted to interview a series of people who were something to do with Flowers in the Dustbin, however tangentially and had an interesting tale to tell. Then I was going to put them all on the FITD website as some kind of weird FITD radio type series.
Why? Well, I guess what I wanted to get to the heart of is what we (punks) all think about stuff these days – how do we reflect on the politics and the attitudes of our youth, particularly in the context of middle-age and all that brings with it.
How the culture has grown up (or perhaps if).
So first up was Tony, now strolling through the ticket barrier with the usual friendly smile and mischievous intent. We decamp to the Prince George pub in Trafalgar Street for food and beer. It’s still morning. And we’re not eighteen any more.
The plan is to walk back to my flat and do the interview there. Which is a shame because by the time we hit the second pub (the Barley Mow in Kemptown), the interview has been prematurely born and Tony is pouring out anecdotes that are keeping the bar staff transfixed as well as yours truly. Like recalling a squat night sat squeezed between Boy George and “Mad Donna” and wondering if that was actually the girl who became Madonna… probably not but stranger things have happened and punk did (as I believe someone once pointed out) live in the strangest places.
A trip to the off license and we finally get back to the flat. By now the interview has a life of it’s own, and all my big questions on the profundity of post-punk maturity get delayed as we sink into some (I hope…) fascinating reminiscences regarding, in order:
End of Ripped & Torn / Start of Kill Your Pet Puppy / Vermillion / City Lights / San Francisco
2.30 Tony D goes to Europe (Paris, Belgium)
3.54 Sid Vicious In Paris / Paris Rockers
6.12 The Marmite Onion: Hating Sid Vicious / Loving John Beverley
8.50 Who made the Pistols? McLaren vs Rotten
11.00 Swindled by history – the shop – Roxy rocker horror hippie hangover
14.00 If passion ends in fashion… It means nothing to me
18.30 From safety pins to mohicans
20.45 Leather jackets – second skin – oh alright then
22.15 Long mac brigade – freaks – dead mens suits
24.00 First wave to second wave – is punk dead?
25.30 Lurkers – Boys – 999
28.50 Lurkers better than than Pistols. Seriously!
30.00 Sex Pistols – posers!
32.00 Pistols @ Screen On The Green
36.00 The Ants! Man in the Moon
50.00 Things have changed… squatting
55.00 Punk as a movement
Crass – A bit like Uk Subs and then my mind exploded / Anarcho punk movement
10.30 Anarka-darker – how black can you get?
12.00 Pacifism as masochism as surrender
14.24 From R&T to KYPP
16.35 I missed some tricks – other magazines that made it
Going overground – Sandy Robertson – Jeremy Gluck
Let the tribes separate
DIY – good or bad
The absolute manipulation of our lives
Lilly Allen and Tony’s tummy & piracy & bootlegging
Festivals are the future
Virtual meet ups n- diary of a badman – the way the net unites
Gerard ex Flowers In The Dustbin
A FORESHORTENED HISTORY OF PIRATE RADIO IN AUSTIN, TEXAS
Illustration by Crumblestiltskin Gee
The Roaring 60’s- We Love The Pirates
THE AFTERMATH OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS: WHAT TESLA, EDISON, & THE RADIO HOBBYISTS COULD NOT FORESEE
In 1907, an angry United State Navy began complaining to the press about the use of wireless radio transmission by amateurs that resulted in the disruption of Naval communications. At this stage in history, there was no problem with anybody experimenting with radio broadcast as a hobby. As the issues began to escalate, however, President William Howard Taft introduced the “Act to Regulate Radio Communication” in 1912. Under the new law, people could still experiment with radio broadcast but they were assigned their own frequency spectrum that was overseen by a federal agency called the Federal Radio Commission, which was later replaced by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC was responsible for assigning frequencies to would-be radio stations and ensuring that acceptable content was broadcast on the air.
It was in 1924, a New York radio station called WHN was accused of being an “outlaw station” by American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) for violating trade licenses because the station was selling airtime to companies other than AT&T. Although, AT&T won the case, the provisions were never officially enforced by the government as public opinion steered toward the radio station. This experience led some stations to set up shop outside of American borders so that they could advertise whatever they wanted without being tied down to these regulations. “Border blaster” XERF from Mexico was one of these radio stations that had all English broadcasting without being tied down by the fetters of licensing agreements dictated by the US Government. Other radio stations, such as RXKR, preferred to use offshore broadcasting to get around the legalities of broadcasting on-land without the required licensing to do so; although, this endeavor was mostly put together to fool US tourists who were traveling to Panama.
KPFA, Berkeley was the beginnings of community radio in the US in 1949. The idea of community radio was a welcome relief to a lot of radio listeners as it had an emphasis on local issues and helped break down the barrier between broadcaster and listener through “phone-in” type broadcasts. However, the application process was heavy on red tape and some stations found that it would take up to 10 years before airing their first broadcast. Even though public funding had been made available for the creation of community radio stations, people started looking at doing broadcasts without a license in order to avoid the regulatory framework and shortage of frequencies. The newer regulations were strangling true expressions of self-management and community control, particularly with promoting the idea of “bigger is better.”
By the time 1978 rolled around, the FCC stopped granting licenses to stations with transmitters emitting less than 100 watts, thus making the broadcast of radio shows by hobbyists illegal. Well, sort of… The lack of a clear cut law regarding the broadcast of stations that were less than 100 watts created the illusion that you could get in trouble with the FCC but generally there was a lot of bark with no real bite. This helped pave the way for large corporations to have dibs on the remaining frequencies so that they would remain available mostly for commercial use. The upside to this ruling, however, was that this led to the creation of most college-radio stations. This increased the hankering for unlicensed broadcast by those who wanted to do things a different way.
MICRO-POWER BROADCASTING IN THE USA
Illustration by Sean Vile
During the ’80s, there was an outfit that called itself ACE (the Association of Clandestine Radio Enthusiasts), which helped further cement the resolve of those who were interested in following pirate radio broadcasts throughout the nation. However, the biggest influence on the Free Radio Movement in the United States was the creation of what became known as Black Liberation Radio in 1986 by Mbanna and Dia Kantako. Most of the initial programming consisted of telephone interviews with victims of police beatings in the Springfield,Illinois area, interviews with Noam Chomsky, as well as a mix of reggae, hip-hop, and other African-based music with a political view. The station was put together as a response to community radio stations censoring oppositional elements within their programming in order to maintain their licensing status at the government level. Kantako’s stance on micro power broadcasting was as follows, “I would like to see lots of little stations come on the air all over the country so you could drive out of one signal right into another. If you had a gap, you could run a tape until the next one came into range. I’m not interested in big megawatt stations. When you get too big, you get what you got now in America which is basically a homogenized mix of nothing, a bunch of mindless garbage which keeps the people operating in a mindless state. We think that the more community-based these things become, the more the community can put demands on the operators of these stations to serve the needs of that community.” When asked about challenging the FCC’s shutdown of the radio station by allying himself with the National Lawyer’s Guild, he responded, “Anything the government gives you, they can take away . .. Don’t no government give you freedom of speech. Don’t no government own the air … How the hell we gonna argue with them about their laws? That is insanity. We’ve already tried that for 500 years. I don’t give a shit about their laws. Now this is what I call real revolution. You’re exposing the system so the people can’t have faith in it no more.”
FCC Raid on Mbanna Kantako
With the empty space created by the shutdown of Kantako’s radio station, came a new project out of Berkeley- Free Radio Berkeley started by Stephen Dunifer in 1993. When finally brought up on charges in 1995 and 1997, Federal Judge Claudia Wilken refused to grant the FCC an injunction against the station citing Dunifer’s assertion that the FCC had violated Dunifer’s constitutional right to free speech. He said this about the case: “As an anarchist and a Wobbly, I don’t have any faith in the system, but we take our battles where we find them. It was the FCC who took us to court, not us taking them to court. Thanks to members of the National Lawyers Guild’s Committee on Democratic Communications, we were able to bring off a victory of sorts in that arena that’s held so far. Actually, an historical precedent was set on that fateful date of January 20th, 1995 when we appeared in court with the FCC. The FCC thought it was a slam dunk operation. They had this attorney out from D.C. who was real full of himself. He was possessed of the opinion that he was coming out to clean up Dodge City, and it was going to be a cakewalk. Well, within five minutes of that court proceeding beginning, it became rather apparent that he was not going to get what he wanted. He spouted off about it, saying that if I was allowed to continue broadcasting there would be chaos and anarchy on the air waves.
I said to myself, ‘Well, we already got chaos, what we need is a lot more anarchy.’ I’m distinguishing those two things because people tend to try to equate anarchy with chaos, violence and general dysfunctionality. What we really have is chaos in the society. Chaos comes from the Greek for gaping mouth. Our society has a broadcast media propaganda machine, made up of corporate and government thought control operations, which creates an insatiable hunger in people for whatever is the newest goody or commodity. It’s an insatiable hunger that can never be fulfilled by the means which they offer to you, and that’s the whole intent and purpose of it. It’s like a McDonald’s meal. It fits the propaganda of what your taste buds have been accustomed to, but it in no way provides for the nutritional requirements of your body. Your body is always left hungry because it’s not getting the balanced amount of nutrients it really requires to function in a healthy manner. So therefore you have these perpetual cravings for more, and that’s what this whole system is about. That to me is a chaotic system because it is a gaping mouth system; a gaping mouth that is always demanding to be fed more and more shit.”
The same year that the Federal Judge made these rulings was when Ron Sakolsky’s book Seizing The Airwaves was published. In the introduction to his book, he writes the following:
“Unlike conventional radio (which in a U.S. context means commercial, public or, increasingly, community), what Guattari called “popular free radio” does not seek to impose programming on targeted segments of a mass audience using marketing criteria. Instead, it aims at changing the professionally mediated relationship between listener and speaker, and even challenging the listener/speaker dichotomy itself. In one sense, then, it is an expansion upon Bertolt Brecht’s 1927 proposal for democratization of radio which called for the apparatus of radio to be changed over from distribution to communication, making it possible to transmit as well as receive. From an Autonomist perspective, Italian radio would be opened up to non-professionals and the hierarchical one way flow of messages would be replaced with egalitarian multiple flows. This new arrangement stood in marked contrast to the authoritarian approach to radio as a vehicle for the shaping of opinion either by the dominant culture or by an oppositional political party. In the latter case, Guattari was going beyond Brecht in concerning himself with the potentialities of radio for creating new spaces for freedom, self-management (autogestion) and the immediate fulfillment of desire rather than merely disseminating the party line and/or mobilizing supporters in the traditional leftist manner.
Beyond Italy, the resulting free radio movement surfaced not only in Japan as previously noted, but was in evidence throughout Europe in the Seventies and Eighties playing itself out on the airwaves in a plethora of pirate radio stations that erupted in the Netherlands (e.g. Vrije Keizer Radio), West Germany (e.g. Radio Dreyecklantf), Spain (e.g. Radio Luna), Denmark (e.g. Radio Sokkelantf), France (e.g. Radio Libertaire), Belgium (e.g. Radio Air Libre), and the United Kingdom (e.g. Radio Arthur). Today, some of these pirate stations continue to exist, while others have been legalized and hence re-stratified, still others have disappeared. Yet new ones have been born all across the planet in the flames of the Nineties. Circling somewhere in the aether remains the vision of nomadic radio pirates whose transmitters navigate the air waves liberating them on behalf of the voiceless, marginalized and downtrodden and viewing those waves as treasures in themselves which have unjustly been confiscated and debased by the rich and mighty; a touchstone image for current free radio activists throughout the world.
This analogy, of course, brings up the controversy that surrounds the term “pirate” in micro-power radio circles. Personally, I have never objected to the term pirate. When they asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, his reply was, ‘That’s where the money is.” Wobbly folksinger Utah Phillips says his mother used to call bank robbers “class heroes,” and Queen Latifah seems to agree. Now since I do not believe that the money that has been privately accumulated by banks is any more the result of an equitable distribution of wealth than that the oligopoly over the airwaves that presently reigns is a fair distribution of a public resource, I would contend that the term radio pirate as it is commonly used is a positive poetic metaphor relating to the redistribution of resources between the haves and have nots. Sure, the naive vision of piracy is often simplistically based on an image of heroic swashbuckling romanticism, but the history of piracy is itself very complex. Those called pirates have ranged from despicable slave traders and imperial guns-for-hire to radical adventurers and utopian visionaries.
Are radio pirates plundering and hijacking the airwaves from their rightful state and corporate owners, or are they better conceived of as state-free rebels using culture jamming tactics to challenge the power of the media monopoly and the authority granted by government’s normalizing regulations which have created a new interlocking system of enclosure, not merely on land, but in the air itself? Whether called pirate radio, micro-power radio, low watt radio, liberation radio or free radio; collectively we constitute a movement that has the capability of bridging the gap between the social and individualist strains of anarchist theory and practice, and offering a libertarian alternative to both corporate and state controlled radio that has an even broader appeal.
Michel Foucault’s strategic advice on “living counter to all forms of fascism” prizes “mobile arrangements over systems” (Foucault in Delueze and Guattari, 1983, p XIII), and brings to mind the image of Stephen Dunifer beginning his then clandestine broadcasts with a mobile radio unit in his backpack in the Berkeley hills or that of Mbanna Kantako defiantly vowing to run his Springfield, Illinois radio station off of a bicycle, if necessary, should he be busted by the FCC. These radio activists have in turn inspired countless others in their wake so that presently a virtual free radio stampede is underway as new micro-power stations go on the air every day. A stampede can be envisioned as mobility called into being by spontaneous action. “Every animal knows, and humans are no exception, that when there is a stampede you must join in or get out of the way. Try to stop it, and you will be crushed.” (Doe, 1996, p 181). Join the Great Radio Stampede!”
In the same tome, Stephen Dunifer writes in his foreword, “And now, good citizen, the next chapter in this fable is up to you. How will you write it? Will you take part in this movement to democratize not only the airwaves but all means of communication? It does not take much in the way of resources to put a community voice on the air. In fact, the cost can be kept to $1000 or less. Are you satisfied with format and formula radio? Does the media reflect the diversity of your community? Do you believe in the First Amendment and the right to tell the truth? Why not consider putting a micro-power FM radio station on the air in your community? Technical advice and equipment are offered by Free Radio Berkeley while legal support and expertise is provided by the National Lawyers Guild’s Committee on Democratic Communications.”
Zapatistas setting up pirate radio station may be viewed HERE
Stephen Dunifer; photo by James Radke
Dunifer was prompting people to participate in the process of democratizing the airwaves. It’s even rumored that he had a hand in assisting the Zapatistas in Chiapas with putting together their own pirate radio station, although this has never been proven conclusive. Two years later, several groups formed within the state of Texas to heed his call to action.
ENTER: FREE RADIO AUSTIN
Til Chamkis, Reckless, and John Siebold; photo by Jana Birchum
There were conversations amongst many who were involved with an Anarchist Reading Group that used to meet in 1996 about the possibilities of making a pirate radio station happen in east Austin. Three years later, the plan was borne into fruition.
Ritchie L (photo not approved for this article): Free Radio Austin existed from about 1999-2001. Free Radio Austin was an anarchist collective, consensus-run station that broadcasted on 97.1 FM out of three different locations during that time period. I believe it was the first pirate station in Austin. I helped a bit with setting up both Free Radio Austin and KAOS. I even did a show on KAOS for a little bit after Free Radio Austin was repeatedly shut down.
Naw Dude; photo by Patrusk
Doug (singer for Naw Dude, Bath Salts, and various other projects): Free Radio Austin was once based out of an old house that I used to live in.
Big Justin of Buzzcrusher & Bob-O Fuentes of Blunt Force Trauma
Big Justin (singer for Buzzcrusher): Free Radio Austin was a pretty important movement at that time but I just had a show; there were others way more involved than me.
The following is taken from an article about Free Radio Austin that was published in the Austin Chronicle in June of 2001:
In the early days of microradio, the FCC was at a loss on how to deal with rogue stations. Clearly, the stations were unlicensed, which made them illegal. However, microradio supporters pointed out that at less than 100 watts there was no license the stations could have applied for, which left them in a legal limbo. A bewildered FCC levied massive fines on the stations, but rarely attempted to collect. With the backing of the courts, the FCC resisted making First Amendment cases out of microradio shutdowns, by relying on two entirely dry and technical arguments against microradio.
The first is interference. Broadcast equipment not tested and certified by the FCC and not operated by professionals, the FCC says, may not make clean transmissions. Radio signals may bleed over onto nearby frequencies, interrupting the broadcast of other stations or disturbing ambulance signals, police broadcasts, and air traffic control transmissions.
Secondly, the radio bandwidth is only so wide. Since a finite number of the waves travelling through space will carry a radio signal, there are fewer frequencies than there are would-be broadcasters. Historically, the Supreme Court has upheld the limited bandwidth argument to the tune that “because it cannot be used by all, some who wish to use it must be denied.”
Yet those with the money to own and operate a 10,000- or 50,000-watt station rarely fall in the category of those who must be denied. And in recent years, the rich have gotten much richer. Ever since the passage of the Communications Act of 1934, the limit on the number of stations a company can own within a single listening area — once severely limited — has risen steadily. The 1996 Telecommunications Act lifted limits on the number of radio and TV stations a single company can own, and allowed ownership of multiple radio stations within a single city.
Reckless; photo by Jana Birchum
Free Radio Austin, like most micro stations, doesn’t dispute either of the FCC arguments directly. They just don’t feel that the arguments are sufficient to shut them down. “We realize that a regulatory body needs to be there,” Reckless, a former broadcaster at Radio Free Santa Cruz and backbone and a founder of Free Radio Austin, told Judge Sam Sparks of the Western District court at Free Radio’s hearing last November 13. “It is a finite spectrum, and we just feel that we deserve some of it.”
As for interference — never mind that a 100-watt station interferes with a 50,000-watt station like a jackrabbit interferes with an 18-wheeler — most micro stations say they are scrupulous about keeping their transmitters tuned and using filters and compressor limiters, all of which are supposed to reduce interference. At the hearing, an FCC agent admitted that Free Radio’s equipment had never been bench tested by the agency to see whether it could have caused interference. And only one complaint had ever been lodged against Free Radio Austin — by Austin residents who claimed it interfered with their reception of KGEL 97.1 in Fort Worth.
When microradio cases do make it into the courtroom, judges tend to shut the stations down without flourish. When broadcasters and supporters have tried to bring free speech issues into the cases, judges have shrugged. However the law ought to be written, broadcasters were clearly in violation of it the way it is written now. To change the law would require a lengthy round of appeals for which few microradio operators have the time, the money, or the lawyers.
The station broadcast at only about 70 watts, enough to be heard reliably around central East Austin — on a good day, some say, as far away as Bastrop. A lot of the programming was music, and a lot of it was political commentary. Some of it was cranks ranting late at night, or awkward poetry readings. The music tended toward the obscure and the politics toward the radical, but ultimately what broadcast at the 97.1 MHz frequency was up to Free Radio’s 100 or so programmers — cab drivers and waiters, Vietnam veterans and teenagers.
Free Radio got their first visit from the FCC in June of 1999. Agent Loyd Perry came to the door of the East Austin home where the station was housed. Perry identified himself, informed the broadcaster on the air at the time that the station was in violation of federal regulations. He asked for the station’s transmitter. The broadcaster, young and scared, handed it over. End of round one.
By the end of the summer, Free Radio was back on the air in a new location, and by the following February, the FCC knew it. A “secret broadcast” is something of a contradiction in terms, and Free Radio Austin was never very good at keeping a low profile. Around town they were an open secret; their stickers were on the bathroom walls, supporters wore Free Radio Austin T-shirts in the street. Perry read about them in the Chronicle and looked them up on Web sites devoted to “pirate” radio stations.
Throughout the spring and summer, the FCC sent out warning letters by certified mail, which station operators refused to sign for. Three times in March and once in August, (according to his deposition for a seizure warrant), Perry drove to Austin from the FCC’s Houston enforcement office and spent the day tracking the errant radio signal. He used a van equipped with an electronic tracking device, but his backup method worked just as well: in the phone book, he cross-checked the refusal signature on the returned letters with the phone number the station gave out as its call-in number. 2939 East 14th Street. On October 10, just a few days before the Fortune 500 conference blew into town, Free Radio was busted. The FCC showed up at the station, this time with several agents and accompanied by APD officers and federal marshals. A broadcaster put out a call to all listeners to come and defend their station. A crowd of 40 or 50 showed up to watch a private construction crew dismantle the broadcasting tower, but there was not much anyone could do. It was all over pretty fast.
FCC contractor begins dismantling the broadcast tower of Free Radio Austin; photo courtesy of Free Radio Austin
Seventy-two hours later, from the garden shed of another East Austin home, Free Radio Austin was back on the air. The final bust came less than a month later, on November 6.
“We were expecting something to happen, obviously,” says Til Chamkis, who was broadcasting at the time of the November bust. “We were on guard, but there had been a pretty good rain and the studio had gotten wet inside, so we had the doors open to air it out. I wasn’t that long into my show, and up the driveway comes a horde of Austin police, FCC, a federal marshal, so I closed the doors and they proceeded to go through the motions of kicking them in.
“I kept asking them to show me their search warrant; that was all I was asking for. Eventually they went around and broke a window, and that’s when I opened the door — and then they shut us down.”
Shutdown of Free Radio Austin
In truth, Free Radio was not really trying very hard not to be shut down. To some of the programmers, their hour or two on the air each week may have been the only point, but to the organizers, the shutdown was a move in a larger game. This was “illegal direct action”: civil disobedience, after a fashion, aimed at the FCC, at the government that tenures them, and at Big Media and the corporations that own it. If your direct action doesn’t make anyone angry enough to retaliate, to take you to court where you have a shot at changing the law, then it hasn’t counted. So they got shut down. It was part of the deal.
Within a week, the FCC filed suit against Free Radio Austin — or rather, as the brief reads, the United States of America filed suit against Reckless, Chamkis, and John Seibold — the three people they could firmly associate with the operation of the station. Chamkis they caught on the air. Seibold’s name was on the lease of the property that housed Free Radio’s third and final studio. And Reckless — well, she was implicated four or five times over. The suit also names as defendants “any and all John and Mary Does found operating an unlicensed station on 97.1 MHz.”
From the back steps, Reckless points out a concrete slab about 2 feet by 2 feet. The empty rusted housing in the center used to anchor the radio tower. The hole the FCC dug to find the transmitter is full of rainwater. This, the site of the second bust, is also her house. “Microradio is a vital first step in having any type of solidarity in the community,” she says. “We live in a time when people don’t know who their neighbors are, don’t really know what the issues are.
“The whole sound bite thing that commercial media does — it really does reduce your critical thinking skills. What’s going on in Iraq, for instance — there’s no way you can understand that in 15 minutes. That’s a three-hour discussion. Nobody on TV or radio has three-hour discussions except for microradio stations and community radio stations that care about these things — that will go so far as to break the law to get these things on the air.”
She sighs with impatience. “It’s not a big deal, it’s really not. We just want to talk to each other.”
The hearing on November 13 was short. While the FCC presented no positive proof that other local radio stations had experienced interference from Free Radio Austin’s transmission, and while Sparks said broadcasters had “the best of intentions at heart,” there was no doubt that they had been on the air without a license. The letter of the law was unquestionably broken. Responding to the FCC’s claims of urgency and “irreparable harm,” Sparks granted temporary injunctions against Reckless, Seibold, and Chamkis. A court date was tentatively set for the following spring and the three started looking for a lawyer.
On February 5, their day in court was abruptly curtailed. The FCC asked for and received a summary judgement — the kind of judgment you get when you contest your traffic ticket but skip your court date. It turned out no one from the station had filed a claim to the court against the broadcast equipment seized in the first bust. After 10 days, the seizure became final and the equipment was forfeited. Tacked onto the end of the forfeiture papers — seemingly as an afterthought — was a permanent injunction against the three defendants.
Within the statute of limitations, a summary judgment is fairly easy to overturn, but still without a lawyer, and with their confidence on the wane, Chamkis, Seibold, and Reckless sent a letter to the FCC in May. The letter announced their intention to accept the permanent injunctions and asked the FCC to drop further legal proceedings. Early in June, the FCC agreed.
“I know everybody gets shut down,” Reckless says, “And what I really wanted to do was fight the case and win — at least for our district — the right to communicate. But I don’t think any of us knew how much time and money and support you need to fight a federal case like this.”
Besides time and money, there was the concern that the names of other Free Radio programmers would be dragged out during a trial. With its dangling “John and Mary Doe” clause, the case was conveniently ready to swallow any additional broadcasters or operators the FCC could identify. At the hearing, U.S. Assistant District Attorney Britannia Hobbs asked Reckless to provide names and numbers of other broadcasters. When Reckless said she knew most of them by first names only, Hobbs asked her to turn and point them out in the crowd of supporters packing the courtroom. Reckless refused, as did Seibold. Sparks upheld the refusal for the purposes of the hearing, but pointed out that such a refusal during a trial would amount to contempt of court.
“There was no way any of us was going to narc,” Seibold says. But scrapping the court case to protect programmers’ names went beyond a sense of honor among thieves. If any of those programmers have a shot at returning to the air, it now depends on their names staying secret.
While Free Radio Austin was jousting with the enforcement bureau of the FCC, the agency’s administrative offices were in a huddle with Congress, engaged in rule-making that would permit the licensure of Low Power FM (LPFM) stations — low-wattage stations operated by nonprofit groups. While microradio advocates have several bones to pick with the LPFM licenses, at the moment they are the last, best hope for microradio operators who want to return to the air. There is one big stumbling block: LPFM licensing requirements automatically bar anyone who has participated in the operation of an unlicensed station. Any Free Radio programmer whose name came out in court would be out of the running immediately.
Around Austin, if you are in the right place and listening to the right people, you still run across former listeners and old programmers still awaiting Free Radio Austin’s imminent return — if not next week, then maybe the week after that. If you tell them it’s not coming soon, if ever, they’re incredulous.
At the former home of Free Radio itself, the sun is shining, but the back yard is a sea of mud. One of the blank, towering warehouses that dot East Austin rises over the yard, with its back turned squarely to us. On the steps, Reckless sits smoking.
“To win a war, you need to be able to shoot, move, and communicate,” she says. “Even if you can’t shoot or move, if you can communicate, you can still win, and so they want that totally crushed. A lot of people think I’m way radical for seeing it in this way, but we’re not the ones who started this war. It’s unfortunate, but I really do believe that they look at it that way.”
“When a government goes to take over another country, the first thing they take over is the airwaves, because that’s how you control the public mind. Now the corporations in this country have taken over the airwaves. How impossibly dangerous could that be in a quote-unquote ‘free society’?”
She stubs her cigarette out against the steps.
“We do this direct action — radio — because it is nonviolent. We know that the government knows how to deal with violence — that’s what they do. That’s what they put their unlimited resources into. But, all right, we tried to be nonviolent — what is the next thing if this doesn’t work?”
KAOS RADIO AUSTIN: AN ORAL HISTORY
Original KAOS Radio Austin logo; provided by KAOS Radio Austin
Stig Stench (of Stench Radio): I love KAOS! They were a big influence on me!!
Bianca Oblivion (KAOS Radio Austin- photo not approved for this article): Inspired by Free Radio Austin and saddened by its loss, I decided to start a station at my house, with the purpose of giving creative control to DJs and supporting the local punk/metal scene. I spent a few months studying electronics, getting a ham license, and assembling a transmitter kit and antenna. Once that was accomplished, there were many people eager to help. Members of the bands “Fuck Work” and “S’bitch” lived in the neighborhood and hosted a keg party to raise funds- just a bunch of punk rockers passing the hat. Someone else from the neighborhood donated a rooftop mount for the antenna and we were ready to go. On Dec 28, 2001, we got the antenna raised and started broadcasting.
The antenna; photo provided by KAOS Radio Austin
I just wanted a music station, mostly because too much talk drives me crazy. And, yeah, it was supposed to be a punk and metal station but there was too much pressure for other things. Within the first year there was Smooth and Demented’s bluegrass and outlaw country show, which featured a lot of live bands coming in the studio. Also, there just weren’t enough punk and metal DJs that wanted to dedicate themselves long term to doing shows. Time slots needed to be filled. Ultimately I decided that the station should belong to the people who were dedicated enough to do shows- no matter what kind of music they play. Later, I found that I, too, prefer a variety of music.
Scott Horton; photo source unknown
There was one political show from the beginning. Scott Horton was very popular on Free Radio Austin and he helped put up the antenna, so I let him do his libertarian thing, since so many people involved in the project wanted to make an exception for him. He has since moved on to more high profile projects. The organization of the project was very different. Free Radio Austin did the weekly consensus meeting, which I don’t find very effective. There is always endless debate and time-wasting and- despite all the safeguards- the people with the strongest personalities still end up in charge. Also, it’s hard to find a time that everyone can attend; it’s unfair when decisions are made when people can’t be there. Ultimately I made the calls but if you try to take people someplace they don’t want to go, you lose your ability to lead. So, when there was something to be decided, like what to do with benefit money, I would go out to the studio and chat with the DJs during the shows. It was slow, since it took a whole week to get with everybody, and sometimes it took a second week to get with everyone with objections or changes in plans. Still, in the end, it would usually be clear what to do. There was very little that needed to be decided, really. It was mostly fund-raising stuff and when we needed new equipment, it was pretty apparent to everyone.
The original KAOS Radio Austin DJs; courtesy of KAOS Radio Austin
For the first few years we only broadcast at night and on the weekend, which made it inconvenient for the FCC to come after us. It also helped that the conspiracy station was their number one priority. Whenever one of their transmitters went down, someone would call us and we would turn ours off. They can’t do anything if the transmitter isn’t on when they arrive. During times of intense heat, we would choose random days of the week to broadcast so it would be impossible to plan a raid against us.
El Demento & Errouneous O’Shaughnessy; courtesy of El Demento
El Demento (of The Smooth & Demented Show): The first live in-studio performance we ever had on The Smooth & Demented Show was just because some friends in a string band wanted to play on the radio. We bought a single cardioid microphone and had the band all stand around it. That worked well and was a method harvested through necessity rather than to uphold or replicate an “old-time” style recording ethic. One microphone was just all we had to work with. In the early days of KAOS, as an unfunded pirate radio station that rejects advertising, our equipment left something to be desired. Everything was donated and therefore only partially functional forcing us to get the best sound we could from very limited equipment. We started with bands that could play acoustically and who were not getting mainstream radio attention. Some of the first of those bands were early incarnations of groups like the White Ghost Shivers and South Austin Jug Band who would later become established hallmarks on the Austin music scene.
El Demento’s equipment; provided by the DJ
As time went on, more diverse acts wanted to be involved with a local pirate radio station and reach an internet audience at the same time. We started to include electric- or amplified-driven bands and would simply mic the amps to get a raw and authentic sound. This method sounded great and sounded real. Every live session is presented in basic and unfettered fidelity with no overdubs or remixing. No marketing. No gimmicks. Just real music. In our time, The Smooth & Demented Show has been been graced with giving radio voice to amazing talent from bands like Black-Eyed Vermillion, Scott H Biram, 357 String Band, Bob Wayne, Sons Of Perdition, Joe Buck, Elliott Brood, Jim White, Lucky Tubb, and Old 97’s member Murry Hammond ….as well as scores more. The artists we recorded for KAOS Radio Austin enjoy and appreciate the freedom from commercialism or censorship we provides. Each episode is archived for free download or streaming HERE and each artist who plays Smooth & Demented is archived with each song tracked out for free download HERE.
There are hundreds of KAOS radio sessions we offer for download this way.
KAOS helped prove that pirate radio was still an effective way to diversify modern terrestrial broadcasting in order to provide commercial-free, quality radio for the benefit of the community; all while maintaining a leaderless, NO-profit media organization possessing no true central power structure for the last 11 years.
DJ MOFO; photo provided by the DJ
DJ MOFO: Played some gigs at Headhunters Tiki Bar somewhere on Red River St. in Austin and Houston talked about playing on a pirate radio station called KAOS RADIO AUSTIN. The opinionated dick that I am had to get involved with that shit. There was a circle of friends that would trade what is good new, old, odd or indifferent amongst ourselves. So, I came out of the KAOS studio in S. Austin and was positive that I needed to be involved in this stinking pile of old beer, overflowing ashtrays and just enough equipment required to pump out hardcore slabs of Punk and Metal music.
After a few weeks of playing on the Saturday Night Drunk Club, Bianca asked if I’d like my own show which was fortuitous since I’d already started putting together mixes for this amazing opportunity that felt as though it had just dropped in my lap. Imagine…for the first time to have the ability to reach an audience of random fodder and drop every 12” slab of vinyl you’ve needed to hit them all for years with. Now I was told to keep it heavy and hard in the Punk and Metal vein but that was only held to for a brief few weeks when Bianca said it’d be cool to play anything, even Rap music. Floodgates breach and the music flowed out in an alcohol-fueled, drug-driven intensity that one rarely dreams of.
So, I get my own show, which of course, bring on the periphery of friends like DJ Information, DJ McPickleshittz and Dr. Horace Gravy. It was a welcome diversion of our outlet of music that we really wanted and needed to express the emotion that we all have within ourselves and our overt intensity of push. I’d spend days and nights to put together songs and mixes that the intensity was like cramming too many midgets in a smart car. After a space and time extended itself we were able to relax and be one with the energy that is KAOS RADIO AUSTIN.
There was this entertaining cast of characters that fill the space, all of whom were necessary to truly entertain and be the character that the station needed. It was fun to have Houston smoke me out and laugh as I rambled on about music and any other fancy that was not on topic. Yeah, it’s good to just let it go and play your records and be the truth that you are. It’s that moment in time when you make the decision that this is the time, place and time to give ‘em all that they need. So, you make time to play everything you want in order to express that pent up supply that finally has the outlet of entertainment pleasure.
There are those that listen to their past shows and others that just move on. The egotist that I am forces me to listen again and again to make the next performances better, or maybe just for ego. Does it matter, not when you have the airwaves blasting the fucking music you have always wanted to drop on an unsuspecting public. They’ve tuned in and deserve every intense note, phrase, song, LP and sometimes they recognize the content to fulfil their needs as well as your emotional release. Love it, hate it, we rocked you to your knees and even if you could only hear the FM at the top of hills, lose it at the bottom, we were there and we still are driving the future of internet radio.
Inside the KAOS Radio Austin studio; courtesy of KAOS Radio Austin
I’d try to show up 30 minutes before my show to get the somewhat empty beers off the equipment, empty every conceivable ashtray of their stank of butts and see what assholes were there. I wish I could say there are clear memories but it was a time of restlessness and…how should I say this gently, hmmm, consuming every mind-altering substance we could get our hands on. It was years later that I actually played a show sober. This shouldn’t detract or put a connotation on the timeline because this was just us. I’m certain everyone else was following better judgement than us… There were many wonderful people that flowed through and we felt privileged to engage with them and their musical choices. An open interpretation to music and personalities was helpful to really enjoy the edge of Austin music. You know who you were, are, and will be.
KAOS Radio Austin studio; courtesy of KAOS Radio Austin
Bianca Oblivion: I used to be known as the “Beer Princess”. I have taken on the moniker “Bianca Oblivion” since I moved away from Austin. I miss the central studio very much. It was hectic, like throwing a party at my house every day, but I was able to stay connected with the people in the project. Now there are people I haven’t even met doing shows. Also, it was like the ultimate adult clubhouse. There was always plenty of weed and booze and good times. Folks ran into friends they hadn’t seen in years. Couples met there for the first time. And even a few minor celebrities like Oderus Urungus and the Dwarves dropped in. King Coffee of the Butthole Surfers did a few shows and I can’t tell you how many bands played there or were interviewed on the air. Ultimately I ran into financial problems and I had to sell my house. I had a rental place for a while, but that didn’t work out for me either. So around 2006, I moved out to the country to some land owned by my family. Since there was no more studio we had to start doing the home broadcast or uploaded podcast thing.
The FCC knows all about me and about KAOS. They sent me a letter. They also closed down our last transmitter which went on for some time after I left, broadcasting our internet stream. You can check out the video, if you like HERE.
A few other DJs with KAOS Radio Austin:
Oliver Sheppard (Radio Schizo music blog, podcast, & radio show; writer for Souciant and Cvlt Nation websites; DJ for No Doves Fly Here, Funeral Parade, Atrocity Exhibition, & Convergence) & The Furnacedoor (your host on Sunken Lantern’s Waltz, and DJ for Funeral Parade)
The Furnacedoor: The Sunken Lantern’s Waltz is a six-hour behemoth webcast inspired by the now defunct No Doves Fly Here anarcho/goth DJ night that existed from Autumn 2011 to Summer 2012 in Austin, Texas. Curated by your host, The Furnacedoor, it is primarily a punk- and post-punk-centric broadcast but is considered open format and has had many special one-off and regularly recurring specialty episodes that have focused on genres as diverse as 60s garage punk, kraut rock, neo-folk, power electronics and doom metal.
Crumbelina and Crumblestiltskin; private collection
Crumblestiltskin Gee: My introduction to political activism was through the music released on Crass Records and going to workshops at the local housing co-operatives in Austin, Texas in 1984. I was 16 at the time and there was a serious movement to address the clandestine war that the US government was waging against the Sandinistas in Central America. As the years passed, I found myself being involved with people and groups who were addressing the issues of animal liberation, ending the war in the Persian Gulf, boycotts and protests to end apartheid, as well as addressing gentrification, participating in the Anarchist Gathering that occurred in San Francisco, and being involved in union organizing.
I formed an anarcho-punk band called Political Pollution in 1986 but quickly abandoned the idea. Shortly thereafter, the allure of cooperative living grabbed me and I moved into the vegetarian co-op known as the House of Commons, having only recently left in 2009 after a house fire. A few years before this sudden move, I discovered the world of music blogs while working a boring, mundane computer job.
The blogs that grabbed me were Strange Reaction, 7-Inch Punk, and Green Galloway- with Kill Your Pet Puppy coming into existence a bit later. After downloading my fill of the fine musical wares these blogs offered, it suddenly dawned on me that I, too, could create a music blog so I quickly worked out how I was going to make it happen and created the (now defunct) music blog Kamikaze Conniptions. I linked to numerous other blogs through this endeavor and eventually became friends with Oliver Sheppard (Radio Schizo), Kalashnikov Collective in Italy, and Alistair Livingston.
I put together a new band- arYAWN- and arranged a small tour of Europe with the contacts I’d made through music blogging. With arYAWN winding to a close, Crumbelina and I started working on a new occultish/experimental/dark wave project titled A Child’s Garden Of Lightning but then the Occupy Movement happened.
At around the same time, a local anarcho/death rock event called No Doves Fly Here had been created by Oliver Sheppard and Cutter Twowheels. This event brought a great number of people together and spawned The Furncacedoor’s Sunken Lantern’s Waltz radio show on KAOS Radio Austin, which led to the creation of the first radio show I was actively involved with on a regular basis called The Tyranny of Beauty. Although, the show had a powerful beginning, it quickly turned into “Occupy Radio” and lost sight of the direction Crumbelina and I had intended to take it.
We put the project to rest and began focusing on our individual approaches to radio broadcast; this was what eventually led to the creation of the radio shows In The Greylight, It’s This Way, Eluding The Lengthened Shadow, Funnel Of Love, and To Express The Inexpressible. I’ve experimented with doing live DJ events such as Reality Asylum, which was intended to bring together other anarcho-types (bands, distros, book publishers, record labels, activist groups) at a fairly new community space called Infest. Although, attendance at these events was low, it DID open the door for the local feminist community to begin using the Infest space for regular meetings to address current state legislation that is attacking women’s health clinics across the entire state.
An aural journey into the world of the Free Festivals & the New Age Travelers scenes in Britain during the ’70s and ’80s. Interviews with various members of THE WALLYS, the NEW AGE TRAVELERS, UBI DWYER, and MARK WILSON. Musical flashbacks provided by HAWKWIND, HERE & NOW, GONG, DAVID BOWIE, THE MOB, THE FALL, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, THE SLITS, ALTERNATIVE TV, THE POP GROUP, FLUX OF PINK INDIANS, CRASS, THE APOSTLES, THE REVIEW, and HYSTERIA WARD. Includes a discussion about the re-launch of ALL THE MADMEN RECORDS. Compiled and produced by Crumblestiltskin Gee.
Musical tribute to the KILL YOUR PET PUPPY collective, fanzine, and website! Featuring an interesting conversation between TONY D and GERARD EVANS about the history of RIPPED AND TORN and KILL YOUR PET PUPPY fanzines. Includes music by CRASS, BRIGANDAGE, HYSTERIA WARD, BLOOD AND ROSES, RITUAL, THE MOB, THIS BITTER LESSON, BIKINI MUTANTS, ADAM AND THE ANTZ, MEDICAL MELODIES, BUZZCOCKS, APF BRIGADE, POISON GIRLS, THE MEKONS, THE LURKERS, DELTA 5, SLAUGHTER & THE DOGS, MANAGING DIRECTORS, THE CLASH, THE SHAPES, SEX PISTOLS, ALIEN KULTURE, THE BARRACUDAS, DR FEELGOOD, KINGDOM COME & ARTHUR BROWN, and X-RAY SPEX. Compiled and produced by Crumblestiltskin Gee.
Join an audio adventure into the musical might of ALL THE MADMEN RECORDS- past AND present! Includes interviews about ALL THE MADMEN RECORDS with STEVE CORR, STEVE LAKE, MARK WILSON, RUTH ELIAS, MARK WILSON, ANDY T, KAREN AMSDEN, and CHRIS KNOWLES. Includes the music of THE MOB, ANDY T, HAGAR THE WOMB, KILL PRETTY, ASTRONAUTS, FLOWERS IN THE DUSTBIN, THE REVIEW, HYSTERIA WARD, BLYTH POWER, IDIOT STRENGTH, HAMBURGER ALL-STARS, WE ARE GOING TO EAT YOU, THATCHER ON ACID, CLAIR OBSCUR, ZOS KIA, and ANDY STRATTON. Compiled and produced by Crumblestiltskin Gee.
Musical hangover from THE MOB’s record release gig last week. Included will be tracks from new releases on ALL THE MADMEN RECORDS, bands that THE MOB have played gigs with (both past and present), as well as other projects that were put together during the same time period.