Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A to Z of Pirate Radio: 40 Watts from Nowhere (book review)

As 40 Watts From Nowhere begins, the author Sue Carpenter recalls how she got tired of having to listen to the same popular songs played on her local commercial radio station over and over again. This prompts her to start her own radio station in 1995, thinking, how hard can it be? With this somewhat naive and adventurous attitude she sets up the first pirate radio station to feature music in the San Francisco area, KPBJ. When she subsequently moves to Los Angeles, she sets up another pirate radio station, KPLT, again from her small apartment. One of the many challenges Carpenter faces in setting up a radio station is the manufacture of a transmitter that can reach a significant population of her neighborhood. In addition, she has to find DJs to run it. The number one threat to the station she learns is that by not paying the required radio license fee to the FCC, she risks being fined $20,000 and/or spending a year in prison. Despite these risks Carpenter continues to promote her station, and before long the station has over 100 DJs and is influential in the punk and alternative music scene in L.A.

40 Watts from Nowhere is a fascinating, quick read. The author sees the humor in her often stressful and chaotic life at the station. It is interesting to read how Carpenter and her DJ friends experience fame and popularity one hand, while understanding the importance of remaining underground about their station’s actual existence.

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