As Clear Channel cuts a swath across Radioland, and the airwaves become more boring and homogenized, it's good to know there are people out there dedicated to using radio in non-commercial ways.
Across the globe, pirate radio stations broadcast interesting and exciting programming that extends beyond a preset playlist of record-industry cash cows. Santa Fe is not left out. Should you find yourself south of St. Francis Drive, tune your dial to 103.7 FM and be treated to the varied programming of Blind Mice Radio, a pirate radio station started this year by Sparky Son (his real name is not revealed for obvious legal reasons) and two friends.
According to Son, "I first became interested in radio while taking a public communications class in college. The professor got me thinking that radio was a great medium to reach a lot of people."
As a result, Son built a mobile broadcasting unit on an adult-sized tricycle. He would ride around checking out street performances or conducting live, on-air interviews with people on the street. Son then purchased a transmitter from China, set it up in a permanent location and began broadcasting more often. Though BMR's range is small, its format is anything but stale. Reggae, jazz, indie-rock, poetry and even great historical speeches—Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" was recently played—make their way on-air, and BMR runs regularly.
"I'd say we're broadcasting a good 80 percent of the time," Son tells SFR. "We make huge playlists for when we can't be around."
BMR is unlicensed and, according to the Federal Communications Commission, such radio stations can only legally broadcast up to 200 feet and must accept any interference from nearby commercial radio stations. By hijacking quiet frequencies, stations of BMR's scope and size generally broadcast beyond the legal distance and operate at great personal risk. Fines for operating without a license begin at approximately $10,000 and can go as high as $75,000, and primarily exist to prevent pirate stations from bleeding over to commercial stations' frequencies. Commercial stations are known to monitor the airwaves for pirate stations.
But most commercial radio sucks huge. BMR, with its hugely unsucky programming, would love to expand its reach. For now, it's focused on nailing down its aesthetic, if not its scope.
"We have a lot of music, but we would love to get our hands on more," Son says. "We also want to have bands playing, whether they come down to the station to play live or send us recordings…We can even hook a phone right up to the mixer, so bands can phone us from literally anywhere, and we will broadcast them."
In an effort to create some buzz and meet possible collaborators, BMR is putting together a weekend of events later this month. On Nov. 26 and 27, BMR presents a festival of music, poetry, percussion and more. Think of it as a
two-day concert without a physical venue.
For the event, BMR needs help. To sign up and get involved, email BMR at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you imagine the impact on Santa Fe if BMR collaborated with a collective like The Process or Team Everything?
With an increasing number of 20-somethings growing restless, a pirate radio station seems an excellent outlet for creative types to share their interests. God willing, The Man doesn’t ruin this for everyone.
Follow SFR music news on Twitter: @SFRsA_Sharp