Listening to Free Radio Berkeley

Woke up midday, when the sun came through the skylight and stabbed me in the eyeballs. With nothing much else to do, I read through the August issue again, and decided yeah, it's bad, but it's not absolute shit. I've gotten worse zines in the mail.

Like Unshaved Armpits, for example. It's 16 pages of bad poetry, worse prose, tedious collage art, a thousand misspelled words, and three pointless comics. It's poorly printed, with pages not even lined up on the photocopier, and two pages printed upside-down. It fairly announces that the zinester doesn't give a damn, and with zines I'll put up with any shortcoming but that.

My zine is the Mona Lisa by comparison, so all of my angst from a few days ago is hereby rescinded. And if you want to see a zine so shitty it makes this one look good, Unshaved Armpits costs $4 from Harry Pitt, █████████████, Phoenix AZ 85013.

♦ ♦ ♦

The local pirate station, Free Radio Berkeley, broadcasts with the power of two AA batteries, so the reception comes and goes when I listen in the living room.

That's not the room I live in, though, and the reception in my own room was non-existent, so a couple of days ago I borrowed a ladder from Judith, and chopped the ends off two extension cords to wire an old set of rabbit ears. With the antenna duct-taped upside down under the skylight, I can listen to FRB in my bedroom.

Overall, I love it. 60% of FRB is worth listening to, and there is nothing worth hearing anywhere else on the radio, so my fine Philco will remain tuned to 104.1 FM, a tiny wedge of IQ between the pop of KFOG and the pap of KKFI.

That other 40%, though... 

Much of it is good, but not for me, and that's OK. There are people listening who aren't fat white guys, and not everything on RFB needs my squeal of approval. There's a knob to turn it off, and I do.

Pirate radio is like broadcast zines — amateur, but powered by passion. Sometimes it's interesting, sometimes it's crap. Maybe the music is amazing, maybe it's annoying. Whatever it is, even the parts I don't care for, they're doing it because they love it, which makes it great. How often do you turn on the radio and hear an intelligent voice talking intelligently about marijuana, in a context that doesn't include fear, arrest, incarceration, or medicinal uses? 

At the moment, though, I'm listening to The Radical News Hour, a show I need and appreciate, and the host is having tech difficulties trying to reach Mumia Abu-Jamal's lawyers in Philadelphia. For several minutes while they've been messing with the phones, otherwise dead air has been filled with a rap song about naked women being kept in cages at a street fair, for spectators' amusement. 

Two thoughts: 1. Why not do the interview in advance, and play the tape during the show? Nothing's gained from doing it live, except the possibility of technical difficulties like this.

And 2. It's hard to offend me, but the humor or satire of this gawdawful filler music eludes me entirely.

Also, the host doesn't understand how a microphone works — that you have to talk to the mike. He's talking to the wall or whatever, then swiveling back to the mike, then talking to his knees or the ceiling or the floor. You can hear the words, but they're way in the distance, and then he's talking to the mike again and you can hear, and then he's not and you can't. I don't demand professional standards at an amateur station, but you gotta at least talk to the microphone or nobody can hear you. 

On one of the other FRB shows, they played a taped interview with a native activist, and it was interesting, but for mood or effect they added music in the background, music that kept jumping into the foreground. My ears don't work so swell, and the music was swamping the words, so I gave up and clicked it off for a while.

Those are tech issues, mostly, but here's a larger complaint. Several shows on FRB consist of people playing their favorite music, which is cool, unless the DJ's favorite music is the same rock and rap you hear on twenty other stations. Madonna, the BeeGees, the Bangles, Phil Collins. I've even heard "The Girl from Ipanema." 

Simply by broadcasting, FRB is breaking the law, risking big fines, even imprisonment — to play the BeeGees and the Bangles?

Oh, wait. Now they're interviewing a man who got beat up by the cops, and if's fascinating and infuriating, so I'm gonna shut up with my complaining and listen to Free Radio Berkeley…

♦ ♦ ♦

Around dusk, I took a walk through the neighborhood and saw a young couple walking together, laughing, and briefly smooching. That's when I realized it's Friday night. Being unemployed, all the days merge together and I hadn't even noticed it was Friday and then the weekend, because why would I care?

A billion years ago I might've cared. Friday might have been a date night, if I was in luck. Millions of couples might be holding hands, kissing, snuggling, sexing each other if they're in the mood. I got the mood just fine, but no longer the luck.

From Pathetic Life #16
Friday, September 15, 1995

Addendum, 2022: In the original text, I spelled Ipanema "Epanima." I hate typos and misspellings, and always checked anything I was unsure about against a dictionary, but Ipanema isn't in the dictionary, and there wasn't an internet to simply type the word and have Google correct your spelling. 

Please accept my apologies 27 years later, and also, it's amazing, ain't it, the technology we have these days?

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life
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