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Mike Macgirvin

Sunday Evening in Robbo

Mike Macgirvin
  last edited: Sun, 12 Aug 2007 21:51:56 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
Went over to the tombola tonight. Hey, we won two trays of meat (about $40 worth of steak and sausage) from a $5 raffle ticket. Coulda' been worse. Amanda was busy catching up on and spreading gossip. That's the favorite past-time in a small town.

Over on the far corner of the room were a few twenty-somethings. Completely out of place in the bowling club, though we get 'em in here now and again. The drinks are cheaper than the pub around the corner. I'd go to the pub myself - it's closer; except that they only serve Toohey's and Victoria - the local equivalent of Schlitz and Coors. There are only two Aussie beers that I can tolerate ("Pigs Fly" and James Squire "Amber Ale"), and I go where ever they've got at least one of 'em.  

My eyes were glued to the monitor above the jukebox. Oh yeah, vintage AC-DC. "You shook me all night long" - the concert footage. I remember it well. I was at the Back in Black concert in Denver way back when.

In the late seventies and early 80's, the U.S. rock music scene was exporting Van Halen.  Pyrotechnic guitar. Let's ignore Bruce Springsteen. England was still trying to show us up with Jimmy Page and David Bowie.  Germany chimed in with Michael Schenker and Scorpion. These were really out of place in the U.S. as we had no need for esoteric and intellectual rock-n-roll. What's the point?

But everybody had a place for Angus and Malcolm and their bare bones, no-frills 3 chord rock and roll from down under.  There were no airs about it, no 'fastest guitar on earth' to challenge. No intellectualism. Just rock-n-roll, cut to its basics. Simple, loud, driving. Ya' have to respect that. Especially when you add such eternal lyrics as "Too many women, and too many pills".


On a related subject, as I listen to Aussie radio, there's a notable lack of rap music. That's understandable, there's no ghetto culture here. The dark skinned folks are usually aboriginal, and there is a lot of racial angst towards them - about which I'll write another time. What I would think of as 'Africans' are usually exchange students from England, and they're usually well respected here as part of the intellectual class.  They generally talk in thick British accents, which makes whatever they currently call 'street talk' in the states a foreign tongue completely. Nobody here can understand it.  The Prince of Bel Air and the Romeo Show might as well have been from Mars.

What I do notice about Aussie music is that there is an emphasis on trance and techno for the last fifteen years or so.  Obviously ecstasy and rave dancing were very big problems here at one point in time (at least in Sydney, I don't know how much the rave culture spread to the suburbs, as it is historically an urban phenomenon).  It's interesting what you can find out about a culture by knowing what they request on the radio.
Pirate radio

Mike Macgirvin
  last edited: Tue, 21 Mar 2006 19:01:14 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
The FAA is having troubles shutting down a pirate radio station in Florida that is "interfering with flight communications". They traced the transmitter and confiscated some equipment, only to have it pop up again somewhere else.

To anybody that has been following micro-power radio for any length of time, you may recognize some similiarities. The FCC (not the FAA) tends to use the same argument (interfering with flight communications) whenever they are going after a pirate radio station which gets too arrogant towards authority and also provides politically incorrect content (based on the politics of the time period).

The truth is that pirate radio has been around at least since the 1950's; when a huge bank of antennas appeared on the Mexican border - broadcasting content with questionable legality (at least on this side of the border) and using power levels way beyond FCC prescribed limits. This was the home of the infamous XERB and the most famous of the pirate radio DJ's - Wolfman Jack. In fact there were several stations, all using the XER{something} call letters and beamed at different audiences on the north side of the border.

In the 1960's, a pirate station operated off the coast of Great Britain in a ship and offered similiar 'underground' radio to British listeners.

Both of these examples were out of reach to the respective authorities - which are typically national agencies.  It is the same method whereby Radio Free Europe (a network of pirate radio sites operated by the CIA) was able to  broadcast into the former Soviet Union. This also goes to prove that the government is only opposed to pirate radio when it suits them.

Only 2-3 years ago, there was a flurry of interest in a micro-power station operating in the hills above the University of California at Berkeley. This was one of the longest running and most well-known of the modern pirate stations. These are called 'micro-power' because the transmitters are limited in power to avoid the legal issues. You can run a pirate station as long as you keep the power level below a half-watt. Then what the pirates do is hook up huge antennas to boost coverage beyond the typical city block range that a half-watt will provide. The berkeley site also had the advantage of operating in the foothills, where its content could be picked up 30-40 miles away on a good day.

Of course, occasionally somebody will tweak the output power level to illegal levels... they're pirates after all. Anyway, The reason for this particular target is because it was a pre-cursor of what we are seeing today. They thumbed their noses at authority and got away with it - and it was the most popular of the micro-power sites. Because of the failure to close down and prosecute the Berkeley site, the popularity of micro-power radio has grown dramatically. You can now find underground stations in most large urban areas. It is the voice of the underground, offering alternative music in a stagnant creative environment controlled by one corporation which pretty much owns the airwaves. Just like the hidden rave parties that they often promote, the stations pop up out of nowhere, operate for a few days and then vanish or move to another frequency/location. If you're adventurous, you might be able to tap into this network - as many of them use the web to keep their audiences informed. I would list a couple of sites, but in fact I'm a bit sympathetic to the cause so would rather choose that the operators themselves decide when and where to make their presence known.

And so it is in Florida. 'Da Streetz' has no respect for laws, is oriented toward black culture, so therefore is threatening the status quo. So therefore it's gotta' go. If it's time to raid a pirate station, the first thing the FCC does is get the FAA to announce that the station is interfering with airline flights and is therefore a public safety issue which therefore must be shut down. 20 or 30 years ago, this was a legitimate complaint, because many of the home brew transmitters used hand wound coils to establish the operating frequency, and that combined with the hand soldered circuitry often generated harmonics on unintented frequencies.  But these days, it's a bunch of hooey. Nobody builds micro-power stations anymore. You buy a transmitter off the shelf. These use phase locked loop frequency control and are extremely stable and reliable - and they cost much less than building your own. The biggest advantage though is that they won't leak into air traffic control airwaves and get you busted. For that, you'll have to do something on the air like superfluous usage of four-letter words and/or call the governor a weenie. Which is what I suspect 'Da Streetz' did.