16 August 2011
here be pirates
i actually became somewhat of a regular listener to their feed, which i found refreshingly human and grounded, compared to the endless parade of faceless web radio shows that give you whatever kind of music you want, but lack any sense of connection to anything except the internet. don't get me wrong- i like places where i can discover music and not have someone yakking at me about the inherent awesomeness of everything i'm hearing, but i also like getting a sense of a community, not in the sense of a group of people congregating around a common interest, but in the actual, physical sense of community where people from a diversity of backgrounds, with different philosophies, goals and values try to make a go of living in the same geographical space.
pirate cat was the real deal, an actual unlicensed station using the public airwaves [and an internet stream] to play music, inform people about news and events in the community and beyond and quietly exploit a loophole in the laws regarding the right to broadcast. the station hung tough for years, despite regularly receiving ominous missives from the federal communications commission ordering them to cease and desist. eventually, they even opened a cafe in the same space as their on air studio, which gave them a visible presence in the community and even tempted the likes of anthony bourdain to come and try their strangely canadian-sounding "bacon maple latte".
unfortunately, good publicity brought bad attention, and the fcc went from threatening to outright bullying, slapping the tiny station with a $10,000 fine that forced them off the public airwaves and onto the internet alone. [and yes, it is damn well bullying even if that is part of their job. no one says that you have to selectively enforce the law by targeting those who are least able to defend themselves.]
i'd followed their story sporadically and hoped for the best [although my own experience has taught me that in the world of telecommunications, david generally gets stomped on by goliath], so i was surprised and saddened when, earlier this year, the station disappeared entirely, even from its online form.
there were stories floating around in its wake of lack of transparency, firings, a lockout and a flight from the country, but what happens remains, even under the scrutiny of the internet, quite unclear for those viewing it from a distance. it's a sad reality that many such well-intentioned organisations often collapse or come to the brink of disaster due to similar sorts of internal conflicts. apropos to their name, many such collectives do seem to exist like hakim bey's vision of "pirate utopias", temporarily coalescing and then dissolving under the strain of stability.
the station has been reborn as "mutiny radio", which maintains the cafe and live broadcast format [although not actually occupying public airwaves] and gives a nod to its previous life through it's formal name "pcr collective".
there are lots of places where we can turn on line to find entertainment that matches our interests, but in our rush to find things that are a good match for us, we forget that one of the things that makes media enjoyable is that, at its best, it can allow us to find something of ourselves within the diversity of a modern community. it's good to know that there are still places like that kicking around.