Red Dirt RubyConf 2011

  • Keynote
    Aaron Patterson
    Open source contributions include:
    ARel, Nokogiri, and Mechanize
    Aaron Patterson - AT&T Interactive
  • Keynote
    Dr Nic Williams
    Open source contributions include:
    Hudson.rb, RoR Textmate Bundle, and ChocTop
    Dr Nic Williams - Engine Yard
  • Conference Themes
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    ´╗┐MetroActive Arts Hijacking the airwaves: West Pole Radio illegally beams out of a clandestine studio on the edge of Santa Rosa, offering an eclectic mix of underground rock and provocative talk. Instead of brief talk segments punctuated by commercials, news, and station identification, the Frank Black Cocktail Party on West Pole Radio (88.1FM), features about 30 minutes of wide ranging, irreverent conversation interrupted by a few underground pop songs, followed by another long rap session. The signal from this illegal 12 watt transmitter, located in a hush hush studio on the edge of Santa Rosa, reaches only about 10 miles. But given the luxury of time, Frank Black chews on some big subjects. "That's disgusting," says Black flatly, standing at a microphone beside a table full of audio gear. "If a girl absolutely insists I go down there I will, but I won't stay a second longer than I have to. It's not clean, man. I mean, I don't want to get sick. It's not healthy." Is this man crazy or just kidding? Ask Black's guests. On this evening, they are the Wind Goddesses, that's Star and Venus. And they've come to counterbalance just this kind of chauvinistic pap coming from Black. "Frank is coming from a place of paranoia and fear," concludes Star. In the one room studio, the guests sit on an old lumpy couch, wearing sensual loose dresses. Flowers adorn their cascading black and auburn hair. The air in the cramped, closet sized studio is a little stuffy, but the atmosphere is warm and familiar. Sitting next to Star is Black's sidekick, Cougar, a hard bodied young jokester not far out of high school. Monkey Boy sits on the floor against the wall and chimes in whenever the topic gets boring or strays too far afield. At the moment, that's not a problem. "The problem is most men don't know what a woman likes," says Star. "They use their tongues like some sloppy washcloth. The clitoris is stimulated by consistent, gentle pressure. So don't change what you're doing when she starts to like it." There are no commercials, but this definitely isn't National Public Radio. Because West Pole is pirate radio, Frank Black commits a federal crime by broadcasting without a license. Borrowing the local nickname for the small west county town of Occidental, the station began broadcasting from a clandestine Sebastopol location in January and moved to Santa Rosa last month. Other pirates have operated in the Redwood Empire over the last year, and West Pole's emergence in Sonoma County's largest city marks the local ripening of the nation's most dynamic and democratic trend in mass media. West Pole is one of an estimated 500 to 1,000 low power radio stations operating illegally in the United States, broadcasting to local listeners without the sanction of the Federal Communications Commission. The result is an unregulated, radically populist medium that provides a platform for common citizens to distribute their politics and culture to their own neighborhoods and beyond. The movement provokes no uncertain opposition from the FCC and the National nike shoes black Association of Broadcasters. Radio pirates universally regard these two agencies as the bad guys. The FCC, they say, is the government enforcer of that monopoly rather than a fair regulator of the public airwaves. The NAB is an influential lobbying organization for the mostly corporate broadcast industry that pirates believe hold a monopolistic cartel over the radio dial. Across the country, free radio stations are known to broadcast everything from working class and environmental politics to high school football games, city council meetings, and interviews with political candidates. Such stations serve housing projects, small towns, rural counties, and big city neighborhoods. The pirate community cuts across ideological lines, and includes a network of Black Liberation stations and plenty of conservative Christian radio as well as extreme right wing elements. And as at West Pole, pirates typically broadcast an eclectic mix of music not found on the current hit parade. In California, pirates flourish and skirmish with the FCC in San Rafael, San Francisco, Fresno, San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Salinas, beaming out left wing politics to folks in Berkeley, traditional Latin music and labor politics to migrant workers in Salinas, new history in Lake County, and bilingual programming in San Francisco's Mission District. In addition nike p rod 2 shoes to West Pole, Sonoma County is home to several other self styled underground radio stations, including River Rat Radio nike shoes rainbow in Monte Rio and KSRF 96.9FM in Sebastopol, run by local teenagers on the weekend. Others broadcast in Petaluma, Bodega, and Rohnert Park. to midnight on weekdays, but many pirate stations operate on unpredictable schedules and frequencies to elude detection. "Our plan is to push the limits of pirate radio as far as we can get away with," says Black. At first, West Pole doesn't appear to push the limits very far. Black and his collaborators say they are not political. They don't use their real names. Programs like co founder Brown Jenkin's Bachelor Pad, featuring "beer, bikes, and music," don't seem like much of challenge to the status quo. Yet, in that instance, the music is fiercely independent, underground rock, funk, and jazz; the bicycles are a new ethic in transportation. Even the Frank Black show, in its ongoing exploration of "the mysterious mating rituals of human beings," confronts a vital menu of social politics, poses prickly philosophical questions, and talks openly about sex and drugs. Black, while often indulging in cheap male belligerence, is actually a skillful journalist. He forces listeners to evaluate their own thoughts. Isn't the schoolboy who sleeps with his teacher just getting lucky? Is the journalist who distributes child pornography while infiltrating that underworld industry to get the scoop guilty when he's caught in a police sting? "This Frank Black character, this alter ego, is just an expression to entertain people but bring somewhat serious topics to the light," says Black. "But I do it in a humorous manner to get people thinking about certain things that are, for the most part, taboo subjects, or subjects that aren't discussed but should be discussed." Unlicensed broadcasting is a federal crime punishable by a year in jail and a $100,000 fine from the FCC. So how are so many people getting away with it? Low power radio transmitters are small, portable items about the size of a textbook. They are the most affordable form of mass media. For as little as $500, a station can get started, and for an average of $1,500 pirates can broadcast over a 10 mile radius. This availability lends a powerful organizing tool and political forum to even the most poorly funded voices of opposition and activism. "It's a low tech crime with old school technology," says Black, who thinks the chances of getting busted are nonexistent. By strength of numbers, pirate stations constitute a guerrilla media army performing electronic civil disobedience in open defiance of the existing law and commercial media. Pirates call on a higher law of free speech, he adds, due process, and fairness under the law. "I have vowed to put 10 stations on the air for every one the FCC shuts down," says Stephen Dunifer, founder of Free Radio Berkeley and unofficial figurehead of the free radio movement. "The government doesn't have the resources to shut everyone down." To meet his goal, Dunifer markets a catalog of low cost products needed for setting up a microradio station. In California, all eyes are on the FCC's bellwether case against Free Radio Berkeley. Last November, federal Judge Claudia Wilkin rejected the FCC's latest request to shut down the station that Dunifer started f