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Usenet: An ex-pirate fondly recalls making (radio) waves
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Sunday, October 31, 2004
OreganLive.com

You can climb in your car and drive from sea to shining sea in the good ol'
USA, flip on the radio and hear the same old thing. Classic rock. Classic
oldies. Classic country. And the ranters: right-wing, left-wing, preachers,
sports nuts.

That's life in today's America after the takeover of the airwaves by media
conglomerates, none of them based in Oregon. These money machines took
advantage of changes in FCC rules in the 1980s that allowed corporations to
control almost unlimited numbers of radio stations and make them all sound
exactly the same.

But wait. There is diversity on the radio dial -- you just have to be
willing to put up with lousy reception, intermittent broadcast hours and no
fancy identification jingles. In fact, you may even have to get in your car
and drive around to find the stations that don't sound like all the others.

They're called pirate stations, and they're all over the dial, all over the
country. They're unlicensed by the FCC -- heck, the people who run them are
being hunted by the FCC. Every year it shuts down 150 to 200 pirate
stations, according to FCC spokesmen.

But thousands never are found. And new pirates pop up all the time.
Right here in the Portland area, in the last few weeks, local radio buffs
have picked up signals from frequencies not assigned to legally licensed
stations. Some report what they hear on the pdxradio.com Web site. "I heard
another pirate on 98.1," wrote one listener on Oct. 13. "It was coming in
like gangbusters on I-205 until I got behind Mt. Scott."

The next day someone else reported, "I also heard two signals on FM only in
downtown, 89.5 and 104.5 clear as a bell."

Just last Wednesday, someone else reported: "I heard yet another pirate
station. This one was on 95.1 and didn't last very long. I picked it up near
the Morrison Bridge."

Who's running these illegal radio stations? And why are they taking these
chances?

"When I was 14 years old I had an electronics class, and I talked my teacher
into letting me build an AM transmitter," Bob Ancheta says. "A tiny,
one-watt, AM transmitter. It was purely illegal, but I still did it."

Today Bob Ancheta is a broadcast veteran with 35 years of professional
experience, nearly all of it at Portland radio stations. But back in 1967 he
was a freshman at Portland's Madison High School, and he already knew he
wanted a career on the air. The trouble was, nobody wanted to hire a kid
whose voice had just changed.

"I went to the Goodwill and bought a couple turntables. I got a piece of
plywood, put a bunch of switches on it and created a console, added a
microphone and put an antenna on top of my parents' house." Bob even rigged
up a blinking red light to attach to his antenna, using a switch from his
folks' Christmas lights and a power source from his train set. "I was just
into every little detail of it all, I guess."

Bob crammed his equipment into a tiny, low-ceilinged room in his parents'
attic. "I'd be up there all night broadcasting," he says. "I tuned in the
transmitter anywhere on the AM dial where there wasn't a station."

Bob's one watt of power carried the signal about five blocks from the
Ancheta home at Northeast 72nd and Prescott. His neighbors became his fans.
"They'd come over, and I'd interview them. The neighborhood kids came up
with my nickname, The Big B.A." He carried the nickname into his
professional career.
After word spread at Madison High, teenagers would drive around Bob's
neighborhood to listen to the Top 40 hits he spun. "You'd see cars parked
out in front and know you had a listener."

His parents were patient to a point. Bob says he knew his station was
illegal, but his parents didn't. They were upset about other aspects of the
operation. "They hated it when the request line would ring at 2 in the
morning," he says. He found a solution: "I'd unplug their phone from the
wall in their room when they were sleeping."

Safety also was a concern. "I was always climbing on the roof, hammering
things. My father would freak out over that. He thought I was going to burn
the house down, with all the wiring around there. My mother would stand
between us, saying 'Let him do it.' "

But his mother couldn't protect him from his father's protests when the
radio signal interfered with his father's favorite TV program. "Frank
Bonnema," Bob says, "was the wrestling guy on Channel 12. I had to turn the
transmitter off so he could see his show."

Bob had friends who set up their own pirate stations. There were a lot of
them. "One had an FM station in North Portland. He turned it on and they
were listening to him at Mount Hood. Eventually the FCC caught him and shut
him down and took all his equipment."

Wasn't Bob afraid his house would be raided? "When you're 14 years old,
you're not thinking legal anything. You're thinking about having fun and
breaking a few rules."

Bob never got caught. "But I did convince a lot of record companies I was a
real radio station. I came up with stationery with fake call letters and
sent requests out to hundreds of record companies. All of a sudden free
records started rolling in."

He still has those old 45s.

During his senior year in high school, Bob got his first job at a real radio
station: KVAN. He shut down operation in his attic. Today he owns
internetjock.com, an online voice-over business. But on Sunday nights he's
in front of a microphone at KINK (102), hosting a blues show. Just like the
old days, he's leaning into the microphone in the dead of the night, talking
to people he can't see, playing music he loves.

There's a mystique to pirate radio stations. There's something appealing
about a little guy trying to evade the big, bad government agency that's
tracking him down with sophisticated electronic equipment.

Others talk about freedom-of-speech issues. Some say the airwaves should
belong to the people, not wealthy corporations.

Of course, pirate stations can cause real problems for professional stations
when they interfere with signals. But a lot of people in radio admit they
got their start in their own attics or garages.

Who's running the pirate stations in Portland these days? You tell me.
Listen closely; maybe you'll recognize a voice.

Margie Boule: 503-221-8450; marboule@aol.com Margie Boule: (503)221-8450,
marboule@aol.com
http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/margie_boule/index.ssf?/base/living/1099052378177610.xml

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