Like many in my generation, my impressions of Pirate Radio were largely formed in 1990 when Christian Slater starred as “Hard Harry” in Pump up the Volume. Unfortunately, Jeff Pearson’s Pirate Radio USAcouldn’t be much farther away from Pump Up The Volume if it had been a documentary about ice cubes rather than one, supposedly, covering the pirate radio movement in America.
Here’s how Pearson describes his film…
Pirate Radio USA is a feature length documentary about the underground world of unlicensed radio in the USA, where people play what they want and say what they want-unless the FCC catches them. On the way see the rise of Big Media, the growth of Indy Media to encounter it, and witness their showdown over the truth during the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. DJ’s Him and Her, from their live Pirate Radio USA Studio, take you on a rock -n-roll journey inside rogue radio stations across the country to see why Americans defy Federal Law to free the radio airwaves. Seize the Airwaves!
Sound interesting? I thought so to … until I actually spent an hour and a half watching DJ Him and DJ Her share their tale of failing to keep one pirate station after another on the air. Allow me to present that description once again, but this time edited to reflect the reality of the film in question…
Pirate Radio USA is a feature length documentary about
DJ Him and Her and their self-important little lives in the underground world of unlicensed radio in the USA, where people do something that isn’t really mentioned or discussed at any point –until the FCC catches them, at which point they bow down dutifully to their government masters. On the way see the rise of Big Media, the growth of Indy Media to whine about it, and witness way too much about the protests against the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle (which had nothing to do with radio (pirate or otherwise), BTW). DJ’s Him and Her, from their live Pirate Radio USA Studio, take you on a self-satisfying journey inside a grand total of TWO rogue radio stations to show just how cool they and their friends think they are. Seize the Airwaves so WE can decide who gets to hear what on the air!
If that still sounds interesting to you, then stop reading this post, click the little amazon ad up above, and order Pirate Radio USA this very second. Personally, I had hoped to hear from pirate radio operators what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. While we got brief snippets of the why, neither the what or the how are in the forefront of this film. In fact, those three questions combined get less screen time then the WTO does (both in Seattle and Prague).
So much for the failures. Lets get to the hypocrisy…
Everyone in this film, just like everyone else in pirate radio, gives a lot of lip service to the basic concept that anyone should be free to make use of the “public” airwaves. They rail against the FCC for shutting down stations simply because they don’t have a license, aka permission, from the government. They liken the radio to the printing press of colonial days and continually bring up the first amendment’s guarantee of free speech. I, and Pump Up The Volume’s Harry Hardcore, couldn’t agree with these sentiments more. Unfortunately, those involved in Pirate Radio USA, don’t actually believe that radio should be free for all.
The first sign of trouble appeared before the film even started. The first item to appear on my screen was a threat of fines and imprisonment should I dare to make a copy of the film or pass it along to a friend. It seems these “pirates” have no problem employing armed thugs to enforce their will on others. Their only complaint is when those very same thugs are turned on them. Makes you wonder just how much they paid in royalties to all the bands whose music they “stole” over the years, distributing it over the airwaves without permission, doesn’t it? My guess is zero.
The bulk of the film is filled with Pearson’s complaints about media deregulation. You see, DJs Him and Her want the government to restrict how many radio stations one person or entity can own in any given market, they just don’t want the government to restrict the their activities and those of their friends. It’s activists like those in this film that give the freedom movement a bad name. They fail to understand that the only way to gain freedom for yourself is to grant freedom to everybody else, including the media corporations they continually demonize. The solution to radio freedom lies not in tightening regulation in one area (number of stations owned) while loosening it in another (allowing micro-broadcasts), but in dismantling the FCC itself and allowing a genuine free market in radio.