Before last week, my image of pirate radio was stuck in the past, consisting mainly of Yippies in New York huddled around a receiver to denounce conflict in Vietnam, and London party kids throwing raves over the air. Now that image has morphed into wires trailing across the floor of a rental suite in the heart of Fernwood and a few of the capital’s more courageous citizens looking for a new way to support the city’s underground. Add to that a diverse selection of artists, activists, DJs and more, and that, in a nutshell, is 99.1 FM — Fernwood Autonomous Radio.
Since Nov. 23, 2011, FAR has been flooding the airwaves from James Bay to Camosun College every Thursday night from 9 p.m. until midnight.
“Pirate radio is just a form of community building,” says FAR founder and host Joey Chaos, “and that’s what we’ve been doing: just bringing the community together — artists, musicians, poets, creatives — whoever wants to come on air.”
In an industry as heavily regulated as radio, even small community stations are forced to come up with thousands of dollars for licensing, staff and equipment to comply with CRTC regulations.
Higher costs create a need for revenue generation, usually through advertisement. Advertisers, in turn, eat up airtime and expect a certain level of mass-appeal content, which means unique and interesting community radio is quickly pushed aside in favour of the bottom line.
By avoiding the constraints of conventional broadcasting, pirate radio can afford to spend an hour devoted to a single artist — like FAR’s 11:00 album hour — or explore on-air acupuncture.
What’s important, says Chaos, is that the community is being given a chance to express itself in an arena dominated by commercial interests.
“The big thing for me is that we’re providing a space that community members can’t always access . . . we’re providing a voice from the margins.”
While it would be hypocritical for me to ignore the role of conventional media, there is something to be said for accepting our limitations. Independent media fills a niche by creating an outlet for the activism and art that we can’t sell, can’t see and can’t keep up with. Tune in, because Fernwood Autonomous Radio is risking fines, and even jail time, to provide a truly unique community service. M