Ways to listen to or connect with Green Light Radio
FM radio: KGLR is now broadcast at 96.9 FM
Request line: 720-432-5457
In the world of illicit, low-powered FM radio, the same lack of government oversight that allows so-called pirate disc jockeys to play the music they want when they want and offer up damn-the-man commentary not suited for commercial radio also opens up those pirates to some unexpected issues.
Such was the case last month when the Boulder pirates who bring Internet-based nonprofit station Green Light Radio to the FM dial found that after more than four years of squatting at 95.3 FM, their frequency had been overtaken by an "unknown, rogue pirate."
Green Light co-founder Rocky Flats, who took his DJ name from the now-defunct nuclear weapons plant south of Boulder, speculated that the new pirate may have been a DJ from legendary pirate station Boulder Free Radio. The station was a Green Light forerunner that has been found at 95.3 FM on and off since beginning its swashbuckling ways in 2000.
But he couldn't be sure.
"Pirates are typically pretty cordial, pretty communicative," said Flats, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "I've never had an experience with this and I don't know how to communicate with this person."
While the frequency issue came as a surprise, Flats said it doesn't bother him. After all, producing unique radio broadcasts on unused frequencies "is what pirates do," Flats said, and with the spotty quality of Green Light's signal keeping it off the airwaves from time to time, he's not surprised someone else jumped on board.
Besides, it's not as though Flats and his fellow pirates sought permission from the Federal Communications Commission when they first brought Green Light to the airwaves nearly five years ago. The commission, which regulates interstate and international communication over numerous mediums, including radio, has a stated goal of shutting down pirate stations across the country. It issued 489 notices of unauthorized operation to pirate stations between 2009 and October 2012, alone.
FCC agents operating out of a Denver field office hounded Boulder Free Radio for years before eventually catching up to operators in 2005, forcing the station to shut down temporarily.
But Green Light devotees need not fear. The FCC has not shut down Flats and his fellow DJs. In fact, in a world where every major corporate station provides its content in a live stream on its website, and perfectly legal independent online stations are a dime a dozen, the pirate faction at Green Light remains as dedicated to pirate radio as ever.
The Mr. Anonymous Reggae Radio Show, broadcast live each Monday from the basement of The Samples' founding member Jeep MacNichol, providing listeners with a mix his favorite reggae and ska music straight from its vinyl sources, plus "garbled random commentary and island good vibes," is still available on the Boulder radio dial -- along with the rest of the station's unique offerings.
Listeners just have to move their radio dial a smidgen up the spectrum to 96.9 and hope for some clear reception. A pirate's life, indeed.
Green Light Radio launched Sept. 19, 2008 -- International Talk like a Pirate Day.
Its genesis lies, in part, in an old broadcast of Boulder Free Radio, said Flats, who grew up in the mountains west of Boulder and experimented with ham radio in his youth.
Flats, one of the four founders of Green Light, and one of the few DJs that hosts a weekly live show ("The Happy, Hardcore, Hip-Hop and Hippy RamaJama-Slamfest"), first got serious about launching an independent station after stumbling across Boulder Free Radio.
"Honestly, I heard a cuss word, and I was like, 'Wait, what?'" Flats said. "Radio geeks listen to airwaves. I would have never known about Boulder Free Radio if I didn't turn my radio on and start tuning away."
The station, which goes by the call sign KGLR, streams online at GreenLightRadio.com, which Flats notes is the primary focus of the station and its DJs.
He said that all station business is decided upon democratically, with all of the active DJs -- whose numbers have varied over the years, but currently hover between 10 and 15 -- having a voice.
The pirate broadcast is never brought up in those meetings, Flats said, and all the station's DJs, save for himself and a few unnamed others, do not have the technical know-how to operate the station beyond its legal online format.
"Mr. Anonymous, the Pagan Demons, they have no working knowledge of what goes on the pirate side of things," he said of his Green Light counterparts. "Their passion lies in supporting their community and in their own art."
Not that the station isn't willing to take "full marketable advantage" of some of its more incorrigible members' insistence on getting the station out onto traditional radio airwaves. After all, who turns down free exposure, even if they don't expressly endorse the means of that exposure?
Or as Flats puts it, "We have such a passion for our community that certain members may go overboard sometimes."
Inspiration from, and support for, the community
While Rocky Flats was alerted to pirate radio when he heard an unexpected expletive on the airwaves, he and Green Light's other DJs are quick to point out being a DJ for a station such as KGLR is about much more than dropping F-bombs on the radio.
DJ Pecas -- Green Light's "punk pixie," who hosts the weekly "Punk Rock Show" and similarly spoke on condition of anonymity -- prides herself on playing new, obscure and classic punk rock on her two-hour weekly broadcasts, and is always seeking out local bands to play on her show.
She joined the station in 2010, shortly after becoming a roommate of Flats and learning of his association with Green Light. She saw what he was doing with his broadcasts, and since there "were about three punks living in Boulder," at the time she decided to help enlighten the masses.
While her show is on the air for just two hours each week -- 10 to 12 p.m. Mondays -- and since she favors a genre known for its aggressive style where songs may last less than a minute, Pecas estimates she tears through 40 to 60 songs each broadcast.
Pecas is dedicated to playing lost gems from old artists and new, exciting music. Because of her passion for local musicians -- a passion shared by just about everyone at KGLR -- Pecas said she is constantly going to concerts around the metro area and talking to bands and fans in search of new material.
"My thing is I go to shows and tell people I have a radio station and act like I'm a real big shot and get them to talk to me," she said, half jokingly, as she sat down with Flats and fellow DJ GGirl at a Boulder restaurant.
Green Light naturally supports Mr. Anonymous and his concerts, but Flats said promoting the local scene and providing local musicians free airtime always has been a focus of the station.
Green Light's staff, essentially a group of volunteers, also is passionate about supporting community, as evidenced by the free services the station has provided for local charity events through GreenLightRadio.com.
The station has been involved in supporting worthy causes since at least as far back as when GGirl did an interview promoting the 2009 "Concert for Kyle" that raised money for youth cancer research. GGirl said she remembers that the interview, conducted with the parents of Highlands Ranch teen Kyle Blakeman, who died in 2006 from a rare cancer affecting youth, moved her and the family to tears. While she said she couldn't be sure if the KGLR interview helped, she knows the concert set a fundraising record that year.
The station also has provided services to several charitable events held at Boulder Reservoir and at concerts including the 2011 and 2012 Desert Rocks Festival held in Green River, Utah, Flats said.
"We don't charge, and I don't believe that we should," he said. "You're a community station, you have the resources and stuff and its free promotion for you anyway. You're doing good in the community. You should just go off that."
Green Light Radio hasn't heard from FCC -- yet
Of course, for Green Light's pirate element, running the illicit station carries some risks.
In January 2005, the FCC finally put enough pressure on the founders of Boulder Free Radio to knock the station off the airwaves after a nearly five-year run. While Boulder Free Radio has returned to the airwaves, broadcasting at 93.9, according to a Google website, https://sites.google.com/site/boulderfreeradio/home, its broadcasts after the run-in with the FCC have been unsteady at best.
An FCC official declined to comment about any possible investigations into pirate radio activities in the Boulder area since 2005, but a map on the commission's website shows that between January 2009 and last July, 22 pirate action cases were launched in Colorado. Those cases, making up 3.3 percent of pirate cases opened nationwide during that time, resulted in no forfeiture orders and no fines, according to the site.
Flats said operating a pirate station isn't outright illegal, it's simply against FCC regulations -- regulations with which he disagrees.
"We understand why the FCC exists. There is no harm, no foul there. There is plenty of reason for them to exist," Flats said. "Somebody just needs to rewrite the laws to make it better for everyone."
The FCC's website notes that, "Section 301 of the Communications Act prohibits the 'use or operat(ion of) any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio" without a license issued by the FCC.
The commission's site states the pirate stations may cause interference to other licensed broadcasters, non-broadcast services and even create risks to public safety by interfering with radio signals. Pirate stations also "compete unfairly with licensed broadcasters for advertising dollars," according to the FCC site.
Green Light Radio is commercial-free, and, as Flats noted, actually costs its operators money to maintain, though they said they are happy to spend it and have plans to invest in improvements for the station.
The FCC has vowed to work "around the clock, using the latest technology" to shut down pirate stations and take aggressive enforcement action against operators and those who assist them.
Commission statistics show that in addition to hundreds of warning letters sent to pirate operators nationwide, in 2012, 17 notices of apparent liability were sent to pirate operators, and 16 forfeiture orders were executed, seeking fines totaling $220,000.
Flats said the FCC has never contacted him regarding Green Light Radio, though Pecas said she once received an FCC warning letter that kept her from broadcasting for a while.
Flats noted that the commission does not have the power to follow through on the warning letters they send to pirates -- and must partner with a law enforcement agency such as the Boulder police or the FBI to shut down stations. He said if the FCC has ever contacted the local police, he feels it is clear Boulder police did not feel cracking down on the station is a high priority.
"I love the Boulder Police Department," said Flats, a sentiment echoed by Pecas. "I'm sure some of them have listened (to the station). I believe they have probably been asked (to shut us down)--that is my assumption--and they haven't done anything because they don't see us as a threat, because we're not here to cause them problems."
Broadening the 'scope of information'
GGirl, fondly referred to as the wisest of the Gods of KGLR on the station's website, was one of a handful of former Boulder Free Radio DJs that joined Green Light, DJing for a while for both stations before KBFR started to dismantle.
She first got involved in pirate radio in 2005 when she met the former director of Boulder Free Radio. While she started her career as a pirate playing alternative rock songs, she said what really drew her into it was a desire to provide an alternative source of information on the airwaves not provided by the corporate stations.
"With Clear Channel stations you have such a limited scope of information that is available, but they are also trying to play to what society wants," GGirl said. "I think most pirates are behind me when I say we need to broaden our scope of information that is available."
GGirl has prided herself during her career as a pirate on not only playing the music corporate stations won't play but also tackling controversial issues that would never be touched by mainstream outlets. Her former live Sunday show, "Sex and Chocolate," not only provided listeners with reviews of fine, locally produced candy, but also featured information regarding sexual health, sex laws, sex toys and relationship advice -- topics GGirl noted would be very difficult to discuss while respecting FCC guidelines.
GGirl said one of her heroes is former Dead Kennedys singer and political activist, Jello Biafra, who once said, "Don't hate the media, become the media."
That's exactly where Flats hopes Green Light is headed, adding to the independent options at Boulder residents' fingertips without having to worry about the FCC. His hope may be closer to reality now than ever, after Congress passed the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, giving the FCC clearance to issues hundreds of new licenses for low-power FM stations.
"It's about spreading the knowledge. Spreading awareness. We firmly believe that the airwaves are a natural resource, and as such should be controlled by the community that is in that natural resource," Flats said. "What we're trying to do is provide an example that essentially works well enough."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.