When law office receptionist Sue Carpenter first asked how she might start her own radio station, everyone laughed. Getting on the air (legitimately) in San Francisco was a multimillion-dollar ambition. But in 1995, with the help of a few subversive techies and pirate-radio gurus, Sue built her first transmitter in her hilltop San Francisco apartment and launched KPBJ, enlisting friends as DJs. A few months later, Sue landed a magazine job in Los Angeles, took her transmitter with her, and established KBLT.
From these humble beginnings KBLT emerged as one of L.A.'s best-loved radio stations, staffed with more than a hundred DJs and supported by major music labels eager to reach a different kind of audience. The station expanded its playlist from indie rock to an eclectic mix of jazz, hip-hop, electronica, and countless other styles. In the three and a half years before the FCC finally caught up with Sue, KBLT went from interviewing unknowns to hosting live performances by the Red Hot Chili Peppers without ever leaving Sue's apartment.
40 Watts from Nowhere is Sue's frank and hilarious account of her bizarre double life during the height of California's pirate-radio boom: journalist by day, counterculture icon by night. It's an amazing true story, one that will instantly appeal to music fans and free spirits everywhere.
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About the Author
Sue Carpenter is currently a feature writer for the Los Angeles Times and a senior contributor to Jane magazine. Her writing has also appeared in such publications as George, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
40 Watts from NowhereA Journey into Pirate Radio
By Sue Carpenter
ScribnerCopyright © 2004 Sue Carpenter
All right reserved.
IntroductionIt's a Friday, about 11 A.M., when the station turns to static. My pulse doubles in an instant. I can't believe they did it again. I don't even know who "they" are, but it's the second time they've turned off the transmitter in two days.
Yesterday, they figured out which antenna and transmitter were ours from the half-dozen others scattered on top of the same high-rise, but they were gone before we could get there and identify them. Today, I'm not going to let them get away. I run out the door and kick start my beat-up Honda. Ordinarily I'd let the little junker warm up, but there's no time. I keep the choke on and speed down the street, revving the throttle hard.
I'm about to shift into second when a red light stops me. I train my eye on the signal and peel out the instant it goes green, taking the corner so fast my left knee almost scrapes the ground. My front tire is inches from rear-ending a Mercedes. I can't believe this traffic. It isn't rush hour. It isn't even lunchtime. Where did all these cars come from? And why are they moving so slowly? I scream at them through my face shield. They need to get out of my way.
Don't they understand what's happening here? KBLT, the radio station I built from scratch, the station I've sacrificed my apartment for - and my sanity - might be permanently kaput. I lay on the horn. I can't stand these L.A. drivers and their lane-hogging SUVs. I can't squeeze through. I pass three cars in the turning lane, praying the cops won't bust me for reckless driving.
Three glorious years - well, sometimes glorious years - of squatting on the FM dial. It can't be over. What have we done wrong? Who turned us in? Why now?
This Friday morning is no different from any other at my radio station: Eddie knocks on the door, I let him in, and he spins dub, krautrock, or whatever other music he wants for whoever's tuned in. Two hours later Hassan stops by with his crate of classic jazz, and so it goes, nonstop, around the clock, twenty-four hours each day. So what if I don't have a license to operate? I just couldn't scrape together the $100 million I needed to buy my way onto the FM band in L.A. It can't be so wrong to co-opt a little underutilized air space so music lovers can show off their record collections. It makes no sense that that's illegal.
I focus on the tower at Sunset and Vine two miles away. A jumble of antennas and satellite dishes clutter its roof. Shit. There's something moving up there. There are people moving. I feel sick. I need to calm down. If I don't pull it together I'm going to slip under the fender of a Mack truck and sever a leg.
Okay. One mile. Just one more mile and I'm there. Jesus, the sun is bright. In my rush, I didn't manage to grab my sunglasses. I'm squinting and can barely make them out in the distance, but two tiny ant people are wriggling somewhere in the vicinity of the KBLT antenna. This just might be the end.
Excerpted from 40 Watts from Nowhere by Sue Carpenter Copyright © 2004 by Sue Carpenter . Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is not something I would normally read, but I picked it up on the sale table on a whim. I liked it, it read like Bridget Jones Diary with self-effacing humor from the main character. It's even funnier because it's true. It made me want to go search out pirate radio stations.
for people who remeber how it was before the internet,when you actually had to get out into the world to change it instead of sitting in front of your computer all day.