The Davis community got a peek inside the world of local radio through the Davis People’s Free School course, pirate radio. Taught by Davis resident and radio enthusiast Mark Chang, the class will meet again to set up an antenna and broadcast a radio show throughout Davis. Contact Chang about the upcoming broadcast or future pirate radio classes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The term pirate radio, which refers to unlicensed radio transmissions, comes from the first broadcasts of music in England in the ‘60s. According to Chang, a group of people boarded a ship and broadcasted music from just off shore.
“Maybe that’s where the word ‘pirate‘ first comes from,” Chang said. “They were broadcasting from a boat.“
The class overviews the fundamentals of radio, including the theory of making radio waves and an explanation of the parts that go into making a radio. By the end of the course, Chang will teach his students how to set up a full time radio show and broadcast a short signal from anywhere – even a bicycle.
“People [may] have specific questions about how to make a transmitter, so they can ride a bicycle around have other bicycles play the same music,” he said.
Radio has always been an interest to Chang, a UC Davis graduate. He set up and hosted his own pirate radio show in Davis from 1993 to 1999 called Davis Live Radio. In addition to playing music, Chang would broadcast roving reports, speaking to locals such as a drunken woman at a laundromat to people at the Jack-in-the-Box drive through, all from the confines of his living room.
“It was almost like I was cruising around town meeting people, but I was just sitting in my living room just talking,” he said. “I wanted to have a sense that people out there were participating and get people excited about it.“
The pirate radio class draws on Chang’s experiences and goes into the details of setting up a mini studio. He will explain how to use parts like antennas, transmitters and amplifiers – equipment that can be bought online.
While creating a broadcast signal has become increasingly straightforward, staying on the air is a more difficult task. With the Federal Communications Commission giving preference to commercial stations, there is “not much more room left on the radio dial” for a pirate radio show, according to Chang.
“The airwaves are controlled by the corporations,” he said. “The FCC isn’t really protecting the low power radio stations.“
KDRT, a volunteer-driven radio station in Davis, recently won a bout with the FCC to avoid being pushed off the air, which shifted their broadcast from 101.5 FM to 95.7 FM. According to production manager and radio host Autumn Labbe-Renault, the Davis community “stepped up” to protect local radio.
“It would not have happened without the support of the community and our elected officials,” she said. “We are here to fill a void in local content.“
The Davis People’s Free School, a non-hierarchical learning project established in the 2007, contacted Chang about teaching a pirate radio class. Marguerite Wilson, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the School of Education and one of the founders of the free school, believes the pirate radio course falls in line with their values.
“I think that pirate radio, among many other things, is a great example of people learning how to do and know things themselves rather than relying on institutions,” she said in an e-mail interview. “I think Mark’s class is a great way to make something that is normally inaccessible to most people – i.e. radio technology – accessible to wide group of people.“
For more information about the Davis People’s Free School, check out their page on Davis Wiki or e-mail email@example.com.
CHRIS RUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.