I spent the second half of the 1990s hanging out with people who operate unlicensed radio stations. That was partly because I was covering them as a reporter, and it was partly because I was active in a movement to legalize their illicit transmissions. I didn’t see anything wrong with that dual role—I wasn’t pretending to be objective, and anyone who read my articles could see where I stood—but sometimes the lines got a little blurry.
Like the night in 1998 when I found myself standing on a nondescript West Philly block with a crew of crunchy anarchists. An outlet called Radio Mutiny was hosting an East Coast gathering of pirate broadcasters, and we had just been through a day of workshops, speeches, and press interviews; now some of us were about to get a tour of the station’s makeshift studio. One of the local pirates looked around to reassure himself that there weren’t any interlopers. “OK, all the reporters are gone,” he said. “We can go up now.”
One of my scruples kicked in, and I raised my hand. “Uh...you guys do know what I do for a living, right?”
They laughed. “Oh, you’re OK, Jesse,” one said, unlocking the door and ushering us inside. I hadn’t set out to do immersion journalism, but evidently, I was immersed.
IT WASN’T THE first unlicensed station I visited, and it wasn’t the last. In 1999, as I was crossing the country to start a new job, some pirates in Texas even put me up for the night in their transmitter room, which meant sleeping on a stack of dirty mattresses next to a machine that emitted the most high-pitched sound I’d ever heard. Eventually, I published a book about all these broadcasters and the history that had shaped them. Rebels on the Air came out in September 2001—not, in retrospect, the best month to sell a book about radio—and now it is turning 20.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Everything is Infrastructure Now
How spending got out of control and words lost their meaning
DEA Still Insists Marijuana Has No ‘Accepted Medical Use'
DEA still maintains that the plant belongs in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a category supposedly reserved for especially dangerous drugs with no accepted medical use.
History – Walking the Delicate Line Between Reporter and Activist
I spent the second half of the 1990s hanging out with people who operate unlicensed radio stations. That was partly because I was covering them as a reporter, and it was partly because I was active in a movement to legalize their illicit transmissions.
Do We Really Need New Anti-Asian Hate Crime Laws?
A holistic look at the data shatters the narrative about bias-based violence.
Cynthia Lummis, Crypto Queen Of The U.S. Senate
The Wyoming Republican explains why she’s long on bitcoin.
What happens when a community bail fund stops paying bail and starts trying to abolish it?
Cubans Rose Up. America Should Step Up.
After thousands of Cubans poured into the streets in early July to protest the island nation’s Communist government, President Joe Biden said America “stands firmly” with the people of Cuba.
Economist John Cochrane Is Still Worried About the Debt
The U.S. national debt held by the public is currently almost $22 trillion, or about $67,000 per citizen, surpassing the country’s annual GDP for the first time since World War II. The Congressional Budget Office predicted in March that the U.S. debt would grow to 102 percent of GDP by the end of 2021, to 107 percent by 2031, and to 202 percent by 2051. Those estimates came before President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which made the long-term budget outlook even worse.
How Many Union Members Does It Take To Operate A Train?
President Joe Biden’s proposed $2.25 trillion infrastructure spending bill is more than just a huge barrel of federal cash for road, bridge, and rail projects. It is also a vehicle for reauthorizing America’s surface transportation laws, providing an opportunity for special interests to write new rules and mandates into federal policy.
Jane Coaston – Meet The New York Times' Libertarian Podcaster
Jane Coaston on the polarization of everything