Note: Clicking on any bordered pictures in this feature spawns
a clip from the documentary
The last time someone chronicled the story of free radio in the United States on video or film was Pump Up the Volume, and before that there was only one DIY-style video out there, which has long ceased production and distribution.
The story of modern microradio had yet to be told; enter Kevin Keyser, a field producer working in mainstream TV news on the West Coast. He once did a story for his station on Stephen Dunifer and Free Radio Berkeley and was intrigued by the concept of unlicensed broadcasting. Unfortnately, the story that ultimately aired didn't do Dunifer justice - as was the problem with much of the news Keyser found himself covering. It wasn't his fault, though - it was the medium's.
"I would sometimes spend an entire
day with people and then see it boiled down to a 2 minute story on our
show that night that just barely scratched the surface," says Kevin.
The story got more compelling, and in July, 1999 Keyser set out with a brand-new digital video camera and a mission - to chronicle the stories of the free radio movement across the country, in hopes of explaining what it is that makes radio pirates defy the law.
Free Radio: A Documentary was put together with less than $5,000 and a home computer. "There is no way this would have been possible [10-15] years ago," Kevin says. He hired a cameraman to help him cover one event, but the rest he shot himself.
Chronicling the Rise
documentary, as a history of microradio from the late 1980s to early 1990s,
is remarkably complete. Keyser visits with the true father of U.S. free
radio, Mbanna Kantako, who's
been running Human Rights Radio in Springfield, IL straight on since 1986.
"He has been evicted, arrested, etc., and his family has been continually harassed by local authorities. Somehow, through all of this, he has managed to keep his course and go on the air every night and not let these people intimidate him. He's also a real character and a funny guy," says Kevin.
Also included are perspectives on the movement
from other instrumentals like Stephen Dunifer of Free
Radio Berkeley, "Captain Fred" of Berkeley Liberation Radio,
"Skidmark Bob" from Free
Radio Santa Cruz, and two members of Free
Radio Austin - just to mention a few from an incredibly diverse cast
of rogue radio personalities.
"I especially like how KIND Radio does things and allows everyone, even the [Ku Klux] Klan, to be on the air. Free speech is all about protecting all kinds of speech, especially the most unpopular speech," he says.
speech may be a primary force that spurs free radio activists into action,
but there's lots of other reasons, too. Corporate control of the
airwaves is a huge beef. And pirates have been known to take their beefs
straight to the source, as evidenced by protests at FCC and NAB Headquarters
and at the NAB's annual conventions.
"I like that clip. It's seems
to get the biggest laughs when a crowd is watching it," says Kevin.