“It’s kind of like Fight Club, first rule of pirate radio is you talk about it only in bathroom stalls with other pirates,” he said.
Local pirate DJ Billygoat — who would prefer to use his pirate radio name since the station is illegal — is part of a rising underground culture known as pirate radio — or illegal, low power and uncensored radio.
Unlike standard, commercialized radio, pirate radio is not licensed to be on the radio and does not run advertisements. Since pirate radio does not have to run advertisements, it does not have to cater to what sponsors may or may not want heard.
After disc jockeying for Arcata’s pirate radio station, Humboldt Free Radio Alliance 99.9 FM, Billygoat moved to Eureka where he had a vision of starting something similar to what he saw in Arcata: a free radio station.
With the help of other pirates, Billygoat started Humboldt Bay Pirate Radio 88.9 FM, Eureka’s pirate radio station, successfully running for two years. The Arcata station Humboldt Free Radio Alliance is on its 13th year.
“[Pirate radio] allows me to be creative instead of sticking to … the preconceived idea of what it [radio] should sound like and who it should reach,” Billygoat said.
Pirate radio is a local and progressive effort inspired by not only “anti-authoritarian struggle,” as Billygoat deems it, but also an attempt to benefit the surrounding community.
“We can step outside the conventional means,” Billygoat said of pirate radio’s freedom. “In that respect the community benefits from an alternative media source. [We] make available music that would otherwise be censored.”
Pirate radio is also a place for local artists.
Local music producer Cole Olson, 21, aka AliEn LOuNge, said pirate radio gives artists — who otherwise would be restricted on commercialized radio — the chance to be heard.
“Without pirate stations [local artists] wouldn’t be given the airplay that [is] important for our music,” Olson said.
Zachary Roecker, music manager of KRFH radio at Humboldt State, described pirate radio as a station with the ability to play whatever it wants, whenever it wants.
“If we [commerical radio] start expressing opinion … come out saying you’re pro-life [or] pro-choice, [companies] may not want run ads [for us]. Whereas pirate radio [is] able to say what they want,” Roecker said. “[It is a] good thing for freedom of speech.”
Pirate radio’s number one enemy in enforcing free speech is the Federal Communications Commissions, whose job it is to regulate radio. The FCC comes to Humboldt County twice a year.
DJ Billygoat of Humboldt Bay Pirate Radio said, “Like Fight Club, we have ‘agents’ that are out there in the professional field that give [us a] heads up when they [FCC] come into town.”
Humboldt Bay Pirate Radio shuts down for the week the FCC is here to avoid regulation checkups.
With high-power radio equipment and paying royalties on the music played, commercial radio adds up to be very pricey.
“How much money [there is in radio] is ridiculous,” Billygoat said. “Local artists … have to sell 10,000 units in order to get on the radio.”
Cliff Berkowitz, journalism lecturer and KRFH AM Radio advisor, argues that with the FCC, radio stations can have low-power radio through low-power licenses. These licenses granted by the FCC give stations the ability to use radio wave transmitters that are 100 watts or less for non-commercial purposes.
Berkowitz — who founded KHUM, a commercialized radio station in Humboldt, in 1996 — argues that commercialized radio benefits the community as well.
“We are extremely involved in the community [and] give local businesses a chance to advertise,” Berkowitz said. “[It is] a win-win for everybody.”
Roecker likes commercialized radio.
“Pirate radio is just there cause they want to do what they want, that I don’t like. [It is] not good for radio as a whole because it demeans the whole genre,” Roecker said. “When you have a real point to make, if you’re good enough for people to listen to what you want, then be a real radio station. Gives your point validity.”
Humboldt Bay Pirate Radio 88.9 FM, “broadcasted from international waters just off the north coast,” can be heard along the coastal parts of Humboldt, Eureka,Titlow Hill and some parts of Trinidad and Orick.
The station plays mostly electronic, hip-hop, vinyl records, and local artists such as punk rock band AM Beers, Creepy Marbles, and electronic artists like AliEn LOuNge, @uDioGa$m, and Schedule 1. Humboldt Bay Pirate Radio broadcasts Sunday nights from 8 p.m. to late at night on 88.9 FM.
The Arcata pirate radio station, Humboldt Free Radio Alliance 99.9 FM can be heard in Mckinleyville and most parts of Arcata.
DJ Rex Everything of Humboldt Free Radio Alliance, said the station plays various genres from hip-hop to metal.
Humboldt Free Radio Alliance airs Sundays from 1 p.m. to midnight and from 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday.
Every Friday at 2 p.m. the station puts on radio plays, such as “Sherlock Holmes.” They will begin online streaming in the next two or three months.
Pirate radio is known as a worldwide movement against censorship. what DJ Billygoat of Humboldt Bay Pirate Radio calls this “an act of reclamation.”
“It proves very specifically that everyone can create something as wonderful as this: laidback, no bosses, no managers, no dumbass you’re going to run into at the water cooler.”