On Board The Crystal Ship (1983)

On Board The Crystal Ship
'An Exclusive Interview with one of America's most widely heard radio pirates'
(Originally published in the A*C*E, monthly bulletin of the
Association of Clandestine Enthusiasts, December 1983 issue)

ACE: Let's begin this interview with a historical background of TCS. When did you decide you wanted to run a pirate radio station?

TCS: Back in June of 1982, three of us were just wrapping up a term of school, and the Poet said, "Hey, let's start a radio station." Everyone thought it was a good idea. The first broadcast that we know someone heard was aired on July 31, 1982, and was monitored by A*C*E's Darren Leno.
ACE: How was the Poet first exposed to pirate broadcasting?

TCS: The Poet had never heard a pirate before we started TCS, but he was an SWL and NASWA member back when the 'Voice of the Voyageur' was first getting popular in 1978, and he read a lot about them in FRENDX.

ACE: So obviously, the Voyageur served as an inspiration to the Poet. What can you tell us about the rest of the TCS staff?

TCS: The basic staff consists of 'the Poet', 'the Radical', and the 'Unknown Soldier'. The Poet has been the motivating force behind the station, as well as the pseudo-engineer and production manager. The Radical is our resident democratic socialist, and supplies much of the political thought heard on the station. The Unknown Soldier defies labels, but would have to be considered the 'militant arm' of TCS operations. Like we always say, "The FCC can get Federal Marshals, but WE got the Unknown Soldier!" Unfortunately, he is often absent from programs due to 'overseas engagements'. The three of us were brought together in this through a mutual affinity for the music of The Doors, The Who and Blue Oyster Cult.

ACE: The audio quality of TCS's first transmissions was relatively poor. What steps did the 'pseudo-engineer' take to correct that problem?

TCS: Much of our trouble originated from within our 1962 Allied Knightkit T-150 transmitter. Whoever originally assembled it made somewhere from 12 to 20 big errors in wiring it; quite a few parts also needed replacement. We also suffered from RF feedback, sometimes referred to as "motorboat" because that's what it sounds like. When we got our new audio mixer from Radio Shack, we bypassed all the line inputs and outputs with .001 mica capacitors installed across the jacks, as well as one across the audio input to the transmitter, and never suffered from RF again. Not being technically inclined, we never would have been able to solve these problems without the help and advice we received from a very good friend to the movement in the east, who shall remain nameless. (Note: It is now safe to reveal that the transmitter work was performed by the operator of WART-AM in New York, another pirate of that era. - The Poet) Many of the audio problems pirates suffer can be linked to RF feedback interference, especially on shortwave.

ACE: Certainly your station has had its problems. On a lighter side, have you had any humorous experiences while on the air?

TCS: We were at a remote location on our first attempt to go on the air, parked in a van on one of the highest spots in the county. We had our antenna erected, and equipment connected to a power inverter from the van's battery. We didn't realize that we couldn't draw over 300 watts of current from a 100-watt power inverter. We tried it for a few seconds, and then the tapes started slowing down and speeding up and the lights on the transmitter dimmed, until we finally realized that this wasn't going to work. We were sitting there, all bummed out, trying to figure a solution to the problem, when the Radical finally says, "Well, why don't we just get a 'Mister Microphone'?"

ACE: Has TCS made any mistakes it's sorry for?

TCS: Yes, we're sorry that we wiped out the 41 meter band on or about October 24th, 1982. We didn't realize that our transmitter was having delusions about being a high-powered wide-band FM rock station; we didn't intend to cause the Strategic Air Command to scramble on our account. We sent the transmitter to 'the doctor' right after that, who worked on it for months. We didn't get it back until April 1983; all its 'delusions' were resolved at that point.

ACE: Is there a philosophy behind TCS, and if so, what is it?

TCS: There is a philosophy behind this, and it is expressed in a poem written by the Poet, which is recited right after the song 'The Crystal Ship' by the Doors, which opens each broadcast. Many listeners probably never have caught the beginning of a show, or couldn't copy it due to conditions, so here it is:

The Crystal Ship is being filled, a thousand thrills awaiting
We bid you come along with us, and sow the seeds of rebellion
For the time is now, the hour has come, the young shall fill the streets
And they will grab for the brass ring, ripping it from the hands of tyrants

The high and the mighty overthrown, their idols trampled to the ground,
Conceived by the young, a new world is born, the way it ought to be
Be daring, be strong, they've got the guns, but we have got the numbers
Our time has come, now follow us, and we will take you there

ACE: It has been said that the content of your programming is 'socialist'. Is it?

TCS: It certainly seems that way sometimes. However, we don't consider ourselves to be a socialist station.
ACE: A few months ago, TCS seemed to be on the air just about every weekend. Why have you cut back on your air time?

TCS: It got to be hazardous to our health.

ACE: What would you do if you were ever "busted" by the FCC?

TCS: I'm sure you'd read about it in the newspapers; it should make national headlines...

ACE: Do you favor the creation of an 'amateur broadcasting service'?

TCS: Absolutely! We would be happy to do what we're doing now in a legal manner if the Feds would give us the means. Unfortunately, they show no sign of ever doing it soon.

ACE: What can be done to bring about such a service?

TCS: There are quite a few things that could be done, if someone would do them. First of all, anyone may submit a proposal to the FCC, and the FCC has to put it on public display for two months and then MUST take some sort of action on it. We are trying to put together a proposal of some sort right now, and would be very pleased to receive any suggestions on specifics. We would also like to meet with our congressmen, because it may very well take legislation for any change to occur. It seems pretty unlikely that the FCC will approve anything, partly because it might create a lot of extra work for them.

ACE: Do you think you provide an alternative to commercial radio with your programming?

TCS: Well, we're a shortwave station, and shortwave isn't really a commercial medium. I'd say we provide a good alternative to all the government-owned stations that are on the air.

ACE: In your eyes, is there unity among pirate broadcasters?

TCS: There is some unity, but it occurs in very small circles where certain pirates know one or two others, and they help each other out. I think there should be much more unity, since we're all doing the same thing and have a common enemy. If we band together in certain ways, we could all become stronger. We've had a few ideas, such as forming a 'free radio network,' a political lobby, or maybe a liberation army.... We should flex our political muscle.

ACE: In your eyes, is there too much government regulation of the radio industry?

TCS: You have GOT to be kidding!!!

ACE: I'll take that as a yes. As long as we're on the subject of government, what is your attitude toward the FCC?

(-Editor's note: TCS's response to this question was so long, it had to be edited for length. However, every effort was made not to detract from the general attitude of the reply.- Leno)

TCS: We consider ourselves to be in a 'state of war' with the F.C.C. They're playing dirty now, aren't they? I refer to the recent bust and subsequent action at Radio Northstar International. That guy made the basic mistake of opening his door during a broadcast, but what the FCC agents then did would seem to be pretty dishonest and sleazy. The agent who walked in on Horthstar saw the equipment in operation, which would be all the FCC legally needs to levy a fine. Then he offered the operator of Northstar "leniency" if he "cooperates". The agent then convinced the operator to write a letter "saying how sorry he was for what he had done." What the agent actually wanted in hand was a document which amounted to a 'signed confession'. Instead of leniency, the operator of Northstar was later levied with a $2,000 fine, the highest amount which anyone has been fined to date, and usually reserved for repeat offenders. The price for free speech and freedom of the airwaves keeps going up, and WE think it is time for a Revolution of the Airwaves.

Now I'd like to say a few things to the operators of free radio stations who will be reading this; it can help you to avoid a fine if you know exactly what to do if the agents knock at your door. All of the operators who have been busted seem to think that it's "all over" when the Feds are outside on your doorstep, when in reality it's only the beginning of their process. In order to levy a fine, the FCC must have real proof of the offense, and be able to name exactly who it is who is committing that offense. Believing that a signal is coming from your house is proof of NOTHING. The FCC can't go into court and say, "Well, there was an antenna, and he sure acted guilty!" What they really want is an admission from the operator, which is why they'll ask to be let in "to see the station," and then they don't have to prove anything, because once you let them in and admit operation, you've basically "turned yourself in". DON'T let the FCC into your house without a search warrant, and remember to shut down all your equipment before answering the door for anyone.

ACE: Thank you for talking with us. I'm sure the members of A*C*E wil find your remarks very interesting, and please keep us up-to-date with things on 'The Crystal Ship'. It should also be noted here for clarity's sake that A*C*E* neither officially condemns nor condones the activities of pirate broadcasters. Because broadcasting without a license is a crime punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to one year in prison for EACH violation, we encourage no one to do it. (A*C*E)

(Credit is give to The A*C*E, The Association of Clandestine Enthusiasts, now defunct, for this article.)