Monday, January 25, 2010

"Quiet enough for a drum solo?"

On Saturday night, April 30, 1966, I was watching my favourite British TV show, Secret Agent. Known as Danger Man in the UK, Patrick McGoohan as cynical agent John Drake, was the epitome of ubercool. He was the real deal. What we thought spies were really like. Anyway, I digress. That night's particular episode was called "The Not So Jolly Roger," and our beloved John Drake was undercover pretending to be a pirate radio station disc jockey! Cool! And the even cooler thing was that the episode was shot on some old World War II observation platforms in the British sea that was actually a real pirate radio station. Radio 390 was what the station was in real life, but in the episode, the station is called "your friendly pirate Radio Jolly Roger."

At that time in my life, the magic of radio captivated me. I had dreams of bringing together all the crazy things that inspired me into one concept of a radio program. I loved science fiction and horror movies. The other worldly electronics of Forbidden Planet in 1956 had inspired me to listen for the unusual. Odd sounds invoked odd thoughts. The Theremin in The Day The Earth Stood Still in 1951. Couple this with classical music and the new rocking sound of mod England. Mix this with the mystery of an old-time radio adventure like the Shadow. Throw in the comic surrealism of the Goon Show. The international connection of the shortwave. And yet, have the immediacy and intimacy of being a ham radio operator where you are in direct contact with the receiver of your signal, live and at that moment. These were the basic alchemical elements of what would become Space Pirate Radio.

So I loved the concept of pirate radio at the time it existed in my life. There were these pirate radio stations in Europe, which I couldn't hear. The closest I had in California was listening to the Mexican stations. Those powerful signals broadcasting without FCC restrictions, south of the border into our domesticated urban centers. XERB was the most famous. Home of Wolfman Jack. Playing those throbbing rock & roll records. Talking about having his little brown bottle and not having a clue what he meant until much later. Telling lovelorn lady listeners to "hug your pillow." He was a lunatic. He was the Wolfman. He only came out at night. I could dig it.

So in the world of 1966, if pirate radio operated outside the legal limits of countries that forbade it, in a future dystopian world...your author pondered...a pirate radio station would have to exist outside the earth. So before satellite radio, I saw satellite radio. Or instead of a pirate ship broadcasting from sea, I saw a pirate ship broadcasting from space. Or instead of broadcasting from Luxembourg into England, I saw broadcasting from the moon down to Earth.

So the seeds were being sown. The elements were coming together. I never knew until I bought the Danger Man box set that that fateful episode of Secret Agent was called "The Not So Jolly Roger." I used to do a pirate character on my program called Long John Aluminum, who commanded his shipmate to hoist the Jolly Roger. He, who in turn responded, "he's not so jolly." "Then hoist the not so Jolly Roger," Long John replied. This was followed by the sounds of some grumbling twit being raised up the mast. So the things we forget, maybe we don't forget.