Baron Dave Romm (barondave) wrote,
Baron Dave Romm

One Day As An Engineer at Fresh Air Radio

This story is for Bubo G. Gear. We were discussing Patti Smith's punk poetry and I mentioned the following incident, saying I probably shouldn't post it on Facebook. So here it is, in all its glory.

NSFW, so the naughty bits will be under an LJ cut (not that you'll notice from the link in FB).

One Day As An Engineer at Fresh Air Radio

In the early days, KFAI-FM was a small, 10-watt (at best) station that was, as I used to say, "exclusive to parts of South Minneapolis". The station began broadcasting in 1978, and I joined in 1979 for Shockwave Radio. Even though non-profit and (mostly) volunteer run, we were required to have 3rd Class Broadcasting licenses, meaning we could handle the studio controls.

One day, probably circa 1980 or so, I was asked to be the engineer for a remote broadcast. The Urban Guerillas, a local Mpls punk band, was giving a concert at nearby Powderhorn Park. I didn't have to do much, claimed the guy who recruited me, but the station needed someone in the studio for legal reasons and if anything happened to the tech during the concert. Okay, I thought, an easy gig for which I get volunteer credit.

I sit down in the studio, alone in the station on the weekend, scan the settings, and get a little bored. Punk rock isn't my kind of music, and I'm sort of half-listening while absorbing more of the equipment and any reading material on hand. The live concert is going well and I don't need to do much but adjust the pots (volume controls) now and again.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a woman leaps to the microphone and says determinedly, "I fucked my mother and she fucked me…" and goes on like this for a few sentences before someone (presumably lead singer Larry Sahagian) wrestles the mic from her and regains control of the situation.

Bless his heart, he gives a short but impassioned speech about "words are just words" and we all use them in different ways for different reasons, and some words are more powerful than others, and for some people more than others.

The band then launches into Patti Smith's Rock N Roll Nigger.

"Brilliant," I'm thinking to myself, "absolutely brilliant. That's exactly the right song to follow her rant". Then it occurs to me: We can't say these things over the air, can we? And if not, it's up to someone to bleep the words or halt the broadcast… which is me. Yike!

I spend an uncomfortable minute or so trying to decide what to do, if anything, when a call comes in. "You know, some people don't like the word 'nigger'". I barely contained my laughter. He hadn't been listening, he was just reacting to a trigger word. I carefully explained that the song wasn't about race ("Jackson Pollock was a nigger") and was about being an outcast ("outside of society, they're waiting for me!"). Plus, this was a live concert so I didn't have control over what the band played. Like most Fresh Air listeners, he was a reasonable guy and accepted this explanation, albeit grudgingly.

The rest of the concert went smoothly, at least from a technical perspective. No one else called and no one said anything afterward. One of the many reasons I remain a volunteer at KFAI to this day.

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