Pirate radio

The summer before my sophomore in highs school, summer of 1994 specifically, I rented a movie called Pump Up the Volume on VHS form a local Blockbuster Video. I got home and watched it. Then I watched it again. It was one of those movies that speaks to awkward adolescent males thirsty to be rebellious and special but are too scared to take any real social risks.

(Just in case it is not obvious: I was such an adolescent male.)

The main character in the film is a kid named Mark Hunter (played by Christian Slater), who has moved to a new town where he does not know anyone and no one knows him. Hunter figures out how to set up a low-powered transmitter which he uses to run a pirate radio station. When Hunter broadcasts he creates a persona called Happy Harry Hard-on who says all the things Hunter wants to say but is to scared to say in public.

Mark Hunter, a high school student in a sleepy suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, starts an FM pirate radio station that broadcasts from the basement of his parents’ house. Mark is a loner, an outsider, whose only outlet for his teenage angst and aggression is his unauthorized radio station. His pirate station’s theme song is “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen and there are glimpses of cassettes by such alternative musicians as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Camper Van Beethoven, Primal Scream, Soundgarden, Ice-T, Bad Brains, Concrete Blonde, Henry Rollins, and the Pixies. By day, Mark is seen as a loner, who has to make extreme effort to be sociable around others; by night, he expresses his outsider views about what is wrong with American society. When he speaks his mind about what is going on at his school and in the community, more and more of his fellow students tune in to hear his show. 1

Throughout my adolescents I had a fantasy of somehow getting enough money to buy the equipment necessary to start my own pirate radio station. Like most adolescents, I was never able to resist spending money on short term comforts (CDs, comics, fast-food, etc.) and so I never even came close to saving the money I’d need to turn my fantasy into a reality.

Today, as I write this, I’m wondering why it is that there are not ”pirate podcasts”. Is it because podcasts, which are available whenever we want them, fundamentally different from the ephemeral nature of radio? Maybe. I don’t really know.

  1. This text is from the Wikipedia page for the film Pump Up the Volume. Accessed 6/23/20.