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The Construct Pirates Community Radio

A musician and activist unmasks himself and his plans for illegal radio broadcasts.

In 2004, Jeremy Gregory's photo appeared in these pages — but most readers didn't know it. Back then, Gregory and two associates had set up a fundraiser intended to help revive Capitol Underground Radio, an unlicensed enterprise typically described as a pirate station. Because the Federal Communications Commission takes a dim view of such operations, closing them down as soon as possible and threatening scofflaws with the loss of their equipment and/or criminal charges if they broadcast again, the three disguised their identities and employed pseudonyms in the May 6, 2004, column. Yet they made their intentions clear. Gregory, who went by "Wrench," declared his goal of "taking back radio from the rich."

Didn't happen. The FCC's increased presence at the time convinced Gregory and company that going live as planned would be too risky. Gregory never gave up on his radio dream, though, and at last he's on the cusp of realizing it. Along with Mark Risius, his partner in an experimental art-rock band called The Construct, he's purchased a 24-foot box truck and outfitted it as a portable stage. The vehicle allows them to play wherever there's a place to park, and since they've installed radio equipment, too, they'll be able to transmit performances as well as politically oriented shows and anything else that strikes their fancy. Gregory pledges that "we'll definitely be utilizing community radio," a moniker he prefers over the more colorful term: "'Pirate radio' sounds cool — it gives it an edge — but it's just another way the government and those in power demonize things. And what we're really about is community. Giving the community a voice."

Of course, the FCC could silence Gregory at any time. But thanks to the truck's mobility, he feels confident in his ability to evade federal authorities — so much so that he's publicly declared his intentions under his own name and let the masses know about the first truck-bed shows. On Friday, June 6, the Construct debuts on the outdoor stage at 3 Kings Tavern, 60 South Broadway, with Hemi Cuda, Forth Yeer Freshman and Looker scheduled to showcase inside; visit www.myspace.com/3kingstavern for details.

In addition, the truck will be displayed that same evening at 3505 Ringsby Court, Building B, in conjunction with the Motoman Project's "Riotland," which brings together machine artists, kinetic sculptors and audio-visual technicians for "an interactive machine/robot performance-based experiment" (www.MotomanProject.org).

For Gregory, these gigs represent the next major step in a journey that began in 1993, when he and Risius began making music together. Over the years, they've collaborated in acts such as Fahrenheit 451 and Family of Dischordia, whose name references Dischord Records, an imprint associated with the Washington, D.C., punk scene they both love. But Gregory also poured his energy into Bands for Lands, which he co-founded in 1996 with another friend, Doug Bohm. The organization is dedicated to spreading environmental messages and social awareness with the help of musicians and acts such as Rage Against the Machine, Fugazi and Blues Traveler, all of which have allowed Bands for Lands to situate at area concerts over the years.

The success of such grassroots communication methods naturally drew Gregory to unsanctioned radio, which experienced a boomlet in the metro area during the late '90s and early 2000s. Boulder Free Radio, also known as KBFR, and Capitol Underground Radio, a collective headed by former KTCL air personality Dave Granger, broadcast for extended stretches, evading authorities via the use of vehicles that prevented agents from pinpointing their location. The FCC was persistent, however, quieting KBFR on more than one occasion and shuttering Capitol Underground Radio permanently in 1999, some months after Granger had set up a studio of sorts in the Golden Triangle neighborhood.

After being told he'd receive jail time if he got back into the illicit-radio game, Granger ceded his gear to Gregory, who'd co-hosted a program called Capitol Punishment with Bohm under the Capitol Underground Radio umbrella. But Gregory waited to use it, partly because of a low-power FM initiative being developed by the FCC. Unfortunately, the final package turned out to be far less than most hoped: Rules about spacing between stations made it virtually impossible for a low-power outlet to legally broadcast in a metropolitan area like Denver, where the dial is already crowded with public and commercial entities. Hence, Gregory decided to skirt regulations again, despite the feds' proven ability to find and gag those who did likewise, including Bass Ghost, whose unauthorized hard-core rap station, Skyjack Radio, had its plug pulled in late 2002.

Of course, Gregory's earliest scheme died in its infancy — but he's got a new model that he thinks will work better. He and Risius, who've just completed a new CD produced by Don Zientara, a longtime Fugazi compatriot, intend to be on the road ten months out of the year, with Bands for Lands sponsors helping to pay for the fuel their truck will need to reach festivals and other events. During regular performances by the Construct or general consciousness-raising sessions, sponsor logos will be on display, but they'll be covered up during radio broadcasts to create separation between these establishments and extracurricular activities. And by the time FCC agents in the area get hip to what they're doing, they'll already be on the road again.

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