Unlicensed radio broadcasts, popularly referred to as pirate radio, come and go by necessity. Stations surface only to disappear without notice, generally because operators get information that the authorities are closing in or the Federal Communications Commission has physically pulled the plug and seized their equipment. Somehow, though, KBFR, a Boulder signal, has managed to remain a part of the landscape on and off for years -- and Rob Smoke, a 2007 Boulder City Council candidate who recently began producing a regular talk show for the outlet, is thrilled to be taking part. "I feel a sense of outrage about what's happened to information control in this country," he says. "That really hurts people. That's why I think doing this is the most significant political act of my life."
Westword first wrote about KBFR in the October 2001 Message column "The Making of a Pirate." At that time, the man behind the station, whose call letters were alternately said to stand for "Boulder Free Radio" or "Bullshit Free Radio," was known as Monk, and he hardly fit the stereotype of a media anarchist. "I'm a normal guy, and I have a normal job," he said back then. "I'm in my mid-thirties, divorced, with a couple of kids. I don't have dreadlocks. I'm not a typical hippie radical." Although the FCC silenced KBFR the previous July, representatives didn't seize his equipment, which he promptly gave to another cadre, the Boulder Underground Radio Group. BURG broadcast from the back of a van, so the feds would have a tougher time pinpointing their location.
Three years later, the KBFR moniker popped up again in a very public way: A benefit show was staged on its behalf at the Fox Theatre. Back then, the station even had its own website, KBFR.org, but that page leads nowhere today -- and KBFR itself seemed dead in the water, too, as noted in this event listing for former contributor Sid Pink.
Now, KBFR has not one but two Internet pages -- one on MySpace, the other on Facebook. Moreover, the MySpace page includes a streaming link. (It was down earlier today but is expected to be operational again shortly.) But people with old-fashioned radios can find it as well. The station broadcasts from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays and wall to wall on weekends -- and Smoke says "it comes in crystal clear throughout Boulder. In fact, somebody told me the other day that they were able to get it on the road to Louisville."
As for who's running KBFR these days, Smoke has no idea. He's never met the individual in question nor spoken to him, and at this point, he can't recall how he obtained the operator's e-mail address in the first place -- all of which is fine by him. "That's sort of a safety mechanism," he points out. "I just do my stuff and e-mail it to him."
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Smoke's program features his take on local issues as well as ones of national import that he doesn't think have gotten enough attention in the mainstream press. As an example, he cites the case of Barry McCaffrey, a retired general who worked for defense contractors even as he offered allegedly objective analysis on NBC. Smoke says he raised objections to this conflict of interest on KBFR well before the New York Times gave the topic national play on November 30.
Other KBFR programming is equally focused on unfettered expression. "They have a hip-hop show with no censorship of the lyrics," he points out. "If you want to hear real hard-core rappers without any radio edits, you can." Likewise, he goes on, the station airs unexpurgated comedy routines, not to mention anything-goes forums for would-be radio hosts like himself. The MySpace page urges anyone interested to reach out.
How long will KBFR's current run last? Smoke isn't sure, but he's under no illusions that it'll remain available forever. "I think the guy who's doing it expects to be busted sometime, and I figure somebody's going to tell me to stop, too," he allows, adding, "Maybe I'll do it anonymously then -- take evasive action."
Still, he feels pride, not guilt, about participating in the enterprise. "The FCC is just protecting moneyed interests," he says. "It's insane. There's no reason to block out alternative sources for news and views, but that's become the FCC's function. And KBFR is strictly non-commercial. It's just a place for people who want an alternative to the media that's out there now." -- Michael Roberts