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The Radio Pirate Goes Legit 

Now Pirate Cat Radio is following the rules.

Wednesday, May 26 2010
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Page 4 of 5

Interestingly, the DJs at Pirate Cat have had less trouble going FCC-friendly than Roberts has had in securing underwriting — a form of sponsorship that includes factual statements broadcast about the sponsor — for either KPDO or Pirate Cat. In San Francisco, many of the businesses that would like to support Pirate Cat are suffering, said DJ Canary, who is in charge of local fundraising.

Roberts' approach in Pescadero, his advisers warn, has been intense for a small town. But when he asks them exactly what they mean by "too urban," they can't really explain it.

Jack McKinnon, a local pastor with a new weekend show, The Garden Coach, says that Pescadero is just a tough town to crack. "If you haven't been here three generations, they don't want to talk to you," he says. "The farmers here have sort of a clique. They talk farmer." Of course, there are certain ways of ingratiating yourself: "When I talk with them, I talk gophers. I talk fertilizers," he says.

At his desk, Roberts is wearing his smirk again, and glancing through his bible, Sex and Broadcasting: A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community. The book has been great, but it hasn't helped him sell underwriting. He's put in hours of work making phone calls and sending e-mails to businesses in Pescadero and Half Moon Bay with no real response so far. "People have been hesitant," he says.

Orr tries to comfort him: "You only did that yesterday."

"I like immediate response," Roberts quickly says.

Grants are another option for financing the station, but Roberts has had little luck on that front, either. His application to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was recently rejected. "I'm sure there's some level of nepotism involved with who gets those grants," he says.

He's beginning to wonder whether he should pass part of the burden to the DJs and make them obtain their own underwriting. Just as he's mentioning this, a new DJ, Angel Lopez, knocks on the door. He's come by to talk about his new show, Furthest Edge, which is about radio dramas.

Lopez is one of 15 locals who have applied for shows. Others who have gotten the nod and started learning how to use the board are Tom Shu, the bartender at Duarte's Tavern, who will host Shu's Blues. Then there's Ian Harrington, a 15-year-old who goes by Zed and will discuss world politics. Henry Warde, a 24-year-old musician, will present Baseball and Bluegrass.

Roberts will host a news show every weekday from 8 to 10 a.m. as well as a Sunday evening show, Plane Crash Playlist, which will feature interviews with locals and play the 10 songs they'd want to hear if they were hopelessly stranded.

Roberts asks Lopez whether he could find an underwriter for his show. Lopez says it might be hard to raise $500, the cheapest year-long sponsorship package Roberts is offering.

Roberts needs to sell about $7,200 in sponsorships to cover the station's rent for the year. Raising $95,000 would be enough for rent and a full staff. That will be tough, though, considering how few businesses there are in Pescadero. Already, Roberts worries he's made an enemy of a woman who owns one of the bed-and-breakfast establishments. His instinct tells him to keep pushing until he sells the underwriting. But, in a small town, if he comes off as aggressive, it will certainly damage his reputation. "Word here spreads like wildfire," he says. "Everyone knows you before you know them." He says he's heard people whispering, "That's the radio guy ... he's not from here."

There have been other unforeseen challenges. For one, every restaurant in town closes at 8 p.m., and by every, that means Duarte's Tavern and the taqueria inside the convenience store. For Orr, the move to San Gregorio has meant she has a two-hour-or-longer daily commute.

That isn't to say that Roberts and Orr don't like small-town living. Being able to see all the stars is nice. They enjoy the sense of decompression. When Roberts does get time to sleep, he likes to drift off with the sound of chirping frogs and crickets all around.


If you were driving down Pescadero Creek Road on Saturday, May 8, around 10:30 a.m., with your radio set to 89.3 FM, you would have heard static. Then, just like that, you would have heard a voice.

"My ears are battered and burned, and I have just learned that I have been listening to the wrong radio station," a man's voice said. "My mind has been brutalized, and now the pain can't be disguised. I've been listening to the wrong radio station."

This diatribe against commercial radio, written and performed by British poet Benjamin Zephaniah, continued for several minutes. Roberts believed it was a perfect way to return to the airwaves.

"I couldn't think of anything more poignant to play," Roberts explained at the launch party outside the station. "Basically, what he's saying is, all media is telling him what to do. ... Instead of participating, he has to be an audience member."

With KPDO in town, the "Peskies" no longer have to be passive recipients of their media. They can have shows. They can walk into the station, and have been doing so frequently in the past several weeks.

Today, a crowd of people involved with Pirate Cat Radio has converged on Pescadero for the celebration. Several bands will perform live and be broadcast on KPDO.

The outsiders are eating up the best Pescadero has to offer — the artichoke bread from Arcangeli Grocery, the Portuguese sausage omelette from Duarte's, the lavender-infused goat cheese from Harley Farms Goat Dairy. Some steal away to look at an art exhibition in a field. One display has two giant goats made of tree trunks, surrounded by a small wooden fence. The goats are far taller than the fence, yet they stand inside it.

About The Author

Ashley Harrell

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