by David Downs
The Bay Area's world-famous pirate radio station, Pirate Cat Radio, is back on the air, but you'll have to be a migrant worker or Google millionaire to tune in to its signal.
The Federal Communications Commission kicked the fourteen-year-old radio station, housed in San Francisco’s Mission district, off the air in 2009 and fined it $10,000 for illegal broadcasts on 87.9 FM. But Pirate Cat has returned on 89.3 FM KPDO in Pescadero, a chic farm community 49 miles south of its cafe/studio in San Francisco. A group in Pescadero heard of Pirate Cat’s plight and effectively donated a 300-watt radio license to Pirate Cat. Perhaps 3,000 field pickers, Google execs, and aging hippies can get the radio signal in their cars and houses, while thousands more continue to stream the station each week from PirateCatRadio.com.
Station director Monkey (legal name) started Pirate Cat Radio in Los Gatos as a teenager. Amid unprecedented corporate consolidation of the airwaves, Monkey illegally broadcast throughout college in Santa Cruz and for a time in Los Angeles. He opened Pirate Cat Radio's Mission headquarters and cafe in 2008, broadcasting at 87.9 FM and drawing the likes of No Reservations star Anthony Bourdain, as well as countless artists and activists. The FCC soon followed.
During litigation for his FCC fine, Monkey's lawyer informed him of an opportunity to go legal. KPDO’s license was being contested. Pirate Cat Radio quickly made a proposal to license owner Celeste Warden, chair of the nonprofit Pescadero Public Radio Service: let Pirate Cat run community programming in Pescadero. Warden made Monkey 50 percent owner of the license for free. By comparison, the last radio station to change hands in the Bay Area, Energy 92.7, went for several millions of dollars in 2009.
Saturday, May 8, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Pirate Cat Radio celebrates the Grand Opening of its 89.3 KPDO offices with twelve bands and a drive-in movie screening. Pirate Cat has lined up eight local radio shows at the new station, hosted by the mayor of Pescadero and a local Unitarian pastor, among others, and augmented by remote broadcasts from the Pirate Cat Radio cafe and studio in the Mission. The station has just signed a five-year lease at its Mission location. Pirate Cat Radio programming now reaches into La Honda, the small town made famous by author Ken Kesey and Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Monkey, who paid for the project out of pocket, says reopening KPDO would not have been possible without donated gear from engineers at KOIT, KALW, and KDFC, as well as the donated time and energy of the Pirate Cat Radio’s all-volunteer staff of DJs and interns.