Illustration by Angel Jiang, CC ’15
Each issue of The Blue and White has three short pieces that depict some interesting tidbit of campus or New York life, in 300 words or less. This issue, Senior Editor Luca Marzorati, CC ’15, brings you the story of pirate radio in the city, contributor Nia Brown, CC ’17, presents the history of the Croton Reservoir Aqueduct, and contributor Alex Warrick, BC ’17, unwraps the mystery of the controversial “STUPID PEOPLE SHOULN’T BREED” bench on Barnard’s quad. The issue is on campus now, pick up a copy!
Who owns the air? This philosophical question is painfully real for some, including DJ Fresh Kid (AKA Sean Bruce, age 40) who was arrested last July in Brooklyn for operating a pirate radio station. The Fresh Kid was a regular DJ on the Fire Station (104.7 FM), which broadcasted Caribbean music in the outer regions of Brooklyn without a license. Because of a change in New York state law that designated unlicensing broadcasting as a class A misdemeanor, both the Fresh Kid and Solomon Malka, a Fire Station employee, could face jail time.
Fire Station’s collapse marked a shift in the decades-long battle between pirate radio and its legal competitors. Supporters of “big radio” and the Federal Communications Commission claim that unlicensed stations interfere with broadcasts, while pirate radio backers counter that they provide an essential service in underserved communities: only 51 percent of New Yorkers speak English at home, yet 86 percent of FM stations are in English. And besides, they argue, the air should be free. But the threat of jail time has forced many pirate radio operators into hiding, or online streaming.
A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that WKCR, Columbia’s radio station at 89.9 FM, is not spared from the interference of pirate operators. In the northern reaches of Manhattan and pockets of Brooklyn, some hopeful WKCR listeners instead hear “Quisqueya FM”—a station aimed at Dominican listeners broadcasting from the Bronx at 89.7 FM—or “Love Gospel Radio”—a Caribbean gospel station run by Grace Assembly Deliverance Temple on Boston Road. Attempts to contact these operators were unsuccessful; perhaps many fear becoming the next DJ Fresh Kid.
Nonetheless, pirate radio remains a presence on the New York soundscape. Turn the dial just past the static, and a world of eclectic music awaits. Walking around New York with a portable radio reveals the depth of unlicensed transmissions: the drone of Hebrew prayers in outer Brooklyn; the mellifluent tone of a French Creole talk show in upper Manhattan; the sticky urgency of patois on the streets of the Bronx. In a city of a hundred tongues, the pirate beat goes on.
- Luca Marzorati
What about that Croton Reservoir Aquaduct?