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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

Heavy Rhyme Experience:
The Mystik Journeymen step up to another level; Radio Free San Jose turns on without permission

For this week's column, I had planned to tell you all about Free Radio San Jose. First, let me tell you about a show I saw last Sunday, a show that demonstrated the power of hip-hop to its maximum extent. It was Mystik Journeymen. I had seen them a couple times before, but this show was on an entirely new level. B-FAP, PSC and a scrappy posse thick with skills (including a pierced Japanese rapper named Erata who had everyone tripping) blew through a set that combined theater, emotion and rhyming antics that teetered on the edge of insanity and surrealism.

Afterward, B-FAP hit me up with UHB #5 (the latest in a series of four-track demo tapes available only at shows), which contains the best hip-hop coming out of the Bay Area--pure, rough and rugged underground untainted by outside producers and labels, performed by the ultimate beat freaks. The entire crew is off to Europe next week to push West Coast hip-hop worldwide.

Gonzo Radio

Back to radio. If you're curious about what those yellow 93.7FM signs posted all over downtown San Jose mean, here are some answers. It's another unlicensed, low-wattage radio station broadcasting in the South Bay in defiance of the Federal Communications Commission. As of last Monday, Free Radio San Jose was up and running out of a Willow Glen garden shed, broadcasting 15 watts at 93.7FM, joining Free Radio Santa Cruz, Watsonville's Radio Watsón and Radio Zapata in Salinas. A 40-watt transmitter will be installed soon. The station currently plays music but aims to put on spoken-word shows that reflect the community and hopes to broadcast 24 hours a day.

Berkeley resident and tinkerer Tom Shriner, who has helped organize almost all the Bay Area radio collectives, assisted FRSJ in getting the necessary hardware--antennae, transmitter, etc. With bootleg stations operating in outposts like Watsonville and Salinas, what took tech-jolly San Jose so long? "San Jose tends to run last on everything," Shriner says. "San Jose is wallowing in comparison to other areas. It has a different dynamic."

Free Radio San Jose operates as a collective. Thirty people, mostly high school and college students, donated $30 each to get it done. The music is provided from personal collections. Nobody can tell someone else what to do, except that the person who's doing a show can kick everyone out of the studio if there are too many people hovering about. Free Radio San Jose held its first staff meeting last Sunday. Issues included finance and profanity on the air, a trend they're trying to curtail. It seems that not everybody has gotten over the novelty of broadcasting four-letter words. Music with sordid imagery and blue language didn't get similar consideration.

"We support music that has dirty language in it," says Steve (who didn't want to give his last name). "It's stuff that gets censored over regular radio and has artistic value. They use the words in an artistic way, and they should be played."

FRSJ's members maintain that they're all about upholding free speech, but they would probably turn down a proposal for a show espousing right-leaning views. "We don't want to come on and badmouth a band or person," explains Steve. "If someone comes on and shouts about Pat Buchanan, that's okay, because he's such a bad guy. But I want to remain objective about politics." Another FRSJ participant, Marcos, adds, "I'd rather not be associated with that image of saying shit about people that doesn't need to be said."

Free Radio San Jose--and microbroadcasting itself--is still in its infancy, so give it time to move through its growing pains. The first programmed show is dedicated to local music (send demos to FRSJ, P.O. Box 2166, San Jose 95109). The station can also be reached at 408/280-7375.

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From the March 28-April 3, 1996 issue of Metro

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