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Pirate Power Radio

[whitespace] 96.3FM David Lee

Magic Man: Merlin (right), Free Radio Santa Cruz DJ, shows his face for the first time.

Local pirate radio station searches for new home

By Matt Koumaras

FREE RADIO SANTA CRUZ (96.3FM), the county's lone pirate radio station, says it needs a little help from its friends in the community. The 20-DJ collective, which has been broadcasting for five years, thought it had found a happy hiding place at its current Eastside Santa Cruz location. Unfortunately, the lease expires at the end of this month.

Free Radio Santa Cruz can afford to pay up to $300 month rent, but it is against the wall, facing high rental costs in the city. Says Merlin, the first station DJ to reveal his face to the public, "This station started out from bare bones. I wish we could keep the station we have now. It's so beautiful." Merlin changed his name two years ago after becoming enthralled by reading a few stories about the Arthurian sorcerer.

A lanky spark plug of 45 years, Merlin could use some real magic to keep the station's vision real. "Freedom of speech and saving our planet is what we're all about," he says, explaining the station's raison d'être. "We really try to serve the community and attempt to speak up for everyone that doesn't have a voice." The station broadcasts around the clock without any advertising dollars and can be picked up with a cheap antenna all the way from Bonny Doon to Watsonville. Free Radio Santa Cruz refuses to pay the FCC's yearly $2,500 licensing fee for one-watt stations because it believes you shouldn't have to pay for your beliefs. The station also does not condone the FCC's invasion-of-privacy routines. According to Merlin, "They're still beating down pirate radio stations left and right but not us."

Merlin hosts The Idle Hands Show, Tuesdays from 4 to 7pm. "Tape these," he orders, handing me a couple copies of his show. "They could be worth a million dollars someday." The show is packed with head-banging and prog-rock tunes from the '60s through the '90s. Merlin describes his show as "the best old-school, rock & roll, satanic metal on the planet." Merlin's raspy yet resonant delivery dominates the airwaves--imagine someone as shamefully funny as Howard Stern but far less egocentric.

Over the past two years, Merlin's show has featured up-and-coming local bands such as Slow Gherkin, Vincent's Ear and Herbert. He enthusiastically describes the Santa Cruz music scene as "the new Seattle." Merlin encourages all local bands, regardless of musical style, to contact the station for an interview and an opportunity to showcase new material.

Shows such as the Essence of Venus (Friday, 9-11pm) and Matthew Embry's Technical Difficulties (Sunday, 7-11pm) also spin the cogs of the local scene. Assuming a new location can be found soon, there are plans to boost the transmitter from 40 watts to 100 watts and to broadcast in stereo.

But the current system works fine for Merlin, who declares, "It's better to have a radio station with few listeners than no radio station at all." He knows community leaders view the station as a bastion of free speech. He even shows me a copy of a resolution from the Santa Cruz City Council supporting the station. Strong backing unfortunately won't count for much if the station can't find a new place to broadcast by the first of August. They are seeking a small office space, a warehouse--anything to keep the station breathing.

Free Radio Santa Cruz: 427-4523 or P. O. Box 7507, Santa Cruz 95061.

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From the July 14-21, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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