Tag Archives: underground radio

A Bit of Berzerkeley

There’s a saying, (probably) wrongly attributed to Robin Williams, “If you can remember the 60s, you probably weren’t there.” To tell the truth, I do have a bit of trouble remembering some of the last half of the 60’s, as well as a bit of the 70s, and this is why finding this document in a file in the garage today is important to me.

I was a disc jockey on a very underground radio station in Berzerkely, but I couldn’t quite remember when it was. I knew approximately when, but not with the “precision” this document provides.

My memories – from about 1967, when I made it up to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Franciso at the tail-end of the “Summer of Love,” to the mid-seventies – are a bit jumbled and confused. I knew I was up there around this time, because I remember the walls of my no-water flat weeping from the moisture in the winter air, and the almost deadly asthma attack I had after being up all night doing a show.

Our radio station probably reached about an area six or seven blocks square. That was it. I think we had one-tenth of a watt of transmission power, and a transmitter that our engineer had managed to sneak onto the top of the Engineering building that was on the north campus of UC Berzerkeley.

It was great fun, dangerous for my health (though here I am,) and I learned quite a bit from it. Turned out I was a horrible reporter. I went to the Marin County Courthouse to cover the arraignment of Angela Davis, after Jonathon Jackson attempted to free his brother George, and ended up killing the judge in the case and dying along with his brother. When Angela’s attorney came out to speak with her supporters, she was surrounded by the media and nobody could hear what she was saying, so I turned my recorder into a PA and let her use it to address the crowd. I ended up with nothing for my story. I have no regrets.


Why I’m Not a Journalist

In January of 1971 I was living in Berkeley (aka Berzerkeley), California. I was “working” at an underground radio station run out of the living room of one of the guys who lived in my building. The address of our building was serendipitously easy to remember; it was 1776 Leroy, just north of the UC campus. I had a one-room, no-water flat though, during that winter there were times when moisture dripped from the walls. I had to go down the hallway to get water, relieve myself, or take a shower. I had a hotplate in my room and, truth to tell, I don’t recall if I had a small refrigerator or we shared one in a common area.

Our studio put out 500 watts of power, but we only had a 1/10 watt transmitter our engineer had managed to sneak up and secure at the top of the Engineering Building on campus. We had dual turntables, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and various other recording devices, microphones, etc. With that little of a transmitter we only reached about 5 blocks square, which was a substantial portion of the north campus community.

In addition to playing music, I thought it was important for us to report on local news, as well as national political news if it happened nearby. On January 5 of that year, the trial of Angela Davis began in the Marin County Courthouse, a little over 20 miles away. One of the devices we had was a boom box that had a cassette tape recorder and I decided to haul my ass over to the courthouse and cover the trial.

I later provided armed security for the McAfee family, whose farm was used for Angela’s bail, when they appeared at this concert.

When Angela Davis’s attorneys came out to speak to the crowd, they were inundated by reporters, journalists, and photographers. There were so many of them (in case you aren’t familiar with this case, it drew international attention) her supporters could not hear a word that was being said. I knew that my boom box could be used as a megaphone, and I knew how to make it happen. I offered her attorneys the use of what I had turned into a way to amplify their voices and reach her supporters. They gladly accepted.

So … everyone got to hear the update Angela’s attorneys provided. Unfortunately, it meant I didn’t get to record anything. I returned to Berkeley empty-handed, save for the memory I had of the event. I had nothing to report other than that. No audio at all. Though I later published the Los Angeles version of The War Bulletin, which was produced in Berkeley, and I’ve written and published several newsletter over the years, that was really the end of whatever career I might have had as a journalist. I wasn’t capable of detaching myself from the story (at least not THAT story) and recognized I didn’t have what it takes to “get” the story.

PS – Today is Angela’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Comrade. Wishing you many more.


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