The Radio Pirate Goes Legit

Now Pirate Cat Radio is following the rules.

Roberts needs to sell about $7,200 in sponsorships to cover the station's rent for the year. Raising $95,000 would be enough for rent and a full staff. That will be tough, though, considering how few businesses there are in Pescadero. Already, Roberts worries he's made an enemy of a woman who owns one of the bed-and-breakfast establishments. His instinct tells him to keep pushing until he sells the underwriting. But, in a small town, if he comes off as aggressive, it will certainly damage his reputation. "Word here spreads like wildfire," he says. "Everyone knows you before you know them." He says he's heard people whispering, "That's the radio guy ... he's not from here."

There have been other unforeseen challenges. For one, every restaurant in town closes at 8 p.m., and by every, that means Duarte's Tavern and the taqueria inside the convenience store. For Orr, the move to San Gregorio has meant she has a two-hour-or-longer daily commute.

That isn't to say that Roberts and Orr don't like small-town living. Being able to see all the stars is nice. They enjoy the sense of decompression. When Roberts does get time to sleep, he likes to drift off with the sound of chirping frogs and crickets all around.

If you were driving down Pescadero Creek Road on Saturday, May 8, around 10:30 a.m., with your radio set to 89.3 FM, you would have heard static. Then, just like that, you would have heard a voice.

"My ears are battered and burned, and I have just learned that I have been listening to the wrong radio station," a man's voice said. "My mind has been brutalized, and now the pain can't be disguised. I've been listening to the wrong radio station."

This diatribe against commercial radio, written and performed by British poet Benjamin Zephaniah, continued for several minutes. Roberts believed it was a perfect way to return to the airwaves.

"I couldn't think of anything more poignant to play," Roberts explained at the launch party outside the station. "Basically, what he's saying is, all media is telling him what to do. ... Instead of participating, he has to be an audience member."

With KPDO in town, the "Peskies" no longer have to be passive recipients of their media. They can have shows. They can walk into the station, and have been doing so frequently in the past several weeks.

Today, a crowd of people involved with Pirate Cat Radio has converged on Pescadero for the celebration. Several bands will perform live and be broadcast on KPDO.

The outsiders are eating up the best Pescadero has to offer — the artichoke bread from Arcangeli Grocery, the Portuguese sausage omelette from Duarte's, the lavender-infused goat cheese from Harley Farms Goat Dairy. Some steal away to look at an art exhibition in a field. One display has two giant goats made of tree trunks, surrounded by a small wooden fence. The goats are far taller than the fence, yet they stand inside it.

The creator of the exhibit, a Neil Young doppelgänger in a shabby baseball hat, sneaks up on a few onlookers. "They could leave anytime," he says. "It's only their minds holding them back." It's a piece of art Roberts would almost certainly applaud.

An ultimate go-getter, Roberts has been running around all day, ensuring things are done right. In fact, many things are going right. Since the bleak day in the station when he was feeling down about finances, he has sold two underwriting packages. Catherine Peery, the chair of PMAC and thus the town's unofficial mayor, purchased the first for her retirement planning group, Peery and Associates. Farmageddon, a company that fixes tractors and sells organic fruits and vegetables, purchased the second.

Finally settling on a log to observe the party and be interviewed, Roberts talks about the interesting transition from pirate radio to a licensed community station. It's forced him grow to up a little, he admits. "I think I finally reached 23 — at 29," he says. "I finally reached the age where I'm doing responsible things."

Since he now has to abide by FCC rules, Roberts has made it a point to thoroughly study them. He's been surprised at times by how much sense they make. He was particularly interested to learn that the FCC gives citizens the right to investigate public radio stations. That's important, because lots of stations put out more power than they should, he says, which interferes with other law-abiding stations.

"How do I say this?" he says, then pauses, weighing the implications of his words. "I guess I've finally started to respect some of the rules the FCC has in place."

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