Posts Tagged ‘Pirate radio’


by Zeke Teflon

My longtime friend Gary Lee Russell, best known as the guitarist and songwriter for the punk/new wave band Killer Pussy, died yesterday. I knew him for over 45 years. He was a really nice, funny, talented guy.

We first met in Phoenix in the early 1970s via mutual friends, and were soon involved in various types of drug- and alcohol-fueled insanity. One version of that insanity was KDIL (“The Big 16” — “Getting it said for Satan!”), a pirate radio station that took its name from a paperback book one of the DJs found at a book sale, “Dildo Torture.”  After a period of gathering equipment, we were on the air in early 1972. (One polluted late night shift a few days after we went on the air — I don’t remember a thing about this, but my brother swears it’s true — Bob the Gimp and I read the entirety of “Dildo Torture” aloud over the air.)

Tunein.com has a good description of KDIL, using phraseology from the station itself.

KDIL’s studio high atop the Satanic Tabernacle of Wickenburg

“KDIL is a pirate broadcaster from the 1970’s in Phoenix and Tempe, AZ. A religious broadcaster, the legacy broadcast originates from the Satanic Tabernacle in Wickenburg, AZ. KDIL features Rock, Rap, Dance, Swedish Blues and the inspiring German vocals of Heino. The KDIL DJ talent lineup includes Buster Hymen, Roger B. Protection, Ellis Dee, Harley Farley, Hal Murray, Eddie Satan, Dick Nixon, Rollo Sabatello, and The Countess. [Gary, among his other DJ monikers, was “Richard Nixon”: “This is Dick, sticking it to you.”]

“KDIL has run many great contests, including the ‘Acid Swarm Phone Ripoff’ and the ‘Off the Pigs Weekend’ with big prizes. KDIL’s sponsors include Mr. Rory’s Hyena Tripe drive-thru restaurants, Cactus Patch Citizens Band World, and Zorba’s Adult Books in Scottsdale, AZ.”

Of these “sponsors,” Zorba’s is the only one that actually existed. Gary worked there around the time KDIL was on the air, and we would often hang around after the place closed smoking dope surrounded by skin mags, dildos, and autosucks.

One evening, for lack of anything better to do, we decided to pay a visit to John Sage during his evening talk show. Sage was the local equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, and broadcast on, as I recall, KPHX. The studio was a tiny glass booth in the middle of a mall on Central Avenue, and the place was entirely deserted in the evening except for Sage ensconced in his booth.

To prepare for the visit, we looked through the skin mags at Zorba’s searching for the most disgusting, most explicit ones we could find, and finally settled on a gay fist-fucking mag and one titled “Truckin’ Mamas,” featuring 400-pounders.

That evening we drove with our pal Harley Farley in his pink Cadillac from Zorba’s on Scottsdale Road over to the KPHX booth on Central. Once there, we carefully removed the centerfolds from “Truckin’ Mamas” and the fist-fucking mag and taped them up on the glass booth, at eye height, directly in front of Sage. He was the only one there, so he had to either avert his eyes or look at the photos at least until the next commercial break. (This was well before surveillance cameras were the norm, so we didn’t even try to disguise ourselves when we taped up the photos.)

At the time, in addition to DJing on KDIL, working at Zorba’s (and previously, along with yours truly, at The Back Door Theater — “Parking and entrance in the rear, for your privacy”), Gary was playing guitar in funk bands. The one I remember best was 30 Weight, in part because one evening I saw them playing at Fridays & Saturdays, a sleazy rock joint (black popcorn ceiling, red velvet on the walls, shag carpeting, tiny little tables, half-clad waitresses in slit skirts) on the river bottom between Scottsdale and Tempe. That evening, their drummer got loaded on reds and passed out, slumped over his drum kit in the middle of a set.

30 Weight were a popular band, and in 1971 or 1972 Gary told me that they got hired to play the Miss Watts Festival in L.A. He told me that he was the only white guy there out of five or ten thousand people.

In 1974, I escaped from Phoenix, and saw Gary only sporadically over the coming decade, usually when I made my once-a-year obligatory holiday trek to visit my parents over xmas.

Toward the beginning of the 1980s, Gary had his nearest brush with fame, as guitarist and songwriter for the very much tongue-in-cheek Killer Pussy. They were part of the early ’80s Phoenix punk scene, along with The Meat Puppets and The Feederz (biggest hit, “Jesus Enters from the Rear”), and were quite popular. Not enough so that any of them didn’t have to have day jobs, but popular nonetheless. Among other things, they toured California and appeared on “New Wave Theater” on the USA Network.

Around the last time I saw Gary in the ’80s, Killer Pussy had their biggest hit, “Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage” (1982), which subsequently was packaged by Rhino Records as part of its “worst records ever recorded” CDs. Shortly after the release of “Enema Nurses,” the band disintegrated, largely because of people quitting and because of the death of the band’s drummer and Gary’s good friend, John E. Precious (another nice, talented guy who died far too young).

After the band expired, Gary went into a downward spiral of alcohol and drug abuse (crack, meth, tobacco), and ended up on the street for the better part of a decade. The drug/alcohol abuse and depression were due, in part, to his musical dreams crashing; he had always thought he’d make it as a musician, never developed any job skills, and ended up working awful, low-paying jobs. When he worked, he work as a cabbie and later, when he could no longer do that, as a dispatcher.

To avoid jail, because of DUIs, he eventually left Phoenix and moved to San Diego to be near to his sister.

In the early 2000s he pulled himself out of his nosedive, got on SSD, and quit drinking and doing drugs for several years, while living in a trailer park in Lemon Grove. During those years I talked with him on the phone on a regular basis, mostly joking around, talking about old friends, and shooting the shit about music. He even got it together to record two self-produced CDs, as the Turquoise Orchestra, which never went anywhere.

Then things went to hell. About five years ago he started drinking again, and was soon drinking heavily (cheap whiskey and malt liquor). He continued to smoke heavily, and two years ago got rid of his phone so that he’d have more money for cigarettes and Steel Reserve.

I never spoke with him again. There was no way to reach him, and he never called me (or any of his other old friends).

Last year Gary could no longer care for himself and went into custodial care.

He died yesterday.

What a damn tragedy.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. Its protagonist, “Kel Turner,” is based, in part, on Gary Russell.

Free Radicals front cover

 


Free Radicals front cover

by Zeke Teflon, author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia

Long, long ago, in a far away place—so long ago and so far away, in fact, that the statute of limitations has expired—I had the privilege of serving as a staff engineer at pirate radio station KDIL, “The Big 16.”

Shortly before KDIL went on the air in 1972, its CEO and main announcer, Ray the Reptile, was browsing through the religious paperbacks at the annual Visiting Nurses book sale when he laid his pudgy paws on the book he was destined to immortalize: “Dildo Torture,” by Arthur Fox. Not only did the book provide KDIL with its call letters, but it proved invaluable during KDIL’s short time on the air: It provided an entire graveyard shift’s worth of programming, as the Reptile read the entire book over the air one hot August night, stopping only to punctuate its steamy passages with ads for Globe Shopping City’s narcotics department (“This week’s manager’s special: Blotter acid, two hits for three dollars for school children with I.D.!”) and Black Sabbath’s “Live in Jerusalem” LP, which Ray assured listeners had been recorded at Gethsemane at Easter sunrise.

But KDIL was more than porn and pranks—it was a textbook example of how not to put together and operate a pirate radio station. Perhaps the only thing right about KDIL was its location—an old, secluded mansion with overgrown grounds, surrounded by other mansions, in downtown Phoenix. There were two primary advantages to this: 1) KDIL’s site was in a white, affluent neighborhood, and cops (in this case FCC inspectors) are always more reluctant to kick in doors in such areas than in poorer neighborhoods; 2) the site was secluded and covered with vegetation, which not only made observation of our activities difficult, but also allowed us to hide a half-wave dipole antenna approximately 300 feet long in the eucalyptus trees surrounding the house.

That seclusion and privacy is what ultimately saved our butts, as, after selecting our site, we did virtually everything else wrong. That started with our choice of co-tenants/co-conspirators. Unbeknownst to most of us, one of them was a junkie who normally kept small amounts of heroin in his room. If the FCC had ever tracked us down, he (and we) could have ended up in jail for years as a result of his (and our) stupidity. As well, we were in the habit of smoking dope and occasionally dropping acid in the control room. That, and our roomie’s smack use, wouldn’t have mattered but for the fact that we were ignoring an elementary safety precaution (legal variety) by having our studio and transmitter in the same place, in fact, in the same room. Thus, if the FCC would have found the transmitter, they would have found us (and god knows what in the way of drugs), as well as our studio, and they would have seized all of our equipment.

In itself, that would have been a disaster. What would have made it doubly disastrous was the fact that a good part of our studio equipment was stolen. At the time we put KDIL on the air, all ten or so of us involved in the project were working as either DJs or engineers at local radio and TV stations, and to equip our studio several of my compatriots simply helped themselves to “surplus” gear sitting in various stations’ storerooms.

(My compadres felt no compunction about liberating equipment from the faceless corporations that owned the stations; it only aggravated matters that they hated the stations’ managers and the commercial sleaze those managers were foisting on the public. My friends were well aware that the FCC mandate that stations operate in the public interest was [and is] a sick joke.)

And of course those who equipped the station didn’t bother to eradicate the serial numbers on the equipment, so all of it could have been traced easily. .

The down side of this was that we were exposing ourselves to a horrendous amount of danger for no good reason; the up side was that we were better equipped than some of the commercial broadcast stations in town. We had cart machines for playing commercials and PSAs, broadcast turntables, and even a compressor/limiter. About the only thing in our studio not of commercial origin was our control board, but even that wasn’t a problem as Blue Cheese, one of the other engineers, had built an ugly but quite functional board in a couple of weeks of his spare time.

So, prior to going on the air, we made the following mistakes: 1) we had our studio and our transmitter in the same place; 2) we kept drugs in the studio; 3) we were using stolen equipment; 4) we hadn’t eradicated the serial numbers on it.

We then proceeded to compound our mistakes through our operating practices. Rather than occasionally and sporadically appearing on different frequencies using a low-wattage signal, when we went on the air we did it in a way calculated to attract maximum attention—with 24-hour-a-day broadcasting, on a fixed frequency (1600 KHz), with a relatively high-wattage signal. I had modified a 200-watt ham transmitter to work on the broadcast band, and it, combined with the dipole strung in the trees, was powerful enough to cover the entire metropolitan area of our city, an area of over 2,000 square miles.

Amazingly, it took the FCC nearly a week to home in on us. (They had been alerted by one of the bootlickers at a local TV station.) This was no thanks to our station IDs, which declared that our studios and transmitter were located high in the Mormon Tabernacle in beautiful downtown Salt Lake City—that hadn’t fooled anyone, not even the local Mormons, as we were hundreds of miles from SLC—or, alternatively, that we were broadcasting from the Satanic Tabernacle of Wickenburg. (One of our IDs was “KDIL, getting it said for Satan!”) The reason the FCC was so slow in tracking us down was that we weren’t reported for a few days, and it then took the FCC personnel some time to rouse from their bureaucratic slumber, load their direction-finding gear into their cars, and drive the several hundred miles from their regional office to our town. Once there, they were on to us in no time. But they never found us.

What saved us was our secluded location, hidden antenna, and that we saw them before they saw us. As soon as we spotted the white car with the telltale direction-finding loop, our DJ, the Yuma Llama, went into a short rant about censorship, commercial monopolization of the airwaves, and the fascism of the war on drugs (yes, it was a social blight then, too). As the Llama’s vitriolic verbiage faded into the ether, we disconnected the transmitter, lugged it down to the basement, hid it in a hole in the foundation, lit up a joint, and settled back to watch the FCC car pointlessly scurry up and down our street on its fruitless search.

Over the next few years, KDIL resurfaced sporadically as a late-night, 1-watt FM station operating from the Cheese residence. But the thrill was gone, as were most of the people involved; and KDIL breathed its last in the late 1970s. Still, even though it’s gone, it’s not entirely forgotten. One day in the mid-1980s, while in the FCC’s Los Angeles office on business, Ray the Reptile walked into a stall in its restroom. As he settled on the thorne, the first piece of graffiti to strike his eyes was “KDIL Lives!”

The point of all this is that despite doing a number of monumentally stupid things, we, KDIL’s staff, got away with it—because we took a couple of elementary precautions. You can get away with it too. (Well, probably—there are no guarantees.) If you put a pirate on the air and take reasonable precautions (especially having your transmitter and studio in separate locations), your chances of being busted by the FCC are probably no greater than your chances of being struck by lightning or eaten by hogs.