Silence on the Dial

Two weeks ago the FCC shut down Montrose Radio. Can the pirate station survive the bust? Can the pirate station survive itself?

But in March 1998 another visit by the FCC put a stop to the fun. Skelter, who was in the shed broadcasting a Buddhist psychology tape, slipped out the back gate, but the agent trailed him around the neighborhood in a Chevy Caprice. "Every time I was like, okay, it's safe to go home now, there he would be parked in front of the house again. Finally, 20, 25 minutes later, it was like, thank God, he's gone. And he pulls up right in front of me. And he gets out of his car and he says, 'Mr. [Skelter's real name], I presume?' "

Skelter and the agent had a friendly chat, during which Skelter discovered that his house had been under surveillance. The agent left after requesting that Skelter turn off the transmitter. "We were never threatened by these people," Skelter says. "Of course, the situation was threatening. But I never felt threatened by them.... They're just doing their job." When Jackson, who had the station's phone bill and post office box in his own name, found out about the visit, he told Skelter to turn the station off.

The loss of momentum was more than Skelter could take. After two weeks of dead air, he turned the transmitter back on, hoping to protect Jackson by keeping him in the dark. When Jackson found out, he came back on board and even devised a mobile unit for the transmitter. Montrose Radio jubilantly broadcast from local clubs, the Westheimer Art Festival and the Art Car Ball.

At the time, Montrose Radio could be described as an "organization" only in the loosest sense of the term. As is often the case with such entities, power falls to those who do the most work, which in this case were Skelter and Jackson, whose radio handle was 00Jones (pronounced Double-Oh Jones, or Double-Oh for short). While Skelter took care of workaday details such as tracking the station's finances and picking up the mail so taped shows could be broadcast on schedule, Jackson kept the equipment working.

The group began holding regular meetings, where Jackson presided, in the words of one participant, like "a benevolent dictator." Jackson tried to set up a nonprofit organization for the station and put together a slate of officers that included himself as president, but he avoided letting the matter come to a vote. "He was the natural leader of the organization," says Mercer, who advocated democracy. "But he was afraid that people wouldn't elect him president."

When Skelter tried to bring in a former radio engineer who had offered to help relieve the tremendous workload of running the station, Jackson -- who, friends say, is of the rubber-band and chewing-gum school of engineering -- not only balked, he interpreted the suggestion as a threat to his sovereignty. He appeared at the station with a group of supporters, intending to yank the transmitter from Skelter's meddling hands.

After an aggressive interrogation, during which Skelter told the group that his "loyalty," if he had any, was to the programmers, Skelter says he was told he had "passed the test." The transmitter stayed. But the incident was near to the last straw. Two weeks later, Skelter decided the station had to go. "It was like being in a tree house with a sign," he says. "No Grown-ups Allowed."

Fuck Brassieres. Fuck Inflation. Fuck Girl Scout Cookies. Fuck Money. chickpea's faded T-shirt is an artifact of the 1970s, but she and her housemate Siouxsie Kreemcheese, both in their early twenties, are Montrose Radio's hope for the future. As secretary at radio meetings where Robert's Rules of Order carry about as much import as a beer coaster -- actually, less -- chickpea takes wry, cool-headed minutes wherein sections have titles such as "Did someone say bylaws?" and Maxxam is referred to as the "local evil multinational." Siouxsie, for her part, is largely responsible for organizing the station's popular Velvet Underground and David Bowie tribute concerts to raise money. At their bungalow, the decor includes a placard for the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World. Vegan cookies are proffered, and a bright blue kitten -- harmless vegetable dye, Siouxsie points out without prompting -- skitters across the floor.

Siouxsie was at the station, broadcasting the local-music show sponsored by Rudyard's, when FCC agents paid their third visit on August 20, 1998. By this time, Montrose Radio had found its new home above the Texas Hemp Company. The lead singer of local band Spunk was headed down the stairs, wearing a big plastic penis over his leather pants, when the agents showed up. Skelter, who by that time had rejoined the station, politely let them in and left to call Jackson. When Jackson arrived, he told the agents he was the owner and operator of the station and agreed to disconnect the transmitter. The last thing Siouxsie saw when she split the scene was Jackson standing on the landing, cradling the transmitter "like a dead child."

Skelter was having a beer at Rudyard's when Jackson walked in and plunked the transmitter down on the bar. "Well, that's it," Jackson said. "I guess from now on it's Zen Radio."

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