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?

At the next meeting, the Old Shepherd was duly elected, but the struggle with Jackson was not yet over. He demanded $35 an hour for future engineering services and $500 apiece for Montrose Radio's registered business names (they'd cost him $11). What's more, he was still balking at handing over the transmitter.

"At one point," the Old Shepherd recalls, "he held up the keys to the station and said, 'Who's man enough to take these keys away?' And somebody walked up and just took 'em." Finally, Jackson asked everyone to sign a document stating that Montrose Radio agreed to be the responsible owner/operator of the station. Within a week the station was back on the air.

Jackson maintains that the coup was the result of a systematic attempt to discredit him, not a last-ditch attempt to get back on the air. He even says -- although many dispute this -- that he agreed to go back on the air before the explosion at Rudyard's.

Although he won't explain exactly how a community radio station that several people have poured hundreds of dollars into could be a profitable endeavor, Jackson maintains that the "piranhas" were motivated by financial gain. He whips out a $10 bill and points ominously to the motto "In God We Trust."

"There were continuous conversations about the evil god," he says, adding that if people had "let me alone and let me do my stuff," everyone would have benefited. "How do you think I knew the community wanted a radio station?" he asks. "Because I listen to the community.

"They felt they could steal anything they wanted from me. They felt they could steal my transmitter. It's my transmitter," he says, then abruptly shifts direction. "I wanted the community to take it from me. They had to take it from me because it was the community's. In a way, it was the fulfillment of my own making. In a way, I'm glad it happened.... Getting the community to do something is a tough job. When you're the Lone Ranger, you've got to fight your own battles."

There's more than one Lone Ranger at Montrose Radio. When the station was first being planned, Edwin Johnston was booking the punk rock concerts at the Allen Parkway Village Community Center. APV leader Lenwood Johnson recommended him to serve as the liaison between the radio station and the Residents' Council, which was campaigning to save the public-housing project. Johnston, a peace activist and cable-access producer, was an active participant in the station and even made a video documenting the station's first broadcast from Skelter's shed. He also arranged for the station to lease the office above the Texas Hemp Company.

"Me and Kevin [Jackson] had done most of the work," he says. "Me and him were the hardest workers there."

After the "coup," for which Johnston was not present, he was nominated for the interim board and lost to Martin, and his subsequent offer to "facilitate" meetings was rejected in favor of a rotating chair. Nevertheless, he attempted to attend the board's first meeting at Brasil, a cafe on Westheimer. When Martin saw him there, Johnston says, Martin threatened to hit him but refrained when he noticed people watching. Martin denies this. Martin and the Old Shepherd claim Johnston tried to disrupt the meeting; the Old Shepherd says Johnston came up to him and said, "You're dead."

When Johnston left Brasil, Martin says, he was in such a state that Martin called the Texas Hemp Company, where whoever was there agreed not to let Johnston enter the station. Five minutes later, Johnston did show up at the Texas Hemp Company, even though he wasn't scheduled to do a program. The refusal to let him in added fuel to his later contention that he had been unfairly and unilaterally banned.

The next day Lenwood Johnson, who hadn't attended a Montrose Radio meeting since the station was based at Allen Parkway Village, sent members an e-mail claiming that Jackson had been "forced" from the organization and calling for the immediate resignation of the board. He also wrote that the board's rejection of "Edwin's mandate" to serve as facilitator for the group was an "obvious symptom of the antidemocratic nature of the coup plotters and their cynical leadership style."

In response, Skelter released some of his e-mail exchanges with Johnston, which showed that Johnston had lent his support to the proposal to go back on the air with or without Jackson. Johnston now refers to Skelter's release of private e-mails as "blackmail."

That's only one of many accusations that Johnston has made. In e-mails sent all over Houston, and to a national microradio listserve monitored by the FCC, Johnston called Montrose Radio "fascist, totalitarian and Hitlerian." In what is presumably not typical pacifist fashion, he urged Montrose Radio members to "Destroy Harry!" Most recently, in letters published in Houston Peace News and Urban Beat, Johnston accused "the coup-plotters" of conducting a "COINTELPRO-like black campaign of intimidation" and heralded "the death of Montrose Radio."

"Eddie," chickpea explains, "is, like, really a purist."
After Johnston's e-mail campaign had begun, Skelter walked into Rudyard's one day to find flyers with Montrose Radio's logo transformed into a swastika, and "Storm Trooper Radio" underneath. Unamused, he cornered Johnston, who had been distributing the flyers, and confronted him. Johnston and his friend Bryan Kilburn say Skelter shoved Johnston, which Skelter denies. At any rate, accusations of "assault and battery" and "intimidation of witnesses" soon followed, as did repeated written demands to the membership to address the violence perpetrated by Skelter "and his minions." Johnston, who is not a dues-paying member of Montrose Radio, refuses to attend meetings unless his physical safety is somehow guaranteed.

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