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Taking back the airwaves

February 15, 2004

For almost three years, beginning in 1995, KBLT, a 40-watt unlicensed station based in Silver Lake, broadcast an eclectic mix of music -- and attracted a passionate following in its small listening area. At the center of what became a 24-hour operation that eventually attracted studio visits from the likes of the Jesus and Mary Chain was Susan Carpenter, a freelance writer (now a reporter for The Times). In "40 Watts From Nowhere," recently published by Scribner, she describes the life of KBLT, which unfolded largely in her living room. An excerpt:

The studio equipment is fairly simple. Radio Shack's finest. A chimp could learn how to cue up records on the turntables, slide the fader back and forth on the mixing board, and press Play on the CD players. It takes about 15 minutes to learn and -- presto -- insta-deejay.

It's a sort of budget college-station set-up. The only difference is that the deejays need to keep my address a secret, be on the lookout for white vans, and know what to do if the FCC stops by for a quick chat and frisk. Like I said, simple. Walking the deejays through the equipment, I correct their mistakes as they spin records without turning up the volume or play two CDs at the same time. Luckily for them, there are no listeners.

Almost everyone who stops by is a complete stranger to me. Kerry Murphy is among the newcomers....

Kerry has volunteered to deejay Fridays at 8 p.m. That makes her show the first of the night, which means she's responsible for turning on the transmitter. It's in the bedroom, I tell her, and lead her down the hall. I feel like a guy who's just used the worst pickup line on the planet: "Hey, baby, want to see my transmitter?" I'm feeling a little weird, but Kerry doesn't seem at all freaked. I flip on the light.

"That silver box there in the corner, that's the transmitter. The black thing next to it is what powers it...."

"So as soon as I turn that stuff on, whatever was happening on 104.7 suddenly turns off for everyone and it becomes my show?"

"Simple but true."

She collects her backpack from the living room and sits down in the $3 studio chair I bought from a thrift shop around the corner. The top cushion is held to its frame with nails and squeaks when she leans back. She laughs.

"Pirate," we say in unison.

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