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40 Watts from Nowhere: A Journey into Pirate Radio Hardcover – February 3, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Carpenter has penned an endearing if flawed memoir about running a pirate radio station out of her Los Angeles apartment for three years and meeting all sorts of oddballs, rock stars and wanna-bes while staying one step ahead (well, most of the time) of the FCC. Her characters are right out of central casting: she describes herself as "a motorcycle-riding blonde with a bunch of leather in her closet"; her ne'er-do-well musician boyfriend as someone who has "an affection for needles"; and her tech-support guy as a likable slob with awkward social skills. The oddballs mostly come across as standard-issue L.A. airheads, and Carpenter's wooden ear for dialogue ensures they stay one-dimensional. But her frank, often funny narrative is easily absorbed, and the story's a good one: one woman quitting a humdrum receptionist job to flout the law by filling the airwaves with the indie rock she loves, music she believes the monolithic Clear Channels of the world aren't playing. While most of the bands from the book's mid-1990s setting are no more than funny names that never made it out of the local clubs, there are also cameos from several big (or soon to be big) acts, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction and Beck. With the station inevitably shuttered in 1998 by the FCC, one wishes Carpenter had gotten the book done a bit sooner for full cutting-edge effect.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Carpenter's autobiographical reflections on running low-powered FM radio stations without benefit of FCC credentialing is a folksy addition to discussions about access to the nation's airwaves. Carpenter says she is a very average young woman who just wanted to bring much-needed variety to the FM dial and decided to launch her own station. She quickly discovered that nonpolitical programming was the exception rather than the rule among her fellow pirates, including those expert in the technology she needed to master. Despite resistance and otherworldly weirdness from grimly committed pirate-radio politicos, she eventually broadcast on ultralow frequency, first in San Francisco, then in L.A. Her call letters-- KPBJ, KBLT (which the aforementioned politicos considered frivolous)--suggested the tasty listening options she offered as she and her DJs broadcast an incredible variety of music from her living quarters. Throw in the constant threat of FCC detection, and this looks more than ever like a credible mate to On the Road and the Fear and Loathing books in the ranks of insurgent outsiderdom. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743229886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743229883
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #518,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jonathan Colcord on February 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
40 Watts From Nowhere is a human interest story where the protagonist loses the game, but still gets a lovely consolation prize- the experience of having created a thriving community. A loyal following consisting of the media, musicians, and like-minded individuals, simply by providing music to a small core of ravenous music lovers. The only problem? It was against the law. The FCC caught up with 'Paige Jarrett' and put a stop to her unauthorized distribution of free music. No, this is not the story of yet another copyright infringing youth downloading music for free from the internet. This is the unusual success story of low-power, Pirate Radio in one of America's largest cities- Los Angeles.
In an attempt at curbing the boredom of a 9 to 5 job as a receptionist, Sue Carpenter decided to purchase a small transmitter and set up shop in her apartment, eventually enlisting a small army of 25 or so volunteer disc jockeys playing everything from folk to punk. Pirate radio, notorious for broadcasting radical fringe political views is an unusual forum for music Carpenter discovered as she enlisted the help of many of the radio underground's key players for technical advice.
For nearly 3 years, KBLT (yes, named for the sandwich), operated freely, almost so publicly that they would enlist artists such as Mazzy Star for a benefit concert, host Red Hot Chili Peppers for an in-studio impromptu performance, and even gain the services of punk rock legend Mike Watt to do his own KBLT radio program. Eventually, this cavalier attitude and a more powerful antenna location would spell KBLT's demise, being shut down permanently by the FCC.
This story will delight anyone, such as myself who have worked in radio outside of the commercial realm.
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Format: Hardcover
I HATE cryptic reviews so i thought i would add my own 2 cents. I loved this book! The author comes across as so honest and forthright that you feel like you are in her inner circle while the story unfolds. The story is funny, tragic, and all too real if you live in L.A. Who would have thought that running a pirate radio station would be sooo much work? I love the idea that one person (with the help of some friends) could make all of this happen. It's a very empowering story. Quite honestly, i couldn't put it down.
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Format: Hardcover
I read a blurb on this book in Rolling Stone last week and bought the book the next day. I read the entire thing in one 9-hour sitting.
It tells an interesting story about a cat-and-mouse game with the FCC, but more importantly, one person's drive to create a true alternative radio station where the DJs have total control over what they play. Ironically, before creating her pirate radio stations, the author wasn't actually a huge alternative music fan and mentions attracting all sorts of semi-famous musicians to the station,without being all that steeped in their music. Clearly, this woman was unpretentious. She mentions the sacirfices she made to keep the station going.
There's a blatant honesty to this story that just kept me reading. If you're a fan of alternative (oooh! there's those incredibly overused word again) music and sub-culture, then this is for you. If Celine Dion is more your cup of tea, then you may not appreciate why she bothered in the first place to risk jail in order to liberate the airways, even if it was for the benefit of a small radius of listeners around her house.
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Format: Paperback
I loved this book! I picked it up off the table at an independent bookstore that is closing. Never would have thought to look for it, although I've always had a keen interest in the subject matter.

Even before I saw "Pump Up the Volume," I thought broadcasting was really cool. Disclosure: I'm a general class amateur radio operator. So far, the worst thing I have ever done was call someone who said a naughty word on the autopatch (a telephone connection through a repeater on two meters). And that was my MOTHER, who should've known better. LOL! I'm very careful whenever I get on the air (only occasionally now, because I'm busy on the Internet) to follow all the rules.

Who hasn't talked on a walkie-talkie or on the CB radio and pretended to be Cher? (Perhaps you haven't, ahem.) But underground radio seems to be a victimless crime, as long as you aren't modulating frequencies reserved by others, so I don't know why there is such opposition to it. (So many frequencies have been taken from the amateur radio service bands that it isn't even funny--and many public frequencies have been given to commercial interests, which makes me angry. Whose airwaves are they? Don't they belong to the people, not the government? Aren't WE supposed to be the government? But that's another rant.)

I've always been fascinated by the idea of being a DJ, but the skinny on that (and I have this on good authority) is that you are a shill, that you play from their playlist and by their rules. A few years ago I bid on a "day as a DJ" in a charity auction, and I won.
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