A&E: Eye on the Scene

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Don’t Touch My Still

On Thursday afternoon, Knoxville’s First Amendment Radio—or KFAR—abruptly went off the air when an FCC agent knocked on the trailer in South Knoxville where the pirate radio station broadcasts.

The station has been on the air, at 90.9 FM, for more than two years. This is their second order to cease broadcasting.

The station is run entirely by volunteers and they don’t like the term “pirate,” since the airwaves belong to the public and they believe the government has managed those airwaves to the benefit of for-profit corporations, and at the expense of the public interest.

Agent Eric Rice, who works in the agency’s Atlanta office, says he couldn’t talk about the charge, but says it was for “unlicensed operation.”

KFAR volunteers say Rice told them if they went back on the air he’d return with a court order and seize their equipment. By the weekend the station was back on the air with its usual mix of underground hip-hop, political programming, indie rock, jazz, and Americana, albeit, using its 50-watt transmitter instead of its 200-plus-watt one. The station is going to review the situation at its monthly meeting this weekend, says one member, who sometimes broadcasts as Black-eyed Susan. It’s difficult to say how this will affect their coverage because they just raised their antenna.

In the meantime, the group is also looking at joining with the National Lawyers Guild Committee on Democratic Communications in challenging the FCC’s regulations on low-watt community stations.

The group’s central point is hard to argue. Unlike print media, radio and television, airwaves belong to the public. But commercial interests dominate and offer increasingly bland and segregated music genres. A proposal to create a new class of license—for low-watt FM non-profit community stations—was effectively lobbied against by the commercial giants and even NPR, nixing them in any urban area.

Even if KFAR isn’t your ideal station—and it’s far from perfect—the fight they’re engaged in is important. Imagine your parks, sidewalks and government buildings leased to the highest bidder, who then strictly controlled what happened there, regulating what you could say or do.

Black-eyed Susan says the court cases in the past have been won not by proving the broadcasters had a right to say whatever they wanted, but that what they were saying was unique and valuable. “It comes down to being able to show a judge that what you’re broadcasting is beneficial to the community and can’t be heard anywhere else,” she says.

Given the state of Knoxville’s radio, that shouldn’t be hard to do.

A Train To Knoxville

After the successful Amtrak Crescent Mule Train Tour, Scott Miller & The Commonwealth is ready to rock Blue Cats Friday, April 2. Scott is calling this his “homecoming show,” and he and the boys will perform the same set for this show that was used for the Mule Train Tour, including tunes from both of Scott’s Sugar Hill discs, as well as some cool covers of Tom Petty, Nick Lowe, and The Who.

Opening the show will be the hottest thing from the Tri Cities since that area gave the world the Dr. Enuff heal-all drink. Johnson City’s Rob Russell & The Sore Losers will get the evening started off right with its catchy-as-all-get-out brand of Americana rock ’n’ roll. Russell once called Knoxville home in the early to mid-’90s, and played with Miller in the band Bluegrass Strangers. Russell played bass, and did as good of a job as anyone providing high harmony to Scott’s lead vocals. Russell has become a fine songwriter, as well as a very impressive lead singer with incredible range. He and his Losers also cover an old Viceroys gem co-written by Miller and original Viceroy John Paul Keith titled “Fool Like Me” in the band’s set. Rob will be bringing his band back to Knoxville for a May 15 gig at Patrick Sullivan’s.

So with reason to celebrate a successful tour that many thought would never happen, as well as being able to share the bill with an old friend and former bandmate, Miller is excited about playing in front of the home crowd again. Who knows, maybe he and Rob will cover the Miller-penned “River Of Shit” from days gone by? Be at Blue Cats Friday night so you will know firsthand.


Thursday: Unwind, hands, you angel webs, unwind like the coil of a jumping jack, cup together and let yourselves fill up with sun and applaud, world, applaud. Marry me. We’ll drink wine every night and I’ll cook for you and love you until the end of the world. That’s no joke. Tonight we’ll celebrate with the smoking Josh Marcum Trio at Downtown Grill & Brewery.

Friday: It’s a Knoxville weekend, beginning with Scott Miller at Blue Cats.

Saturday: RB Morris will celebrate the release of his new book with a show with Hector Qirko at the Laurel Theater.

Sunday: If you feel like banging your head, head to Blue Cats for Superjoint Ritual.

Monday: UT Jazz Big Band at the UT Music Hall. Who says nothing’s free?

Tuesday: History has to live with what was here, clutching and close to fumbling all we are. It is so cruel and gruesome how we die. Unlike writing, life never finishes.

Wednesday: Begin your slow descent into alcoholism, if you haven’t already, with Robotnika at the Pilot Light.

—Joe Tarr, Benny Smith

April 1, 2004 • Vol. 14, No. 14
© 2004 Metro Pulse