Signals Archive: An interview with Dr. Benway Undercover Radio

Since New Years 2003, shortwave listeners have been treated to numerous transmissions from Undercover Radio. Programs often consist of avant garde music and readings by the ever acerbic beat generation refugee William S. Burroughs or performances by mesmerist Laurie Anderson as well as announcements from Dr. Benway. Undercover Radio claims to be broadcasting “from the middle of nowhere” but to me, seems to be coming from the edge of the collective unconscious. I’m pleased to transcribe an interview with Dr. Benway regarding his shortwave activities:

DJ Frederick: What are the origins of Undercover Radio? Can you tell me about its history or inspiration?

Dr. Benway: I first experienced pirate radio when I heard KIPM through the titanium crown on my tooth. I was completely freaked and couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. It was so surreal. Come to think of it, I was probably tripping at the time. I eventually found out about 6955kHz and got my hands on an old Lafayette shortwave radio. After a while I thought I might have something to contribute to the pirate community and decided to find a way to get on the air.

With the help of some friends I got my hands on an old ham radio. I found some great audio mixing software and pieced together a broadcast. All this happened just before Christmas 2002 as a spur of the moment project. I picked William Burroughs for the broadcast because I hadn’t heard anything quite like it even in the pirate scene. I thought Burroughs would really turn some ears and grab some attention.

Laurie Anderson comes from a later generation, but I think just about everyone can connect with her unique perspective on life in one way or another. I was very surprised to find out how many listeners were already familiar with Burroughs and Anderson. I guess that says a lot about the pirate crowd.

DJ Frederick: What type of transmitting equipment do you use?

Dr. Benway: It’s some kind of new-fangled ham radio with big tubes that glow a beautiful orange when you really crank them up. The unmistakable smell of Ozone is intense.

DJ Frederick: What are your thoughts on the free radio scene (or other thoughts on radio?)

Dr. Benway: The free radio scene seems to be alive and well. I used to think the internet was the free radio scene. You can broadcast just about anything you want on Live 365. However there is nothing like the excitement of firing up the transmitter and doing whatever the hell you please without worrying about the consequences (other than being caught). There is some kind of magic that happens with radio. No one knows what surprises might pop up on 6955 and I think that’s part of the excitement of listening. Anything can happen. All you need is an old shortwave and a piece of wire.

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