Dancing About Architecture

FCC raids shuts down the third and last local microradio station.

A U.S. Marshal renders Free Radio Austin transmitter free.
A U.S. Marshal renders Free Radio Austin transmitter free. (Photo By Shannon Young)

Dial 'F' For FCC

With three stations taken down in two months, micro-radio is off the air in the Austin area. The feds completed their Triple Crown sweep on Tuesday, when three federal agents (one from the FCC, one U.S. Marshal, and one who refused to identify himself to Free Radio-heads) and two Austin police officers showed up with a 40-page warrant at the Free Radio Austin base, which is in a private home. At that time, listeners in the station's small broadcast area heard cries of "Help!" coming from their radios, and when one Chronicle staffer called the station, the phone was answered with a cheery, "Hello, FCC." Officers dug up the station's buried transmiter, loaded it into a U-Haul trailer, and silenced FRA, the East Austin station that had been broadcasting a programming mix ranging from free-form deejays to political news shows since April 18, 1999. The FCC's media relations department told the Chronicle that the shutdowns were effected, "because these stations did not have a license," while the timing was put down to the fact that "as [situations] come up, we take action." The FCC spokesman declined further comment on the grounds that this was now a matter for the courts. Asked why the station did not have a license, FRA programmer/co-founder Reckless responded that, "The FCC doesn't even offer licenses for this type of broadcast and hasn't since 1976." KIND Radio in San Marcos was silenced in Sept. 1, and local station Radio One was shut down Oct. 4, leaving locals speculating that these crackdowns may be coming in the wake of the Fortune 500 CEO forum being held here in town this week. Either way, like 98.9's "The Hill," this leaves Austin's airwaves "without the hard edges."

Rattling the Bushes

Meanwhile, on the public radio front, an unreleased recording by Tary Owens' band the Redemptors caused a stir recently at KUT-FM, due to a spoken "footnote" at the end of the Angela Strehli-sung "Double-Cross Shuffle," which waxes less than positively about George W. Bush. The hubbubba over that "son of a Bush" came after one of the station's listeners complained that the remarks were a "cheap shot," though they later admitted they thought the offending comments were being made by the deejay playing the song. A source at the station wasn't sure whether the song was still being played on the air -- with or without the footnote intact -- but said that being a public-supported station, KUT tries to be "sensitive" toward such issues, and attempts to keep the fare they play "even-handed" as far as political commentary within their musical selections. Owens' tune is not unique in its point of view, of course. Bill Oliver and Bill Passalacqua have just issued a joint CD featuring the timely tunes "George W. From Texas (Ten Gallon Smirk)," and "Inside Trade (Election Blues)," for instance. Naturally, there's no evidence suggesting that the sudden shutting down of Austin's microradio stations has anything to do with this proliferation of anti-Bush musical sentiments, but just to prove it, Gov. Bush has issued a proclamation declaring October "Music Month in Texas."

Redeeming Qualities

If you were surprised to see the name Tary Owens attached to a new song, you're not alone. "When I started recording in March, I thought I'd be dead in a month," says the Austin music preservationist, but the fact that he's talking clearly indicates that despite having Parkinson's Disease, diabetes, and being told by doctors at that time that he was in the "final stages" of Hepatitis C, he is very much alive today. Turns out it was medication interaction that was threatening to put him out of action altogether, and that two days after the problem was corrected, he was doing an interview with the BBC about Janis Joplin. Since then, Owens' band the Redemptors has turned into a full-time affair, running a revival of the old Blue Mondays at the Victory Grill. "The crowds are thin, but there's more every week," says Owens, noting that the band plays an original set starting at 7pm, then brings in other vocalists and players. The list of guests on the recordings Owens has been making is beyond impressive, with names so far including Double Trouble, Lucinda Williams, Ray Benson, Anson Funderburgh, W.C. Clark, Malford Milligan, Kaz Kazanov, Derek O'Brien, George Rains, and Paul Ray. Owens, who was born one year to the day after Doug Sahm, has been recording an album's worth of R&B numbers associated with Sahm, accompanied by members of Sahm's San Antonio bandmates. "It's an attempt to step into his shoes, in a lot of ways," admits the revitalized Owens. If all that weren't enough to fill his plate, he's also licensed 60 reel-to-reel tapes' worth of fiddling contests, "field hollers," prisoners' songs, and other musical folklore that he recorded for posterity in the Sixites to Internet label E-music, which may also release some of the material in "real" physical formats such as CD. In addition to its overall historical value, Owens says he expects some of the material to be in demand for sampling use, especially in the case of the obscene "toasting" rhymes of the prison recordings, in which lie the roots of modern rap.

Phishing Over the Limit

"It's looking to be kind of a trend," says Austin City Limits producer Terry Lickona following the announcement that Phish has broken up mere days before the airing of their season-starting ACL appearance, seen locally this Saturday at 7pm (and rerun next Friday at 11pm). The New York Times quoted the band's management as saying Phish "has not broken up for good, but it is breaking up for a while." Similarly, Garth Brooks announced his retirement after being snagged for an ACL gig last year. This year, the odds of another act calling it quits after doing the Limits will actually double, as the show is officially expanding its season from 13 to 26 episodes annually. Upcoming tapings include the newly unretired Willis Alan Ramsey, Dar Williams, Joe Cocker, Widespread Panic, Eric Johnson, Steve Earle, Kasey Chambers, and newly signed Epitaph Records recording artist Merle Haggard.

Jon Blondell was almost forcibly retired before he could play ACL 25th anniversary gala Monday night as part of the Willie Nelson blues band. The beleaguered bassist spent five days in jail under conditions he says were "against the Geneva Convention" after being busted for an old warrant on the way into the Governor's mansion last week to play a school benefit gig! Apparently, the warrant surfaced when the governor's people were conducting a standard background check that's done on all visitors to the building, but a baffled Blondell says he's played for the president twice since the original warrant was issued, and for George Bush Sr. before that, and was unclear as to why the matter came up this time. (Well, Jon, it seems like the Bush family is just a little wary of musicians at this juncture ... ) Blondell managed to get things cleared up in time for his next charity event, the ACL gala.

Another Piece of Red

"Looks like it's all going down for us Brit punks this year," mourns Stretford's Carl Normal. He had informed me over the weekend that his longtime band was calling it quits after the three shows they currently have scheduled (including this Friday at Room 710 with the Dead End Cruisers and the Applicators), and immediately after, he got a call informing him that the Cruisers had broken up as well during their current West Coast tour. Finally, says Normal, he got a phone message from Cruisers singer Neil Curran saying that this Friday's Cruisers show would definitely be their last this year, if not indeed their last ever. The Chronicle was unable to reach the band on the road to further confirm the state of the Cruisers, but in the case of Stretford, the end is clearly near. Look for two more shows after this Friday's affair, and a posthumous single and album, and then it's all, as they say in England, figgy pudding.

Mixed Notes

Congratulate Brad First when you see him, and not just because everyone's finally forgotten what a goofy name "The Jelly Club" was. On Tuesday, First will recieve the first annual Heineken AMPT/ASCAP Recognition Award for "contributions of key nonperforming players in the local music community," which is being given to worthy individuals in five cities: Austin, Miami, Chicago, Seattle, and Boston. Mr. First, for those new on the scene, started his venue-running career here in town with Club Foot in 1980, and currently can be seen upstairs at Antone's staring blankly at a computer screen full of numbers and decimal points. Following the ceremony honoring First, which will take place at Lucky Lounge, the festivities move up the street to Antone's, where the Dutch brewer kicks off their first (no pun intended) AMPT/ASCAP Music Series with showcases by George DeVore, Goudie, and Bob Schneider... Ani DiFranco fans will want to look for Jason Blum & the Flexible Sensuals' new CD, as well as checking out Blum's gigs while he's back in town. No, DiFranco doesn't guest on the disc, but Blum's been opening for her on tour of late, and both DiFranco and her notably choosy audience have apparently been quite receptive to his opening solo acoustic performances. You can find out if you agree by checking out Blum's next gig at the Continental Club happy hour tonight (Thursday) starting at 7pm. As far as DiFranco, the New Yorker continues to have her own love affair with our town. She made a guest appearance at Antone's last Friday during the predictably packed Maceo Parker show, introduced by Parker as "my sister -- she's in Austin going to UT. I think she wants to be Oprah." She joined in and sang on "It's Your Thing" then split for quieter spaces. As in the case of her last few releases, you can expect the next DiFranco album to once again bear the legend "produced in Austin"... "Free" and "outdoors" apply to goings-on in Woolridge Park at 10th & Guadalupe this Saturday starting at 6pm. Winslow, Tenspeed, Shane Bartell, and 7% Solution will perform, in that order... With album sales, according to their management, now in excess of 200,000, Dynamite Hack nets another appearance on the USA Network's Farmclub on Saturday, alongside Green Day, Bad Religion, and Wheatus... If you haven't had enough John Lennon yet, Stephen Doster's Lennon night trails the other tributes by a few days and happens this Friday at Saxon Pub... Zulu as Kono has a new disc out, with a gig to celebrate it tonight at Emo's. And if you've had too much Lennon of late, watch out -- the disc includes the song "Yoko as Ono"...

Contributors: Louis Dubose, Christopher Gray, Raoul Hernandez

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More Dancing About Architecture
Dancing About Architecture
Dancing About Architecture
The last installment of "Dancing About Architecture."

Ken Lieck, Jan. 3, 2003

So Long, Slug
So Long, Slug

Ken Lieck, Dec. 20, 2002


FCC, Tary Owens, George W. Bush, Phish, Austin City Limits, Jon Blondell, Stretford, Ani DiFranco, Yoko Ono

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