How a pirate radio station shook Los Angeles: the story of KBLT

KBLT was an unlicensed pirate radio station in Los Angeles that operated out of a hilltop apartment in Silver Lake from 1995 to 1998, until it was shut down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Founder Paige Jarrett (real name: Susan Carpenter) ran the station on less than $100 a month. At the time, as a freelance journalist, Jarrett also operated the pirate radio station KPBJ (named after the peanut butter and jelly sandwich) in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles.

Jarrett named her unlicensed station after the bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. She paid about $500 for a 40-watt transmitter (KROQ's transmitter, for comparison, is 5,500 watts). According to Wikipedia, KBLT's DJs "included Bob ForrestMike Watt and Keith Morris, performers included Mazzy Star, who played a benefit to help pay her legal fees, and the station featured bootleg world premieres of songs by BeckMadonna, and Jesus and Mary Chain."

When the FCC caught Jarrett, they presented her with a choice: hand over her transmitter or face a fine of $11,000. Jarrett chose the former. The KBLT bust was part of a federal crackdown on 250 unlicensed broadcasters shut down by the Federal Communications Commission in 1998. Jarrett said that the Los Angeles Times offered her a job the same day she got busted.

From MTV:

Jarrett said she had experienced a range of emotions over the bust.

"First it's shock, then it's anger, then it's sadness, then it's frustration. I really wasn't expecting it to happen," she said Thursday (Nov. 5).

Operated on a budget of less than $100 a month, KBLT, heard on FM frequency 104.7, played a variety of music, ranging from old-style country to drum 'n' bass, rock and jazz. Broadcasting seven days a week and 24 hours a day from the Silver Lake district, the station was rated Los Angeles' best by local weekly publications for the past two years.

"It's a very romantic idea," Jarrett said of pirate radio. "I think a lot of people wanted to do it, but didn't quite know how, so when they found out that it existed they wanted to be a part of it. I was very lucky. It was just a magnet, really, for all different types of people, a lot of different artistic people."

Today, Jarrett goes by her birth name, Susan Carpenter, and co-hosts "The Ride," about mobility on KPCC in Pasadena, California. In 2007 she wrote a memoir of her time as a pirate radio station operator, called 40 Watts from Nowhere: A Journey into Pirate Radio.

Also, I just found out there's a Kickstarter for a documentary about KBLT, called 40 Watts From Nowhere. Here's the trailer:

The swag looks cool!

See also: Listen to this 1966 radio commercial for a new TV show called "Star Trek"