For being the fifth largest city in the United States, Phoenix can be a bit of a cultural wasteland at times. Nowhere is this problem more evident than on local radio. The majority of stations in town fall into one of a few categories: corporate pop radio, talk, Tejano, classic rock, or modern “country” music, which is really little more than formulaic pop music with a twang. However, I recently discovered one glimmer of hope among a dial full of stations that are forgettable at best.
A few months ago, my coworker Chris told me about a low-power “pirate” (unlicensed/underground for those not familiar) station broadcasting in Phoenix. He said the signal was spotty, but the content was eclectic and fascinating. In particular, he thought I would be interested in it. He told me to tune in 87.9 FM. Later that day, I attempted to listen to the station in my truck on my way home. Either because of the lack of transmitter power, or due to the station temporarily being down, I heard nothing but static during my drive.
Fast forward to Monday of this week. I was leaving for work and realized I had forgotten the thumb drive on which I keep my current music mix, I didn’t want to dig around in my backpack for my iPod, and was bored with listening to the CDs I had in my truck. Left with nothing but the radio, I turned on my stereo, and put the source on “tuner.” The last time I had even listened to the radio was months ago when I was trying to catch the pirate station. Therefore, it was still set on 87.9 FM.
What I then heard was by far the most interesting thing I’ve heard on local radio in close to two decades. A noisy hip hop/funk/rock hybrid song was playing, with what sounded like someone ranting over the top of it through a megaphone. It was unlike anything else I’ve caught on a terrestrial broadcast. I found myself thinking, “Wow. What station is playing this? This is actually unique.” The song soon morphed into another, and was then followed by a clip that sounded like a spoof of an old time radio announcer, commenting on the weather. In the commentary, the speaker dropped a well-timed F-bomb. It was then that I realized I was hearing the local pirate station I had attempted to listen to months back.
Once I arrived at work, right after I parked my truck, I immediately began searching on my phone for info about the station. I quickly found that it’s called KWFUCC, which may be a humorous jab at the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), the regulatory agency that oversees TV and radio broadcasting in the United States. I then learned that it’s headed up by a guy calling himself Captain Hook, a nod to the fact that it’s a pirate station. Finally, I discovered that the station has a website, which features a stream of the broadcast, and an app, through which listeners can hear the online stream.
My attention was piqued, and I immediately downloaded the app. In the days since, I have alternated between listening to the broadcast when in my truck, listening to the stream on the website, or tuning in via the app on my phone. What I have heard since that intriguing first day has not been a disappointment.
Among other things, Captain Hook has played Grant Lee Buffalo (seriously, does it get any better for me?), Syd Barrett, a wide variety of electronic music that has mostly been new to me, Lou Reed, anthemic Russian-sounding music, Beck, a song made entirely out of chicken clucking noises, Del the Funkee Homosapien, The Grateful Dead, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, audio from a YouTube video of a weird little kid repeatedly saying “I smell like beef,” big band music, blues, and far too many other items to name. Most importantly, he’s played a lot of stuff that was brand new to me, and really good.
Meanwhile, the KWFUCC website is bizarre and amazing. It reminds me a lot of the Badscaryplace section of Silverladder. It also reminds me a lot of old webpages that would have been on Geocities back in the day. As if KWFUCC wasn’t already interesting enough to me, the site took it a step further. KWFUCC also has a Facebook page and a Gmail address. I’ve contacted Captain Hook through both, thus far to no avail. My enthusiasm may be a bit off-putting to him. Either that, or he thinks I’m a cop (insert laughter here). My ultimate goal would be to give him some interesting new material to play, or ideally, to stop by his in-home studio someday and get the chance to share an hour of music, shortwave “numbers stations” broadcasts, old commercials, off-the-cuff rants, and just general strangeness.
Apparently he’s been at it for quite some time now, and the FCC has yet to shut him down. The Phoenix New Times even awarded a Best of Phoenix award to KWFUCC for “Best Pirate Radio Station.” As far as anyone can tell, based on where the signal is strongest, he’s likely broadcasting out of South Phoenix, Central Phoenix, or the Downtown Phoenix area. Wherever he is, I hope he keeps doing what he’s doing.