Guerilla Cafe DJ

June 21st, 2003

reclaim the airwavesI want to be a guerilla cafe DJ.

Here’s what I need: a small, portable FM transmitter powerful enough to override the signal in any cafe that’s playing megacorporate radio. This would be especially useful in cafes tuned in to that unbearable Clear Channel snooze-jazz station that has infected so many San Francisco Wi-Fi cafes.

When I enter a cafe and power up my laptop, I’d like to plug this magic transmitter box into my laptop and use it to overpower the cafe radio’s reception of that cheesy station, replacing it with whatever music is emerging at the moment from my laptop’s sound card.

If you know where I can obtain such a device, please clue me in.

(If you know who created the power-tower graphic above, please let me know so I can give them credit. I pulled this image from the Web a long time ago and I can’t remember where it came from.)

20 Responses to “Guerilla Cafe DJ”

  1. comment number 1 by: Chance

    Not sure if this is quite what you are looking for, but it might work. I think the possiblew problem would be not having enough power to override whatever was coming in over the air normally.

  2. comment number 2 by: Jack

    TuneCast would do what you want, although you might also have to sneak up and re-tune the cafe’s radio. If you have an iPod, the iTrip is exactly right – you can select the frequency you want to broadcast at. Of course, whatever you use, the likely response of the cafe owner will be to re-tune their radio as soon as you disrupt their snooze-jazz…

  3. comment number 3 by: teknon

    Why don’t you just stop going to those wi-fi cafes…???…. they sound horrible, and no amount of correct music will undo the grasp of evil which controls them, and hopefully not, you.

  4. comment number 4 by: sean

    Teknon: You’re a naughty girl, and our senior Columbia University correspondent David Danzig is coming to get you. But first he has to fix his wheelchair.

    Jack and Chance: Thanks for the tips. Jack, I’d bet your your wrong regarding managers changing stations. That’s actually my prime motivator with this, is just to observe responses. My hypothesis is that snooze jazz fills the same role filled by Muzak (elevator music), and that usually whoever puts it on isn’t really conscious of the actual music; as long as something’s playing and driving out the silence they don’t really notice what it is. Until, that is, you put on something really discordant or wacked out…

    I could be wrong. And if I am, then it would be fun to make a simulated snooze-jazz station; play that crap for a while so they don’t change it, then gradually alter the programming, mixing in other things or doing weird things w/ the tempo, throw in disturbing “commercials” and PSAs, etc. See how far you can take it.

  5. comment number 5 by: dom

    Having worked in such a place, my experience is that the employees are generally too busy to notice what exactly is playing. As long as you start them off with someone similar to the snooze jazz, you should be just fine. If you wanted to get serious, record some of the commercials normally being played and throw them in as you slowly warp the playlist to your better taste.

  6. comment number 6 by: Noah

    Disrupting the play-list is one thing, but interjecting home-made commercials could lead to some serious subliminal subversive-ness. I really like dom’s idea. You could actually leave the play-list as it and just play with the commercials.

  7. comment number 7 by: Jack

    Sean – ah, I didn’t realise quite how guerilla you intended to be. I hope you get something worked out – the idea of cafe patrons being brought up short by a burst of Whitehouse, Merzbow or what have you is a nice one… The advert-tampering could be fun too: ‘Looking for love? The man over there in the corner fiddling with a laptop and transmitter would like to hear from you…’

  8. comment number 8 by: sean

    Stop the press, Jack. I hereby promise not to use transmitters in cafes for broadcast of pickup lines.

  9. comment number 9 by: marinetti

    RE: the tower graphic. It is either of Italian Fascist or Germany Nazi origin. The propaganda film features a hand that closes down over the transmitter to then emit the ‘radio waves’ as lightning bolts.

    The basic aesthetics emanate after the futurist Marinetti who wrote the manifesto of decentralised broadcasting, La Radia. Great idea, BTW, Marinetti would approve (just like the Fascists would love the Centralised homogeneity of Clear Channel, I’m sure).

  10. comment number 10 by: Phil H

    How about a little crossover? This, I suspect is an excellent medium for a spot of subversion, and what was that other fantastic bit of subversion going around? Did you mention MOB?

    Simple, the MOB congregates in the selected cafe, and suddenly the radio cuts, fizzes, and the MOB organiser’s theme tune of choice begins. Cue some sort of salute, disperse when the tune ends. Alternatively broadcast the few vital phrases like the location and the secret phrase via the pirate radio.

    This kind of crossover suggests so many more. Like having a member in each cafe, and simultaneously interrupt the broadcast in many places – bars, cafes, shops, everywhere. Subversion, SUBVERSION!


  11. comment number 11 by:

    RE: the radio-tower graphic and Marinetti and fascism — so you’re telling me the graphic I used in my anti-radio-Fascism screed came from the Fascists, who adapted it from works of anti-Fascist Marinetti? [CORRECTION: As collord points out, Marinetti was far from being anti-Fascist. He was not only a supporter of Mussolini, he was one of the first fascists.]

    That would be a charming coincidence and a beautiful example of what Lawrence Lessig calls rip-mix-burn culture.

    (I hate to burst the bubble, but if I remember right, I found it on a Web site that used it as a “participate in the discussion forums” button. The fist made me think “power to the people,” but now that you mention it I see how it could mean the opposite: strict centralized control of broadcast.)

  12. comment number 12 by: Robert Nagle

    Bravo on your ideas. I wish you could get away with such shenanigans. I remember the book, Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera) where a woman and a man are eating in a fine dining establishment, and then the woman goes to the waitress, saying, “why would anyone want to eat such fine food if there’s shit playing on the radio.”

    Seriously, most of the independent stores are required to get licenses to do public broadcasts of radio stations. Except for the big places that probably went through the hoops to get the license, most small cafes aren’t even aware it is illegal to have a radio station playing in the background in a commercial setting.

    On another note, the company where I work (TI) has three televisions in the lunchroom (and speakers in the restroom) with CNN and CNN headline news playing constantly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been pissing away in some urinal and I hear the latest on the Winona case or an update about the latest Harry Potter product AOL/Time Warner has to sell.

    BTW, great blog! Love it !

  13. comment number 13 by: Thomas

    Nuts & bolts (well not quite, but at least sitting in the parking lot outside the hardware store)

    (I assume you are aware) this is illegal. You would be emitting a signal in excess of the limit (47CFR Part 15 federal regulation stuff), causing “malicious interference”, some copyright and royalty issues, yadda yadda. The bottom line is, the FCC won’t come after you on their own initiative, but if someone cornered you & wanted to be a dickhead (can I say that here?) you could have all related equipment confiscated, 5-figure fines, free room and board (with a new roommate), etc. Fine print up front, kind of thing.

    To *override* an FM broadcast signal will likely require a few watts at least. This depends a LOT on the proximity to the “legitimate” transmitter, which could easily be 50KW or more. Those little “listen to your CD player while you’re in the other room doing the ironing” transmitters will be as a raindrop in the ocean. A little Googling for “free radio” might scare up some transmitter kits, nudge nudge wink wink.

    This assumes that what is coming over the intercom is straight broadcast FM. The FM broadcasters are authorized to transmit a “third channel” called SCA, which is generally accessed on a subscription basis and may or may not contain commercials. Muzak-type services use this a lot. It would use the same transmitter but require a more sophisticated modulator.

    Some of these audio feeds come directly from a satellite, and others are local tape loops. (45 minutes. Yes. The same 45 minutes of audio anaesthetic from opening to closing. Every day. I thought I was the only one that noticed it until someone dropped the xmas tape in one fine July day. I never found out what the punishment was…) Because commercials are present, (and because every other option costs more money), I would presume they are just feeding from a plain old FM receiver.

    This in conjunction with the synchronized-dancing version of the flash mob… ooh… hehe

  14. comment number 14 by: collord

    Sorry, Marinetti is treated by history hardly as an anti-fascist. Or was it just because they loved violence and power so much (war, “the world’s only hygene”) did they jump on board etc. etc. Mousollini. Destroying traditions always leaves a vacuum. Dangerous.

    One note on the thunderbolts grasped in the tower image… an old Roman symbol of authority is the bundle of arrows or “fasces”.

    The evolution of tower symbols in the “new radio” (data) groups is interesting… a couple:

    At least we (mostly) don’t believe that radio will beam our nourishment pills to us each day.

  15. comment number 15 by:

    Thanks for the correction, collord. If I’d researched this further rather than blindly responding to a weblog comment, I’d have learned that Marinetti was a Fascist and supported Mussolini. Ach!

    (But note that what I wrote was a question and wasn’t presented as a fact: “…so you’re telling me the graphic I used in my anti-radio-Fascism screed came from the Fascists, who adapted it from works of anti-Fascist Marinetti?”)

    Thanks for clarifying this.

    RE: “Destroying traditions always leaves a vacuum,” you lost me on that one. It reminds me of my poorly-moderated freshman polisci class in Texas. During that class the ultra-reactionary bible-bangers squared off with the ultra-radical neo-hippies, each of them peppering their points with “always” and pontificating so loudly and endlessly that nobody between these artificial extremes had a chance at a real discussion, and nobody changed anyone’s mind about anything.

  16. comment number 16 by: sean

    Here’s another good fist/thunderbolt image.

  17. comment number 17 by: DeadRinger

    you can get a pc card transmitter from pci electronics.. the pc-max can squeeze about 5 watts out of it. with a booster or about 1 watt without it i believe.. youd have to modify it for a laptop.. but you could set up a regular transmitter in your car and park out front. anyway its a great website with alot of cool stuff on it you may find useful.

  18. comment number 18 by: Anonymous

    The FCC is getting a lot more user-friendly as far as ways to transmit go. They finally* did away with the old morse code requirements. If you were serious about it I would write the FCC. Don’t tell them your full idea just tell them you heard that small (streetblock) sized stations are legal now and you would like more information on it. Last I read it, from a reliable source, the FCC were making little stations like that legal without any license requirements.

  19. comment number 19 by: articus

    Is that technology specific to CA. We need it here in Florida.

  20. comment number 20 by: emory

    came across this old post of yours while being up to no good. definitely the right people to talk to are