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Pirate radio reaches more eardrums in South Florida than anywhere else in the country, says the FCC. Which is fine by Bandwidth, cuz such illicit sounds are among the few interesting offerings on local airwaves. Except for one, shiny, corporate exception that proves the rule: Native Noise, the newly reinstated local music program airing Sunday nights on West Palm Beach's WZZR-FM (94.3).
Anthony "Chachi" Siscar, who hosts the show, knows what pirate radio is -- and what it isn't. "You always think of a Pump Up the Volume type of pirate, and that really doesn't happen too often," he says. "And it's sad, because it seems like the FCC will go after that guy quicker than they'll go after a lot of these other guys. Some of these stations use call letters and have advertising."
Most of the infiltrating signals are a necessary respite from the corporate sterility and commercials of the big stations. Still, every once in a while, a maverick like Chachi can shake up the system. Chachi's introduction to the airwaves -- almost ten years ago -- came via AM radio, when he would broker unused time so he could broadcast an alternative-format show. Native Noise began 19 months ago on WRLX-FM (92.1) and earned its keep in no time, says Chachi, a Clear Channel engineer who began DJing the show for free. "At first, I was just doing it for the kicks. It started out as one hour, and when the ratings came back, it was a great success. So it went to two hours, and then more ratings came back, even more success -- and now it's three hours." But when that station flipped its format from rock to smooth jazz, there wasn't much room for a local program to play the likes of Anchorman, the Heatseekers, or Maypop.
"When the show went off the air, I had no idea where it was gonna go," Chachi says. "I was really sad; I'm not going to lie. I really wasn't doing it for monetary reasons, nor am I now," though Chachi now receives a stipend to run the show. "I'm still doing it because it's what I like to do," he says. "I like turning people on to music. [I want] people to support local music. If you don't support local music, that's the way it stays -- local. Forever." The slack time ultimately proved inspirational to Chachi: "It gave me time to think about how I would want to restructure the thing," he says. "It's always better when you get a second chance."
Earlier this month, the Clear Channel-owned talk station WZZR found a slot for Chachi again, so he's been soliciting local submissions. "There's only two prerequisites," he explains. "You're not on a major label, and you live in the state of Florida. And of course, it's gotta be a good-sounding, quality CD. I hate to play a bad copy of a good song."
Chachi's playlist includes familiar names and several not-so-familiar but pretty spiffy ones -- folks, we must report that the Nougat Fiasco is off the market. Damn. "I don't get a lot of hip-hop, for whatever reason," he laments, though he points out that PHiLtHE is on there. Actually, many of the acts center on the inbred axis of Radio Baghdad/Against All Authority and the cross-eyed progeny that have sprung from their marinated loins over the years.
"I'll play anything," Chachi continues. "Everything from Whirlaway, Maypop, Remedy Session, the whole spectrum. Whether it's hip-pop, punk rock, emo, hardcore, death metal, whatever, as long as it's a good song, in my opinion." So for at least a few hours once each week, Clear Channel's level of suckage plummets. "They're not satanic," the dutiful employee insists. "It's a large corporation, and it's run as such. What do you expect? They don't answer to their employees; they answer to stockholders." Given that he entered the radio business through friends in area bands (he used to manage the Worms), promoting shows at Spanky's, and hanging out with folks like Steve Rullman and Grant Hall, Chachi admits, "I got into this for what now, in corporate rock 'n' roll, would be all the wrong reasons.
"And even though I do get paid, my payoff in the end is if one guy from one band -- I don't even have to know about it -- if one guy ends up being a professional musician for the rest of his life and makes money doing that because of something I said or did or just the fact that they heard their own stuff on the radio, then I paid my debt."
Chachi will sacrifice again when he starts giving up his Sunday afternoons, as he did for almost two years in a row. "I mean, that's two football seasons," he notes. "But that's all right."
Anything else you need to know on the subject is available at http://www.wzzr.com/ugr_main_nativenoise.html. Chachi hosts Native Noise each and every Sunday from 7 to 10 p.m. on 94.3 FM (Stuart to Broward) and 101.7 FM (Stuart to Melbourne). E-mail him to request your favorite local band at firstname.lastname@example.org. Local bands meeting Chachi's aforementioned criteria are invited to send him CDs at 3071 Continental Dr., West Palm Beach, FL 33407. And make sure it sounds professional, fer cryin' out loud.