Being "Illeagle:"

Jeremy Lansman


Community Radio

    Jeremy Lansman recently turned sixty years old. Since I knew him many years ago and I had worked with him to build several "community stations," I was invited to send a small tribute to his birthday party. This is what I came up with.
--- L. W. Milam

Jeremy Lansman is hard-wired a little differently than the rest of us. When we were building KRAB in Seattle, Lansman, Gary Margason and I were living in a houseboat on Lake Union. Jeremy had an old Hallicrafters Short Wave receiver, and told me we could listen to some of the repeater stations of Radio Moscow from the eastern part of Russia. However, to do so, he said, we had to match the ground conditions of the transmitting antenna. He did this by the simple expedient of placing the Hallicrafter's antenna in the freezer compartment of our refrigerator, and running a wire to the receiver.

Since this did not jibe with anything I had ever learned in college physics, I had my doubts --- not only about receiving Radio Moscow but as to whether this guy could actually do the engineering to get our radio station on the air, as he claimed.

Well, we did get Radio Moscow that night, and --- within six months --- KRAB was on the air.

The radio station's transmitter was an antique, Collins Serial Number Two. God knows how Lansman got it to work, but I do recall there was some problem with the output. All our equipment shared cramped space with the studio in an old doughnut shop on Roosevelt Hill. The rules were that the output of the transmitter had to stay within a certain value to not run into problems with the FCC, but --- given the ancient condition of the equipment and the vague connections to the antenna --- we were forever straying this way and that over the dial. Lansman solved this problem in typical Lansman fashion: he hung a rope in the transmitter room connected in some way to the gee-gaws on the tower. He mounted a sign next to the rope, instructing us to pull on it if the values went below 9.5 or above 10.25 for, the sign said, in typical Jeremy English, any excess power is "I-L-L-E-A-G-L-E."

God knows how pulling on what appeared to be a chapel's bell-rope could adjust the input to a four-bay antenna mounted on a telephone pole outside the studio, but, once again, it worked. Lansman also told us to kick the transmitter if it wouldn't crank up properly when we pushed the big red button marked "ON."

I actually met Jeremy as a result of an ad I had placed in Broadcasting Magazine for an engineer, stating that I wanted one "who was willing to suffer nobly for a cause." To my surprise, I got thirty responses, but Jeremy was the only one to appear on our doorstep. Since he looked to be about sixteen at the time, I had my doubts, but he claimed to have just built an FM station in Hawaii, so I took him on provisionally.

"How old are you?" I demanded. "Uhn, I'm not sure," he said. And he wasn't kidding. For one who could figure out the exact service area of a broadcast station in millivolts per meter, and could actually make our pre-colonial FM transmitter work, he was disturbingly vague about whole numbers and was totally baffled by his number of years on earth. Thus I have many doubts that the party you are giving for him tonight has any legitimacy at all.

§     §     §

Jeremy and I were often galled by some of the silly rules of the Federal Communications Commission, not the least the requirement that, once a week, we read on the air a notification of the Emergency Broadcast System. He cooked up a tape which we played for several years in which the EBS announcement was accompanied by Russian marching band and, in a voice disturbingly similar to someone fresh off the boat from Moscow, he read the script in heavily accented voice, "If Emergency occurs, you are to tune to..." etc.

Lansman, also like me, could be appallingly obstreperous. In those days, instead of firing those with whom I had any philosophical difference, I just shipped them off to build a KRAB clone in another city. A lady by the name of Lloyde Livingstone had been bugging me to get one started in Portland, Oregon, so I got a construction permit --- fairly easy in those days --- and sent Jeremy down there to put KBOO on the air. He set up yet another ancient transmitter up in the garage of a friendly engineer who lived on a hill in the middle of town.

One day, we got a complaint from one of the KBOO volunteers that the station sounded a bit foggy and could Jeremy come back down and make it work better. Lansman found that his Jerry-built transmitter --- and I find that phrase to be quite succinct --- had, during a small seismic disturbance, fallen flat on its face and was burbling exotic music in the dirt of Harold Singleton's musty garage.

After one of our weekly differences of opinion on the programming of KRAB which caused Lansman to get my attention by breaking out most of the windows in my houseboat, I banished him to St Louis to build KDNA. I had some doubts as to his ability to get anything done without me hectoring him, but he got the station up and running in no time at all. It was, however, less the BBC for the Middle West (which was my ideal) and more like the voice of Catalan Spain from the 1930s. I was concerned that his Anarcho-Syndicalist gang there in the dying Gaslight Square area of the city could make a go of it, but, to my surprise, it survived, and heartily so. In fact, its noisy programming irritated the city fathers so much that they invited Richard Nixon's COINTELPRO operatives to come to town to see what they could do to put it out of business (we found all this out later from documents obtained from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act).

Not only did KDNA survive the ministrations of COINTELPRO, it succeeded in inspiring a bevy of similar stations in such unlikely places as Atlanta, Dallas, Cincinnati, Miami, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Madison, Wisconsin. How Lansman did it was simple: he adopted, whole-cloth, my system of banishing dissidents to other cities with a fake letter of financial assistance and an invitation to get back in touch with him if they had any problems. Since for most of them their problem at KDNA was Lansman, there was little chance of their calling on him for anything whatsoever.

At one point I dragooned Lansman into co-sponsoring a Petition for Rulemaking to be filed with the FCC. I was concerned by the number of fundamentalist religious groups that were staking claims on the frequencies on the low end of the FM band, the so-called "educational" channels. Lansman, more tolerant than I, was not interested in that as much as he was concerned that schools and colleges were not observing the duopoly rules, often getting two or three broadcast stations in the same market. That was his part of the now-infamous Petition #RM-2493.

Needless to say, the rhetoric on my portion of the document garnered far more attention than his more thoughtful one and over the years, a mountain of petitions arrived at the FCC, begging them not to put religious radio off the air as was rumored. I am told that some 30,000,000 letters came to the Commission before they stopped counting, and the Post stated recently that they were still arriving --- much to the dismay of those who work the FCC's mail room.

Such was our success that I created a mythical "Pastor A. W. Allworthy" to write a biography of the two petitioners who had created "The Lansman - Milam Petition." Allworthy in his book The Petition Against God unkindly described Milam as "fat, almost porcine," given to eating great noisy meals and spawning an enormous number of progeny.

Lansman was treated far more kindly by the author. Due to an industrial accident, presumably with an out-of-control transmitter, he only had one arm "which, when he got excited, would ratchet up and down like a paper-cutter." Allworthy also stated that Lansman had shaved all his hair and tattooed a large eye-ball on the upper portion of his head. He was thus able to observe the sun the moon and the stars anytime he went out for a walk without tripping over curbs, dogs or drunks.

After all these years, I can think of no better symbol of Lansman's ability to envision the world more clearly in so many directions at once than this great all-seeing eye perched atop his cranium. This must be the reason, I am sure, that he sees further, more colorfully, if not more sanely --- than the rest of us mortals.

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