SMALL RADIO, BIG STAKES

A BROADCASTER KEEPS AIRING LIBERAL VIEWS TO A TINY PART OF NORTH PHOENIX. THE GOVERNMENT SAYS HE'S BREAKING THE LAW.

The contradictions in his speechifying build upon one another. He is an avowed liberal who staunchly supports gun rights, a baby boomer who more closely identifies with the slacker crowd, a theatrical rant 'n' raver whose studio is neater than a West Point cadet's footlocker. Dougan is a leftist radical nut who sits in a shed and broadcasts subversive propaganda--to perhaps a couple of hundred middle-class people living in the quiet neighborhood surrounding the house he shares with his mother. Dougan is an unapologetic, howling fugitive from justice--if fugitives can spend a lot of time landscaping a yard with meandering brick paths through exotic plants and past lawn gnomes that seem to number in the dozens.

Dougan's appearance hardly fits the radical-lefty mold, either. Of about average height and slight build, he is not a physically imposing presence. He doesn't dress like a radical, unless radicals wear slippers as they sit behind microphones.

The motives behind Dougan's forays into broadcasting seem as contradictory as his lifestyle. He says he is not interested in a career in commercial radio, implying that microradio is somehow purer, nobler, unblighted by commercial interests. But the carefully written notes hanging before Dougan in his studio--reminders not to stutter or say "uh" too much when speaking--seem a bit self-conscious for a dilettante, a little meticulous for a pirate.

Dougan insists he operates his station professionally only to present a legitimate alternative to Arizona talk radio, which, he says, suffers both in terms of quality and plurality of viewpoints.

"Talk radio is dominated by conservative hosts, and it's dominated by fat, white old men," he says, snorting. "I think because of that, you're dealing with single- or double-digit IQs in many cases. It's like hate radio."

Dougan's fascination with radio started when he was a boy living in Missouri and Oklahoma, crouching under the blankets at night with a flashlight, listening to whatever far-flung stations he could pull in with his transistor radio.

"It was AM radio back then; you could hear stations seven or eight hundred miles away," he recalls. "I used to get WABC in New York. When I was a teenager, I could hear KNX in Los Angeles. That's a big thing when you're a kid. California, when you're 16, living in Missouri, seems like another planet."

At the University of Tulsa, Dougan worked at the school radio station at the expense of almost everything else in his life. But he didn't make broadcasting a career, instead becoming a graphic artist. It wasn't until years later, after he moved to Arizona and became dismayed with the right-wing homogeneity of the state's political discourse, that he decided to start putting his own views in front of the public. The first delivery system for Dougan's ideas was not a radio station. It was a newsletter, originally titled Mormon Watch but later renamed Arizona Political Watch.

"My circulation started out among a few friends," he says. "But there was a lot of word of mouth, and eventually, it grew to about 250 people. This was during the Mecham era, so that really gave me a lot of fuel. Every time he opened his mouth, I had something to write about."

The newsletter indeed focused on politics, the media and cultural issues. But even then, Dougan seemed to be grinding his biggest ax against the religious right, at whose feet he lays blame for most conservative "flat-Earth, know-nothing" thought.

"If I can get people royally pissed, that's fine," he says. "Because at least if I get 'em pissed, they're thinking. Nobody is interested in public affairs anymore. I have some younger people tell me that they can't listen to the radio station because they have to watch Beverly Hills, 90210."

What upsets him as much as the apathy of the younger generation, however, is what he sees as the lost promise of his own. Dougan is 41 years old. Some of his harshest words are reserved for his boomer brethren.

"What happened to my generation? We were the ones who were supposed to change everything, and now we're coming into power, and it's sickening. They're just like the ones before them. It's getting worse."

Though Dougan bristles at the term, broadcasting without a license is widely called "pirate" radio. Pirates have been around as long as radio itself, operating in almost every part of the broadcast spectrum, including long- and short-wave, AM, FM, television and microwave bands. Pittsburgh's KDKA--generally considered the first true American broadcast station--actually started out as a "pirate" in 1920. The operator, a Westinghouse Corporation employee, broadcast news reports as a hobby in the evenings after work. When he ran out of things to say, he played records. His broadcast caught on so quickly that soon Westinghouse was paying him to stay home and run his station, hoping it would encourage purchases of the company's radio sets.

Although pirate broadcasting began at the dawn of the medium, the free-radio movement is largely a phenomenon of the last 20 years. Free-radio operators broadcast for a variety of reasons. Some are simply disc jockey wanna-bes, poseurs who can't find work at a commercial station. Others feel an alternative to regular broadcasting needs to be presented. Still more do it because they think the quality of local commercial radio is not up to par.

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