Romanticizing the past remains the quickest way to turn into an old fogey, but as anyone who's tried to listen to the radio lately can attest, sometimes things really do take a turn for the worse. Already dominated by corporately determined playlists and neutered DJs, radio took a sharp downturn with the 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act. Allowing moguls to dominate entire markets, it silenced many pockets of resistance and drove others to the haven of the Internet (most recently, the beloved Ohio holdout WOXY). Most true music fans now avoid the radio entirely, but there are other ways to protest. With too much time and energy left over from an unchallenging day job as a legal secretary, in 1995 Sue Carpenter (who later became a writer for The Los Angeles Times and Jane) decided to take the airwaves for herself. After making contact with San Francisco's politically active pirate-radio community and purchasing a few hundred dollars' worth of equipment, Carpenter set up a station in her hilltop apartment, calling herself KPBJ and playing music she'd initially encountered as a college-radio fan. After developing a small following, Carpenter shut the station down to take a journalism job in Los Angeles, where setting up her station's successor, KBLT, became a top priority. Starting small by broadcasting a few hours a day, she eventually became the soundtrack to the trendy neighborhood of Silver Lake, attracting visitors like The Jesus And Mary Chain and even a resident celebrity DJ, L.A. punk stalwart Mike Watt. Carpenter's book 40 Watts From Nowhere recounts her adventures under the nom de radio Paige Jarrett, prior to her inevitable run-in with the FCC in 1998. Driven by anecdotes more than issues, 40 Watts sometimes reads like a Trojan-horsed hipster memoir; for every page about the Telecommunications Act, there are several more about Carpenter's ex-boyfriend's heroin addiction. The and-then-this-happened approach sometimes makes the book seem formless, but since what she's writing about is the freedom from stricture, the style kind of fits, and Carpenter's stories capture the joy of spinning tunes for friends and strangers without rules or regulations. She makes her stations sound like a lot of fun, and makes it impossible not to wish there were more of them out there. With luck, she might even inspire someone to do something about it.

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