Carpenter, Sue 1966-
CARPENTER, Sue 1966-
Worked variously as a legal secretary, motorcycle instructor, and pirate radio station operator. UHF magazine, editor, 1996; freelance writer, 1997—; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, feature writer, 1998—; Jane magazine, senior contributor.
Forty Watts from Nowhere: A Journey into Pirate Radio, Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including George, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitian.
After working for five years as a receptionist at a San Francisco law firm, Sue Carpenter decided she needed to find a new direction for her life. She focused her frustrations on the music left off the play lists of radio stations, and because she had been a volunteer at a college radio station, she knew a little about what went on at a station. After buying some locally manufactured broadcasting equipment, she founded two unlicensed radio stations—KPBJ and then KBLT—which she ran under assumed names, as she recalls in Forty Watts from Nowhere: A Journey into Pirate Radio. In this memoir she tells of running the stations out of her apartment, of playing the music she wanted to hear, and keeping ahead of Federal Communications Commission representatives. When Carpenter was offered the editorship of the culture magazine UHF, she moved to Los Angeles and again set up shop. There, dozens of volunteer disc jockeys trained through her apartment to broadcast an astounding variety of music in two-hour slots—jazz, Latin, soul, bop, folk, punk, rock, jungle, dance, pop, kitsch, gospel, and country. In her own slot Carpenter aired French music. One night, before the band became famous, the Red Hot Chili Peppers showed up to play live.
Like the station itself, Forty Watts from Nowhere found an audience among book reviewers, several of whom remarked on Carpenter's writing style. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews critics noted stilted dialogue and one-dimensional characters, yet found the story worthwhile, the former calling it a "frank, often funny narrative [that] is easily absorbed," and the later calling Carpenter "adept at depicting the exhilaration" of the broadcasting endeavor. "The deejays … are an amorphous blur," complained Chicago Tribune Books reviewer David L. Ulin, "and even the most central figures—like the author's boyfriend, Jay—seem slightly hollow, drawn in two dimensions, if at all." Perhaps, as Ulin commented, "the real protagonist is the station itself," one with whom Carpenter eventually fell out of love as her neighbors became irate and her own ears tired of the fourteen-hour days on the air. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Choire Sicha found the work frustrating, particularly Carpenter's inability or lack of desire to clearly state her motivation for running an illegal enterprise: "She writes in a straightforward enough … style, but veers between entertaining overdisclosure and a seeming fear of divulgation." USA Today critic Lisa Perri dubbed Forty Watts from Nowhere "incredibly fun to read," adding that the author's "dry wit and endless frustration with herself … give the book a warm, funny tone." When the FCC finally caught up with Carpenter, she claimed responsibility and gave up her equipment. "Her radio career and the book both seem to end too fast," bemoaned Perri.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 2003, Mike Tribby, review of Forty Watts from Nowhere: A Journey into Pirate Radio, p. 709.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2003, review of Forty Watts from Nowhere, p. 1258.
New York Times Book Review, February 29, 2004, Choire Sicha, "The Pirate Queen," p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, November 10, 2003, review of Forty Watts from Nowhere, p. 49.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 2, 2004, David L. Ulin, "Making Waves: A Spirited Account of Life as a Pirate-Radio Broadcaster in California," p. 5.
USA Today, March 30, 2004, Lynne Perri, "Forty Watts from Nowhere Tunes in to Crackling World of Pirate Radio," p. 4.*