Dr. Larisa Kingston Mann is Assistant Professor of Emergent Media in Media Studies & Production, Klein College, Temple University. She researches how oppressed people use music to redraw the meaning of spaces, communities and social relationships, and how media technologies can open up or shut down sites anti-colonial resistance. Her sites of study include surveillance technology, pirate radio, street parties and sound systems. As DJ Ripley she has toured through 24 countries, playing unique blends of global street bass on air and in the streets. A member of Dutty Artz NYC, cofounder of Surya Dub SF and HEAVY NYC.
Broadcast radio, especially pirate radio, persists among marginalized communities, despite web radio's rise. In Brooklyn, over 100 stations fill the airwaves with dozens of musics and languages, ephemerally reclaiming spaces like taxi interiors, restaurant kitchens and city streets for particular communities. Listeners and broadcasters also innovate with radio: Immigrant and diasporic broadcasters use subcarrier frequencies, conference call systems and dedicated radio-by-phone services to reach their communities. As well, immigrant communities circulate information and music through semi-offline networks integrating pirate radio, posters and flyers in specific neighborhoods and commuting routes.
Pirate radio's value is not only as marginal media for marginal people, but as sites of relative autonomy. This autonomy is fostered due to what are often called limitations: ephemerality, local/geographically-bound communication, unprofessionalism, illegality. Such limitations can be affordances for autonomy. This helps explain why technological and legal movements towards integration, legalization and visibility are not easily embraced by many oppressed communities. For example, low power FM stations that serve ethnic minority communities in particular are vastly outnumbered by pirate radio stations that do so. It also explains why many marginalized communities don’t make use of the latest web radio or internet-based communication. These "older" technologies center values that internet technologies are not usually designed to center, and make use of shared knowledge that is deeply rooted in many communities already.
Through my research on pirate radio in New York and London, I have identified locality, collective intimacy, and synchronous and ephemeral sonic connection as values that are important for marginalized communities. Taking account of these values and using similar methods to identify values and strengths particular to specific marginalized communities can help us better support autonomous media making. Along the way, they remind us that innovation is not linear, and that the visions of the future grow from different pasts.