February 09, 2008

Celebrating 16 years of kookiness

My last entry a few days ago got me thinking about all the various bizarre radio personalities I have listened to over the years, particularly those that have come and gone. I can still remember the first day that I sat down with a shortwave radio and heard conspiracy theorists for the first time: January 20, 1992. My roommate had just brought his ham radio from home and had been playing with it, and I wanted to see what else I could hear. After scanning the dials and hearing some foreign-language broadcasting and a few hams (naturally talking about their equipment and little else), I accidentally came across the late-night broadcast on WWCR at 7.435 MHz. And the rest was history.

A little disclaimer is probably necessary at this point. For me, conspiracy theory is almost strictly entertainment. Naturally, I believe there are such things as conspiracies, which occur every time two or more people agree to do something illegal. But conspiracy theory, on the other hand, is a worldview in which no major events happen by accident or outside the control of a shadowy group of powerful people. This I reject. However, continual listening to conspiracy radio and other kookery has had a couple of side benefits. First, it has sharpened my critical thinking skills. When someone like Alex Jones, for example, reports that Ann Coulter has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, it is important to remember that Jones habitually blows mundane facts right out of proportion. The truth is that Coulter did say so on Hannity & Colmes, but her skill with words doesn't come out nearly as well on live television as it does in writing, and she has since backtracked on that statement. This hasn't stopped Alex Jones from claiming that The Powers That Be have already selected Clinton as the winner. Second, it made me realize (a few years before learning it in political science class) that newsgathering organizations are as much about agenda-setting as they are about merely "reporting the news"; they have other, competing interests such as political axes to grind, ratings, or advertising dollars, that affect what stories are reported, and how. (And let's not forget how all the major networks have been caught red-handed at some time manufacturing the news!)

So without further ado, here are the most significant "go-to" guys that I have listened to over the last 16 years for my nightly fix of nuttiness.

  • Tom Valentine was the very first person I ever heard on shortwave, apart from foreign-language and amateur broadcasts. He used to have a program called "Radio Free America" that ran from 10-midnight EST every weekday on WWCR. Although the first broadcast I heard was fairly mundane (likely about the presidential primaries then under way in 1992), it wasn't long before the bizarre nature of American commercial shortwave manifested itself: bizarre financial conspiracy theories by anti-Semitic economist Eustace Mullins, Ruby Ridge, the Waco seige, the Bilderbergers, alternative "medicine" - and, on Friday nights, junk science. "Radio Free America" was sponsored by Liberty Lobby, an organization headed by professional Jew-hater Willis Carto, and so Jewish conspiracy theories (including the so-called "Jewish tax" on kosher food) featured prominently. The most memorable program I heard was a Friday night interview about the Philadelphia Experiment, an apocryphal military project intended to render naval ships invisible that supposedly resulted in some rather horrific effects. While Valentine was generally ready to believe anything someone told him, as long as it contradicted the mainstream, the phone calls coming in that night about time travellers and similar phenomena were too much even for him. In the summer of 1993, Valentine was followed by, and he had an ongoing feud with,
  • William Cooper. For a while in 1992 and early 1993, "Radio Free America" was followed at midnight by "The Hour of the Time," hosted by one Milton William Cooper. This program was the perfect midnight listening: it began with an air-raid siren, a deep voice announcing that "It is the Hour of the Time. Lights out for the curfew of your body, soul and mind," then marching feet, dogs barking, and women screaming. The program itself consisted of an hour-long monologue by the creepy-sounding Cooper on the subject of the day. The first time I heard this program, he was explaining the Illuminati code words in the Bette Midler song "The Rose."1 Later he would also decode the occult imagery in Disney fare such as the Lion King. He and Tom Valentine had an ongoing feud at one point, with Cooper accusing Valentine of being a Freemason or Illuminist (based on a book Valentine had written about pyramidology and his supposed affiliation with an occult organization called the Stelle Group); Valentine, in return, accused Cooper of being a CIA disinformation agent. William Cooper was probably the most paranoid personality I have ever heard of. He died in 2001 in a hail of police bullets rather than be arrested, after he had threatened a passer-by with a handgun. But before that, after his radio program became inconvenient to listen to, I had started listening heavily to
  • Brother Stair. R. G. Stair, the "Last Day Prophet of God," was actually one of the first personalities I ever heard on shortwave - again, on that first night, where his program came on at 2 am weeknights, after Valentine, some "prayer line" program, and low-rent Gene Scott wannabe E. C. Fulcher. In those days, Prophet Stair's program was a pre-recorded half hour, rather than the 24/7 broadcasting he would later do. But what he lacked in quantity, he made up for in intensity: the leather-lunged "prophet" would scream at the top of his lungs about the evils of women in short hair, women in pants, going to church on Sunday, living in cities, watching television, and whatever else struck him as wrong. Theologically he was a mess of Seventh-day Adventism, Branhamism, Arminian Holiness and hyper-Calvinism (no, really!), King James Onlyism, and various other incompatible belief systems. Stair would frequently proclaim that The End Is Nigh thanks to some astronomical phenomenon in the news, such as comets Hale-Bopp or Shoemaker-Levy. But he really went off the deep end in about 2002, when he got on the "Planet X" bandwagon, declaring The End Is Nigh because Planet X would cross Earth's orbit and flip the planet on its axis in May 2003. Whoops, nice try there, "Prophet." Not long after this, Stair got in trouble with the police because he couldn't keep his hands off the young ladies on his compound, and went to jail. Since reruns were boring, I moved on to
  • Texe Marrs. Texe cashes in on his credibility as a former Air Force officer, university lecturer, and published author (his book Dark Secrets of the New Age was a Christian bestseller in 1988) to promote blithering nonsense in the name of Christianity. I like to quote what Phil Johnson said about him in his famous bookmarks: he never met a conspiracy he didn't like. Over the years Marrs has bought into the usual banking/New World Order/Illuminati conspiracies, but he also was banging the "Planet X" drum (which gave him yet another opportunity to hawk stored food, which no doubt had been taking up unnecessary space in a warehouse since Y2K) and other assorted nuttery. To give you an idea just how out to lunch Marrs is: in 2002 he claimed that the numerous World Cup soccer stadiums being erected were really giant antennas in disguise. Their purpose was to transmit instructions, via extremely low frequency (ELF) radio waves, to nanobots - injected into unsuspecting citizens who thought they were getting a vaccine - which would then proceed to kill the subject or control his mind. No, really: he meant this seriously.2 Anyhow, my current address has lousy shortwave reception, so now I listen to
  • Alex Jones. I had heard Jones on and off in the years prior to 9/11. His use of the Imperial March as theme music was unmistakable. In recent years, however, he has risen to become the King of Konspiracy Kooks thanks to his spearheading of the so-called 9/11 "truth" movement. His Hoarseness' favourite schtick is "bullhorning": like some sort of 20th-century Don Quixote, he uses an electric megaphone to tilt against the windmills of the New World Order, the 9/11 "inside job," and the extermination of 80% of the world's population so that the global elite can have life-extension technology all to themselves. In June 2006, he was detained by Customs in the Ottawa airport when he came to bullhorn the meeting of the Bilderberg group; in all fairness to Jones, he hadn't done anything wrong and being a raving lunatic isn't a crime.

I'm sure I could talk in depth about some of the other nuts that have entertained me over the years: Chuck Harder, Pete Peters, "Bo" Gritz, Ted Gunderson, Art Bell, David J. Smith, and Dave VonKleist and Joyce Riley, just to name a few. But the above are the true crème de la crème of kook radio: the ones I would give 4/4 black helicopters.


1 Some say love, it is a footnote: Coincidentally, the late Aaron Russo, who produced the movie The Rose, was a tax-protesting conspiracy theorist himself: shortly before he died, he produced a "documentary" titled America: From Freedom to Fascism.

2 Extremely Low Footnote: If you thought that a former Air Force officer and assistant professor of aerospace studies should have known that there is no way that a nanobot could receive ELF transmissions (where would it put the required miles-long antenna?), well, now you know better.