Knowing very little about the legendary Radio One of Prague except that at times I would throw a Nerf brick at my boombox, and in others I would be hootin’, hollerin’, and blastin’ my six shooter into the sunset, I poised myself to enter the bowels of corporate rock to meet the station’s proverbial hip/hop kingpin and all round ace-boon coon DJ A to the K (Aaron Kirtz), in his lair at the Czech Sony Music headquarters.
Swiveling my head to and fro, and winking at the security camera, I ambled through the gate that separated the idyllic suburban Devicka and the local nerve center of global teenage cultural atom-smashing and the arbiters of music for the masses, indeed I feared for my soul, in ways I’d never feared for my wallet.
Pickpockets of the spirit, I whispered as I approached Aaron’s extended palm, and I waited to be pulled up into the mother ship, and retrofitted for the infosuperhighway, or reprogrammed for Eurodisco, or left back on earth wanting celtic designs tattooed all over my jittery epidermis!
And then I calmed down and we all laughed, and I thought all I have to do is remain clear and objective. The history of Radio 1 is impressive enough, if you’ve never heard it, here’s the version I heard that day. It seems that the son of a Czech diplomat figured out what to do with a radio transmitter his father had received as a gift, from a French diplomat a cultural one just after the revolution in ’89.
Him and his buddies took it up to Letna park and began broadcasting anything they could get their hands on from the very spot that Stalin’s giant head once glowered over Pragers.Well the authorities were not impressed, but neither were they able to track transmitters, having little-to-no experience in finding pirate radio operators, and it took a week to find it.
They closed it down naturally, in Aaron’s words, “Because they had to, a government is supposed to regulate,” but it was a little late, for the Pandora’s box had already been opened, and after forty years the music starved were going to get their MTV, more or less.
The atmosphere was right, with Zappa hanging around, and the new openness with the west, Radio One was allowed to become the first private radio station in the Czech Republic. With the cooperation of a now defunct CD rental store (roughly 5000 or so titles) the station flourished in a tiny studio near Bunkr, and forged the relatively alternative format it maintains today.
Ahem. “In America, people only listen to alternative music when they are in college, and when they graduate they get stuck in that genre.”
Aaron bluntly lets on about his reasons for making the Prague scene way back in 1991. A veteran of college radio back in the states at Ohio’s left-leaning Oberlin University, the anarchy of Radio One’s early days was an exciting opportunity for him to follow his passions, as well a Deja Vu of the indiscipline that inevitably carried the day in school.
“At meetings, everyone just talks about how they wanna do this or that, but just like college radio, nothing gets finished but a few beers.”
He worries about the future of the station as commercial pressures weigh in, it being the heart of alternative and independent promoter’s attempts to get airplay here. But for now he says, “the station is making money, as long as that continues they won’t sell it. Fortunately, other stations think of Radio One as the black sheep, and they like that. The advertisers come and go, but there’s always someone, but if the station should inevitably be sold, there probably won’t be a way to start another.”
Could I be in the presence of an infiltrator, I wonder, scanning the assorted posters, and paraphernalia which Sony’s gray clouds rain upon its promotions staffs. I think back to the idea I had at the turn of the decade to airlift underground records and tapes to the newly formed republics of east/central Europe, to try to get a leg up on the kings and queens of pop.
The song ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd rumbles across the background noise that plays in my head even as I listen to Aaron tell me the first record he ever bought was ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. A to the K’s first love at the moment is hip-hop, not the easiest music to break to an audience that doesn’t really understand where it’s coming from, even if they can snap a photo of the lyrics as they whiz by.
And yet the themes of the music are universal (thoughtful and thoughtless), and can be uplifting in the same sense as a Baptist spiritual, when it hits you right, it goes straight to your heart and your ass.
Being the first revolutionary music in some time to become popularized above ground, rap has evolved under the scrutiny of everyone from the US Senate to Oprah Winfrey, and the larger record companies are stressed out trying to reconcile the hardliners with the bottom line.
Between these impressions I understand clearer how Aaron can work for SONY. After all who knows Prague better, do the math..
Leaving SONY in Aaron’s car, the rain obscures my escape, and i do anyway, he’s on his way to some meeting or another, “lots of work to do, too much almost”, and I wonder about Prague and the people who have found things to do here that they either would not have wanted to deal with back home, or simply would have been in a line too long to even get a shot there.
Radio One certainly ain’t perfect, especially with that Jesus Christ Superstar we’ve suffered through for a while now, but it always keeps us guessing. A to the K gets bent Wednesdays at 6pm and on Saturdays 3 til 7pm, he also DJ’s at the Roxy and Saturday nights at Punto Azul a new hip hop joint in Smichov, get there by ten. Triple Yo’s to the west side crew, and I’m Audi 5000, G.