AFTERBURN REPORT 2008
BURNING MAN INFORMATION RADIO (BMIR)
BMIR 94.5FM stepped into a more public role on the playa in 2008, due to its prominent placement as part of the city's restructuring. While the station has always had solid foot traffic and high levels of participation for the recording of PSAs and theme camp announcements, the station felt much more like a theme camp this year: participants hung out in the courtyard and swapped stories and ideas; a near-constant stream of desert dwellers flowed through the station to chat on-air with DJs; and daily cocktail parties provided both a celebration and a forum, since each day's party had guests of honor – including Burners without Borders, the Flaming Lotus Girls, Peter Hudson, TurdBurgler and other porta-potty wranglers, and various producers of playa radio. All of this added new layers to the station's core mission of providing a mix of music, news, interviews, and vital information to Black Rock City.
Commensurate with the growth of BMIR's services, station staffing grew as well. This was essential to handle both the expected and unanticipated exigencies of playa radio life. A few highlights:
- We continued our remote broadcast programming, with man-on-the street interviews and live event coverage. When the ravenous zombie hordes overran hapless Mutant Vehicle [LINK to dmv report] revelers, BMIR news was there to report on the carnage. When flaming skydivers dropped from the heavens and landed in the city, BMIR news had it covered with an interview right after scorched boots hit the ground. And when the dust just wouldn't stop, BMIR reported on the myriad forms of merry-making as everyone hunkered down and waited for the white-outs to pass.
- While we certainly can't take credit for the psychology that contributed to the smoothness of this year's Exodus [LINK to exodus report], it was a distinct joy to go on-air on Monday and let everyone know they could get out of the city in sometimes as little as 30 minutes – and two hours at the longest.
- BMIR played a vital role as an information and communication nexus in 2008. Besides sending out weather updates, information on gate [LINK to gate report] closures and the like, we also evolved into an ad hoc Playa Obtainium and Emergency Connections Network. Through on-air announcements, we helped numerous participants find lost campmates. We helped secure critical, AWOL supplies for Burners Without Borders' camp infrastructure and for other camps/individuals who needed support. With hurricane Gustav approaching the Gulf Coast, we set up Skype stations so that those affected could communicate with family back home. Finally, we facilitated communications for participants dealing with automotive adversity as the event wrapped up. While radical self-reliance is a mantra for everyone in Black Rock City, sometimes you have to make an Internet phone call to get your vehicular heap off the playa.
- As a technical first, we did a live broadcast of Barack Obama's acceptance speech on Thursday night. Since Internet service couldn't be relied on to deliver an uninterrupted feed, this involved a satellite drop into an RV and then the utilization of our remote broadcasting gear to shoot the signal over to the station. Significant thought went into this decision; we know that many people view the playa as a sacrosanct realm that should be devoid of anything but essential, emergency news from the outside world. We decided to go with it not because it was "newsworthy" – which alone wouldn't justify the broadcast – but because we viewed it as a piece of theme-based sound art. The decision to broadcast the speech had a mixed reaction from participants: many were grateful, some were not, and even some supporters of the candidate were unhappy with the decision to broadcast. In any event, a crowd of 100 or more gathered outside the station to listen live.
As always, desert broadcasting presents its share of challenges. Our gear has been getting dusted for almost a decade out there, and upgrades are now in order to avoid over-modulation of our signal. Anyone who would like to donate resources of time, money, or expertise to this cause: please drop us a line at email@example.com. We're also looking to secure a more reliable Internet feed so that we can send our signal out to all of the Burners who can't make it to BRC but who would enjoy a sonic blast of playa life. Our stream made its journey beyond the playa successfully much of the time, but we'd like to be able to say all of the time.
Over the past eight years, BMIR has evolved beyond its origins as an emergency broadcast and information service (while maintaining this core aspect of its identity), becoming a full-fledged audio playground that reflects the attitude and ethos of Black Rock City. And the feedback from the community has been phenomenal.