Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR 94.5 FM) exists to entertain and inform Black Rock City. Featuring a mix of music, public service announcements, interviews, late-breaking theme camp news, and — if the need arises — emergency information, BMIR is a resource for both the infrastructure and population of Black Rock City.
The station enjoyed significant growth in 2004, and we experienced all the successes and challenges that accompany such a transition. BMIR came into being in 2001, primarily as an outlet for potential emergency announcements and a source of orientation information for citizens new to Black Rock City. With the exception of the live Exodus show, the station ran almost exclusively from automated software, which allowed it to be on-air 24 hours a day. But after 3 years of broadcasting automated playlists generated from libraries of participant announcements, public service announcements (PSAs), and music, the station was beginning to feel a little . . . automated. Broadcasts seemed divorced from the vibrant, dynamic life of the city. Some found it detached and heartless, like a fallen angel who has sold his soul to the devil and had it replaced with a Chia pet . . . like Oz behind the curtain or Hal 9000 while he was still nice and pre-homicidal – You get the point. We decided that 2004 would be the year that BMIR would go live.
With this change in mind, BMIR moved from a staff of five in 2003 to about two dozen in 2004, a transition made graceful through the efforts of our excellent new volunteer coordinator. As one result, the station was staffed with on-air DJs from approximately 10am to 8pm each day of the event, with the software continuing to handle the graveyard shifts. (After all, we felt, by 10 or 11p.m. participants should stop listening to the radio and go explore the city or get some sleep so as to be ready for early morning adventures. At least we hoped they would come down to the station and leave us a note to let us know how glued to the radio they were.)
Besides allowing for the usual mix of music and public service/theme camp announcements, this new level of operations created a free-form public-radio forum for the BRC community. Participants could drop by to interact with the DJs in the studio and with the city on-air. We chatted with those lovable civil servants from the post office, discussed performative sculpture with a naked green man and his imaginary dust bunny friend, and debated the finer points of losing one’s playa virginity. Through it all, these live hours provided an opportunity for Black Rock City to tell its stories, announce its events, and generally share its experiences.
Meanwhile, we continued to staff drop-in hours from noon to 4 p.m. each day helping participants to record announcements for radio play throughout the week. Hundreds of citizens came by to announce their camp events, put a “shout out” for that desperately needed item or service, or lay down public service announcements.
BMIR also kicked the production end of its operations into high gear this year. Pre-playa, we wrote, recorded, and produced almost 50 new public service announcements, which amounted to short radio plays covering everything from the ethos of gifting to the humane operation of killer mutant vehicles. Combined with the archive classics (beautiful spots written and recorded over the past 4 years that have been played to the point of decay if not death), these new pieces brought our PSA library up to well over 150 spots. Finally, we could convey the type of information that is part of our programming mandate without overexposing listeners to the same spots so often that they feel as if they could do karaoke performances of the PSAs. (We received about 50 additional PSAs and theme camp announcements from various groups before the event, either on CD or through emailed MP3s. THANK YOU ALL!)
As another first, BMIR produced and broadcast a daily interview show in 2004. $teven Ra$pa and LadyBee hosted a discussion with Jadu Beta artist Saul Melman, while $teven and ActionGrl led a roundtable discussion of the Regionals movement with Regional Reps from around the country. The Unifried crew also visited the station to talk about the growing use of biodiesel fuels at the event, including this year’s successful Greeters’ and Recycle Camp experiments. These interviews were both broadcast live and recorded for replay later in the week.
BMIR’s transition year brought manifold challenges, as well. Most significant was the recruitment of a new station engineer this year, after working with our previous engineer since the station’s inception. Learning curves were squarely faced, towers were boldly climbed (more than once), and the station went live, albeit a little later than we’d planned. We also experienced significant crowding in our little building, which was built before the transition to a live station was envisioned. We know that we overplayed the porta potty announcements early in the week, when scatological doom seemed to be rearing its ugly fecal head. While we are willing to risk error on the side of over-communication when a potential crisis looms, we are reformulating our “emergency broadcast” policies so that we don’t start sounding like the Department of Playa Security announcing red level threats every 5 minutes.
Finally, expanding to a live format entailed a good amount of trial and error to strike the right balance between musical styles and the DJs musical tastes. We’ve always done our best to make the station sound like the playa feels, striving for that perfect synergistic bliss. We have always tried to program a diverse range of music that reflects the city’s diverse population. This effort was trickier in 2004 with live DJs entering the fold, but we tried to walk the fine line between expressing the atmosphere and eclecticism of the playa while facilitating the full-on freedom of expression that Black Rock City embodies. Were we always successful in our effort – Probably not, but these types of aesthetic concerns are foremost in our minds as we try to run a station that is an informative, engaging, and somewhat esoteric presence in BRC. So if you liked the music you heard, great. And if not, send us some CDs that we can put into rotation or, better yet, volunteer for a couple of DJ shifts this year.
With another year of dusty computers and filthy CDs behind us, BMIR is looking forward to further growth in 2005 and beyond. The crystal ball is notoriously dirty, but we predict an earlier on-air start date, expanded Exodus coverage, a nightly news show, neighborhood news beats, more interviews about the inner and outer workings of the city, remote live broadcasts, and, most important, more of YOU involved.
BMIR Operations and Programming