Shouting Fire Radio: The Shout Heard ‘Round the World
How can we bring the magic back from BRC and Regional events and visa versa? How can we connect and reflect year round? Radio. Tune in to the stories and sessions, the magic and mayhem from Regional events all around the world.
From Black Rock City’s radio station BMIR was born the internet radio station Shouting Fire, which provides real world radio stations to Regional events, streaming to listeners everywhere.
It’s now the Global Burner Radio Network connecting Texas to South Africa, Michigan to Argentina, Denmark to Spain.
Michael Vav talks with the General Manager Bobzilla, European maven Sophie Brouhon, roving correspondent Steve Man, and confessional host Rabia Yaeman. Come take a trip through time, and around the world.
Shouting Fire: Burning Man Live
Shouting Fire: Global Burner Radio Network
Shouting Fire: Hippy Trap Live From the Smiling Van
Shouting Fire: Confessional with Contessa Luna (or twitch.tv/contessaluna)
VAV: Welcome, benvenuto, willkommen, to Burning Man Live. I am Michael Vav. This episode is kind of meta; it’s audio about audio. It’s a story of the voices behind the voices of radio that started in Black Rock City – as part of Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR) – and spread across the airwaves and the internets to all of Europe and lots of regional events around the world.
Today we’ll talk with the first person who stoked this fire and helped it spread, not in a bad way. Then we’ll tune in to a few choice moments of broadcasting from Shouting Fire, an independent international broadcasting collective. It’s an open source non-commercial community radio station operated entirely by volunteers, which is saying something. They bring listeners, uncensored broadcasts from community members from Burning Man events and like-minded experiences around the world. First we talk with Bobzilla, the General Manager of Shouting Fire.
First, We talk with Bobzilla, the General Manager of Shouting Fire.
BOB: Hey, Vav.
VAV: Bob Sommer.
BOB: Most people know me as Bobzilla.
VAV: Alright. Where should we start?
BOB: Let me tell people a little bit about where this thing called Shouting Fire came from. I’ve been burning for 15 years. I had been working in commercial and public and pirate and underground radio since like 1978. I first became involved in radio in high school. I auditioned for a show when I was a freshman, and two years later I was running the place. I knew that I would be doing radio for the rest of my life.
VAV: And your life brought you to Burning Man?
BOB: I didn’t find Burning Man until the mid-nineties, and I saw that there were radio stations at Burning Man. So as soon as I got to the playa. I mean, we hit the Playa and I went looking for the radio station. I went to Center Camp and I found this ramshackle building that said “Thy People’s Noise Room” and it said BMIR on the side. I’m like, “This must be it.” So I knocked on the door and this guy named Zeus with flaming red hair and a zebra onesie opened the door and he’s like, “What’s going on?” And I’m like, “I work at a radio station.” He’s like, “Come on in.” And the rest was history. So within an hour of hitting the playa of my first year, I found BMIR, and I never turned back. I worked at BMIR for several years and eventually ended up running the place.
VAV: And then, how did BMIR lead to Shouting Fire?
BOB: We were having so much fun broadcasting on the playa that we said, “Hey, let’s do this year round.” So a couple of us started something called Shouting Fire, and it broadcast year round.
For a long time it was mostly kind of just a jukebox. Our technology was kind of clunky. It didn’t work really well, but I sort of kept the flame going. There was a laptop sitting in my house that ran Shouting Fire 24/7. And I kind of, it’s like everyday you get up and you go and you water the garden. That’s what I would do. I just take care of the laptop, make sure it’s still running.
Nobody was really doing live shows. Occasionally I would drag the laptop over to an event and try to broadcast from there. But once again, our technology wasn’t really all that great.
VAV: What year was this, or what era?
BOB: 2008, maybe, it’s kind of all a blur at this point, as I’m sure you can understand.
VAV: When you’re watering this laptop, did you have listeners? How did you know that you weren‘t just shouting into the void?
BOB: There were some user metrics that we would get. It was a small audience. Sometimes there were like five people listening, and I always wondered who those five people were. And then every now and then, I remember one year for like three weeks there were about 40 listeners in Japan for some reason. I don’t know, I don’t know, but for some reason we were big in Japan.
VAV: There are so many people involved now. What changed?
BOB: I was always looking for the right technology that would allow people to very easily do shows from wherever they were. And then a man happened along one year at BMIR out on the playa. This guy walked into the studio, and this guy’s name was David Cooper. David is also a very talented software engineer. And he made some really cool technology that we utilized at BMIR. It’s made things a whole lot nicer and better, and set up elaborate phone systems that we could use and so forth. He eventually took it upon himself to write some custom software, called crazy arms, and we use Crazy Arms.
It’s open source – based on liquid soap or something; There’s this whole big technology thing out there on the internet, and it’s just amazing. It allows us to have seamless. It doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you have an internet connection, and that can be on a phone because you’re in a caravan or an RV in the middle of the event, or you can be hardwired in, and you can broadcast from anywhere.
We’ve got it all scheduled, and it’s just really amazing. It was the answer that I was looking for.
VAV: I imagine this really provides you to be able to collaborate with all kinds of people in all kinds of places.
BOB: Yeah, now then the next thing was, okay, well, what are we going to put on the air?, you can’t just really have a jukebox 24/7. You need to have programming so people will listen to it. You’ve gotta make it compelling for them to come to, so how was I going to get some content?
First of all we had some BMIR DJs who were doing shows. But then I also realized, there’s a whole world of Regionals out there and I’ve heard that some of them have radio stations. So I reached out and said, “Hey, tell me more about your radio station at the Burn.” A lot of them just broadcast during their events. Some of them would stream from their event as well. But, nobody outside of their local Burner community knew about it. I said, “Hey, let’s collaborate.”
VAV: And what is this collaboration? What’s the big picture?
BOB: If you go back to what is BMIR and what is… Well, let’s first of all, let’s look at the airwaves in general. At least in the United States, the airwaves are licensed to people who broadcast in the public trust. We feel that that trust has really been violated. Back in the early days of radio, you could walk into a radio station, people used to walk in and go talk to the DJ. You can’t do that anymore. People don’t have access to the airwaves. We wanted to put the public back in public broadcasting. BMIR and Shouting Fire, very much are community resources for people in our Burning Man community.
We felt that radio was really a great medium for connecting our community year round. And wouldn’t it be great if you could tune in, and you knew that on Tuesday nights, people from the Portland Burning Man community were doing a show. They were playing music and they were talking to local community members and talking about local art projects that they’re doing. And you sitting in say, Detroit, could say, “Wow, you know that art project they’re doing that could really work here.” So now all of a sudden, here’s somebody who’s doing it in Portland. You can reach out to that person, “Hey, we’re in Detroit. We’re thinking of doing that. How did you do it?” And you could cross pollinate. And another night you can hear what’s going on in the Japanese Burner community. And if you could do that all over the world, we could really stay in touch all year long.
People, especially the international Burners, people go to Black Rock City from other Regionals, it’s sorta like the annual company picnic, there’s a lot of networking that gets done. With the regional network, there are all these big meetings and everyone collaborates and comes up with different ideas and works together. We felt that this would be a way that you could also do that year round.
So we reached out to all these other radio stations. Say, Burning Flipside, the Texas Regional, there’s a station there called KFLIP and they broadcast over FM during their event and they also stream it. So I said to them, we’re going to carry your stream live on Shouting Fire.
VAV: Yeah, that’s really compelling for listeners to experience aspects of different regional events around the world.
BOB: Now because of the constraints of their streaming packages, because it costs money to stream. You gotta contract with a stream provider, you pay by how many listeners you want to reach. Their budget wasn’t very big. So, they could only have say a hundred concurrent listeners at a time. Now because of our association with BMIR, we’re also very friendly with the folks at iHeartRadio.
Now a lot of people don’t like iHeartRadio because it’s a big corporation, but the bottom line is Bob Pittman, who is the CEO of iHeart, he’s a Burner. He’s been coming to Burning Man for many years. He doesn’t camp out on the edge of the city in, you know, Billionaire Row. He’s in the heart of the city. He’s accessible. He loves it. He loves radio, and he loves what BMIR does, and what Shouting Fire does. And he said, “We’re going to carry you guys.”
Normally when you tune into a streaming station on iHeartRadio, you get commercials and then you get their stream. They don’t get commercials, when you tune into BMIR or Shouting Fire via iHeart, cause that’s the deal. Bob gets it. It’s a gift to Burning Man community from this guy who has this resource. And so as a result, we have an unlimited number of listeners. We can reach thousands of people. So we told the people at KFLIP “We’re going to carry your signal. We’re going to promote it. We’re going to say ‘We’re going to be live from Flipside. Tune in,’ and we’re going to stream it to the world.”
Now there were some stations that didn’t have the ability to stream, they just did FM at their event. So we actually sent them equipment. We sent them a laptop with the encoder and everything. We sent them a hotspot with it. We said, “Do you have cell signal there? Okay. We’re going to send you a hotspot. We’re going to stream the whole thing.” We did that with the folks at Lakes of Fire. There’s a station there called Radio SGC.
VAV: In Michigan.
BOB: Yeah. Now there were some Burns where there wasn’t a radio station. So, if we have a team of people nearby, we will actually bring a radio station to the event.
VAV: So you kept empowering and supporting regional events to share their signal, share their story, from all across the land. Then from all across the sea, yeah?
BOB: Yeah. Key for us. Kanizzle is the great manager of BMIR now. He and I managed it together as a team for a while. And then I stepped down because I’m moving to Europe, and I knew I wasn’t going to be back often, and I had other Regionals I wanted to go to explore. And I was getting more interested in something that went year-round. And Kanizzle’s very much focused on that week and half of the year and serving that city.
I reached out to some of the European regional groups on Facebook, and said, “Hey, I’m moving to Europe. Who’s going to the Playa? I’d like to meet you because I want to get involved with the community when I get there.” Some of those people, we met on the Playa, and then all of a sudden I had a team of 12 people in Northern Europe who had all their own equipment, and they pieced it all together and they did this broadcast from Paris pre-Decompression party.
Then they started to also go around and broadcast at other Burns in Europe. The idea came up was, some of us had been to AfrikaBurn where there’s a great station called Radio Free Tankwa. They have a little trailer …here they call them caravans… this little tiny trailer that they use as their radio studio.
And one of our European team said, Maybe we could get our own little radio studio or a little caravan. We called it “The Caravan of Love.” We crowdfunded like $1,500. Most of it we actually threw in ourselves, but we had some donations. And we bought a little trailer and we got someone who converted it to a radio studio for free. And our European team started towing this thing around. And the first thing it did was it went to Nowhere, the large event, in Spain, which is technically not a Regional. And this is one of those things where it’s…
VAV: It’s a burning, it’s a like-minded event.
BOB: Yeah. What’s actually the event called Going Nowhere. They did not have a radio station ever. So we approached them and said, “Hey, we want to bring a radio station to your event. And not only are we going to broadcast music and so forth, but we are offering this to you as a tool that you can use for your event, for messaging. If you need to get emergency messaging out to people, all you gotta do is bring it to us and we broadcast it.” That’s one of the things that BMIR serves as is an emergency broadcast system for the event.
VAV: Yeah, much needed when many people are together, unplugged, in a harsh weather environment.
BOB: Yeah, and it also provides a very participatory element to the event, because at BMIR we have so many DJs and there’s only 24 hours in a day. And, you know, you can’t walk 10 feet at Burning Man without tripping over a DJ. But at some of these other events where they have not had a radio station, and there were only like five of us on the ground at this event, we didn’t have enough people to be 24/7. So you put out a whiteboard that says, here are the open slots today. People walk by people like, “Wow, I can be on the radio.” Some of those people end up sticking around and now they’re part of the Shouting Fire staff and they do regular weekly shows.
DJ STARBUCK: Hola. You are listening to a special show on Shouting Fire, brought to you from South America. I’m DJ Starbuck. And today I’m sharing with you some radio highlights from Fuego Austral,South America’s regional Burning Man event. It’s held at the beginning of each year in Argentina, several hours drive south of Buenos Aires, in the pampas. This year, Fuego Australia had its very own radio station broadcasting live during the event. It’s called Radio Austral.
BOB: Yeah, so we’ve got this caravan that we drag around Northern Europe. All of a sudden we’ve got these live broadcasts from all over the world and we supplement that where we have DJs from all over the world doing weekly and bi-weekly programs. So, we’ve got the live events. We were at The Burning Ball in Vienna.
When the European Leadership Summit was in Aarhus, Denmark, we have a guy in Europe, he said, “Hey, I really want to go to the Burning Man European Leadership Summit.” So I reached out to Meghan Rutigliano who was the head of the Network at that point. I said, “Hey, Megs. What do you think of us broadcasting?” She’s like, “No problem. Send people.” It was great. And not only did we broadcast these public sessions, we broadcast from some of the parties. So we had some of the music; we had great interviews. It was all broadcast live. And then we took the recordings and put them up on SoundCloud, made them available for on-demand listening. That’s what we like to do with a lot of our shows is make it available for people to listen to later as well.
VAV: This is great.
BOB: Then my wife Nicolette, and I moved over here, and I brought the whole headquarters operation with me, and here we are.
SheepSleep: Hello listeners. Welcome to Shouting Fire, coming to you live from the Dutch regional burn. Where the Sheep Sleep. To give the first broadcast a Dutch twist, I decided to start with some old-school Dutch hip hop.
BOB: We’ve now got 70 really active people in 14 countries on four continents. We’ve got people in Australia. There’s a great station there called Red Earth Radio that broadcasts from Burning Seed. There’s Paddock Radio, which broadcasts at Kiwi Burn in New Zealand. There’s Radio Equinox, which broadcasts in Southern California from Bequinox. There’s SIR Radio which broadcasts from SN-RG which is the Southern Nevada regional gathering, and it’s just this year round collaboration.
Now, of course, when the pandemic hit Black Rock City got canceled. People were doing all this virtual stuff. We were able to say, “Hey, I know you’re locked up at home, but we’ve got people on from all over the world, from all over the community and you can call in and you can go to our website, and you can chat with them live, and if you’ve got an idea for a program, we are radically inclusive. Let us know, get involved, the more the merrier” We’ve got more and more people joining us. And, we’re just having a whole lot of fun.
By reaching out to all of these other radio stations, we formed something that I like to call the Global Burner Radio Network. This group of stations, from all over the Burning Man community, all sharing resources, carrying each other’s programming. There are ones that they have their own year round stuff, but the ones that don’t, we carry their programming. Sometimes when we have something really compelling, the other stations will carry our stream. For instance, KFLIP in Texas might re-stream Radio-Free Tankwa as well. So all of a sudden you’ve got four stations all broadcasting whatRadio-Free Tankwa was doing, because they’re live at the moment. But it’s mostly us carrying other people because we’re available on iHeartRadio. We’re available on tune-in radio. We’re on the radio garden app. We’ve got our own website. We have our own iPhone app and our own Android apps.
VAV: You have the space for everyone’s ears. And a good website to tell people what’s happening when.
BOB: Exactly. Promotion is so important, especially in radio, no one could tune in to your fabulous program, if they don’t know about it.
So I am out there building our following, putting it out there, working with the Regional Networks, letting them know that, “Hey, we’ve got a DJ from Chicago who’s big in your community.” So, all of a sudden all the Chicago Burners are tuning in.
VAV: On your website, it says you’re a tool for radical audio expression. And you had mentioned other principles like Radical Inclusion.
BOB: Yeah. So we are based upon the 10 Principles. Radical inclusion, anyone can participate. We’re always looking for people to become part of this project. You don’t need any radio experience. We will teach you how to do it, we just want someone who’s going to be committed.
VAV: Radical Self-expression is what you guys are doing. And Participation. Immediacy.
BOB: Decommodification. We are completely volunteer and listener supported. We don’t receive any financial support from anybody.
VAV: You’re not part of the Burning Man Project.
BOB: I’ve worked for the org as an independent contractor running BMIR for years. I said “You all, I’m going to do this year-round thing,” and they’re like “Sounds great.”
VAV: That’s great.
BOB: Radical Self-expression. We don’t censor anybody. We tell people, you know, “No racism and no call to action of violence,” and like that. But you can say anything you want.
Communal Effort. This is what we’re all about. Participation. Civic Responsibility. We’re making the airwaves available for people. As I said, we look at ourselves as guardians of the airwaves. Especially when we’re live at an event, anyone can go on the air. And if somebody wants to get involved with our project here, all they need to do is reach out. We’ve got it down to a science where we’ve actually made it very very easy for people to do a show where all you really need is a laptop. We’ve made it so that you don’t need a mixer and a fancy microphone. But we’ve also made it so we actually have a Zoom room. You just join the Zoom and you can just share your computer’s audio, and that’s especially good for like a talk show. You have people in different locations, just to have them join the Zoom. We have some software that sends that out to our server automatically. And if you’re playing music, you can do it that way as well. You can be as sophisticated as you want, but you don’t need to do that to participate. So there’s no real, it’s not, there’s no…
VAV: There’s no barrier to entry.
BOB: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. We’re stuff to listen to when you’re not in Black Rock City. BMIR has that taken care of. A lot of us at Shouting Fire are BMIR people, especially people who run it. We’ve got a lot of BMIR people involved with this project.
VAV: Alright, well who else are involved in making this happen?
BOB: When I knew I was going to move to Europe, I reached out to some of the groups from other countries. One of the people who I met was Sophie, from Brussels. A couple of months later, I get this text: “Hey, why don’t we broadcast from this Paris Decompression?” that the Belgian Burners were throwing.
She pulled together a whole team of people and there was this one guy named Steve Man. He was doing a lot of technical stuff. He came up with the idea for The Caravan of Love, the mobile broadcast studio in Europe. He spearheaded that, and he does a weekly show called Live From the Smiling Van. He was sort of our European ambassador and roving correspondent, because headquarters was still in Oakland.
Steve was the guy who took us to the Burning Ball in Vienna. He’s the guy who took us to the Burning Man European Leadership Summit in Denmark. He’s the guy who dragged the caravan to Nowhere and to Borderland.
VAV: Let’s save some of his stories for him to tell. I spoke with him, and in the interest of Immediacy, he invited me to join him on his radio show. And this is what we got.
STEVE: Well then nice to meet you. Where are you in?
VAV: I am in San Francisco, California.
STEVE: All right. I just arrived in Barcelona from Norway, and that was kind of a big cultural and thermal shock, like 25 degrees Celsius of difference between Norway and here. So yeah, it’s kind of a… yes.
VAV: I used to do some form of radio on playa at the big Black Rock City event.
VAV: I wanted to just ask you what your version of it is.
STEVE: Yeah. Maybe I can tell you the story from firsthand. I’ve always been a big fan of radio and I did a few things on radio when I was in high school and things like that. And then when I was going to Paris Decomp a few years ago, a friend of mine was involved in organizing the radio thing and so of course I come and help support with, mixers, microphones, whatever, so I’m supporting, so, and cheetah, and then it’s like, okay, but I like this thing, let me do some radio myself. You know, so I did a few interviews that night, and then it just took over.
So, then I went to AfrikaBurn and I did the incredible radio from there and at Radio Tankwa, they have a radio caravan, which is super cool, incredibly convenient because you know, it’s a bit like the BMIR container, but in a smaller scale. You know the drill. You are in the desert, full of sand, whatever. You have sensitive electronics and you are in a very nice space with the air conditioning, a fridge, a coffee machine and everything.
And I said, “Well, we need to do this in Europe,” so we got a very old, almost wrecked, caravan and we converted it into a radio studio, thanks a lot to Arely, my friend, who did most of the physical part, and then, started, taking the caravan to Nowhere and, Borderland and, introducing the concept of the radio caravan in the playa to the European burns. That was called “The Caravan of Love.” That was amazing.
It’s a bit like BMIR, the best thing is that allows people that want to say something or play something or whatever, to just jump in and start talking. Or there’s even people, they started doing their own radio show after they learned that there’s a thing called radio and they like it and they are good at it.
Then I was driving to AfrikaBurn again two years ago, I was on a war tour with my van. Then the pandemic struck, so I was stuck in Turkey. And that’s where, a bit like you, instead of just things at the Burns, I started doing a weekly show because people were at home and people were listening more, and we had to keep company to them. And I’m still doing a weekly radio show.
VAV: And it is “Smiling Van”? What is it?
STEVE: Yep. Mr. Orange. The SmilingVan. Yes.
VAV: What is “Hippie Trap”?
STEVE: That’s my playa name which has become more of a radio DJ name. People mostly call me Steve.
VAV: You said it was amazing when you talked about having caravans in Europe and it’s because people can come in at the events and say something, play something, and find out that they actually can self-express as a DJ as well. Any other stories or thoughts about how it connects people, or what other magic is there, why you love it?
STEVE: Well, let me give you a few examples.
Borderland a few years ago, It was Saturday. I was tired. I didn’t sleep much, or at all. And, I go to the caravan and I’m a bit tired, whatever. And then these two people came in and they said, “Um, are you live? Can we play something?” It was a couple. And, they started playing. They had like acoustic, and I was holding microphones everywhere and mixing and, and it was so deep and intense and magical.
And then they told their story. They both came from struggling life and they met and they started road tripping together in a car. And then they started singing together in the car. And out of that story, they became musicians. It was a road trip love music story. The way they were singing, it was so powerful, that I was immediately not tired anymore; I was in tears and I was super happy, energized.
Or people that just pass by and say, “Oh, what is this? What, it’s a radio? Okay, can I say something?” And then we start chatting philosophy for one hour. Or people say “Okay, I like music, I like to play some music,” whatever. And they’re still doing their radio show after years just because they bounced into bloody radio caravan in, in the middle of a Burn,
so, it’s nice to do your own show. It’s nice to have friends, DJs that do their stuff and so on. But the best part to me is enable people to have a voice, whether it’s things to say or music, this is what makes my day, my week, my whatever. When you do radio at the Burn, enabling people to have a voice. Yeah.
VAV: That’s great. Thank you for finding the time to talk with me before you start your show in just a few minutes.
STEVE: Awesome. So, how about – just throwing this in – how about we’d do a cultural exchange and, do you want to be a little bit live on my show? Like, now.
STEVE: We could try that.
STEVE: Shouting Fire, Steve Hippie Trap, live from Barcelona tonight. And I am also hopefully with Michael, if he’s still there. We don’t know. That’s the beauty of being live and the beauty of the mystery of the connections with the opposite side of the world. But yes you are there. I am connected to Burning Man Live.
So my favorite principle is by far Immediacy. I like to embrace Immediacy of course, but it’s also an excuse for being disorganized, right? But in this case, I think it’s a real Immediacy thing because we agreed on this like half an hour ago.
So we are talking to Michael Vav. Welcome to my show. So you have a podcast about Burning Man. It’s a proper thing. Michael Vav, which is also Producer and Story Editor of the Philosophical Center of Burning Man.
And, it’s two things that I really, really, really do love a lot: Burning Man and philosophy, but I don’t really know much about the Philosophical Center. So I am here to learn a bit more about it.
VAV: Well, the Philosophical Center is…
So, yes, that was my conversation with Steve Man. Great time. Back to you, Bobzilla.
BOB: Well, it sounds great. So Sophie and Steve were basically running Shouting Fire Europe before I got here, and are still extremely involved.
I’m just a captain, because somebody has to steer the ship. You get all these people who are all have their different talents, and together, we all go and people are just having a great time and we’re doing it for the love of broadcasting.
VAV: I also spoke with Sophie of Brussels, and this is what we had to say.
SOPHIE: Sounds good. It will be my first interview, the first time my voice will be on Shouting Fire or radio.
VAV: What do you usually bring?
SOPHIE: I just bring the connections. I open doors, I lift curtains. I go to people say, “Hey, you have got this great thing going on.” And, since I’m quite familiar with the European communities and events organization, and kind of make it easy for the people who can shine to perform the magic of Shouting Fire.
VAV: What is the magic?
SOPHIE: Shouting Fire is a growing tool for the people who are on the radio because of course they can do what they love, they can do what they’re inspired to do, but it’s mostly a window for people who are listening to it. It’s magic because it tells you what Burns are because it’s very descriptive.
It mostly show what they can do to people. It shows their creativity. It shows their humanity, most of the time. It shows them shining inside out and as such, it’s the most appealing way of show the possibility to everyone to realize that there’s something out there. Maybe raise their community or maybe led them there trying it for themselves. And become a different version of themself, and being growing tools for them. I think this is why I like the radio because it shows everything without ruining the ta-da of it.
VAV: That’s great, that’s great.
And when you reach a Burn, when you get on the playa and you have the ta-d effect of like wow!. All the sparkles, everything is revealed all of a sudden in front of your eyes. And you can’t believe it. You’re full of this “Oh,” everywhere, and sparkles, but you’ve heard about it. You’ve imagined it. You’ve seen it in your head. You’ve seen it in your ears. But it wasn’t ruined for you. And this is why I love the radio. I love being in touch with things that I can then create in my imagination. That I can try to reach, with anticipation, but without having it all chewed for me beforehand.
VAV: So, how did this all come about? How did this happen?
SOPHIE: I think it happens because of a “Why not?” like many other things. I met Bob. I went to see him on the radio. After that he came to say hello in my camp. And that’s how you plant a seed. And if you let it roll then there’s a lot of “Why not?” on the way, and you just pick one. Which is what I did one night.
I was actually coming back from a Burner gathering, in Switzerland. It was a bus during the night. So I started daydreaming and thinking about the pre-compression of Paris, I think it was a week or two later. As I was thinking about all the stuff we needed to do left, we start thinking, “Okay, what is the extra sparkle that we can bring to it?
I thought, “Hey, is it possible to broadcast those DJs and music and the people who come to that pre-compression? Is it possible to bring all that on the radio?”
And since Bob was on the other side of the planet, it was daytime for him. It just was as simple as a little text message saying, “Hey, is it possible?” And the answer was “Why not?” So. Yeah, just remove the “not” and that’s how it starts.
I knew that to make it happen, I needed other people and that’s how we start posting messages. And that’s how Steve came up. That’s how Cheetah Alexandra came up as well. She had experience with the microphones. Yeah, we just made it, and I looked at them with amazement and wonder, thinking like, “Oh my God, this is what we’re doing. This is impossible. Is this real?”
And from there, well if we made it once, why not make it again and again and again? And there’s so many pre-compressions, Decompression, Burns, so many moments of sharing happening. So why stop? And we did not stop.
VAV: I love the why stop, why not? Is there anything else that comes up for you that you want to share about?
SOPHIE: What is there to say? Just close your eyes and listen to Shouting Fire. There’s so many things happening over there. It’s just magic what Bob is doing for the community, and how you really just like plant seeds and let things happen. This is amazing. I mean, I was not meant to create any show like this, or even be close to a radio or anything, and yet I did it. Steve has told it as well, he had these childhood experience and dreams and wishes, and yeah. The air is yours, and just grow from your fears and make it happen. It’s amazing.
VAV: You say you weren’t meant to, but here you are. So maybe you were meant to.
SOPHIE: Maybe. Yes!
VAV: That’s great. Take care of yourself.
SOPHIE: You take care of yourself as well. Bye.
VAV: So that was my conversion with “So” as Steve calls her.
BOB: So Steve and Sophie, very much our point people in Europe. We have a solid base in the US, but moving the operation to Europe has really put us really into the international flavors.
Burning Man has never been about being American, of course. There’s people from all over the world that go to Burning Man, and there’s a whole world of Regionals. Larry always said that he felt that the Regionals were the future of Burning Man, because you don’t need to go to Black Rock City to be a Burner.
Being a Burner is because you build a community through art, in your neighborhood. There are people who are burning in their backyards in little towns and villages across Europe who will never go to a Regional, who we’ll never go to Black Rock City, and they are Burners in every sense of the word. Now we’re reaching out to all these different areas and we’re trying to bring the community together year round through this fabulous medium – well, what we think is a fabulous medium – which is called radio.
VAV: And what about this website?
BOB: Yeah. So one thing a radio station really needs is a good presence on the internet, especially an internet radio station. A good solid website where you can see who’s on the air and information about upcoming programming.
I don’t have the talent to do that, but I know there are people in our community who do, and hey, some of them are also BMIR people and they might want to be involved, and that’s Rabia, Rabia Yeaman up in Portland. She did a show on BMIR for several years called The World Famous Confessional where she had a character named Contessa de la Luna, and people would come into the station and they would confess their misdeeds and minor felonies. It became quite a thing. And she was on the air up in Portland. I reached out to her and said, “Hey, I’m looking for people to do shows, maybe Shouting Fire should simulcast your confessional. When you’re doing it on the radio, also stream to us.”
And it turns out that she’s a very talented web developer. She said, “Hey, you know, we should really take your website, do something with it.” So, she designed our website at shoutingfire.com.
VAV: Well, I spoke with Rabia and Contessa Luna, and it sounds a little like this.
VAV: Thank you for making this happen.
RABIA: Thank you. I’m excited about it because I’m really excited about Shouting Fire. I wouldn’t be, if it weren’t for Bob. He says, what I’m really good at is bringing the right people together. And it’s true. As soon as he said “This is what I want to do,” I knew exactly in my mind what that would look like.
VAV: Yeah, this is a thorough home on the internet. You built this website that presents Shouting Fire this way?
RABIA: Right. I built the website and I keep the website updated, but Bob does all the content. He does the calendar, the schedule. If he needs help, I jump in.
Coming from a community radio background that never attained that, that never could present itself in that way, I thought, this is the way it should be, where it shows all the programs, it shows all the programmers. You know, it’s really all about the people, so I love it.
VAV: Who else comes to mind that brings it all together?
RABIA: Oh, well, everyone. Everybody brings whatever they bring to this. It’s kind of an organic thing.
Aside from Bob, who’s like the hub, you know, in a wheel, all the other spokes are everybody else. It’s open. It’s unfettered. I love that.
And the fact that we have DJs all over the planet. It’s really in line with the Burning Man ethos of Participation. That’s what my show’s about is participation.
VAV: Participation? But I’m a content consumer. I just mindlessly watch YouTube and scroll social medias and listen to podcasts that were produced months ago, by a team of people. What do you mean, Participation?
RABIA: Well, The World Famous Confessional with Contessa de la Luna. I always go for the longest possible name. It’s a show that invites people to call in. And share their guilt, their shame, and their minor felonies. And people have called and shared their minor felonies, and everything else under the sun.
Sometimes it’s just goofing off. Sometimes it’s making connections. I can think of four or five callers who have moved with the show everywhere it’s moved, who had been with the show 10 years or more. One who is a psychotic schizophrenic – who’s totally on his medication now, wasn’t in the very beginning – and he calls every week because he has an obsessive disorder, and he has a bit on the show at the very beginning. He calls in. We all have to guess what flavor of ice cream Dan is eating this week, and everybody loves it. And if Dan doesn’t show up, the chat, people are like, “Where’s Dan?”
It’s a community. New people come, people come and go, but there’s kind of this core group that followed me from the radio station. I started doing Shouting Fire when I was at the radio station, simulcasting. And when I stopped doing the radio, I didn’t know if it would work. But they followed me. So, here we are.
VAV: Yeah, here we are.
RABIA: And when I talk about participation, on the show, she’ll invite listeners to have Rock Paper Scissors contests. Super fun. It’s the honor system, of course.
Sometimes, “Talk like Christopher Walken contests,” where she invites people to call in and do their best Walken, it just changes the dynamic when people, when it clicks and they understand that they are the show, everything changes.
VAV: And what about Contessa Luna?
RABIA: Contessa Luna? Yeah, we’re never in the same room at the same time.
VAV: Ok, well. What’s the history of the show?
RABIA: The history of the show, I got a Saturday night spot at KBOO community radio in Portland, Oregon. And then Burning Man came and she walked up to BMIR and timidly said, “I do this show and people call, and… would you?” And they were like “Sure. Show up at 3:00 AM in the morning.” And so I did. It was so much fun doing it at Burning Man. People would come into the booth and talk to her face to face. People, telling their stories. I got some whoppers at Burning Man, as you would know.
RABIA: But yeah, people love to tell their story. And that really changed things. I couldn’t believe when I came home how many people followed her from Burning Man to the radio station.
VAV: I appreciate that you put in so much time and so much consistency to build that community.
RABIA: It’s rewarding. For me, it’s more rewarding when people participate. We’ll start getting calls, and ya know, one call begets another. I think a lot of radio and entertainment is all about the host and La Contessa makes it all about her really just by showing up, but it’s really about the viewers and the callers. It’s all about everybody else. They’re the show.
I’ll tell you a story. When I was 12, I discovered FM radio. And it was real FM radio. It was pretty undisciplined. It was the 70s. Sunday nights I would turn on the radio at 8:00 PM. And I would hear Dr. Demento. And then at 10:00 PM, Elliot Mintz, Elliot Mintzberg. And then at midnight they would play these lectures with Ram Dass and Aldous Huxley and Tim Leary.
I was 12 years old, but that radio, it made me aware that there were people and places and things that I had not yet encountered, but they were real and they existed and they were out there.
So it expanded my awareness, expanded my world, even if I didn’t quite understand what was happening. To be able to give that back to listeners, to try to ignite that magic and expand – and let you know there is something that you didn’t think of yet; here it is- is the best gift. It’s unbelievable.
VAV: What is it about that participation? People share their stories. One caller responds to the previous caller. So they feel heard? They’re getting that leap..?
RABIA: You just said it. They feel heard. Yeah. It’s magic.
VAV: Okay, but back to Contessa de la Luna?
RABIA: Yeah. Okay. You want to talk to her?
CONTESSA: Oh, wait, hold on. Feels a little weird talking to you like this, but, alright. I can do it. I’m going to do it. Contessa Luna, here.
VAV: Hello. I’ve heard a lot about you.
CONTESSA: What have you heard?
VAV: You’ve been talking with people for a long time, traveling around…
CONTESSA: It’s pretty good, you know. We originally from the old country.
VAV: Which old country?
CONTESSA: The old one.
VAV: Did they have radios there or was it just a megaphone or?
CONTESSA: They had the radio, you know, but, like everybody would have to get around one little radio. So, you know, a lot of pushing and shoulders. It’s much better here. Everybody can have a radio, but it’s weird. Nobody does.
VAV: You know, I find your voice just soothing. It makes me want to open up and tell you things. Has that happened to you before?
CONTESSA: You have any parking tickets you haven’t paid?
VAV: None that I’ll admit to, but I do have secrets.
CONTESSA: You can save it for Friday night. How about that? Save it.
VAV: Do people open up to you? Do you heal people with your reflections?
CONTESSA: No I am not real doctor, so I don’t try to heal anybody, but I just invite the people to share whatever is on their mind, what is left of it. They can share whatever they want. And in only in a few exceptions, if they offend La Contessa, she will cut them, but you have to be pretty awful for that to happen.
So, we just encourage people to be genuine, or make believe, whatever they want to be, you can try out something new, right?
CONTESSA: So when people say, “La Contessa, you are patient. You listen to people and you are so patient.” And she says, “No, no, no. It is divine ambivalence.”
VAV: Divine ambivalence.
CONTESSA: That what it is.
VAV: Was that bestowed upon you?
CONTESSA: You know, I don’t know. Who knows. Who knows anything. No one knows anything. You think you know something. 200 years later is totally wrong.
VAV: I know. Thank you for speaking with me. I will try to call in on Friday night and share my story.
CONTESSA: You can do that. Also, if you want to, you can listen to it on Shouting Fire of course, radio made by Burners for the planet. Or you can go to twitch.tv/contessaluna and chat with our “LUNAtics.” They are there. For some reason that’s how they choose to spend their Friday night. Is beyond me. I don’t get it, but I’ll take it. Bring it.
VAV: I love that I don’t get it, but I’ll take it.
CONTESSA: Let me get the other lady for you.
RABIA: See? That’s how she is, it’s so weird. She inspires that kind of matronly, old, washed up aristocracy.
VAV: Well, thank you for talking with me.
RABIA: Thank you so much for including me. She is so flattered. Bye.
CONTESSA: And caller, you are live on air.
CALLER: A kookaburra bird. I have an impersonation of.
CONTESSA: This is wonderful. And also from Australia.
CALLER: Are you ready?
CONTESSA: Yes, we are ready.
CALLER: [SOUNDS OF A BIRD]
CONTESSA: That was amazing. We don’t know what to say about that except thank you.
CALLER: Thank you.
VAV: So, yeah, that was Contessa Luna and Rabia.
BOB: Rabia makes that all happen. I would be lost without her.
Yeah, you can look at all the profiles on the DJs. You see we’ve got people from France, we’ve got people from Belgium, Germany, Australia, Norway, all over the US. We’ve got people of course here in the Netherlands. We’ve got some really great talented people from stations and from communities all over the globe. We love it.
VAV: How can people reach out to tell you about their events, their little corners of the world, their big ideas?
BOB: If you go to our website there’s a link that says contact, and that comes straight to us. Or you can email us at ShoutingFireHQ@gmail.com. And if you want to reach out to me directly, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s B O B Z I L L A.
VAV: Thank you. Those are now in the show notes. Thank you for talking with me today. I love how Shouting Fire is spreading all of the messages of all the Burning Man world around to each other and from each other, from the Global Burner Radio Network.
BOB: Well, thank you. This has been a lot of fun. And we’d like to let listeners know that we’re now also going to be carrying Burning Man LIVE every Friday at 10:00 AM Pacific time. We’re delighted to be carrying this because it’s a great program.
VAV: That’s right. Thank you for that.
BOB: Thank you, Vav.
VAV: Thank you, Bobzilla.
VAV: That is our show. This has been Burning Man Live, which is a production of the Philosophical Center of Burning Man Project. We are a nonprofit, which means if you load a fat roll of dollars into a pants cannon, and shoot it at us, aim it at donate dot burning man.org.
I’m our Technical Producer Michael Vav. Thanks to our Story Producer Andie Grace, our Executive Producer Stuart Mangrum, and to this week’s vocal talent for our intro, Muddy Puppy, AKA, Tami Taylor.
And thanks, Larry.