One of the things we've lost in the Internet Age is the power of radio. It's almost impossible to remember, now, but radio was a tremendously powerful medium until the Internet really exploded. Without radio exposure, it was far harder for musical acts to break through, for new trends to explode and certain music to become ubiquitous. Certain types of music were virtually impossible to find, while other types of music were nigh inescapable. Try finding a station that played anything even slightly alternative in most cities before the Internet — your struggles would fail abjectly.
Radio stations exercised tremendous power over the music industry in the pre-Internet age, and because young people listened to the radio constantly, that meant that radio had a huge effect on the sorts of things that the most rabid music fans would be exposed to, listen to, embrace and love.
I worked for three years on my college radio station and I was always filled with a strange level of joy and gratitude to work on the station. It certainly changed my approach to music in complex and subtle ways — I was exposed to far more material than I could reasonably have ever heard, and my tastes quickly grew much more sophisticated as I spun disks — at the risk of sounding old, we still played records when I worked at KLC — every couple of days, hung out with my radio station friends, attended concerts and even was subject to a certain amount of record company spin and hype around certain artists.
More than anything, my friends and I felt like revolutionaries, like men and women who were changing the world in some extremely small measures, exposing ourselves, our friends and our listeners to a host of music that we found exciting. In retrospect I followed a very traditional sort of college radio curriculum, spinning R.E.M., Husker Du, The Replacements, Robyn Hitchcock and the like (along with much more obscure acts that are barely remembered today). But I came to that curriculum honestly, with a deep passion for experimentation and curiosity — and through that began to really grow my sense of aesthetic greatness and quality.
Arnold and Jacob Pander's Secret Broadcast emanates from that tiny window of time when alternative radio really meant something special, when it was possible to imagine revolutionaries changing the world by creating an underground radio station that would break through the hidebound restraints of commercial radio, which was governed by the principles of repetition and cheesy DJs and the endless pursuit of more and more advertising and profits.
Secret Broadcast is also a hell of a lot of fun.
The first of these two issues starts with a loud and intense protest against the homogenization of '90s "alternative rock," as a fashionably alternative kid hangs out at a coffee shop, screeching his boom box of generic grunge rock a top volume. The kid is in ecstasy, near orgasmic at the joy that the music brings him. But our heroes know better: this is crap. The real future is the kind of dub music that only alternative radio can bring. And they are just the sort of revolutionaries who can bring that music to the masses.
And so our heroes spark their revolutionary protest, their unlicensed, unsanctioned and certainly illegal broadside against the forces of mediocrity, compromise and blandness: "We hope to take you to a place where your mind is free from the sterilization of overplay for overplay, junk food radio designed to fatten us with noise-filler between the next commercial sponsor, clouding our imagination where music no longer stimulates, but neutralizes…"
The revolution is on; the bland DJ on the so-called alternative radio station has no idea what to do when confronted with this revolutionaru music, the adults mostly don't understand, and the government is out to convict them. But who cares about the haters? The music is what is important, and it's all about bringing that music to the people who need it.
This comic comes with an accompanying soundtrack that features work by some of the best electronic musicians in the world, perfectly aligned to fit particular moments in the comic. It features work by such musical pioneers as Meat Beat Manifesto and really helps to give the comic a greater resonance somehow. I dug all the music included on the soundtrack — though I've never been a fan of this sort of electronica, it fit the comic just perfectly and gave the work a totally different and unexpected element.
The Pander Brothers draw music as kind of a living, pulsing thing, overlaid against the lives of the characters. It's both tangible and intangible, direct and elliptical, a force in peoples' lives and an abstract ephemeral thing that drifts in and out of peoples' periphery, mysterious and moving and absolutely, absolutely necessary.
And so while the days of pirate radio are now consigned to "back in the day" type stories — thank God — this comic still has an energy, verve and freshness that still makes it feel fresh and fun and exciting today. The Pander Brothers have remastered this comic from its original appearance in Oni Double Feature back in the '90s, but the energy and passion for their characters and music is still just as fresh as it was when this comic first appeared. Its themes may be a bit dated, but its passions are strong.
This is must reading for any comic geek who also adores his music.
For more information on this Secret Broadcast, check out panderbroscomics.com.