Monday, October 2, 2017

Just who was Randall Ripley?

I used to know a guy named Randall Ripley. I met him at the Diplomat Hotel in NYC during a phone phreak convention run by YIPL, the Youth International Party Line. They used to publish a newsletter, later called TAP. It was 2600 before there was a 2600.

The setting was a seedy midtown hotel around Labor Day of 1973. Randall had a microphone in his hands but didn't look like the mainstream media. As a 15 year old kid interested in all things tech and media, I let Randall interview me about party lines and loop lines. I then asked what station he was with. He told me that it was a pirate radio station.

Pirate radio! It was in Flushing, Queens. I lived in Flushing, Queens! I had followed the European offshore stations with interest, but now I found that I had a local FM pirate on 87.9 MHz. I was fascinated. That night, I tuned in.

WQLB was part of the Falling Star Network, a network of pirate stations started by Allan Weiner and Joseph Paul Ferraro of Yonkers, NY pirate fame. It had a tramsitter power of approximately 50 watts from an army surplus "TRC" that was modulated by an Eico signal generator. The signal generator was plugged into a crystal socket with a nail. The antenna was a type of circular loop. The studio was located in the basement of his parents' home, much to the chagrin of his mother who always believed that evil was taking place down there. I used to listen to that evil and call in regularly until the antenna came down that November in an ice storm. Randall went by the on air handle of Ed Armstrong.

We used to talk on the phone regularly. I remember one unusual conversation where Randall made a point of asking me if some unremembered person told me he was gay. I think I said yes and also said I didn't care. Randall found a need to insist to me that he was not.

Late in 1974 my family moved from Queens to Staten Island. I lost track of Randall until I next heard his voice on a Brooklyn pirate using the callsign WCPR. The guys who ran WCPR, Perry Harris and John Doe (later Jim Nazium and Hank Hayes), were referred to Randall as someone who could help them with the transmitter that was always on life support, and therefore nicknamed "Karen Ann". I called in, he remembered me, and we exchanged updated contact info. By that time I was in my first year of college, involved with the college carrier-current radio station, and lived and breathed radio.

Shortly thereafter, I was invited out to visit Randall at his house and to see the studio. It had a Gates style board, used 8 track machines as carts, and egg cartons for soundproofing. I wish I had photos! Anyway, it turned our that our interest in radio was supplemented by our mutual interest in marijuana, beer, music, audio technology and leftist politics. A strong and long friendship resulted which, unfortunately, lasted only until 1999. But that is a story for another day.

So who is Randall Ripley and why should you care? Randall was better known to many of you as Randi Steele of Radio Newyork International, WBCQ, and WIOF-LP. Regretfully, Randi's life ended last month, just shy of 63 years old.

LF Midwood, who knew Randall as Randi in the 1990s, put together a thoughtful podcast of his memories. I smiled and was sad as I listened and, for a moment, lived in the past.

Stony Stevenson, one of the several people still breathing who knew Randall longer than me posted this blog entry back in 2012. It is also well worth a read.

Update 10/08/17: Stony Stevenson's final thoughts on Randi were published today. Read his Requiem for a Pirate here.

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