After 24 years, the hacker radio show, Off the Hook is going off the air, at least for now. The show, hosted by Emmanuel Goldstein (not his real name) and a revolving group of 2600 members, discusses technology for both a techie and non-techie audience. It has been heard on a listener supported radio station here in New York City since 1988.
They were not done in by the usual suspects, bad ratings or poor fund raising. Instead, it was a combination of Hurricane Sandy and management decisions at the radio station that brought them to a breaking point.
Although the term "hacker" has come to be synonymous with "bad guy", Mr. Goldstein and his crew are anything but. I've heard a lot of their shows and met some of them. I judge them to be good guys.
In that light, they wanted to help during and after the hurricane, but they couldn't. Assorted situations at the radio station kept them off the air.
Today, they posted an open letter to their listeners. It begins with:
When the hurricane hit us, apart from our own immediate survival, our thoughts went out to our listeners and how we could play a part in the recovery process. In times of crisis, radio is incredibly important - a veritable lifeline for those who have lost all other contact with the outside world. On Wednesday, October 31st, there were millions of people in that unfortunate position. All of downtown Manhattan was blacked out, as were massive parts of the surrounding areas ... That Wednesday, our producers raced to the temporary studios ... armed with the latest emergency info plus all kinds of details on how technology was handling the unprecedented conditions. Cell towers everywhere had failed, access to the Internet was a rarity, phone circuits were overloaded. There were ways of bypassing the trouble spots, quick fixes to the lack of access, hacker ingenuity that nobody else was talking about ...
Personally, I would have loved to hear their take on the technology failures and bypasses.
Getting to the backup studio shortly after the hurricane was no small feat, as Manhattan was all-but isolated at the time. Subways, buses, bridges and tunnels were not functioning within normal parameters.
Yet, when they arrived, they were not allowed on the air because the backup studio the station was using did not allow live broadcasts after business hours.
The next week, they were again off the air for the same reason. Being techies, they were doubly discouraged. They write
Remote studio links aren't that unusual, after all ... There are so many ways to broadcast a signal to our transmitter or to switch facilities at a predetermined time - or even to have a remote studio without restrictions feed into the one that wouldn't let us in ... We weren't even allowed to broadcast live over a phone line. We were told that we could submit a recorded program that would be aired on or close to our normal timeslot. That wasn't really doable for those of us who still had no electricity or connectivity.
Their next show should be tomorrow night (Nov. 14th) and there is a chance that the main studios will finally be back in operation. The radio station is in a section of lower Manhattan that flooded, and many buildings in the area are still recovering.
But then, they write, "we received word that, access or not, the decision was made to preempt us this week for another fundraiser."
Their frustration is evident in these closing paragraphs from the letter.
... the biggest natural disaster ever to hit our listening area and we would be silenced for three weeks, even though the station had been up and running the whole time. The storm hit us before Halloween and it would be Thanksgiving before we could utter a single word on air about its effects. And - in case that wasn't enough to thoroughly outrage us - we were informed that we would be expected to take part in an additional fundraiser next month to make up for all of the shortfalls.
No. Enough already. These awful decisions have cost us our audience and robbed us of the opportunity to significantly serve the community we care about in a true time of disaster. We have always taken these responsibilities extremely seriously and made doing our show a priority above all others. We have donated untold thousands of dollars every year ... But we can't continue doing this ... we believe we would have helped a large number of people with no access to power or Internet regain the communications they lost - or at least know what to expect. There were people all over the world who were willing to help and go on our airwaves to speak as experts.
Regrettably, we must start looking for another outlet for "Off The Hook." We want to continue broadcasting over the radio, as that is where the true magic is ... We don't ever want to lose the possibility of someone accidentally stumbling upon our show while driving in their car or of non-tech savvy people being fascinated by what they hear. Pulling in listeners who never even knew that they were interested in what we were talking about is what makes all of this worthwhile.
It's a great show and should be on the air, somewhere.