Neighborhood Public Radio (NPR)

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About the Artist

Founded 2004 in Oakland, California

Neighborhood Public Radio is a guerilla radio broadcast group who share their moniker, NPR, with the station they critique through community-based, noncommercial programming. Setting up temporary booths to stream content onto the internet, or using low-power portable FM transmitters, NPR’s nomadic team—anchored by artists Linda Arnejo, Whiz Biddlecombe, Jon Brumit, Lee Montgomery, Katina Papson, and Michael Trigilio— broadcasts live shows from galleries, residences, and neighborhood points of interest. Parodying National Public Radio in particular, Neighborhood Public Radio believes corporate sponsorship of ostensibly public stations compromises freedom of speech and isolates communities through cultural homogenization.

To celebrate geographic individuality, NPR constructs programmatic narratives with community members’ voices rather than through journalistic reporting. Local musicians, visual artists, activists, journalists, and residents are invited to participate in this unlicensed, grassroots activity whose simple, affordably produced “snapshots” of the neighborhood provide inspiration as an alternative programming model. By enabling listeners to control contact with the artist through the turn of a dial or to copy NPR’s media format, NPR also engages in a form of interactive art. Myriad northern California groups including Negativeland on KPFA, San Francisco Liberation Radio, and Freak Radio Santa Cruz have influenced NPR’s audio experiments, though NPR’s notion of collectivity can be traced back through the lineage of Surrealism to artist collectives like Art & Language.

NPR’s technology-based practice is tempered by hosting transmitter building workshops and interventions requiring physical action or collaboration by listeners. From November 2006 to June 2007, NPR aired a series of programs called Radio Cartography from San Francisco’s Southern Exposure gallery, which was converted into a makeshift radio station. On the second Saturday of each month, for 4-hour intervals, NPR broadcast interviews and locally generated performances related to themes such as “Relocation,” “Packaging,” “Indecency,” and “Madness.” Radio Cartography also encompassed three other programs: State of Mind Stations, Talking Homes, and Alternate Soundtrack Tours.

Alternate Soundtrack City Tours (2007) led listeners on narrated audio tours of San Francisco’s Mission District. Once a month, NPR provided handheld radios for hearing “orchestrated meditations” on sites located on easily navigated routes. Interference, varying degrees of reception, and environmental factors contributed to the sonic experience of shows like “Out of Bounds,” about the strength of radio signals, or “Woodward’s Gardens,” which reconstructed the noise components of a former zoo/amusement park on a now completely altered city block. Repurposing transmitters designed to advertise real estate amenities to driving passersby, Talking Homes (2007) implemented door-todoor sales methods to engage participants.

For State of Mind Stations (2007), NPR solicited community members to call in and describe their momentary emotional conditions, illustrating how every aspect of humanity instructs personal politics. NPR’s motto, “If it’s in the neighborhood and it makes noise, we hope to put it on the air,” is as much a statement of their agenda as it is a call to notice the democratic nature of community action. TRINIE DALTON