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Pirate Cat Radio Founder Speaks about Station’s Future

Pirate Cat Radio and Cafe in June 2010 (Photo: J. Waits)

On Thursday, I posted an article, Questions Raised at Pirate Cat Radio and KPDO after Leader Leaves the Country, reporting on recent events at two local community radio stations in the San Francisco Bay area: Pirate Cat Radio in San Francisco and KPDO in Pescadero. After the article ran, I heard from Daniel Roberts, the founder of Pirate Cat Radio, who was interested in clearing up some details related to the story.

In his call with me he provided some clarification on the ownership of Pirate Cat Radio (an online-only radio station that also operates a cafe at the same address in San Francisco’s Mission District).

He said that he owns 20% of the café business, with 80% owned by an outside investor, Raymond Chen. According to Daniel, Raymond claims to be a majority owner in the Pirate Cat radio station as well and that is where the ownership dispute comes in to play. Because of this assumption, Daniel says that Raymond filed paperwork with the city of San Francisco indicating that Pirate Cat Radio Inc. owned the online radio station.

Daniel told me that there are “three different entities” related to Pirate Cat Radio and Cafe:

1. Pirate Cat Radio Inc.: a non-profit, which currently owns nothing according to Daniel. Daniel and Raymond are on the Board of this organization.

2. Pirate Cat Radio and Café: This is the cafe business, which was formerly a “sole proprietorship,” until Daniel sold 80% to Raymond Chen. Daniel still owns 20% of this business.

3. Pirate Cat Radio: This is the “radio operation.” Daniel states that its name is trademarked and registered to him personally. He says that the online-only radio station is currently owned by Pescadero Public Radio Service, which also owns KPDO. According to Daniel there was no purchase or “moving of funds.”

Daniel said that he had shared budget information with the staff of Pirate Cat and that the firing of volunteer DJ Pirata Margarita was not because of anything related to her questions about the budget; that it had to do with her “inciting” the volunteer staff. He admitted that he “poorly orchestrated the sale of the café,” but also stated that the new investor is “trying to put a wedge in this 14-year-old operation.”

Daniel added that he wished he could be in San Francisco right now, saying, “If I could, I would.” Although he’s not sure when he’ll be returning, he said that he does plan to come back to manage KPDO.

Today, Daniel issued a press release, which can be found as a comment to my earlier post. In it, he shares much of the same information that he spoke with me about, but also states:

“Earlier, in August 2010, I transferred Pirate Cat Radio, the web streaming operation, to the Pescadero Public Radio Service (PPRS) not-for-profit foundation, which is the owner of KPDO, the radio station in Pescadero. I did this because of several reasons:

The Pirate Cat Radio web streaming operation (PCR) was designed to be a non-profit community service, not a money-making company. PPRS is a not-for-profit corporation. Both PCR and KPDO have identical missions and similar programming formats. I felt it was only natural to merge PCR into PPRS.

Second, in order to get a good change of streaming on channels such as XM or Sirius, it was necessary to have a not-for-profit corporation, not an individual, running PCR. Rather than setting up a new corporation and organize another board of directors, it was easier and cheaper to merge PCR into PPRS…”

He also mentions that although Pirate Cat Radio is not currently operating, there are plans to open more stations:

“Pirate Cat Radio’s operations have been officially suspended for the interim. Despite the station being off-line, plans are already in effect to open 3 new Pirate Cat Radio locations in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles by the start of 2012.”

In Daniel’s letter he explains that personal issues have required him to be out of the country. He says,

“During the past 6 months the stress of my work, fundraising for KPDO, and personal financial problems unfortunately caused a rift between me and those close to me. This has resulted in some personal complications and required me to go to Europe to get things in order. During this time I have been working on various radio and media projects through out Europe.

I have every intention of returning from Europe in 2011 when my affairs are in order, and resume my activities with KPDO, community radio, etc.”

You can read Daniel’s entire press release here.

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To get more background on the history of Pirate Cat Radio and KPDO, read my field trip reports on Spinning Indie:

Radio Station Field Trip 21 – KPDO in Pescadero (May 2010 visit for station launch)

Radio Station Field Trip 23 – San Francisco’s Pirate Cat Radio (June 2010 visit)



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8 Responses to Pirate Cat Radio Founder Speaks about Station’s Future

  1. tesla March 5, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    You forgot to mention Raymond Chen as the other business partner

  2. Lier Robs At End (ang) March 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    What a massive pile of bulllshit!

    I have known Daniel for a long time, it turns out that pretty much every singe thing he ever told me was untrue and I strongly advise anyone reading this article to not believe a word of it.

    Jennifer, Daniel seems to have charmed the hell out of you, but then he is very good at that. Instead of parroting what he tells you I suggest you take the time to check if it is true. Much of what Daniel said to you and the “press release” is so obviously untrue (and it would be so easy for you to check!) to make anyone with half a brain wonder if any of it is true.

  3. Jennifer Waits March 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    Lier Robs At End,

    Thanks for the comment. I made it clear in this piece that this is all from Daniel’s perspective. I’m not presenting any of his statements as true or false, just giving him a chance to make a statement.

    My previous article asks a lot of questions and gave a lot of opinions on the situations at the two radio stations from the perspectives of other people. In that article I also included some facts that I found out through my own investigation of public records. Daniel’s response was missing from that article, so I was glad to hear his perspective.

    My own personal opinion is that there are still inconsistencies and unanswered questions. I’m also hopeful that all of this drama and conversation will lead to some positive changes at both stations.

  4. Paul Riismandel March 5, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

    As an outsider to the situation, but an occasional online listener, I think it’s important to note that the real value of Pirate Cat Radio is not the station itself, but the programming and the people who put it on.

    When PCR was a broadcast station, some of its assets–if you will–were bound up in its transmitter and ability to be on air. Even without a license, FM broadcasting gear and the know-how to run it is comparatively rare. No transmitter meant no station. So, to that extent, he who owned the transmitter owned the station.

    But as an online-only station, the technical platform is less rare and easier to replicate. That means that the programming and staff of PCR can more easily create a new station, which they’ve already done. If it is true that Monkey owns the trademark on “Pirate Cat Radio,” he still doesn’t own the programming that the staff contributed. So if the new Pirate Cat Collective can’t use the name “Pirate Cat” that shouldn’t change the relevancy and value of the station they create.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve searched the US Patent and Trademark Office database (http://tess2.uspto.gov/) and do not find any registration for Pirate Cat Radio, or any reasonable variants of this name. I also find no trademark registrations for the name Daniel Roberts that have anything to do with radio in California. Finally, the USPTO has no registrations owned by Monkey Man, either. So, I find Mr. Roberts claim to own the trademark to the name to be unsubstantiated.

    While he provides a bit more clarification for the state of things now, I still ask why wasn’t any of this information made clearly public before? How did PPRS come to own Pirate Cat Radio without any transfer?

    This just begs the question, can anyone actually own Pirate Cat Radio? Yes, someone can own the café. And in as much as the café was an outgrowth of the station and is now the home to the studios there is a strong tie. But there’s nothing inherent to this tie; the station can find a new home.

    Ostensibly someone owns the physical equipment of the station — the control board, CD players and such. But it’s unclear if these assets are part of the café or the station. And, these are easily replaced.

    Since the station went online-only, then somebody must be the owner of the server, or the person at least who contracts for the streaming host. This is a much more tenuous connection, since streaming hosts are easy to find and not particularly inherent to the station itself.

    So, then, all you’re left with is the name and the programming. Since the individual DJs and hosts provide the programming, that element really isn’t owned by any one person. And, the name… well, it seems that is subject to dispute.

    It really seems like Pirate Cat Radio is mostly an idea. It’s an idea for having community-style radio based in San Francisco’s Mission. While it’s a good idea, it’s easily replicated. All it takes is some energy and willingness, which it appears the Pirate Cat Collective has.

    Fair credit is due to Daniel Roberts a/k/a Monkey Man for being the apparent motivator behind Pirate Cat Radio. It is not necessarily simple or easy to bring people together for such a project and pull it off for so many years. But the enterprise of Pirate Cat Radio is bigger than him and the credit is due to many more people who contributed the art and personality that listeners tune in for. And maybe that’s why Mr. Roberts had to skip town; it can be hard to see your baby grow up and learn to walk and talk on its own.

    I hope the volunteers who have formed the Pirate Cat Collective don’t allow themselves to be bogged down over arguments over who owns this idea known as Pirate Cat Radio. Without a terrestrial broadcast license (or even an unlicensed transmitter) there’s no need to get caught up on Pacifica-like ownership disputes.

    The real assets are in the programming and personalities they contribute and in the idea and execution of community radio. They should continue on with the station–no matter what the name is. I wish them the greatest success in taking the next step in creating a true community station that is owned by the community, not a narcissist.

  5. Lier Robs At End (ang) March 6, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Thank you Paul, not only is the name Pirate Cat Radio not actually registered anywhere official (so it is a bare faced lie when he says PCR’s name is trademarked and registered to him personally) but the logo appears to have been stolen from PETCO.

  6. Starbuck March 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    Paul

    Your comment is very re-affirming. I’m a DJ at Pirate Cat and have been for a number of years. Since I’ve been involved the number of DJs and volunteers contributing to and participating in our fabulous community has varied from 30 – 80 people at anyone time, so over the years that is hundreds of people, not to mention the thousands who have performed for free, and the tens of thousands (maybe more?) who have listened, supported, donated and played a part. Some gave a few minutes, some have given years of their time and energy.

    It’s a ‘kick in the teeth’ to every one of us when one individual declares that this is all about them and without that one person, our radio station is closed / doesn’t exist.

    Mr Robert’s press release confirms to me that his vision of ‘community radio’ has more to do with empire-building and ego, and very little to do with building social capital and true investment in a community. And that is the real division between him and the crew of DJs that are continuing to broadcast their eclectic programming from the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe and Studio in San Francisco’s mission district.

  7. David Kaye March 7, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    A search of the Secretary of State’s office shows that Pirate Cat Radio was indeed registered as a corporation by Daniel Roberts on 12-4-2009 and is currently an active name.

    A corporate name is considered “registration” for purposed of doing business. In addition, he has registered three Pirate Cat names within the City and County of San Francisco.

    The USPTO would look favorably toward giving a trademark (or in this case a service mark) for Pirate Cat based on both the California corporate registration and the local fictitious business name filing.

    So, Daniel Roberts owns Pirate Cat.

    But what is Pirate Cat but a name, a method of doing business, goodwill from previous business dealings, and a few assets here and there? But the same thing can be said of McDonald’s. Sell the physical assets for a couple thousand dollars at a used restaurant equipment auction and what do you have left? McDonald’s is a name and a method of doing business.

    Except for the very curious situation of his being in Europe at the moment, I see absolutely nothing in what’s he’s saying that would make me the least bit suspicious.

  8. between the lines March 7, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    Nothing suspicious except what he’s NOT saying. Where were station dues going? If he owns Pirate Cat Radio, can he transfer it to an organization where he is a board member? Why did the other board member not know about this? Why do the board meeting minutes about this transfer refer to a sum of a few dollars if he now claims no money was involved? Was Pirate Cat Radio ever a proper tax-deductible non-profit as was claimed last year? Why was he trying to sell shares in an organization that was already transferred to another company? Why switch around where dues were to be paid from one month to the next? Why was there never an agreement about paying utilities and rent between the cafe and radio station if they are owned by different organizations? Why was the use of the logo and name afforded in the agreement with the outside investor, and now are suddenly being recalled?

    Mr. Kaye, it appears you haven’t done your due diligence.

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