A 7th-grade Clyde Lofton Jr. built a world to himself on the banks of Mingo Creek out behind his south Tulsa backyard—a tree house that held strong until “punk neighborhood kids” tore it apart. Using the salvaged lumber, he built a small, two-story clubhouse in his backyard with carpeting, electricity, a locking door, and a shingled roof to keep the rain out. During construction, his father introduced him to a local, low-power television station called “Winners News Network.” Also known as “Tootlevision,” the station broadcast “esoteric and experimental” visuals from the strip mall studio of Harry and Charles Tootle. With their mentoring, young Clyde’s new hobby became a vocation in broadcasting—a lifelong passion tempered by dashed dreams and crushed hopes.
The new clubhouse was christened the “Little Metal Powerhouse” and acted as a studio from which Lofton would broadcast his radio station, and an escape from the abuse—verbal, physical, sexual—that haunted him at home. When he quickly bored of amateur and CB radio, he began educating himself in the art of broadcasting.
After graduating high school, “during a really depressing time,” Lofton demolished his beloved “Little Metal Powerhouse” building. “I really felt an emptiness inside of myself because my parents had just divorced, and I didn’t know what the future would be of my parents’ house. I didn’t know if I would get to keep my dreams going or not. I was lost, psychologically.” Eventually, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and volunteered to go for treatment. “I was so angry and depressed because I couldn’t fulfill my broadcasting dreams.”
Several years later, after his brother’s death following a motorcycle racing injury and the passing of his father, Lofton was left a sizeable amount of money. He bought studio equipment and an FCC-approved radio transmitter that he used to launch a low-power FM station he called “The Beakon.” Without a license, he broadcast announcements using synthesized speech and electronica pioneers like Kraftwerk from a bedroom in his mother’s home. And did so for a few years until, in his words, he was “harassed by a few of the local main-stream stations who belong to the National Association of communist and fascist Broadcasters, and by two engineers from the ‘Fascist Communism Commission.’ ”
While he complied with the FCC’s order to turn off his transmitter, Lofton disagrees with the regulations that prevented him from broadcasting. Radio pirates face thousands of dollars in penalties and even jail time. He is a proponent of the “microradio movement” that supports the reform of radio licensing laws. The FCC does offer a low-power FM license, but only during short, unannounced windows of time. The last offering was in 2000 and lasted all of five days.
“A person has to be a millionaire to own a broadcast station,” seethes Lofton. “The NAB calling the little man broadcaster a so-called pirate is flat out unfair, and is biased only toward monopolizing big business! If there were no rules for the broadcast spectrum, the airwaves would be in anarchy, but as [it is] now, they are so highly regulated that there is very little interesting or inspiring material to the listening ear for folks like me who like experimental subject matter.”
Almost a decade later, a 36-year-old Lofton sleeps his time away in self-exile in a one-room apartment managed by the Mental Health Association. He listens to Internet radio, but does not watch television because there is “too much propaganda.” He owns no computer or cell phone, to avoid the “temptation of porn.”
“To this day, I remain psychologically lost and am most unhappy with life because I can’t work hard enough or smart enough to bring my radio, television, power plant, and space ship/space station ideas to life … The early days of Little Metal Powerhouse were the best days of my life and I wish I could time travel back to those days to enjoy them once again!”
Originally published in This Land, Vol. 3, Issue 21. Nov. 1, 2012.