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Pearl Jam Hack the Airwaves

Radio Free Vedder delivers a free-form throwdown

February 23, 1995
Eddie Vedder
Eddie Vedder
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Hey. . . am I on?" were the uncertain first words delivered by Pearl Jam lead singer-cum-DJ Eddie Vedder at the start of the band's latest frolic on the airwaves, "Self-Pollution Radio." The four and a half hour show, broadcast on Jan. 8, was a Seattle scenester's delight, featuring live sets from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, the Fastbacks and Mad Season (a satellite project for Pearl Jam's Mike McCready and Alice in Chains' Layne Staley, previously known as the Gacy Bunch), a spoken-word piece from Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, tracks from Novoselic, tracks from Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl's upcoming solo album, impromptu interviews and much more.

The program was conceived following Pearl Jam's Easter Sunday show in Atlanta last April. The band had purchased satellite time and made the show available on a nonexclusive basis to any radio station that wanted to carry it; afterward, Vedder spun his favorite records for an hour. "The response [to the Easter broadcast] was phenomenal," says Harvey Leeds, vice president of promotion at Epic, "and the band loved it, and Eddie said, 'Hey, can we do this again?' And then a couple months ago when he was in New York, he sat down with us and said, 'Can we do that?' And we talked about where and how, and we came up here about six weeks ago and saw this palace."

The "palace" is an inconspicuous, somewhat dilapidated Seattle-area home owned by Vedder and used by Pearl Jam and fellow musicians for rehearsals and jamming, Bands performed in the bedroom, and a separate trailer was used for Vedder's DJ stints; video monitors were hooked up so that visitors could see – as well as hear – the live sets.

The show was broadcast via satellite, enabling any radio station with a satellite receiver to pick it up. "They sent the audio to us, and we just put it on the satellite," says Steve Jordan, an account manager with I.D.B., a firm that leases out satellite time (at $350 an hour) for concert and sports broadcasts. New Orleans' WRNO World Wide Radio picked up the satellite feed and broadcast it over shortwave. "Anyone who has shortwave radio on the planet Earth would be able to listen," says Leeds. "And because it was done on a nonexclusive basis, three radio stations in Los Angeles ran it, four in Detroit, six in New York – that never happens. This is free-form progressive radio, and it's a party for the band." Epic footed the bill, which was for an undisclosed amount ("way less than a music video," according to one observer).

Indeed, the atmosphere at the house was that of a low-key party. "Everybody looks all happy and healthy tonight," Novoselic observed while on the show. "Its like a community thing. It's fantastic!"

If programmers had to decide on a format, "Self-Pollution Radio" would probably have been labeled free-flowing chaos. Vedder occasionally had to make a dash between the house and DJ trailer in order to start the next record.

The show also marked the live debut of Pearl Jam's new drummer, Jack Irons, a one-time Red Hot Chili Pepper. "Jack is the guy that actually turned us on to Eddie," says bassist Jeff Ament. "So in some ways it's come full circle. Whether we're together for two more months or 10 or more years or 20 more years – it feels like the definitive right version of this band because Jack had a lot to do with us finding Eddie."

Now that the drummer's seat is filled, Pearl Jam expect to undertake a full-scale tour for the first time since last spring. "I'm ready to be in a band again," says Ament. "Hopefully, we can work out our ticketing thing. We'll figure it all out, and then we can play."

After the broadcast, the party continued into the wee hours, with people already joking about future shows. Soundgarden's Matt Cameron was overheard saying, "I think this should happen every week!"

This story is from the February 23rd, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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