[FoRK] Stealing Back The Airwaves
Gregory Alan Bolcer
gbolcer at endeavors.com
Sat May 8 12:23:26 PDT 2004
The much maligned Michael Powell put into place over two years ago
the ability for wider, local area microbroadcasting--no jackbooted
FCC authoritarians needed. Many of the criticisms about lifting
acquisition regulations and clearchannel bashers kept missing the
second part of the story--instead of having a few, corporate controlled
radio and television markets, the power to broadcast was now
fundamentally decentralized. Not since Jimmy Carter decriminalized
home brewing has a decision so effected the common public.
From: fork-bounces at xent.com on behalf of Contempt for Meatheads
Sent: Sat 5/8/2004 10:38 AM
Subject: [FoRK] Stealing Back The Airwaves
Noticed via Boingsters:
Stealing Back the Airwaves
By Jason Silverman
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,63343,00.html
02:00 AM May. 07, 2004 PT
Please don't call Stephen Dunifer a pirate. He's a microbroadcaster,
or, at least, a former one.
As Dunifer tells it, the term "pirate radio," though once a badge of
honor, is misleading. Pirates are criminals, he might tell you, while
microbroadcasters are Tom Paine-like patriots.
Dunifer dreams of reclaiming the airwaves, neighborhood by
neighborhood, from the corporate powers that be. To that end, he's
spent the past several years training would-be do-it-yourself
broadcasters. His four-day Radio Summer Camps, sponsored by Free Radio
Berkeley, offer how-tos for building transmitters and antennas, along
with advice on handling any FCC agents that might come knocking. The
camps begin in June.
With a few hundred bucks and a bit of know-how, potential pirates, er,
microbroadcasters, could hop the airwaves right away.
Katie Jacoby, a junior at Bard College in New York, spent her winter
break in one of Dunifer's training sessions, and earlier this month
launched Free Radio Annandale, an unlicensed station at 92.5 FM. After
overcoming some logistical problems -- Jacoby had to put her antenna up
a tree -- she began broadcasting hip-hop and punk music and politically
oriented programming including Democracy Now.
"It's been extremely empowering to follow the DIY ethic," she said.
"What's even more exciting is that I am continually inspired to learn
more about radio technology ... and I've really started to think about
the facets of society that constrict our ability to communicate. When
others hear of the crazy projects I do, they get inspired too. It's
Building your own station is also illegal. Dunifer advises his students
to enlist the help of an attorney before hopping the airwaves. But he
describes microbroadcasting as "electronic civil disobedience" rather
than a typical criminal act.
"As far as I'm concerned, the real pirates are the NAB (National
Association of Broadcasters) and their member stations," Dunifer said,
referring to the powerful lobbying group. "They've stolen the airwaves
with the full complicity of the FCC and Congress."
Can microbroadcasters grab them back? Dunifer thinks so. Put enough
Katie Jacobys on the air at once, Dunifer suggests, and you could
create a 21st-century equivalent to the Boston Tea Party.
Imagine this: A thousand little stations send radio programming across
cities and towns from senior centers, dorm rooms and attics. The
understaffed FCC would be powerless to shut them down. Audiences would
have substantive content choices. No one would tune into Top-40 radio.
And the media moguls would slink back into their caves.
OK, so the scenario is a bit far-fetched. But the FCC and Big Radio are
obviously paying attention to the microbroadcasters -- it was pressure
from independent broadcasters that forced the FCC to grant a limited
number of low-power, or LPFM, radio licenses to community
organizations, a decision that the NAB resisted.
Still, Pete Tridish, a recovering pirate and head of the low-power
radio advocacy group Prometheus Radio Project, thinks pirate stations
on their own won't cause enough of a ripple in Washington. He is
lobbying to have the FCC cough up more LPFM licenses, including in
"Having tried it, I don't think a strategy just of civil disobedience
will work," Tridish said. "The pirates' ability to be civilly
disobedient is out of proportion to the problem they are trying to
That problem is media concentration. Critics say that the 1996
Telecommunications Act turned radio into a preprogrammed monolith as
independent, local radio stations were gobbled up by conglomerates,
including Clear Channel, which now owns 1,200 stations in 230 markets.
(Click here for the case against Clear Channel.)
For some media activists, working with the FCC to solve perceived
problems with the mass media is counterintuitive. Dunifer spent four
years banging heads with the feds while fighting an injunction against
his station, Free Radio Berkeley. His defense: The FCC was stepping on
his Bill of Rights.
"This was a First Amendment issue," Dunifer said. "When you have a
system that allocates access depending on money, that's not free
"Our core argument was that the FCC's rules and regulations constitute
an artificially high barrier to free speech. If the government is going
to regulate First Amendment rights, they have to do it in the
least-restrictive means possible. But, at this point, unless you have
tons of money you can't even enter the (broadcasting) game."
Dunifer's success in court was shocking -- it undermined, to an extent,
the FCC's entire existence -- but temporary. The injunction against
Free Radio Berkeley stands.
But those who can't broadcast, teach. Dunifer's summer camps are an
attempt to seed an army of microbroadcasters to reclaim what he calls
"stolen property: the airwaves, a public resource."
"We need an alternative media to bring alternative viewpoints and to
give us access to music and art and poetry and other forms of
expression," Dunifer said. "It's fundamental to the democratic process.
If you don't have an open media that's freewheeling and chaotic and a
wonderful mess, you don't have democracy."
End of story
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