News Archive: February 2005
2/25/05 - God Squads Fall From Grace [link to this story]
The larger story of the translator station's pivotal role in the proliferation of Christian radio does suggest a shadow eclipsing the godcast industry. WWJD? Get out the soldering iron.
2/24/05 - Moneychangers In the Temple [link to this story]
REC Networks makes some remarkable math: the entity doing business as translator-mongers Edgewater Broadcasting and Radio Assist Ministries is cleaning up on the FM dial. Combined, Edgewater/RAM currently hold 1,026 construction permits for translator stations. This is of more than 4,200 license applications filed (~2,300 applications still pending).
Of these, REC then lists (in an e-mail) 83 sales or transfers of Edgewater/RAM construction permits - the recipients of whom just happen to be other translator-mongers, like the American Family Association and Calvary Chapel Church, Inc.
Three multi-translator transactions involved Edgewater/RAM handing over 26 construction permits in Florida to "Reach Communications (Calvary Chapel Church, Inc.)" for $326,500. The total revenue generated by the 83 transactions is just over $800,000.
"Turning the tables" indeed. There's 943 permits still in play, and Edgewater/RAM is bound to pick up a few more from the pending applications. Let's assign them an arbitrary price, like $5,000 each, and multiply.
Conservatively-speaking, the Edgewater/RAM cartel is sitting on $4.7 million worth of spectrum, which seems to be getting sold piecemeal (outright and/or via shadow corporations) to the biggest dogs in the godcasting game. The finesse with which the system has been played here is astounding. (This estimate only accounts for the spectrum Edgewater/RAM already holds the right to develop.)
The extra-scary bonus: some of the other companies taking transfers of translators appear to be commercial (read: for-profit) ventures. For example, Laramie Mountain Broadcasting, which happens to buy and sell stations in the front range of the Rockies, netted two translators for $20,000. The nebulous "Airport Investors" grabbed a slew of translators in Delaware, Maryland, and Massachusetts for $31,000.
We got some sinnin' goin' on, indeed.
2/23/05 - D.C. Circuit Seems Wary of Broadcast Flag [link to this story]
On Tuesday a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard a case advanced by the American Library Association and eight partners challenging the validity of an FCC decision to require digital television sets and video recorders to comply with broadcast flag technology. A broadcast flag is essentially a copy protection mechanism embedded in the data stream of DTV content. "Activation" of the flag will make it impossible to record or play back DTV programs unless done so on "approved" devices. Under the FCC decree as it stands presently electronics-makers will have to roll out broadcast flag-compliant devices in July.
ALA et al. not only believe such technology infringes on the fair use rights of content consumers (including the most popular use, called "time shifting" - legalese for "taping a show"), but also that the FCC has overstepped its authority by essentially requiring electronics manufacturers to design their products in a certain way. During the D.C. Circuit argument, two of the three judges seemed to be leaning in the same direction, but they've yet to write their decision.
Amazing how the FCC agrees with the concept that locking down content is in the public interest. A similar discussion is underway for digital radio.
2/22/05 - LPFM Notes; Media Reform Conference Redux [link to this story]
Last week REC Networks released a comprehensive report on all LPFM stations which face interference, displacement, and the varying degrees of signal encroachment in between from full-power FM stations. The report runs 110 pages. REC's also been keeping a close eye on the DTV transition, and reports that of all of the stations currently broadcasting on Channel 6, only five have requested to stay on their analog channel past the transition cutoff date (to be determined).
Got some reliable information on the political situation in D.C. It seems that the National Association of Broadcasters is busy fighting bigger problems, like losing its request that all DTV channels be carried on cable, and the indecency hot potato, and others. At the LPFM Day not so long ago a new LPFM rulemaking was hinted at. Perhaps this can accomplish at the agency level what the Local Community Radio Act of 2005 is trying to do. There's definitely a better chance of expanding LPFM at the FCC level, especially while the NAB's playing defense on the legislative front. I think the folks at NPR are mature enough to see that it's time to cede the issue.
Any plan that does not address the translator issue, however, is next to worthless. In the last two years 2,000 potential LPFM channels around the country have been lost to translator proliferation. Free Radio Olympia's changing frequencies again for this very reason: "ultimately there will be nowhere left for us to go on the dial."
Finally, a second National Conference for Media Reform, will go down this May in St. Louis. The first conference (Madison, November 2003) was definitely a big hit, but it sounds like the Free Press crew plan to top that one. Bob McChesney sez: "It is going to make Woodstock look like a funeral." At least as much as a conference on media policy reform can be. Not sure about shadow conference activities, although the Be the Media! blog will be resurrected for the occasion.
2/17/05 - LPAM's Appleseed Bears Fruit [link to this story]
Kyle Drake, the revolutionary LPAM guru whom I had the pleasure to meet at the RAD Conference, has unleashed something with great potential to give LPAM a significant kickstart in the proliferation department.
Key to this is a tunable loading coil - vitally important because it conquers what is probably the biggest drawback to liberation of the AM dial, the unwieldy nature of the antenna system. He's designed one that works well.
Kyle's written and is self-publishing a comprehensive guide to LPAM broadcasting. He says, "The book is full of the data, schematics, and guides needed to put together a fully functional LPAM station, with an important emphasis on the problems that affect LPAM broadcasters, such as cost and property constraints." $27 gets you your own copy, which includes shipping and handling, and online ordering is available.
Kyle's web site, LPAM.info, is also filling up with information on how to tame the medium wave. Coupled with the fact that at least a couple of LPAM transmitter kits are in the R&D stage, it should not be long now before the real fun can begin!
2/15/05 - Florida Media Complains: "Didn't We Outlaw Them?" [link to this story]
Two recent articles profile the appearance of new pirate stations in the state. One is relatively straightforward, the other reads like a Puritan beef. The latter station profiled, Dream Team Radio, covers multiple cities with two frequencies. It also has turned the "safe harbor" concept on its head - broadcasting "N-words and F-bombs" during the day and going to "love songs generally free of raunch" overnight.
When the media starts bitching the FCC (and, in the state of Florida, licensed broadcasters and law enforcement) are likely to take notice and make some examples of somebody. Perhaps that somebody will be Doug Brewer, formerly of Tampa's Party Pirate fame, who closes out the first article with a somewhat damning cameo:
Wonder who will make the next move?
2/12/05 - Scene Report: California [link to this story]
Skidmark Bob reports a special guest dropped into the Free Radio Santa Cruz studios recently: Tracy James of Slave Revolt Radio fame. They talked about their microradio experiences and Tracy gave an update on the (SF) Bay area microradio scene. Berkeley Liberation Radio is alive and well and plans are afoot to launch a station in West Oakland. Recently Tracy, Bob, and fellow FRSCista George Cadman were guests on a show hosted by KPFT's Norton Scooter, which is available via Radio4All.
The folks at San Francisco Liberation Radio have also checked in with an update. Their court skirmish with the government, which was expected to take another step this month, has been postponed until March 11. I'm still not clear just how the station's legal argument will be effective, although SFLR still hopes to "make national policy change." The station's lawyers, however, are gearing up for an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, which is a sign in and of itself.
Moving slightly southward, a group calling itself "Free Radio Felton" has announced - via the local press - its intent to start a microradio outlet. It's ballsy but not that surprising, especially since the station-to-be is taking its cue and pointers from Freak Radio.
2/11/05 - LPFM Day Reviewed; KFAR Packs It In? [link to this story]
The big day came and went Tuesday, much rhetoric was bandied about and even Mikey Powell said nice things about community radio (all of the other Commissioners, except Jonathan Adelstein, made appearances). The proceedings were webcast and the archive can be watched here (Real Player required).
Two panels were held: the first was basically made up of representatives of LPFM stations around the country who talked up the good work they do and diplomatically chastised the FCC for not expanding the service out to its full potential.
The second panel was much more interesting. It focused on exploring ways the FCC could improve the LPFM service, and quite a few interesting suggestions were offered forth. The most repetitive was that the FCC needs to modify interference protection rules in favor of LPFM stations - many station reps complained of sever encroachment on their signals by full-power stations, some of whom have had their signal coverage areas diminished by more than half because of interference from big sticks. The Translator Invasion of 2003 was also a hot topic.
One panelist even went so far as to raise the concept of LPAM: the suggested parameters of such a service would allow for unlicensed operation with up to 25 watts, perhaps limited to 1710 KHz, which is not technically part of the AM dial but is receivable by the majority of receivers in circulation.
LPFM Day also saw the re-introduction of legislation to expand the service back out to its original parameters. The "Local Community Radio Act of 2005" is co-sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and John McCain (R-AZ). These are the same three co-sponsors of a nearly identifiable bill which died of inaction in the last session.
On the non-licensed side of the microradio spectrum, it appears that Knoxville's First Amendment Radio will not return. Dialogue on the station's forums has trickled to almost nothing and the supervisor of a mailing list originally set up to keep supporters informed of the status of KFAR resigned over the weekend, citing the fact that the station was "several months dead" and seemed unlikely to reappear. There is a new entity, CROK (Community Radio of Knoxville), streaming online but it does not appear to be on the Knoxville's airwaves proper. David Icove's certainly flexing his neck in pride.
2/4/05 - LPFM Legislation Redux; Taking Initiative at the State Level [link to this story]
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) plans to reintroduce a bill (which died of inaction last session) that would expand the FCC's LPFM service back out to its original parameters as defined in 2000. She's released a statement touting the initiative as a plus for media diversity (though she's off by a week on LPFM's fifth birthday, but that's just nitpicking).
However, the more exciting legislative action seems to be taking place at the state level. Although state broadcast lobbies in Florida and New Jersey are criminalizing unlicensed broadcasting, there is a new push afoot in another state (which will remain nameless so as to keep the lobbyists at bay for as long as possible) to enact legislation that would put control of broadcast radio stations whose signals do not cross a state line under the control of that state's regulator of public utilities.
While unlicensed broadcasters themselves have unsuccessfully invoked this jurisdictional defense in the courts, one wonders if the situation would change if a state attempted to claim part of the FCC's media regulatory authority and licensed microbroadcasters themselves. Of course, while the FCC would likely go after a state-licensed microbroadcaster, such a move would also likely invoke the state's participation in the case, which would open up an interesting can of worms indeed. If a state is allowed to usurp the microradio enforcement powers of the FCC, what's the difference in assuming the licensing function?