News Archive: April 2003
4/30/03 - Religious Groups Launch FM Translator Invasion [link to this story]
The FCC has received a deluge of applications for new FM translator stations. Figures released today indicate a total of 13,306 applications were filed for new translator stations during a filing window in March.
This is an unprecedented demand for new translator stations, and it represents a real threat to the expansion of the fledgling LPFM service. While the FCC expects to license only a few hundred new 100-watt community stations from the first batch of applicants, longer-term plans call for future LPFM license filing windows.
As there are only a finite number of open channels available, it appears that this mass filing is designed to snap up the vast majority of open frequencies nationwide where translator or LPFM stations might be sited. If the plan were to succeed, it would be as if someone slammed the door on any LPFM expansion - the FM dial would be jammed with translator stations.
There is definitely a "someone" behind this invasion; actually, there's more than one. The preliminary analysis from hardcore FCC-watchers indicates that the bulk of the applications have come from religious broadcasting networks, who have already abused the FM translator system to build national chains of automated gospel repeaters. These same networks also hold a significant number of the new LPFM licenses as well.
There will most likely be a response from the small (but spunky and growing) LPFM community over this blatant spectrum land grab - in many ways a more nefarious attack on access to the airwaves than the National Association of Broadcasters/National Public Radio's undermining of LPFM ever was.
4/29/03 - Madonna's File Share Screed Rebounds [link to this story]
On the collage beat, Madonna is getting whupped pretty nicely.
Seems about a week or so ago, Warner Music Group (corporate parent of Madonna's Maverick Records) uploaded dummy "preview" versions of songs from her new album onto several popular music file sharing services. But instead of hearing the songs themselves, listeners got a tongue-lashing from pop music's queen mother for participating in music piracy: "What the f*ck do you think you're doing," says Madonna (the rest of the dummy MP3 is silent).
What began as Madonna's wry attempt to humiliate file sharers has since turned into a creative catalyst for several audio artists, who have remixed the quip as a reverse zinger. Warner Music might get some publicity mileage out of the sonic counterattack for Madonna's new album, but methinks those most interested in the remix project aren't big Madonna fans to begin with.
More locally, our Political Translations gallery is going through another significant update, mostly focused in the (you guessed it) GW Bush section (the man's words are a bountiful well). A full version of Ronald & Nancy Reagan's "Just Say Yes" speech has also been located, with a companion link to the source video(!) from which it came.
4/25/03 - Introducing Amendment One [link to this story]
Don Schellhardt, the attorney extraordinaire who co-wrote the first LPFM petition and has been coordinating the resistance campaign against IBOC digital audio broadcasting, is hankering for some writing experience. He's now writing a monthly column called Amendment One, featuring various pontifications on issues of media and media reform.
The March and April columns are up now. Don's latest work, "The Kahn Connection," will bring you up to speed on the latest happenings with radio's transition to digital. One must wonder, though, if the proposed alternative arrived too late in the game to change the FCC's mind on what digital standard to officially adopt (IBOC stations are on the air now, and the FCC recently relaxed the transition rules allowing stations to convert immediately and go digital before notifying Washington).
4/23/03 - When Viacom Attacks [link to this story]
My "day job," so to speak, is an anchor/producer gig with WINS - the Workers Independent News Service. WINS is a syndicated radio news program that features stories of, by and for working people: we like to think of ourselves as an antidote for what passes as "business news" on the radio today. Where the corporate media tells you which stocks are up or down, we tell you who got screwed behind the stock moves.
Five days a week we produce one 'headline-style' newscast (three minutes in length), with a 30-second economic report (a little factoid capsule called the "Dow Bob"), and longer-form feature stories, many of which we get from independent stringer-reporters around the globe.
WINS programming is distributed via the internet in MP3 format through our web site, and in the 14 months or so that we've been in production we've built up an affiliate list of about 80 radio stations around the United States. We charge between $20-$40 a month for stations to subscribe, which gives them access to everything we do, to use as they see fit.
Most of our affiliates to-date are non-commercial community-type stations, and many are in large markets (we're on the Pacifica stations in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, for example). A handful of commercial stations in smaller markets around the country have subscribed so far - but we knew cracking the commercial radio nut would be slow going. It is, however, the primary reason for our format and style. Some existing radio networks, like the i.e. America talk network and Free Speech Radio News, also regularly use WINS material.
It's very tough to build a radio news network from scratch. Typical sources of "seed money" for a project like ours don't seem to grasp what it is we're trying to do. For the obvious reasons, my boss (the coolest Executive Director a staff of four could ever have) has been trying to get the labor movement behind the Workers Independent News Service. There are plenty of working people in unions; unions are pretty much impotent and invisible when it comes to media coverage nowadays; which means those working folks are pretty much silenced in the media. It's one of the reasons why union membership rates are hemorrhaging.
That support has slowly trickled forth, which helps keep WINS alive. As more radio stations subscribe to our news service, we get closer to fiscal sustainability - and our under-the-radar attempt to inject a smidgen of balance into the media would take root for the long term.
Based on feedback both from within and outside the labor movement (in the larger 'progressive community'), we're finally seeing some momentum. Some day we'd like to start a Spanish-language version of WINS and branch out into media education projects, like teaching digital audio production skills through union locals (and any other interested groups) around the country.
"Business news for the rest of us" is a start, but actually helping people become the media would be even better.
This is where Viacom comes in.
Two weeks ago, we got a cease-and-desist letter from one of the hundreds of lawyers in Viacom's legal army. Viacom claims that the Workers Independent News Service's acronym - WINS - infringes on the trademark Viacom holds to "1010 WINS" - the slogan/logo for a news/talk radio station Viacom owns in New York City through its subsidiary, Infinity Radio.
Viacom is a media giant, ranked among the four largest media corporations in the world. It owns the CBS television and radio networks, several cable channels (including MTV, BET, TNN, Showtime, and Comedy Central), Infinity Radio, Paramount Studios, Blockbuster Video, and the publishing company Simon and Schuster, just to mention a few of its many tentacles. Viacom had revenues of $24 billion last year.
Infinity owns more than 180 stations nationwide and is also the corporate parent of Howard Stern and Don Imus. I think the difference between the Workers Independent News Service and Viacom's radio empire is pretty stark, if not self-explanatory, to any conscious person. But Viacom is concerned enough to threaten litigation.
Yes, Viacom is preparing to sue the Workers Independent News Service because the acronym of our name happens to be the call letters assigned to one of its radio stations.
My boss initially put the letter aside so as to think long and hard on a response. Viacom's attorney followed up this week with a phone call. She stressed that Viacom is "on the litigation track" with this dispute. Since the call my boss has pulled some strings and contacted folks within the AFL-CIO - the national union federation representing some 13 million people, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. They have assigned an attorney to our case.
When I found out about Viacom's lawsuit threat my first thought was, "publicity on a stick." Here is a classic example of how media conglomerates stifle smaller voices - in this case using fiscal muscle to litigate a small, non-corporate grassroots "competitor" out of existence. Heaven forbid we share the use of four letters of the alphabet - that might put Dan Rather out of work, so Viacom must crush us like a bug.
If Viacom follows through and sues, the Workers Independent News Service is dead. With nothing to lose except everything, why not try to turn danger into opportunity?
The timing certainly couldn't be better: the FCC stands poised to eviscerate media ownership regulations in about five weeks' time, which will allow Viacom to get even bigger. The FCC's plan has attracted the attention and opposition of a powerful coalition: consumer groups, corageous journalists, academia, activists, and, yes, even unions.
The conundrum of WINS(™?) illuminates the harsh marketplace that is today's America's media environment. It's also a living example of the need for media reform. What a great opportunity for the newly-emerging "media reform movement" to flex its new-found muscle.
That, it would seem, is a fool's dream. The initial inclination of those working our case is to capitulate. Somehow I doubt Viacom will accept surrender without at least forcing us to change our name - which, after 14 months, is just now starting to get some (for lack of a better phrase) "brand identity." That, too, might do us in. We should find out in a couple of weeks, when Ms. Viacom calls back.
The optimist might say that, regardless of what happens to the Workers Independent News Service, at least Viacom cared enough to notice. But this is the second run-in I've had with Viacom on my journey through life so far - the first one helped sour me on a career in the corporate media. I'd rather not leave this one without a fight.
4/18/03 - Partytown Mediajammers At It Again [link to this story]
Back in January, the one-man media-busting army that is Brad Johnson confronted a pack of journalists who'd camped themselves out in front of the home of a man whose pregnant wife has been missing since the winter holiday season. Brad and his wife Sandy live in Modesto, California, which for some ungodly reason seems to attract packs of journalists to tabloid-style stories unlike any other community in America.
The Johnsons also run the Partytown Streaming Network, which provides several free channels of music and news online, including one feed completely dedicated to independent journalism and special IMC protest coverage. Brad was once the broadcast engineer for Clear Channel's Modesto cluster.
After watching throngs of cameras hover around the scandal of a former congressman a couple of years ago the Johnsons decided they'd seen enough. When this new salacious story broke involving the mystery disappearance of a pregnant woman, the Johnsons were ready for the hordes of cameras.
In January, Brad successfully disrupted a live feed of CNN with media protest messages, and got some air time on a local talk radio station. Now, with new developments in this woman's case, the media are back in Modesto in force. And Brad is there - we'll let him tell the rest:
4/11/03 - Dunifer Publishes New Version of Micropower Broadcasting: A Technical Primer [link to this story]
Free Radio Berkeley founder Stephen Dunifer updates his easy-to-read handbook with information on digital audio production and webcasting and the new realities of operating a microradio station in post-millenial America. Download it here (632K, .pdf format).
Its 25 pages are packed with useful information that thoroughly describes what you need to operate your basic microradio station and the general science behind FM broadcasting. It also includes schematics and circuit board layouts for most major components.
After moving his workshop last year, Dunifer is now also offering the use of his facilities for anyone interested in building their own rigs. It sounds like the 3-5 day project is a more detailed version of the transmitter-building workshops Dunifer and his crew have frequently run in the past.
4/9/03 - Collage Files Restored, Expanded [link to this story]
The temporary hiatus of the media collage and Mbanna Kantako file archives turned into an unexpected server demise, but all affected files have now been restored. I took the opportunity to catch up on new additions to the Truthful Translations of Political Speech collage galleries: there are several new collages sprinkled throughout, both audio and video.
Not surprisingly, the majority of them have something to do with George W. Bush, who is now the subject of 30 translations. Choice bits from the latest batch include submissions from The Mentally Ill, Skidmark Bob, Muckrakor Media, and Warp Records.
The weekend excursion to the Bay area was fun. Max props to Carl and Tammy for putting me up (or putting up with me), especially on such short notice, and to mic and Sarah for the excellent panel on microradio. The conference itself was quite lively, as folks jawboned over concepts and strategies ranging from the strangulation of public access cable TV channels to privacy and security on the internet.
Simultaneously, across campus from us, Stanford's business school was hosting a conference on the increasing importance of content in the digital media age, undoubtedly scheming various new ways to commoditize information at the best price.
I'm definitely intrigued by the potential wireless internet provides, especially for microradio stations. Bright Path Video rigged a wireless webcam system together for San Francisco's anti-war demonstrations last month and sent live pictures of the street out to more than a half-million viewers in a single weekend. The same technology has been successfully used as a studio-to-transmitter link by at least one microradio station already.
4/3/03 - Unexpected Trip to San Francisco [link to this story]
Work on re-starting regular content updates remains suspended, as I still don't have online access from home yet. Additionally, I'll be away from home for most of the weekend, on the campus of Stanford University for a one-day conference Saturday on broadband, digital media technologies, and the future control of it all.
If you happen to attend, I'll be speaking on two panels: the morning one will involve labor and the media, while the afternoon panel involves "wireless, wi-fi and microradio," and will also feature members of Berkeley Liberation Radio and San Francisco Liberation Radio.
On the BLR front, this news recently landed in my (snail) mailbox from Paul Griffin, publisher of the Association of Micropower Broadcasters Report: