News Archive: May 2004
5/30/04 - Anti-NAB '04 In Planning [link to this story]
From the latest AMPB Report (site under construction):
Contact Paul Griffin for further details and how to get involved on the ground floor.
5/27/04 - Powell AWOL at South Dakota Localism Hearing [link to this story]
The FCC's ongoing "Localism Task Force" tour stopped yesterday in Rapid City, South Dakota - the hometown of Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. Only the two Democrats on the Commission (Adelstein and Michael Copps) bothered to show up. Chairman Mikey Powell was supposed to be there but backed out due to a last-minute "scheduling conflict."
Funny thing, though: Powell managed to be in South Dakota the day before for a meeting with governor Mike Rounds on issues dealing with wireless technology. But I digress.
A local report says Copps & Adelstein got earfuls from the hearing - close to five hours' worth of public testimony. Whether the effort amounts to anything or not, of course, is another story.
In another affront to the concept of localism, a columnist with the Cleveland Free Press calls out Clear Channel's WTAM-AM on misfires involving voice-tracking and "faux news."
5/25/04 - Chopping Fox News Channel, F*cking the FCC Python-Style [link to this story]
FauxNews more than deserves treatment like this:
There are several threaded digs at the network's spin laced in here, very cool. One of these days I plan to make more collage galleries, and one of those will be media collage on media.
In a different vein, but with similar sentiment:
5/23/04 - Hams Consider Challenge to Florida's Anti-Pirate Law [link to this story]
Although it went down with little public notice or debate, a challenge is mounting to the state of Florida's criminalization of unlicensed broadcasting. The new state law threatens up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for anyone who interferes with a licensed radio system (broadcast or otherwise).
The law was admittedly tailored to attack Florida's pirate station "infestation," but the potential to lock people up for causing interference has also apparently alarmed some in Florida's amateur radio community as well. They feel that opening up radio regulation to entities beyond the federal level constitutes a slippery slope that in the long run may do more harm than good to the FCC's overall enforcement authority.
There has been one unconfirmed report that the American Radio Relay League - the national association of "ham radio" enthusiasts - may file a declaratory ruling with the FCC to force it to assert its jurisdiction in Florida. This has the potential to nullify the new law, unless the FCC itself endorses it.
If a petition for a declaratory ruling is filed and accepted by the FCC, like other forms of agency activity it will then be open for public comment. There's been no reported timetable assigned for this undertaking but if it does come to pass rest assured you'll be among the first to know.
5/21/04 - More Busts Reported [link to this story]
In the last week or so two more pirate stations in New Jersey and Illinois have been silenced. These are unusual cases. According to the Associated Press the NJ station, "El Sol 95.3," was raided on Wednesday. It was run "by a group calling itself the Moors. The group has claimed U.S. laws do not apply to it because its members are indigenous Americans who have lived on the continent since the beginning of time....A man who answered the door said the station was authorized under the 'Great Seal' and offered a homemade document signed by 'Queen Ali.'"
The station in Illinois was raided as part of a nationwide sweep last week involving a multi-state investigation into the Black Disciples gang. The station was run out of one of several buildings on Chicago's south side that (according to prosecutors) the BDs had completely taken over. It reportedly broadcast "public service announcements" to BD-affiliated dope peddlers: things like where police were heaviest at any given time and other helpful street-level intelligence.
More fodder for the pirate-bashing: you can almost hear it already. "Not only do they f*ck with airplanes, but pirates also belong to gangs!" Seriously, though, a lot of enforcement activity has taken place in the last month involving multiple FCC field offices: a little extra caution and vigilance never killed a station.
5/17/04 - Scene Reports: California, Montana, Michigan [link to this story]
California: Free Radio Santa Cruz issued a news release about the recent visit by FCC field agents David Doon and David Hartshorn, accompanied by a couple of bad photos of the duo in action. This supplements the audio clip captured by Skidmark Bob. Freak Radio is now operating at 101.1 FM and according to the Davids only merited a visit for their long-running unlicensed status, not because of any complaints of interference or spurious emissions.
Montana: The same morning as Freak Radio's visit, FCC agents with armed backup executed a raid against Burton James' mobile home microstation in Butte. His operation had been on the air for three years there and James claims to have been an active microbroadcaster for more than a decade in multiple states. He shrugged off the raid, according to the Montana Standard: "'It really doesn't matter,' he said. 'The transmitter was eight years old. It's on its way out. I was intending to get another one.'"
The article also mentions that James doesn't recognize federal jurisdiction over the airwaves, and that he justifies his operations under a federal regulation which provides emergency broadcast operation in times of war (the Standard article provides an incorrect cite).
Michigan: In Ferndale, WNFC organizing continues. WNFC.net is now online and undergoing a shakeout. Updates provided by Stacie Trescott (nee Tom Ness) report the station's roster of coordinating volunteers (with responsibilities ranging from "Business Operations" to "Legal" to "Witness/Documentation") is 2/3 full.
WNFC is also adopting an interesting content-management policy (for lack of a better term): "Broadcast hours will be split proportionately between liberals and conservatives. To reflect consistent voting patterns, at least 40% will be allocated for conservatives. It may be 50%...WNFC will represent all of Ferndale or we won't go on the air at all." What will this mean for the viewpoints of all non-voters, who in many U.S. communities constitute the real majority?
5/16/04 - Digital Radio Moves Incrementally at FCC [link to this story]
Last month the Commission released a further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry on the implementation of digital radio in the U.S. When it first gave the nod to the rollout of Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) in 2002, it admitted that it was not sure how it would work in the real world, but the intervening two years seem have provided the "evidence" necessary to move ahead with its nationwide expansion.
While the broadcast industry has portrayed the In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) DAB transmission system as ready for deployment, the truth is only the hybrid digital/analog "transition" system has actually been deployed, or is even close to ready. The National Radio Systems Committee (a joint effort of the National Association of Broadcasters and Consumer Electronics Association) has not yet tested the "all-digital systems."
In the footnote to its discussion of the IBOC-DAB technology, the FCC cites as its reference the web site of iBiquity - not exactly the most comprehensive or objective source of information. The FCC itself appears to be wholly disengaged from any field testing or analysis of the digital radio system.
Of the 13,000+ radio stations in the United States, 600-650 "will broadcast in an all-digital mode by the end of 2004." The transition's beginning in the largest markets and will percolate more slowly into rural areas.
iBiquity estimates the average cost of converting a radio station from analog to digital will be $75,000; the estimated range is actually $30,000-$200,000.
The Commission at this point in time declines to set a mandatory deadline by which radio will go digital, but it invites comments "on what changes in our rules would likely encourage radio stations to convert to a hybrid or an all-digital format," and would especially like guidance on how to spur the transition "if the marketplace falters."
The maximum bitrate allowed for digital audio broadcasting is 96kbps (FM); this may be scaled back to 64kbps to free up bandwidth for "additional services." The FCC is mulling over the adoption of a minimum bitrate to guarantee broadcasters provide "high definition audio" and not squeeze their channels for max bandwidth to utilize for non-broadcast purposes.
There still exists a significant problem with potential interference to subcarrier radio services, like reading services for the blind. "DAB interference with analog SCA services has been an issue in this proceeding. iBiquity performed field tests which showed that, in some circumstances, analog SCA receivers may receive significant new interference from IBOC stations operating on second-adjacent channels."
On top of that remain numerous concerns with the viability of AM digital operation. Audio quality has to be sacrificed in order to even use the IBOC scheme on the AM band, and there are significant problems with interference caused by the digital "sidebands" of AM signals, especially on first and second-adjacent channels(!). These problems have led at least one AM station in the Denver market to discontinue IBOC-DAB broadcasts.
Remember that the LPFM plan was nearly aborted for similar reasons, which were laughable in that context, but very real here; the double standard could not be more clear.
Then there's the money issue - digital broadcasting opens the door to potential subscription-based data services:
Attached at the end is a Notice of Inquiry about the implementation of copy protection standards for digital radio broadcasts. Such a system is already under development for digital television, and the FCC wants input on the notion of locking down radio.
Comments on this proposal/inquiry are due June 16, with replies to follow a month later.
5/13/04 - Unlikely Mikey [link to this story]
Unabashedly stolen from Free Radio Santa Cruz, which is fleshing out a site redesign post-move. Its online home is now being maintained by Corporate Swine.
I really liked the animated banner about "PROVING FCC INCOMPETENCE" and was sorry to see it go, but bits like this more than make up for it.
(Clicking on the pic at right takes you to the station's donate page, which contains the larger original.)
Mad props on the Photoshop!
Evening Update: the
FCC stopped by Freak Radio's new digs today and left a welcome gift
in the form of another warning letter. Skidmark
Bob was there, and miked.
5/11/04 - Scene Report: California [link to this story]
Multiple tidbits of interest...
Santa Cruz: Freak Radio successfully moved to its new location recently, completing the entire transition in about five hours. It sounds like it was well-rehearsed, although Skidmark Bob reports their online stream needs "a little work."
Victorville: On March 31 the FCC issued a $20,000 Notice of Apparent Liability to Stanley Mayo for operating unlicensed transmitters on both the AM and FM bands. Mayo's "KSRX" first began broadcasting in the summer of 2002 on 660 KHz but was also later heard on 91.3 MHz. Mayo received at least four visits from field agents out of Los Angeles, as well as two warning notices, over an 18-month span before the FCC moved for the dough.
Southern California: From the Usenet newsgroup alt.radio.pirate, a claim that the "world's first pirate HDTV broadcast" has been successfully accomplished.
Not sure if the HDTV broadcast architecture has proprietary components, like In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) digital radio does. The poster, "disposible200," does note some of the gear had to be homebrewed. Broadcast digitization will happen whether we like it or not, and any tinkering in that direction is worthwhile.
5/10/04 - Point/Counterpoint: Godcasting and its "Persecution" [link to this story]
Last week Paul @ Mediageek received an excitingly strained e-mail from Don Mills, the program director of Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls' Calvary Satellite Network. CCTF/CSN is the largest single owner of translator stations in the United States. Paul's been critical of Calvary Chapel in the past and Mills wrote to rebut the allegation that his network is actively trying to scarf up LPFM stations to add to its empire (CCTF/CSN currently owns or controls 300+ translators, has applied to construct another 300+, and has dozens of full-power FM affiliates).
While several applications for LPFM stations around the country have been tendered under shady circumstances by "Calvary Chapels," Mills stressed that those Calvary Chapels are not associated with his operation.
Most notable, though, was the missive's shifting tone. It began with an intimidatory "request for copies" of anything Mediageek has written or recorded about Calvary Chapel. Then, following a justification of CCTF/CSN's existence and expansion, the man who controls 300+ radio stations remarked to the guy with a blog, "It just seems that you don’t like the fact that Christians have a voice on radio."
CCTF/CSN may not be making a run on LPFM stations directly but it still wouldn't mind crowding them out of existence. CCTF initiated a petition for rulemaking in 2002 to expand the placement of satellite-fed translator stations which, if approved by the FCC, would put them in direct competition for potential useable LPFM frequencies all around the country. Fortunately it appears the FCC's still sitting on the idea.
One dollop of disingenuous persecution-spin deserves another: meet Stuart Epperson, co-founder of Salem Communications. Salem is arguably the top Christian-format commercial radio conglomerate in the U.S. It owns nearly 100 stations across the country and claims to be the third largest broadcaster in the top 25 markets (in terms of the number of stations per market). Salem's multiple program networks (both music and talk) are heard on another 1,500 affiliate stations.
Epperson wrote a very interesting op-ed about the ongoing indecency flap last week for the online right-wing "Washington Dispatch." Check these quotes:
That last bit is a complete distortion of the truth. WXUR, the "small Christian radio station in Media, PA" was owned by the Reverend Carl McIntire. Epperson left out the fact that the rabidly fundamentalist (and defrocked) Presbyterian minister's Twentieth Century Reformation Hour was also syndicated daily on more than 600 other stations around the country. This was in supplement to his publishing empire and multi-million dollar revival/conference centers.
McIntire appealed the early-1970's revocation of WXUR's license twice to the federal courts and lost resoundingly both times. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals even adjudged McIntire - not the government - as sullying the first amendment most. From there McIntire went pirate with "Radio Free America," broadcasting from a converted minesweeper off the coast of New Jersey in 1973. He lost that battle with the FCC as well.
By the way, this is the same Stuart Epperson and same Salem Communications that threatened to sue a Christian LPFM station in Indiana earlier this year unless it stopped using the moniker "Fish FM." That symbology has been trademarked for the purposes of radio broadcasting by Salem.
Hypocrisy notwithstanding, I highly suggest reading Epperson's article because the frothing only gets more disgusting: there's jabs at "the homosexual lobby," "radical environmentalists," "black elites," and the "so-called Hispanic leadership."
Final tally for this specific dispute, by number of stations owned or controlled: Christians 1,000+, Mediageek/DIYmedia 0. Props to online publication and what's left of the first amendment, is the lesson of this particular homily.
5/2/04 - Pirate Radio in Florida: Nothing Left But the Gnashing of Teeth [link to this story]
A weak piece in the Palm Beach Post celebrates the fact that the only thing standing between local whoop-ass and unlicensed broadcasters is the pen of Governor Jeb Bush. Florida Association of Broadcasters president C. Patrick Roberts gloats over the nearly-complete rout:
Concerns have belatedly been raised about just how far local authorities, at the behest of licensed broadcasters, will take this new power. Will they target amateur radio operators who might inadvertently interfere with someone but otherwise probably do more, on balance, to serve the public interest than licensed broadcasters? What about users of the Citizens Band? Or Part 15-style "yardcasters," or - heaven forbid - LPFM licensees?
At what point will the local constabulary get involved, and what is the level of violation necessary to invoke the maximum sentence of 5 years in prison? Just how integral will licensed broadcasters be in the direction of prosecution? In the worst case, might licensed broadcasters abuse their mastery of radio frequency theory to send the local constabulary after "egregious violators" who might not be so egregious?
Too late. Good luck!
5/1/04 - SF Liberation Radio's Day in Court [link to this story]
The initial (AP) report of San Francisco Liberation Radio's court hearing yesterday - on its motion to reclaim equipment seized in a raid last October - are somewhat vague. Liberation Radio's using this motion as a plank on which to mount a challenge to the FCC's enforcement protocols: it claims it was denied due process (i.e. it was not given a proper avenue for redress of its grievances before the cops moved in and took its stuff).
AP reporter Ron Harris describes the arguments of SFLR's attorney as "meandering," and the meat's in the last line of the story: "[U.S. District Judge Susan] Illston took the station's request to dismiss the seizure under submission, but gave no indication when she would rule."
SFLR says it has more solid standing than most challengers to the FCC's restrictive licensing regulations because it has attempted to apply for a license (more than once, including filing for an LPFM license). However, the station did broadcast for some time before it undertook those steps, and the FCC may be able to use that initial broadcast period to argue that the station has no claim to raise its challenge.
It is the same trap that befell the Dunifer case, and many others: failing to exhaust administrative remedies disqualifies most regulatory challenges in the federal courts. While SFLR did attempt to go through the remedies, the FCC may focus on the fact that it belatedly did so (after it had begun broadcasts), and may focus on this distinction to try and get the case tossed.
Liberation Radio is online-only at this time with a limited broadcast schedule.