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News Archive: May 2005

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5/27/05 - A Unique Perspective on Public Radio [link to this story]

Jack Mitchell is pretty cool. He was National Public Radio's first hire, co-creator of All Things Considered, and rose from there to chair NPR's Board of Directors. He's now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and just wrote a book on the history of public radio.

I have yet to read Listener Supported but Jack just did an hour-long interview on our local public radio station (MP3 link / RA link) and he gave a colorful description of the political origins of NPR, at one point comparing the initial work environment to a commune (check stereotypes at the door, please). He also honestly and deftly handled some critical calls about the state of public broadcasting today.

At Madison I had a chance to take Jack's class on "public, community and alternative media," and it was pretty good - he's got a nice, dry wit. He even let me take half a period to spell everyone about the days I had missed class for the Seattle Mosquito Fleet operation. Knowing public radio has roots in folks like Jack gives me a semblance of hope for its future.

5/26/05 - Clear Channel Pirates in Ohio? [link to this story]

Recently a radio station called "Radio Free Ohio" got some attention. It operated in the Akron/Canton area and once had a web site that generally bitched about the suckiness of corporate radio. Most importantly, the station allegedly interfered with the broadcasts of a Clear Channel station in the area.

Sounded intriguing, until an amateur sleuth discovered that the station's online home tracks back to Clear Channel. Now CC has backtracked, nearly wiping the site and a related message board clean. Lest we forget that Jacor Communications, which was assimilated by CC in 1999, was founded in Ohio and now HQ's just over the river in Kentucky.

This would not be the first time a commercial station's gone with a pirate motif; it's also not the first time corporations have engaged in pirate broadcasting, either. What's really intriguing is whether or not Clear Channel peeps in Ohio deliberately interfered with their other station(s) as part of a stunt. The FCC has never been keen on malicious interference, regardless of who owns the stations involved. Personally I'm leaning toward the clever-production theory: mimicking interference isn't that hard given the capabilities of audio editors today.

5/25/05 - Work Noise [link to this story]

During the National Conference for Media Reform I was lucky enough to sit down and throw a few questions at FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in audio speaker iconformal interview-style (24:52, 11.4 MB), courtesy of Free Speech TV producer Lee Buric and John Grebe (Sounds of Dissent). As you can hear, we basically took turns in the chair.

The interruption of Grebe's line by Jordan Goldberg, Copps' senior legal advisor, kind of threw things off and made my own lines of inquiry a bit more circumspect (IBOC, microradio, and the future of the Telecom Act). Grebe was trying to get at the translator speculation/trafficking controversy. I felt like Copps played an adroit politician, in that he didn't give up any substantive information.

Yesterday Skidmark Bob called and we did some live chat action on Freak Radio. Like the Copps encounter, I was working off a sleepless night prior but he seemed to have a good time, as did I. The best part is Bob's closing music. Fallout has included an e-mail from Scooter, collagist extraordinaire, with a wealth of sonic goodness, most of which will be assimilated into the Truthful Translations galleries by week's end.

5/24/05 - Berkeley Liberation Radio Faces Eviction [link to this story]

Captain Fred tells DJ Rubble (via Indybay IMC) that the station's received notice to move out by the end of June. BLR's been at its current location (in Oakland) for more than three years.

The landlord was initially supportive of the station, but there have been some complaints about blanketing interference. Normally such complaints are pretty easily rectified but BLR's neighbors happen to be band practice spaces that contain gear especially sensitive to strong RF fields.

The station is looking for a 10x10' room with roof access, preferably in a commercial space, where "a somewhat raucous atmosphere" can flourish. "We'd really like to find some landlord who has a grudge against the federal government," says Fred.

5/19/05 - Microradio @ AMC [link to this story]

The Allied Media Conference has accepted the proposal for a microradio workshop. Don't know its exact spot on the schedule, but if you'd like to get a comprehensive overview of the current scene and explore some of the tactical evolutions currently taking place, then AMC is the place to be next month.

The entire schedule looks excellent and includes sessions on zines and DIY distribution generally, blogging, webcasting, puppet-making, "artistic recycling," copwatching, and lots more. AMC organizers themselves are blogging in the runup to the event - sounds like the entertainment side of things will also be chock full of goodness. Rumor has it next year's AMC will be here in Champaign-Urbana.

5/17/05 - The St. Louis Experience [link to this story]

I cannot claim to have participated much directly in the National Conference for Media Reform, given that I was paid to observe: busy recording, editing, and uploading stuff as the radio-centric house organ of sponsor Free Press. All of the conference audio and video is now up on their server and should be publicly available within the next few days. I expect Be the Media! blog traffic will continue to trickle in for a while as well.

Personally speaking, the best parts of the conference were not even related to the event itself. Thursday night's benefit party for KDHX at the City Museum blew minds. Think of a funhouse for adults, with live bands and beer: it puts the vaunted Arch to shame. Then there were all of the friends both old and new who'd come into town for the weekend. The ratio of extracurricular fun to sleep that was taking place should have killed me (14 hours of crash time upon return home helped). Finally, I had the chance to tag-team (with Free Speech TV and Sounds of Dissent) an interview with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps (audio forthcoming), who artfully mostly-deflected questions on microradio, IBOC, and other sundry subjects. Watching politician-sweat break out up close can be fun!

All of which definitely helped take the edge off the disappointment with what I saw and heard at NCMR '05 generally (reform vs. revolution dispute notwithstanding):

1. The venue sucked. Apparently one of the complaints about the 2003 NCMR was that it was spread out among multiple buildings on the UW-Madison campus. At least in 2003 every space was big enough to accommodate everyone. In the Millennium Hotel everything might have been centralized, but for several sessions attendance flowed out the doors, keeping some out completely. This happened repeatedly even though there were nine concurrent sessions taking place at any given time throughout the majority of each day.

In general terms a convergence of this sort is better held at a venue other than some hotel/conference center combo. This was a convergence of sociopolitical engaged people, not regional sales managers.

2. Net access sucked. Sometimes wireless was working, sometimes not, and the hotel itself was only half-wired with accessible Ethernet. This is partly the fault of the venue and partly the fault of Free Press, who, in the words of somebody working to stream video of the conference, supplemented the situation by "plugging some wireless routers into the wall and then just walking away."

This resulted in the live stream of the Saturday night headline/keynote session dying about halfway through the event, never to return. In 2003 the setup at Madison's Orpheum Theatre was completely hacked together by volunteers and provided better coverage. If you're going to get utopian about community access to broadband, how about walking the talk, especially at your own gathering?

3. Media-making was nearly off the radar. I was actually kind of taken aback by the amount of lip service paid but lack of actual information imparted on the subject. I was not alone on this front: following an Indymedia caucus on Saturday, members of the IMC community (in conjunction with IMC-St. Louis) set up impromptu public terminals with donated laptops directly outside the Grand Ballroom as the headline/keynote event took place. As people left they were given handbills about Indymedia and encouraged to post thoughts to the local IMC newswire. There's a lot of good critique up there now, and more is collecting at the BTM! blog.

In fact, there was actually more on the agenda about media manipulation than there was about creation, which was kind of spooky for a conference devoted to media reform. There were multiple sessions held on subjects like "framing and messaging" and "communications strategy," while "constituencies" like LPFM and Indymedia had to organize their own meetups.

The problem here is that it was never in the conference plans to address media creation. Early on conference organizers expressed a policy of accommodation but not inclusion. They eliminated plans for a public media room, in part, because they were afraid someone might start a pirate radio station out of there(!). The base excuse was logistically-related, but the bottom line is media reformers still don't fully understand nor respect what it takes to create media, and how creation-related tactics both complement and extend reformist efforts.

4. Don't tell me how to change the world - help me to do so. Events were top-down, with "experts" lecturing to the masses, who were encouraged to ask questions afterward. Organizations doing good work got tables in a "media democracy showcase," which was basically a large, cold room separated from the rest of the conference space by a short hallway. Progressive celebrities abounded, which left the many hardcore Democrats attending the event star-struck. It might have been inspiring for said people, but for the consensus-inclined and empowerment-oriented it was rather depressing.

If I could boil down the "action plan" of the conference into a phrase it would be: write your lawmakers, write letters to the editor, and talk with your friends. All of which have value, but I was under the mistaken impression that we'd covered that ground in Madison a year and a half ago. Holding several regional events, combined with extending the national conference over more than a weekend, should get serious consideration in the future.

5/12/05 - NCMR Ahoy [link to this story]

It's off to St. Louis for the National Conference for Media Reform. Things will be quiet here till next week, so I suggest clicking over to the Be the Media! blog where several of us attendees will be collectively chronicling thoughts. The action has already begun to flow, which is a good sign. I will do my best to satisfy the ear with daily summary pieces and, hopefully, oodles of raw audio enjoyment.

5/11/05 - UC-IMC Buys Post Office [link to this story]

The Urbana Post Office: new home of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center!~30,000 square feet, including massive open space, suites of offices, and crazy hidden nooks and crannies (where postal inspectors once kept secret watch on the staff).

$218,000 goes a long way in east-central Illinois. The IMC already has about a third of that on hand, and the rest, it is hoped, can be paid by renting out space to other groups and such. The potential for a performance space nearly dwarfs anything else available off-campus. The post office still maintains a station in the building, but as tenants ($1 a year for the next ten): Uncle Sam say hi to your new landlord!

This has been a long time coming, and I've only been here a year, so the gory details of how the deal came to pass are vague to me. One of the building's first new uses will be as home to WRFU-LP, Radio Free Urbana, which has to be on the air by June 19, according to the FCC construction permit. It promises to be a busy summer.

Hopefully a rejuvenating one as well: since I've been around the UC-IMC's been in kind of a rough spot, with a portion of its founding volunteer base drifting away and some divisiveness involving IMC process on some touchy subjects. I do think part of the reason why the IMC went large was in hopes of drawing new blood and energy into the group. The ride should be fun either way...

5/10/05 - Sacramento Microbroadcaster Sues FCC [link to this story]

KNOZ-LP has no license from the FCC. It's an 84-watt hip-hop outlet run by a local publisher/promoter in Sacramento, California, squatting 96.5 Mhz. It's pretty open about why it exists: to offer airtime to local artists who can't crack the door at the three licensed "urban-format" stations in town. You even can grab aircheck-style mixtape samples of its programming online.

KNOZ went on the air in May of 2004 after the station's founder, Will Major, consulted informally with the FCC. He was told he'd have to file a license application for an LPFM, and that he couldn't do that until a new LPFM filing window opened (possibly in 2006). More informally, claims Major, he was told that so long as he stuck to the operational guidelines of the LPFM rules, kept a filled-out license application handy, caused no interference, and generated no complaints, he shouldn't have a problem.

No foul on the interference front. The station got dimed instead. First by "Jammer" Dave Fortenberry, chief engineer of Salem Communications' Sacramento station cluster (Christian talk / FOXnews / Christian contemporary). Fortenberry, also a righteous ham, conducted intensive surveillance of the station and at one point posted the information online.

A formal complaint to the FCC was also filed by Larry Lemanski, station manager at 103.3 KBMB "The Bomb," which positions itself as "Sacramento's Official Hip-Hop Station." KBMB is one four stations Lemanski oversees in the market for Entravision Communications.

First contact with the FCC came on January 3, when they phoned the station request line. Two days later, agents came knocking. They inspected the Free Radio Berkeley-built transmitter and threatened Will Major with a $100k fine or prison. Major cried foul because he thought he had a gentleman's agreement. On January 12 they came back; this time they never got past the station's front door.

In March, Will Major filed an application with the FCC to construct an LPFM station, almost assuredly a futile gesture. Last month he followed up with a lawsuit in federal district court for an injunction to keep the FCC from raiding KNOZ. Such a move has worked before and probably will not here: the FCC, like the IRS, won't be held liable for "unofficial" correspondence. Perhaps it will keep the agents at bay?

Meanwhile - surprise! - an application to construct an FM translator station on KNOZ's channel is pending before the FCC, filed by Eastern Sierra Broadcasting - an entity which, according to RECnet, deals in translators to a degree.

5/8/05 - Iron Action Radio Does Street Theatre? [link to this story]

Nyack's full-on microbroadcast maven, DJ Johnny Silver, has announced "My so called Life on the Radio" - "i walk around Nyack in total disquise, and visit the diffrent establishments, and do 'real radio' getting myself in diffrent situations that are stimulating and fun for listeners....Each disquise will be a totally different radio character, and have a totally different personality." Radio doesn't get much more local than that.

There's already been discussion about whether Silver is crazy; I believe this pretty much confirms it, in a most excellent way. Did I mention this "My so called Life on the Radio" will be done live? Apparently Thursdays are Iron Action's "Remote Broadcast Night," and this will be one of the rotating summer programs.

5/6/05 - D.C. Circuit Stymies Broadcast Flag [link to this story]

Looks like the hearing in February pretty well telegraphed the sentiments of the three-judge panel, as they unanimously told the FCC Friday to stop trying to play copyright police:

In the seven decades of its existence, the FCC has never before asserted such sweeping authority. Indeed, in the past, the FCC has informed Congress that it lacked any such authority. In our view, nothing has changed to give the FCC the authority that it now claims.

Full decision available in pdf format. In very simple terms, the FCC has authority over the airwaves, and that authority extends from the point of transmission to the point of reception. What happens to information after it gets conveyed and processed by a receiver (like decryption) is not within the FCC's regulatory purview. "As the Supreme Court has reminded us, Congress 'does not . . . hide elephants in mouseholes.'"

So, if the FCC cannot mandate HTDV decryption devices in television sets, there is no point in encrypting the signals - meaning the public will be free to record digital TV and radio signals. At least for now: all the MPAA/RIAA et al. have to do is convince Congress to give regulatory authority over radio and TV receivers to the FCC, and the legal resistance will basically have to start over.

5/3/05 - Radio4All Source Code Released [link to this story]

Shawn Ewald, creator of the architecture, has released the site code via SourceForge. Anyone with the bandwidth or server space can now establish their own automated content archival system. It would be great to see more Radio4All-type sites, as there's lots more demand than the single site can adequately serve.