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News Archive: May 2014

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5/27/14 - FCC to Workers Independent News: Drop Dead [link to this story]

The first official response from the Federal Communications Commission regarding its troubling foray into defining what journalism is has arrived.

In a May 2 letter to Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI), Karen Onyeije, the Chief of Staff of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, says the agency will not reconsider its determination that Workers Independent News is not news.

The majority of the letter rehashes the timeline of the FCC's investigation into WLS-AM's carriage of WIN and piously notes that since Workers Independent News was not a direct party to the FCC's business with a radio station, it has no standing to challenge the agency's findings. Furthermore, "because WLS(AM) has since paid the forfeiture, the Commission's ruling is final and beyond appeal."

That was not unexpected. But then Ms. Onyeije takes a convoluted detour:

The Commission's sponsorship identification rules are premised on the simple principle that listeners are entitled to know who seeks to persuade them. Under current rules, this consideration is particularly important where the sponsored message is formatted as news or informational programming and airs on a station following a news/talk programming format. As the Commission indicates in the order, in such cases listeners are apt to be confused as to who seeks to persuade them—the station or the third party.

The takeaway: the fact that Workers Independent News was broadcast on a news/talk station makes WLS' sponsorship-identification violation somehow more egregious. It bears repeating that nobody disputes the fact that WLS violated that rule. But had WIN accidentally run without disclosure that it paid for the time on, say, a country-music station, would the fine have not been as hefty?

A primary tenet of U.S. free speech law is that, if the government must restrict speech, its efforts must be content-neutral. It would seem that the FCC considered both the content of WIN and WLS when it figured the size of the forfeiture. In essence, the fine was tailored to punish WLS for airing Workers Independent News in particular. There's nothing neutral about that.

Ms. Onyeije also rests on the claim that WIN's newscast was designed to "persuade" listeners about something, in the vein of an advertisement. The FCC's own Forfeiture Order, which is attached to her letter and contains a complete transcription of a WIN newscast, does not support this. That's because Workers Independent News is actual news, not an advertisement—a distinction to which the agency seems deaf. But it gets even better:

Thus, in the order in question, the Commission was obliged to distinguish between programming reflecting the editorial judgment of the licensee of the station and paid programming reflecting another party's editorial judgment. With respect to WIN's programming, the emphasis of this distinction was on its status as paid programming, not its status as news. Moreover, this distinction did not include any determination about WIN's journalistic integrity, nor did drawing the limited distinction constitute "censorship." Rather, the distinction was made solely to identify the editorial source of the programming as a non-licensee third party.

This flies in the face of what the FCC's forfeiture order actually says: that Workers Independent News is not journalism. The agency even suggested that WLS should have "broadcast announcements notifying listeners that the 11 90-second advertisements previously aired were not, in fact news stories...the Station's listeners were exposed to material that appeared to be objective news stories deprived of the knowledge that the material was, in fact, prepared to convey the particular point of view of the organization that paid...the air it" (p. 8, emphasis added).

Ms. Onyeije's parsing of "editorial judgment" between WLS and WIN is nothing more than obfuscation. WLS made an "editorial judgment" when it sold Workers Independent News time for broadcast. Stations are not required to sell time to anybody; that's the "marketplace" part of the marketplace of ideas in action. And Ms. Onyeije completely ignores the chilling effect the FCC's journalistic determination may be having on WIN's ability to find new stations willing to carry it.

Although other members of Congress have similarly inquired with the FCC, I've yet to hear back whether they've received the same blow-off. There are other potential Congressional avenues to pursue, and research into a formal legal challenge continues.

I also expect an update from the FCC on my Freedom Of Information Act request any day now. It was obligated to provide me with one last week, but (surprise) has not followed through.

5/20/14 - Library of Congress to Expand Radio Archives [link to this story]

I was recently invited to join a new national project devoted to archiving local radio history. It's tentatively called the Radio Preservation Task Force, and it's working under the purview of the Library of Congress' National Recording Preservation Board (NPRB), in conjunction with the National Archives and several major broadcast museums.

The task force's primary goal is "to develop strategies and tools to collect and preserve historical broadcast content"—more specifically, content from "public, educational, local, and regional radio" stations and organizations. In simple terms, ample archives exist of national radio and television broadcasts, particularly at the network level and on the commercial side of the dial. But there's been no coherent preservation strategy beyond this, and that needs to be rectified.

Task force research associates (such as myself) will be charged with evaluating existing caches of radio recordings and other material "at universities, libraries, and other archives in their city or geographic region," with the aim of creating "a digital library and an associated recording guide" to be housed (presumably) at the LoC. At this stage, it sounds like a straight-up treasure hunt: find out what sort of stuff exists, and assess its content and quality.

Next year, we'll all convene in Washington, D.C. to discuss our findings and (hopefully) take the next steps toward formally establishing and populating a local radio archive. I'm looking forward to hearing more about this project's full scope and objectives, and can't wait to start digging through the troves of tapes and whatnot in the nation's largest radio market. I also hope the task force is willing to consider archiving broadcasts from stations regardless of their legality, as the culture of radio in the U.S. extends far beyond the boundaries of what the FCC and industry acknowledge.

5/13/14 - Early-Internet Pirate Radio Sites Resurrected [link to this story]

Those of us who predate the Internet remember GeoCities with some fondness. It was one of the first portals on the World Wide Web to allow you to build your own web page. The business model was pretty simple: give folks some space and rudimentary tools to put content online and sell ads around it.

Launched in 1994, GeoCities became a vibrant space where people shared their passions and knowledge; this is how we did it before there were blogs and social networks. By 1999, it was the third most popular destination online, and Yahoo! scarfed it up during the first dot-com bubble for a whopping $3.6 billion. Ultimately, blogs and social networks eclipsed GeoCities, and its plug was pulled (everywhere but Japan) in 2009.

But in the week before that happened, some fans of GeoCities were able to download two million pages from the portal, which now live on at Not much is known about the creators of OoCities, other than that they are unaffiliated with Yahoo! and apparently have its tacit consent to keep some GeoCities content alive.

In their drive to capture "worthy and unique scientific sources...of great public interest as well as those, which are historically interesting or just representing the 90's web site culture and style," OoCities fortunately archived a ton of pirate radio material from that decade. Even though they were able to save just 5% of all GeoCities content, a search for "pirate radio" turns up 534 results in all.

Not all files associated with every site were saved, but the early Web was mostly an HTML affair as broadband connectivity didn't exist yet so many sites are substantially intact. My personal faves from the archive include Yellowbeard's Gashy Website, an early repository of schematics for both pirate radio and television, and Bry's Pirate Radio Station, which at one time was a primary bookmark for pirate enthusiasts.

Yes, page designs were tacky and in some quarters you measured your worth by the lengths you made your visitors scroll, but in the World Wide Web's infancy, every page was a new frontier in its own way.

A supposedly more comprehensive restoration effort is underway at, but it does not yet include a search function. The Archive Team has also produced a 652 gigabyte torrent of GeoCities sites which purports to be fairly complete.

5/6/14 - Hanging Out With Radio Survivor [link to this story]

Last week I had the honor of being Radio Survivor's inaugural guest on their first Google Hangout. Radio Survivor's Paul Riismandel and I have known each other for more than a decade; I was a frequent guest on his Mediageek radio show, so in many respects for me it was like traveling back in time to simpler days.

That said, our 90-minute conversation went deep into two major projects: my ongoing tribulations with the Federal Communications Commission regarding its crazy foray into defining journalism, and my new book, Radio's Digital Dilemma.

There's been some new developments on the FCC front, thanks in part to inquiries made by at least two members of Congress on behalf of myself and Workers Independent News. In addition, there's been a glimmer of interest from the public-interest legal community about the apparent unconstitutionality of the FCC's news determinations. No commitments, but it leaves open that option if this absurdity can't be resolved commonsensically.

While Paul and I were able to unpack the essentials of Radio's Digital Dilemma, I'm most happy with the fact that we got beyond the story of HD Radio itself. In reality, that story just happens to vividly illustrate the larger forces at play which determine how pretty much all media policy gets made (and too often, made badly).

For the last twenty minutes or so we even tried mapping out the future of radio. TL;DL: it's complicated, there's no easy answers, but there needs to be more unity/consensus around what particular values of radio broadcasting from the last hundred years we want to preserve in the next hundred.

I've booked my early-bird reservation for the National Association of Broadcasters' annual Radio Show, which will take place in Indianapolis this September. Sure to be an eye-opening experience, I also expect to be a target of suspicion and scorn. So I'd just like to say, for the record, that I come in peace, seeking many of the same answers about radio's evolution that the industry is. And if there really is no room within the radio industry for meaningful criticism, that ultimately says more about the state of the industry than anything else. Here's hoping for a feisty time.