News Archive: July 2003
7/31/03 - You Shall Not Bear False Witness [link to this story]
During a recent regional convention of members of the National Religious Broadcasters there was a session called "LPFM Boot Camp" for people with new LPFM stations or license applications in-progress. From all reports the panel was expertly organized and moderated, with plenty of helpful technical and legal advice given to all.
But problems lurked in the room. It seemed that several "Boot Camp" attendees - some affiliated with already-notorious translator networks - openly admitted that they had lied on their LPFM license applications.
There's hundreds of cases where multiple groups have applied for the same LPFM frequency in a community, and the FCC has a procedure to pick the licensee from competing applicants. In simple terms, it's a system of points: if you pledge to meet specific criteria in the operation of your LPFM station, you award yourself points on your application. The applicant who has the most points wins.
One of the things you can get points for is promising to provide eight hours of locally-originated programming per day. While many of the LPFM broadcasters-to-be at the "Boot Camp" had made that promise (and awarded themselves a point for on their applications for it), they had no intention of following through.
In many cases, these religious applicants were the only ones in their community to file for an LPFM license. In their minds, they "took the point" on their LPFM application just in case there was some other group who filed a competing application. In many cases, there was no other group to apply, which means they would've been awarded the license anyway.
That doesn't make their promise to provide local programming less important. On top of that was some serious talk about the boundaries of the FCC's underwriting rules, which too sounded decidedly un-Christian.
This is not a blanket indictment of religious LPFM stations, or religious broadcasting for that matter: freedom of speech applies equally. I'd just hope that all those who feel compelled to spread their gospel try at least living it first.
7/30/03 - Safety Cast Gets Dissed [link to this story]
Yesterday the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology dismissed a wacky scheme that would have equipped police cars, school buses and other vehicles with broadband, low-power AM and FM transmitters. Safety Cast's Interceptor™ technology would've allowed these vehicles to flood all AM and FM channels within a quarter-mile with emergency bulletins and information.
After granting, scuttling, and resurrecting Safety Cast's experimental license in June, the FCC finally decided to open up the whole issue for some public comment, the deadline for which was today. But the FCC's dismissal without prejudice of Safety Cast's application seems to put the whole matter to rest - lights and sirens will have to do.
Somebody did file comments on the Safety Cast scheme, though: James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia strongly objected to it. JMU holds the license to NPR affiliate WMRA and its network of FM translator stations. In a 16-page letter with exhibits, WMRA Engineering Director William D. Fawcett ravages the Safety Cast scheme as "fatally flawed both in concept and in application."
Of all the problems it would cause, the most humorous Fawcett notes is the potential for a nearby Interceptor™-equipped cop car to inadvertently hijack FM translator stations being fed by weak signals: "Needless to say, any Safety Cast jamming transmissions received by this, or hundreds of other licensed repeater installations, would be simultaneously re-broadcast to a city-wide audience. Imagine the confusion that would result."
7/25/03 - A Call to Seize the Airwaves on Media Democracy Day [link to this story]
Media Democracy Day is October 17. The holiday, begun by a group of Canadian media activists three years ago, is designed to "connect existing critical and creative media with active social movements, creating a coherent message for public attention and local and global action."
In this spirit, Free Radio Berkeley founder Stephen Dunifer has issued a call to action for U.S. microradio stations to speak as one on October 17. In conjunction with workshops held around the country to teach interested folks the art of transmitter-building, microradio stations are encouraged to coordinate a nationwide simulcast.
The idea would involve dividing the day of October 17 up into blocks for any station who wishes to participate. Those stations would stream their signals via the internet to a central server, which will in turn provide a "network" feed to other net-capable microbroadcasters around the country.
After finishing its broadcast each station feeding the network would turn around and broadcast the network feed, with programming provided by the next station on the schedule. If pulled off, microbroadcasters around the country would demonstrate a new level of coordination, extending their voices - and the voice of the microradio movement - in the process.
It may sound ambitious but it's actually pretty easy: Indymedia's been experimenting with "distributed radio open publishing" for a few years now, and individual microradio stations will simulcast comrades with increasing enthusiasm. Many microradio stations have formed "Emergency Broadcast Blocs" to relay anti-corporate globalization protests. This would be the first one, though, to be programmed by microradio for microradio.
The current political and social climate is surely ripe for such an action. It sounds like an idea whose time has come.
7/24/03 - RFPI Being Evicted; How Many Ears Can Hear LPFM? [link to this story]
Staff at Radio for Peace International are now speaking out about the lockdown and presence of armed guards at the shortwave station. A news release from a group of station manager/directors says RFPI is being evicted from its building on the campus of the University for Peace, a United Nations-chartered institution.
The station has two weeks to vacate the premises; some staff have remained at the station since the initial confrontation on Monday, but it sounds like that might not be by choice.
Quoting from the release:
What soured relations between the school and the station remains a real mystery: the story behind the story.
Closer to home, REC Networks continues to map LPFM's impact on the nation as a whole. It has merged the latest U.S. Census data with the projected service areas of LPFM stations. The list includes both those LPFMs broadcasting now and those still working their way through the licensing process.
According to REC's figures the LPFM station in Richmond, Virginia (97.3), to be run by the Virginia Center for the Public Press, has 250,319 people living under the coverage of its future signal. Second place goes to Calvary Chapel of Oxnard, California (101.5), within earshot of 230,475 potential listeners. Silverton (Colorado) Community Radio (KSJC-LP, 92.5) ranks as the most rural station with a projected listener base of 538.
This math is based, of course, on the rules currently in effect and does not consider the potential for LPFM's expansion, now that the FCC has all the data it needs to open up LPFM channels in the big cities.
7/23/03 - Radio For Peace International Under Siege [link to this story]
Radio For Peace International, an independent shortwave radio station broadcasting from El Rodeo, Costa Rica, has been surrounded by security guards and its doors chained shut. The reason for the siege is unknown, as is the status of RFPI staff.
Radio For Peace International got its start in 1987 with the help of progressives from around the world and has been volunteer-driven and listener-supported ever since. It's seen some fame for its extensive research and reporting on right-wing hate groups, and especially their prolific use of shortwave broadcasting as a propaganda outlet.
There have been recent concerns that the violence of Colombia's civil war may be spilling over into Costa Rica, including the possibility of paramilitary groups from Colombia operating in-country. While details remain very sketchy, it doesn't seem they are involved in the RFPI siege; the initial report cites "guards from the University of Peace," where RFPI has its studios.
Relations between the University and station are less than peaceful: UPeace Council President Maurice Strong has been trying to evict RFPI from campus for reasons undetermined. However, the station built its own studios, offices and transmitter facilities and the matter is reportedly still wending its way through the Costa Rican courts. The siege is likely connected to this, but disturbing nonetheless.
As of this writing an MP3 stream of a receiver tuned to RFPI's shortwave frequency is unintelligible.
7/21/03 - "We See You, Mr. FCC Man"; Powell to Leave? [link to this story]
More skirmishes between the FCC and free radio - this time the good guys are on the offense. FCC agents were discovered snooping around a suspected broadcast location of KBFR last week. Nobody was home at the time, but the agents spoke with others on the premises and swore them to secrecy: "We were never here, okay?"
This particular game of hide-and-seek in Boulder has been going on for more than a year now and it sounds like the FCC's angling for a raid over fines and/or criminal prosecution.
There's also new developments in the showdown between Free Radio San Diego and the FCC. Field agents have stopped by twice so far but the station was quick to sound the alarm. It sent every member of California's congressional delegation letters and CDs detailing FRSD's first encounter with field agents, where DJ "Bob Ugly" specifically asked about his legal rights and was rebuffed.
Those mailings paid off: Senator Diane Feinstein has dispatched a staffer from San Francisco to "assist" with an inquiry into the agents' conduct. A response is expected by the end of August.
To top it all off, a Time magazine article hints that the political pressure on FCC Chairman Mikey Powell may be wearing him down:
It's tempting to giggle with glee, but do you honestly think his replacement - whoever that may be - will be any better? One must remember that the FCC's agenda is largely set by the industries it regulates. Dumping Mikey still leaves Mel, Lowry, Rupert, and their ilk all in place, and none of them seem terribly concerned with the public rumbles over media reform.
7/18/03 - Heads Roll @ Ibiquity; LPFM Forced Off the Air; Berkeley Liberation Radio Alive and Well [link to this story]
Of the three, the departure of E. Glynn Walden is the most notable: he's been the company's main contact for the broadcast industry, having worked on the IBOC system since 1989. Walden was also responsible for all testing of the new technology. Ibiquity says the departures are due to "cost reasons," but methinks the company is shaking up its management after the current team gave birth to a digital dog.
On the LPFM front: WFBP-LP in Taylors, South Carolina was forced off the air by the FCC this week after a full-power station owned by Barnstable Broadcasting complained of interference from the 71-watt LPFM to its 25,000-watt station, WGVC.
In the eyes of the FCC, LPFM stations are secondary to full-power ones, which makes all LPFM stations potentially susceptible to such bumping, although the station's owner is thinking of a legal challenge to the shutdown (to recover the $200,000 he spent to build the station - must've been one killer 71-watt signal!).
The problem here isn't that WFBP did anything wrong: on the contrary, Barnstable moved WGVC 60 miles closer to the Spartanburg market so as to attempt to reach a larger audience for its oldies pabulum, covering two metropolitan areas instead of one with a "rimshot" signal. This business decision leaves WFBP pretty much out in the cold.
And finally, while the FCC is again hot on the trail of San Francisco Liberation Radio, another long-term microradio station in the Bay area is alive and very well. Berkeley Liberation Radio - the descendent operation of Free Radio Berkeley - got a positive writeup in the local paper this week. The station has been forced to move locations and operates on a limited schedule, but its electromagnetic middle finger still flies high.
7/16/03 - Free Speech For Sale Set Free; Multimedia Collage to Descend on D.C. [link to this story]
This just in from the curators of the sequel to The Droplift Project: all interested droplifters should send email to firstname.lastname@example.org including a mailing address to receive copies of the Free Speech For Sale CD. 33 tracks of exquisitely recontextualized commercial speech, sure to mind-blow quite entertainingly.
The CDs up for droplifting have one small blemish - the track orders are slightly scrambled, affecting about 90 seconds mid-album. FSFS curator Every Man estimates this blemish affects approximately 2% of the compilation's overall content.
Free Speech for Sale's initial CD release is limited to about 2,000 pressings but the entire project (including artwork) will be posted online shortly to further spread the droplift virus. A taste of the goodness to come in the form of seven tracks can be found in our Gallery of Consumer Collage.
In related news, the US Department of Art and Technology will launch a live, blended-media collage exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC on August 15. Tel-SPAN, The Telematic Channel, will include a live, 24/7 webcast component.
USDAT seeks audio/video fodder for its palette and stream: contact Rick Silva, USDAT's Director of the Joint Chiefs of Sound Warfare and Peer-to-Peer Defense, for further information.
7/15/03 - San Francisco Liberation Radio Strikes Back [link to this story]
Having been served a $17,000 threat just prior to Independence Day, San Francisco Liberation Radio was given 10 days to respond to the FCC's visit. The station's official correspondence from its lawyer, National Lawyers Guild Center for Democratic Communications director Peter Franck, sounds more than happy to meet 'em in court:
After documenting some 18 previous engagements with the FCC over SFLR's 10-year broadcast history and starting the artful dance of legal argument, Franck respectfully requests notice of any further enforcement action, which may or may not stave off the Federal Marshals. Then comes the counterpunch:
San Francisco Liberation Radio is the only active microbroadcaster in the country that's come closest to jumping through the hoops required by the FCC and the federal judiciary before they will even address the merits of a legal challenge.
A lot has happened since the Dunifer case, and because SFLR may have pre-empted some of the pitfalls that befell Free Radio Berkeley its challenge has the potential to do some good. It's the FCC's move...
7/11/03 - Long-Overdue LPFM Interference Report Complete: No Third-Adjacent Channel Protections Necessary [link to this story]
When Congress gutted the low power FM service enacted by the FCC in 2000, it reduced the number of available LPFM frequencies around the country by more than two-thirds by implementing "third-adjacent channel spacing protections." This forced LPFM stations to find a clear frequency with at least three channels separating it from existing local stations, which in urban areas is all but impossible. This single fact alone cut the number of potential LPFM stations from thousands to a few hundred at best, with most of those located in rural or suburban areas.
The passage of the "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act," however, did contain one caveat: the FCC was mandated to conduct an interference study to make sure the third-adjacent channel protections were necessary. The study was to be completed by February 21, 2001. It was actually finished in March, 2003, by the MITRE Corporation, who subcontracted the field testing of temporary LPFM stations in seven communities around the country.
The Amherst Alliance, upon discovering the report was finished but the FCC was sitting on it, filed a Freedom of Information Act request in May to make it public. The FCC blew it off, and correspondence escalated to a point where members of Congress might have gotten involved and/or a lawsuit to force the disclosure might have been filed.
This week, mysteriously, the 700+ page report was published in the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System. No fanfare whatsoever, not even a note to those of us behind the FOIA effort to let us know it was available. The reason may be due to the following conclusions:
And the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio, who played Congress like a fiddle by claiming that LPFM stations would wreak havoc with their signals, may want to chew on this tidbit especially thoughtfully:
Download the four main documents from the LPFM interference report here, in .pdf format:
A cursory glance through the field data collected for the report brings up some additional interesting tidbits.
Comsearch (the subcontractor who conducted the field tests) placed public notices in each test location's major newspaper and had announcements of the LPFM interference test played on the full-power FM station in the area closest to the frequency on which the test would take place. In each instance, no public complaints of LPFM interference were received, although interference complaints were received at some test locations that involved sources other than the test LPFM transmitter.
Most interesting quote from the field data section: "During the measurements at Avon [CT], locating a third-adjacent channel LPFM station relatively close to an FPFM [full-power FM] station did not seem to cause seriously degraded audio quality, except for the Walkman when located approximately 50 feet from the LPFM. This exemplifies how occurrences of degraded audio quality tend to be fewer, the closer the LPFM is located to the FPFM station." (emphasis added)
Now that the hard data calls the NAB/NPR on their bullsh*t and justifies the original version of LPFM as laid out by the FCC in January, 2000 - will the agency follow through and revise its rules to allow for more stations to flourish? And what about all of those potential LPFM applicants who were ready to roll before the congressional meddling cut them out of the game? The FCC is accepting public comment on the study until September 12, although whether anything comes of it remains a huge question mark.
The political climate in D.C. is a lot different now than it was during the height of the LPFM policymaking saga three years ago. Mikey Powell split his vote on the LPFM service itself and has been reluctant at best to continue the rollout of LPFM stations. Mikey may want to re-think that now. There are other threats to an LPFM expansion as well, like the invasion of FM translator applications currently awaiting action at the FCC.
One lesson learned here is the fact that tenaciousness from the little guy can pay off. The Amherst Alliance (specifically, outgoing National Coordinator Don Schellhardt) stuck to its guns and was prepared to force the FCC to release the report. Otherwise, this news would've remained buried in the agency's bureaucratic maw, as LPFM is supposedly safely off the mainstream political radar.
That is highly ironic considering the larger issue of media reform is now a hot potato in Washington. Those most-often quoted as the leaders of the media reform lobby - some of whom also worked on the LPFM battle - might want to refocus on what was considered a lost cause. Perhaps an amendment to pending legislation on media ownership is in order, one that would repeal the "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act" entirely. That would combine a coup with fitting vindication.
7/9/03 - Free Radio San Diego on Tee-Vee [link to this story]
In late June, KSTV Channel 10 (San Diego's ABC affiliate) covered Free Radio San Diego's recent run-ins with the FCC. The angle of the story on the station's web site carried the headline, "Local Pirate Radio Station Outsmarts FCC," but the video piece (:48, 4.1 MB) is much more bland, although DJ Bob Ugly does get some (masked) face-time.
7/8/03 - Free Press Launches TeleLobbying Campaign to Congress [link to this story]
The critters are back on the Hill after an Independence Day vacation and some of the items on the legislative slate are bills that would repeal part or all of the FCC's media ownership rule changes.
The National Rifle Association mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to flood the FCC with post cards, so Free Press is automating the call-your-congresscritter process, providing everything but the call to make your opinion known on these bills, in three minutes or less.
From Bob McChesney's call to action:
In other news, Free Press has launched something called its "Independent Media Campaign," properly vague enough at this point but seems to be an effort to secure a government commitment (read $) for expanded non-commercial public media. There's sure to be plenty of action on this front in the future, once this congressional session is over and budget-wrangling begins anew.
7/7/03 - San Francisco Liberation Radio Gets FCC Visit, $17,000 Threat [link to this story]
From SF Indymedia:
The station reportedly has 10 days to respond; it has attempted to apply for a license more than once (for both a regular FM station license and an LPFM one, although there are none available in San Francisco). SFLR has been (mostly) broadcasting for 10 years now, and this is not the first visit the FCC has paid to the station, but it sounds like the enforcement ball is finally rolling on its case. The Enforcement Action Database will be updated later tonight.
One catch in SFLR's case is that the station must respond and attempt to exhaust all of its administrative remedies (within the FCC's own "internal judicial system") before the courts will look favorably on its challenge to licensing regulations.
Engaging in this drawn-out (and usually futile) process of correspondence is a step overlooked by most microbroadcasters, and it's the reason why all previous challenges to the law have failed. SFLR's attempts to apply for a license will surely be helpful in such a challenge but they are only a few steps in the total dance.
7/4/03 - Radio Free Brattleboro: A True Community Resource [link to this story]
Brattleboro, Vermont had its annual Fourth of July parade today, and although it is off the air, Radio Free Brattleboro had a float in the festivities. The station's always been strongly focused on the community it served - it got its start as a project of the local teen center - and in many ways it transcended that goal. Some examples:
The Brattleboro Public Library, in need of space, was forced to get rid of its entire record collection. This included the LP library of the Chelsea House Folklore Center - an incredible collection of folk music, bluegrass and 1930s/40s-era blues/R&B. The library wanted to keep the entire collection together and wanted it to remain publicly available. There's no better way to do that than to air it, so the music was donated to Radio Free Brattleboro. When the town of Newfane, VT's public library had to give up its LP collection it also found a new home at RFB. This doesn't count the individual record collections donated by several listeners over the years.
Don't be fooled by RFB's small-town roots - some of its talent was truly world-class. One was "Henry the Cheeseman," who in a previous life was known as Emmy award-winning TV/film director/producer Peter Tewksbury. Henry ran the cheese department at the local food co-op and authored a cookbook using home-grown Vermont cheeses, published just last year. He also hosted an hour-long show on Radio Free Brattleboro, during which he read from various works of classic fiction. He passed away in February, just shy of his 80th birthday.
I've been remiss in failing to mention V-man's interview with RFB co-founder David Long which aired on Freak Radio Santa Cruz two days after RFB's bust: Listen to the excerpted segment here (16:16, 3.8 MB) if you don't want to download the full Rockin' the Boat program.
Radio Free Brattleboro will hold a community meeting in a week or so to plot its future and the station's fifth birthday party is still on for July 13.
7/1/03 - Like Pump Up the Volume in Reverse [link to this story]
Weirdness in the name of "homeland security" - In April, a Florida company called Safety Cast applied for an experimental FCC license to test its Interceptor™ technology, which is designed to quickly inform communities about terrorist alerts, lost children messages, and other emergency situations.
Although radio stations are required to have equipment installed that can decode (and, in most cases, automatically relay) such bulletins via the Emergency Alert System, Safety Cast ups the ante. Using remote transmitters installed on emergency response vehicles, the Interceptor™ will broadcast these bulletins on all AM and FM frequencies - simultaneously - with a maximum coverage area of about a quarter-mile for each vehicle.
On June 11, the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology issued Safety Cast an experimental license to test three of its FM transmitters in Florida; then, in a spurt of second-thought, it cancelled the license two days later, citing "issues that must be studied further."
One of those "issues" might be the fact that intentionally jamming the radio dial with a single signal for a quarter mile or more would normally result in a hefty fine, or maybe even prison time.
Put the transmitters in cop cars and you're talking a completely different story!
Safety Cast's president/CEO, Mark Foss, responded to the FCC's concerns June 16, explaining that Interceptor™ units have GPS tracking capabilities: if each one is programmed with the locations of areas where it shouldn't interfere with certain signals it will not transmit on those frequencies. However, he also notes that "our transmitters are designed to be heard on radios tuned to the weaker radio stations," implying that some jamming will likely occur.
Thanks to our War on Terror™, the FCC had second thoughts about its second thought and is putting the Safety Cast technology up for a little quasi-formal public debate, the window for which is open until the end of this month.