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News Archive: September 2003

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9/26/03 - Tactical Microradio Blogging; Radio Free Cascadia Makes Jump from FM to Shortwave [link to this story]

Monk, the prime founder of Boulder microradio outlet KBFR, is now blogging about the trials and tribulations of advanced microradio station operation. KBFR has been somewhat of a laboratory for tactical broadcasting shortly after its first visit from the FCC more than two years ago. It's experimented with (and implemented) some clever ways of separating the transmitter from the studio, including the use of webcasting as STL and mobile operation. These tactics have kept the FCC chasing down blind alleys in its quest to bust the operation.

In somewhat older news, a group of microbroadcasters in the northwest are now focusing their efforts on the shortwave band. Radio Free Cascadia (a former Eugene, OR microradio project, also responsible for station Y2WTKO during the Seattle WTO protests of '99) recently conducted regular broadcasts as Radio Free Cascadia International in support of the WTO protests in Cancun, Mexico earlier this month. It received reception reports from all over North and South America and Asia.

9/25/03 - September Amendment One Parses Politics of Media Reform [link to this story]

In an exhaustive feature this month, the Amherst Alliance's Don Schellhardt not only breaks down the situation in Congress on the prospects for media reform, but whomps you with charts detailing the latest Senate vote, including a symbol-laden synopsis of each vote-caster's current political situation. It is a huge mass of information, with a grassroots lobbying tips for your own use sprinkled through.

9/24/03 - Radio Free Brattleboro Web Site Hacked [link to this story]

According to station members, the server was taken off-line over the weekend. It's unclear whether the hack was specifically directed at the station or a more general exploit of the box its site ran on, but the site files have been "destroyed." The site will be re-created, but it's going to take some time.

RFB itself remains on the air, awaiting the FCC's next move, nearly 20 days after the last encounter which promised a raid. Its legal assets are in gear and include an experienced member of the microradio legal defense team. Community support continues to build.

9/23/03 - Mikey Powell Floats Trial Balloon on Departure [link to this story]

First came the rumor, then the call from a member of the "business press" - now FCC Chairman Mikey Powell himself appears to be floating the notion of stepping aside. In Sunday's business section (naturally) of the New York Times, Powell got to bitch about his job: "I have a tired family, tired children and a tired spouse. Candidly, I once said I would be in this job for three years and then leave. That was three years ago."

The entire article is quite long but worth a read. The basic synopsis is that he's a nice guy who is politically ham-handed. It's not that he's a bad regulator; he's just not good at greasing the political wheels of D.C. with enough finesse. It's analogous to praising a thief for his line of work but lamenting the time he gets caught.

There are, however, a few doozies which deserve highlight:

"I've been called every name in the book by every opponent in the book," he said. "That's classic Washington. If you can't get past jingoism, you attack the person. I wish the press would focus on more than who's rebuked and who's rebuking and look at what the best alternatives are for the public in terms of policy."

Awwwww, poor Mikey. Perhaps if he hadn't stuck his neck out on the chopping block (declaring the market to be his religion, lampooning the public interest, and writing the revisions to the media ownership rules in secret) he might deserve some sympathy. No luck here.

Then, two paragraphs later, a weasel-and-deflection turns into a contradiction of the above:

Asked about accusations by some that he had failed to build enough public support for the rules before adopting them, Mr. Powell replied: "I've heard that represented as my failure. I'll take that as my responsibility. But there was a concerted grass-roots effort to attack the commission from the outside in."

So which one is it? A "concerted grassroots effort...from the outside in" or "classic Washington?" The fact that Powell sounds surprised by a massive outpouring of public input on an important policy issue speaks volumes. It lays bare the hypocrisy that is official Washington: working from the inside out is good, working from the outside in is bad. This is not business as usual, Mikey.

Even better is his attempt to marginalize the public who actually spoke out against the media rule changes - so enamored is Mikey with the goals of maximizing commerce that he, too, believes the lowest common denominator represents the media's highest possible purpose:

"There has been a huge problem with the political lopsidedness of the debate," Mr. Powell said. "People in the opposition are part of a highly vocal and strenuous community. They have relatively strong viewpoints, are very active and mobile."

"On the other side, if you are in a fraternity watching TV and drinking beer and happy, what are you going to do to get in the debate?" he asked. "You are not. I think the public is more upset with the media than they are with the rules."

It certainly must be frustrating to have the public interest box your ears after six years of paying it scant lip service. Having to pay attention to anyone not in one's rolodex can be so....messy.

Finally, I think this completes the delusion - while many who know about the revolving door between the FCC and the industries it regulates are displeased (at the least) by its existence, Mikey already takes it for granted:

"There is no urgency in terms of quitting and going into the private sector,' he said. "It will be there when I am ready."

As has been part of Mikey's problem since he took the reins of the FCC, his confidence comes across as arrogance. Or maybe, after such a consistent track record, we can finally drop the pretend misinterpretation and simply call him an arrogant f*ck.

Seriously, though, even if Powell departs the FCC with his tail between his legs, what will that change? Another Republican will be appointed to take his seat, and the chairmanship of the commission will likely transfer to one of the two remaining Republican members, Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin. Martin is the likely successor, as he knows how to wheel and deal and already has a somewhat positive reputation in the press for being a young "maverick."

That's just what we need. Ridding ourselves of a bad seed does not change the fact that the core remains rotten.

9/17/03 - Courts, Congress Move on FCC Media Rules [link to this story]

As was somewhat expected, the Senate approved a Resolution of Disapproval yesterday which would force the FCC to redo its media ownership rulemaking. I'm with Mediageek on the relative importance of this. More interesting was the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to retain jurisdiction over the spate of suits seeking to reverse the FCC's decision.

Prometheus and the Media Access Project are duly pleased with the decision, and rightly so - when Mikey Powell waves his hands and says "don't blame me, blame Congress and the courts for making me do it," he speaks partial truth.

A series of legal challenges brought by media companies, using the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as the chisel, have systematically attacked the FCC's media ownership rules over the years. This doesn't excuse how Mikey and friends wrote the rules, but it did provide the impetus to do so.

These challenges have all been conducted in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which traditionally retains exclusive jurisdiction over legal challenges to FCC rules. Motions to transfer the case to D.C. were filed by NBC, Fox, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, and the FCC itself, among others.

The Third Circuit, in its decision Monday, declared itself "no less qualified than any other Court of Appeals to determine whether the FCC has appropriately considered the public interest in its decisionmaking." Oral argument will take place on November 5.

Keeping the case in Philly doesn't necessarily increase or decrease the chances that some or all of the rules will be overturned, but the D.C. Circuit's record of buying the Big Media line would've surely resulted in different results.

9/10/03 - Freak Radio vs. K-LOVE: V-Man Wins by Forfeit [link to this story]

On Monday, KUSP's "Talk of the Bay" was to host a 20-minute verbal spar between Vinny Lombardo (V-Man) of Freak Radio Santa Cruz and Dick Jenkins, president of Christian translator networks Air-1 and K-LOVE. K-LOVE just put up a translator that broadcasts into Santa Cruz on Freak Radio's frequency.

As the segment began, the V-Man was in-studio and he and host John Sandidge chatted while the show's producer tried to raise Dick Jenkins via phone. Four minutes in, the message was passed: due to "back trouble," Jenkins could not appear on the program. An act of God, perhaps?

The in-studio reaction to this last-minute dodge is beautifully cynical, and crops up throughout the rest of the show. Sandidge made more hay out of it than the V-Man did, much to his credit. The entire segment went off quite smoothly, with V-Man holding forth in pointedly impressive fashion. "Hooray for you guys," said Sandidge at one point.

He also vowed to schedule a re-match.

Listen to KUSP's archive of the show here (Real audio player required) - the Freak Radio segment begins about 26 minutes into the show.

Since KUSP is a public radio station the entire broadcast was underwritten - by a regional chain of clinics and hospitals, a local nursing home, the Monterey World Music Festival, and the John F. Kennedy University Graduate School for Holistic Studies. The show paused periodically while a noticeably abashed Sandidge rattled through them as quickly as possible.

9/9/03 - BusinessWeek Wants Mikey Powell's Head on a Stick [link to this story]

As he stews in his own political juice, with Congress breathing down his neck, FCC Chairman Mikey Powell can use all the friends he can get. One would assume those friends would include the business/finance community, seeing as how Powell's a fervent acolyte for their religion.

Think again: BusinessWeek magazine published this piece online yesterday, which is a pretty straightforward indictment of Powell, ending with,

Powell refused to make a public case for the merits of his proposal. Then, he skewed the data to try to fool people. Plenty of other telecommunications policy experts have the political skills to handle the FCC job less contentiously than Powell. He should leave, before he's shown the door.

Note BusinessWeek's beef with Powell is not with the fact that his ideas suck: the problem is Mikey bungled selling them. BusinessWeek is owned by the McGraw-Hill Companies; among McGraw-Hill's properties is Standard & Poor's, keepers of the S&P stock indices.

In late and unrelated news that still deserves a mention:

---The Prometheus Radio Project's successful delay of the FCC's media ownership rules revision has forced the FCC to freeze all pending commercial radio station applications and modifications. That's bound to have pissed off somebody in the radio industry - an added bonus!

---From Future of Music Coalition co-founder Jenny Toomey's neglected web site, on her experience testifying in front of the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this spring, where she sat at the same table with NAB chief Eddie Fritts and Clear Channel daddy Lowry Mays: "For those of you who aren't familiar with Lowery (sic) and Eddie I can just say that this is the equivalent of sitting at the same table with not one, but two, Darth Vaders."

9/5/03 - Stimulus/Response Goes Coast to Coast: FCC Visits Vermont [link to this story]

Stung twice in California by the cities of San Francisco and Santa Cruz, who like their microradio stations unlicensed, thank you very much, the FCC shifts focus and moves on two stations in Vermont.

Radio Free Brattleboro, who just returned to the air two weeks ago after a visit from field agents, got an FCC follow-up yesterday. None of the station DJs actually spoke face-to-face with them; two strained yet cordial conversations were conducted through a locked door.

The first time the agents asked to enter and inspect the station they were prompted to show a warrant. The FCC duo responded by asking to see RFB's authority to broadcast. Someone inside shot back: "the people of Brattleboro had authorized us to do so."

After a stroll over to the Brattleboro police department, the FCC agents came back to the door with an officer in tow. Again they were refused entry. After shoving some papers through the door's mail slot, the agents and officer left. The Brattleboro Reformer reports the agents promised to come back in 10 days and conduct a raid; the station is still assessing its options and its local attorney seems rarin' to go to court.

Not only were the encounters broadcast live (and most of the aircheck taped), but the broadcast itself attracted concerned citizens to come to the station. Some of them also taped the encounter and used their cell phones to feed the station updates on the FCC agents' exact whereabouts and behavior. As they began walking back to their car, some shouted at the agents, "Shame! Shame on you. Go home, we don't want you here. What you're doing is Un-American.."

The day before, agents bypassed Brattleboro and headed about 150 miles north-northwest, where they paid a visit to Free Radio Burlington. Here they convinced two Burlington cops to invoke probable cause to enter the building where they thought the station was located.

Curiously, Free Radio Burlington was off the air at the time, and according to a statement issued by the FRB collective, "no broadcasting equipment was found on site at the time of the inspection." Nevertheless, somehow a group of "concerned listeners" found out about the raid-gone-bust and showed up to harass the FCC and cops anyway. Free Radio Burlington plans to stay off the air for the time being but will continue webcasting.

Back in Brattleboro reaction has been swift: in addition to the straight-news coverage of the FCC showdown, the Reformer's editorial today sounds similarly defiant:

The FCC doesn't want to hear arguments that its rules make no sense, that its actions are absurd and its professed support of community radio is a sham. It wants to use the strong arm of the law at its disposal to crush dissenting voices, however small and seemingly insignificant.

But this is not what the people want. More than 2,000 area residents have signed petitions in support of rfb, and it's time for those who agree that this is a battle for free speech to raise their voices, too. In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors recently unanimously passed a resolution in support of Liberation Radio 93.7 FM, an unlicensed low-power station of 10 years standing under threat of FCC closure. The board urged the FCC and local law enforcement not to interfere with the functioning of Liberation Radio and "and other diverse local media."

Whether such an action has more than symbolic value remains to be seen. But even a symbolic protest is better than none at all. The Brattleboro Selectboard should follow the supervisors' example and bring the matter up for discussion and a vote as soon as possible. And Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., among the most outspoken critics of the FCC when it comes to corporate control of the media, has been oddly silent on this issue so far. Our congressman, too, might consider putting his money where his mouth is.

Radio Free Brattleboro's morning show read the piece on-air and used it as a jumping-off point for several rebellious rants, criticizing the FCC for spending its energy busting its 10-watt ass while another mega-media merger looms just around the corner.

On the West Coast, Skidmark Bob managed to tape the Santa Cruz City Council's unanimous approval (MP3, 15:54, 5.4 MB) of a resolution asking the FCC to leave Freak Radio be, and V-Man has supplied the text.

V-Man also tells me he and Dick Jenkins, president of K-LOVE (subsidiary network of Christian translator-monger EMF Broadcasting), will debate live on KUSP's "Talk of the Bay" on Monday. If you've got any ammo for V-Man, do drop him a line.

This could be a lively discussion: Another EMF translator network just threw up a node near Santa Cruz - on Freak Radio's frequency, 96.3. The new godcaster is blotting out part of FRSC's coverage area as a result.

9/4/03 - Santa Cruz City Council Rushes to Support Freak Radio in Wake of FCC Visit [link to this story]

In a special session yesterday the Santa Cruz (CA) City Council approved an emergency resolution of support for Freak Radio Santa Cruz, which just got visited (again) by the FCC a week ago today.

Cribbed from the endorsement passed last month by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in support of San Francisco Liberation Radio, The Freak Radio resolution also calls for non-intervention on the part of local and state law enforcement and encourages more grassroots media development in the community.

This is not the first time the city of Santa Cruz has gone on record in support of the microradio station: in 1999 the council passed a resolution supporting both Freak Radio and the FCC's then-pending rulemaking on LPFM.

9/3/03 - Last-Minute Court Action Halts Media Ownership Rule Changes [link to this story]

Everybody owes a round of thanks and praise to the Prometheus Radio Project, who filed an emergency petition to stop the implementation of the FCC's media ownership rule changes, which were scheduled to go into effect tomorrow. After a two-hour hearing in Philadelphia today a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals granted the stay, suspending all rule changes until Prometheus' case gets a proper hearing on its merits.

In a three-page decision, after deferring a chance to predict the success of Prometheus' challenge to the media ownership rules, the court agreed that the challenge deserved full consideration before the rule changes were implemented, especially "given the magnitude of this matter and the public's interest in reaching the proper resolution."

The 3rd Circuit has made several documents in the case available online (in .pdf format), which is somewhat unique for the federal courts: usually the turnaround time for the release of decisions is not this fast, and the release of several original documents filed in the case is rare indeed. The court is obviously aware that millions of people are paying attention now.

The Prometheus challenge is one of nine potential lawsuits seeking to suspend or overturn the FCC's media ownership rule changes; two others have been filed on behalf of the public and seek to suspend or repeal the rule changes in the name of media democracy. The rest of the suits are courtesy of media companies who don't think the FCC went far enough (Fox, NBC, Viacom, and the National Association of Broadcasters are among them).

Preliminary e-mail reaction from Prometheus' Pete triDish:

...the stay is just one step of a long legal process, which we could lose in at any stage. It has created time for the political process to work without the rule changes becoming a fait accompli. There will be many reconsiderations and legal actions, and we will win some of these and we will lose some of these - but the real power is in people being active. Today at the hearing, all of the judges mentioned the millions of comments, and were obviously very influenced by the attention that the issue is getting from the public. So keep it up! Tell people that when enough people pay attention and put their hearts in - we win!

Tomorrow the Senate Appropriations Committee will consider legislation to bitch-slap the FCC; media companies began a major lobbying blitzkrieg on Capitol Hill this week trying to fend off the congressional end-run.

9/1/03 - Freak Radio Santa Cruz Gets FCC Visit [link to this story]

According to V-Man, Freak Radio indyjournalist extraordinaire and collagist with the Dept. of Corrections, FCC agent David Hartshorn shoved a warning letter - addressed to the V-Man himself - into the front door of the building that houses the station.

In addition to carrying the standard language about consequences and penalties, the letter also makes reference to the fact that "spurious radio signals associated with the operation of this station were detected on the frequency of 196.2 MHz." Methinks that is a typo, as 192.6 MHz is the second harmonic of FRSC's broadcast frequency (96.3), and a more likely location for spurious emissions. Low-pass filter ahoy, and update the bust PSA!

The thinking at Freak Radio is the FCC will try to nail the V-Man personally on this one, which would make already bad news incredibly worse. The call for support is going out.