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News Archive: September 2004

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9/30/04 - Freak Radio: Rebound in Progress [link to this story]

Free Radio Santa Cruz may be down but they are definitely not out. The station's webcast is back online and it is being relayed on-air by other microradio stations around the country in solidarity. Reaction to the raid is pouring in from around the globe (hopefully material support is, too). A local benefit for the station is already in the works early next month.

The Santa Cruz IMC continues to collect raid coverage, including more than 100 photos, audio/video coverage, and reaction from Freak Radio volunteers. Links to corporate media coverage (neutral-to-positive in tone) will be posted in this weekend's Schnazz update.

9/29/04 Update #2 - Free Radio Santa Cruz Raided [link to this story]

A team of Federal Marshals - some in riot gear - arrived at the station's home during the 9 o'clock hour this morning. Residents there were rousted with the barrels of guns (including automatic weapons); nobody was in the studio at the time, however. Five FCC agents arrived after the show of force and confiscated everything.

When word got out between 100-150 people showed up on the spot to protest the raid. This included slashing the tires of the FCC and Federal Marshals' vehicles, which stranded them at the scene for a time. Nobody was arrested and no fine has been issued against anyone.

As Skidmark Bob reported via e-mail, "Its a sad day for Free Speech...FRSC has never been raided in almost 10yrs of broadcast. FRSC was also supported by [the] Santa Cruz City Council twice recently. FUCK THE FCC!!!"

Station volunteers are adamant that the Freak Radio will rebound. Donations are desperately needed since the station was completely cleaned out. Stay tuned to Freak Radio's web site and Santa Cruz Indymedia for further coverage and updates.

9/29/04 - Solomon Speaks on Enforcement Issues [link to this story]

Radio World talked with FCC Enforcement Bureau chief David Solomon this month and shutting down unlicensed broadcasters was at the top of the list of things Solomon thinks the FCC could stand to do better. The relevant excerpt below:

Solomon: One area that we continue to give a lot of attention to, and is a high priority, is pirate radio. I do think pirate radio continues to create some real challenges for us. We're responding to the challenges in the sense that we continue to shut down numerous stations. Every year we probably shut down from 150 to 200 stations through various means. We've had a lot of success for one portion of the pirate radio problem - for those people or entities who are not really focused on the fact that there are licensing requirements; they're small groups or individuals who go on very low powered and basically without a license, but provide some sort of local community service. (W)e go and we warn them; those people generally go off the air. And don't do it again. But there's a second aspect of the pirate problem where, it's a continuing challenge; and that's with what you might call the professional pirates.

RW: Because they shut down and move, and start up again...

Solomon: Right, and that's particularly an issue in south Florida where we've taken a number of steps and we continue to adjust our strategies to try to be effective. But it's a challenge, because you have a group, really, of professional pirates down there....We've been recently exploring greater use of injunctions, and greater use of criminal actions by the U.S. Attorney to continue to use a series of measures that hopefully will have a strong effect....We have devoted and are continuing to devote resources to it. One of things we've done is we have increased the size of the Miami office from two to three (people) and we continue to use staff from the Tampa office as well to work on the pirate problem in Miami and in south Florida generally.

This is a change from the strategy deputy chief Linda Blair briefed FCC Commissioners on in 2002: then the Enforcement Bureau was "focused on taking more forfeiture actions in in appropriate cases, rather than simply issuing warnings."

It's also interesting that Solomon notes that stations run by "small groups or individuals who go on very low powered" also "provide some sort of community service." And, as always, the number of stations actually shut down by the FCC remains a point of contention, with the agency's estimate being higher than what publicly available data shows.

Good news for shortwave pirates, though: the FCC still appears to be wholly focused on microradio stations, allowing HF activity to continue with impunity.

Later on, while talking about another case involving the revocation of station licenses, Solomon makes another pleasantly honest comment: "You get people who come in a[n]d say, 'Look, your proposed enforcement action is stupid, the rule is stupid, the FCC is stupid. Congress is stupid.' And that may or may not be right in various contexts, but it's not a smart thing to come in and say that."

9/27/04 - Media EmergenC: Confronting the NAB in San Diego [link to this story]

The National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show kicks off in San Diego in less than two weeks and media activists of all stripes will be ready for their arrival. A coalition of groups has organized a counter-convergence: Media emergenC.

The ambitious schedule runs from October 6-9 and includes everything from workshops to film screenings to a bona-fide "media fair." RadioActive San Diego/1069FM will provide wall-to-wall coverage; San Diego Indymedia will archive the happenings; and Free Radio San Diego will teach the skills of microradio station construction. No mosquito fleet this time around, though.

Convergence organizers report they're deep in the hole as far as costs go, primarily because they're helping pick up keynote speakers' travel costs yet charging nothing for attendance. Donations are greatly appreciated.

9/26/04 - Ear Candy Expansion [link to this story]

A massive weekend update to the Featured MP3s section of the site nearly doubles its size. Lots of new tracks about pirate radio and media freedom from the likes of Anti-Flag, The Clash, David Rovics, Eric Idle, Steve Earle, and Utah Phillips, among many others.

As a part of this project the music section of the DIYmedia store has also been overhauled, although I've yet to add links to many of the works featured in the Media Collage section of the site. Most links point to Insound, an independent retailer of everything from CD/DVDs to zines. Their selection isn't perfect but it's the principle here that counts.

Next up will be a long-overdue update to the bookstore, which is woefully out of date at present.

9/24/04 - LPFM Miscellany [link to this story]

An update to a story earlier this week: the United Church of Christ's documentary, LPFM: The People's Choice, is most definitely an optional-carry program for NBC affiliates. This is evidenced by the fact that less than two dozen stations have agreed to broadcast it so far - some of whom won't actually play it until next year. There is a link on the UCC site marked "click here to view the video (RealVideo)" but I can't get it to work (after trying two different browsers).

While the LPFM service itself seems to be stuck in limbo (no new station application windows on the horizon, S. 2505 dead in the water), the FCC may be planning a publicity stunt of sorts. It seems that an "LPFM Day" is in the works, where LPFM advocates and people with stations will come to the FCC and show off some of their gear as well as tell stories of what LPFM stations have done for their communities. All well and good, but no substitute for actual service growth.

Finally, the move of a commercial FM station in Oregon across the border into Washington state (to target the Seattle market) has claimed another casualty. Mid-Columbia Broadcasting-owned KMCQ-FM received permission from the FCC to move its transmission facilities earlier this year, which will force Mercer Island High School's Class-D station KMIH off the air. After temporarily setting aside its decision the FCC changed its mind again a month later and the move is back on.

But KMIH will not be the only casualty: a proposed LPFM station that would have served Bainbridge Island is now barred from being built, since its proposed frequency of operation is no longer in conformance with the LPFM restrictive channel spacing rules. Talk about serving the public interest: two community radio stations are sacrificed so a commercial outlet can make more money.

9/23/04 - Viacom v. WIN(S): Goliath Just Won't Quit [link to this story]

More than a year ago I vented about how a radio news service I helped found began getting pressure from one of radio's biggest bullies. The Workers Independent News Service (WINS) found itself potentially facing a lawsuit from Viacom due to the fact that Viacom's radio subsidiary, Infinity Broadcasting, owns 1010 WINS-AM in New York City. Viacom alleged that "our" WINS was a trademark infringement on "their" if listeners might get confused between a full-time full-power AM radio station in a single market that reminds listeners of its call letters at least every 20 minutes and a nationally-syndicated headline news show fed to its affiliates once a day.

We appealed directly to the AFL-CIO for help, since our news was union-friendly. It was completely lukewarm to the idea and initially very hesitant to get involved in our defense (which says a lot about the backbone of the American labor movement, but that's another rant). After successfully stymieing Viacom's lawyer-folk for several months the company pressed the issue and threatened to begin the sueage for-real.

Clearly the AFL-CIO was unwilling to fight, although a few of its member unions were. But the federation had the final say and they capitulated this summer, resulting in a settlement agreement between WINS and Viacom.

Viacom successfully pressured WINS to change its acronym usage to WIN: this meant re-doing the intro/outro segments of each newscast, re-vamping the WIN(S) web site, and getting all new letterhead and other promotional materials. Fortunately, it didn't bankrupt the operation, but it was certainly an onerous task which did eat up some of WIN(S)' very meager funds. And it wasn't a complete rout, either: Viacom's dumb demand that we also change our intro/outro music was dropped as a part of the settlement.

[My initial reaction to all of this was to fight and use the resultant publicity as a way to raise the stature (and funding potential) of WIN(S), but I was alone on that. Lucky for me I left the project and moved before WIN(S) actually had to make these changes - something I patently refused to be a part of from a perspective of principle.]

Now for the irony: since then the Workers Independent News Service has been picked up by a Viacom-owned news/talk station in St. Louis. KMOX is a heritage station with a long history as "the Voice of St. Louis" - and it also happens to be a leader in that market's ratings. KMOX is very pleased with WIN(S) and folks there have even agreed to approach other Infinity-owned stations in other major markets on its behalf.

It's funny enough that one of Viacom's prime radio properties loves the Workers Independent News Service; it's even funnier that said property is willing to help expand WIN(S)' reach. However, the borg that is Viacom itself is not pleased: this week it sent another threatening letter to WIN(S) demanding it stop claiming KMOX is an affiliate (even though this is indisputably true). Viacom further demanded that any references to its station in St. Louis be removed from any promotional literature or other communication that WIN(S) puts out.

Whereas the original dispute involved the use of an acronym (four letters only), Viacom seems to believe it has the leverage to deny WIN(S) use of any of its station's call letters, even those who choose to carry WIN(S) programming. This is far outside the original (trademark-based) dispute and would seemingly set a scary precedent: if WIN(S) can't talk about KMOX, then wouldn't everyone (except Viacom) be prohibited from mentioning the station at all, anywhere?

In a positive development for WIN(S), it appears the AFL-CIO may actually have a vertebrae or two: it has refused Viacom's new demand. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out - from afar, thank heavens.

9/21/04 - Scene Reports: Colorado, California, Tennessee [link to this story]

Colorado: Denver Free Radio was busted this morning after a scant three days on the air. That's a pretty quick turnaround for the FCC, although it certainly helps that there's a field office right in town so they didn't have to go very far to pay the station a visit.

The agents reportedly arrived in "a green SUV with a big white dome on it" and observers also noticed other trucks in the area bristling with antennas; it's not clear whether this was legitimate backup or local broadcast engineers/amateur radio ops out for a joyride.

Apparently Denver Free Radio operates on a model similar to Boulder Free Radio (KBFR) in that it is "locationally-flexible" - this means there's a decent chance of the station making a return. The FCC folks did ask those hosting DFR's gear to willingly give it up; that request was (fortunately) denied. As a result FCC agents have reportedly staked out the transmitter location, ostensibly in an an attempt to pin a person down to the operation who can be punished.

Speaking of Boulder, KBFR has returned to the air after more than a month of downtime. It had another benefit show this weekend; More are in the works. Station founder "Monk" has provided a little more description of the station's new governance/operational structure - sounds like it's still a work in progress.

California: A new station is on the air in San Francisco. Neighborhood Public Radio's genesis was as part of a performance space at a local art gallery but it seems the station's prepared to broadcast indefinitely now. The programming focus is a mixture of radical news and audio-as-art.

Tennessee: An update from Knoxville - KFAR held an emergency meeting over the weekend to plot its return to the airwaves. Station volunteers are keeping things tactically close-to-the-vest (a smart move).

Some are skittish over the Federal Bureau of Investigation's involvement in the case: it appears that the original complainant, who coincidentally previously worked for the FBI, called on the local FBI outpost for backup in his "investigation" into the station. According to quotes from the FCC's affidavit, two "special agents" were on "special assignment" with regard to KFAR.

It's important to place the meaning of the words "special assignment" in context. While it certainly sounds intimidating and implies a deeper government connection to the bust beyond simple FCC involvement, FBI agents can be on "special assignment" for just about any reason, ranging from a bona-fide investigation to running out for donuts and coffee. What's also important to note is that the complaint against the station did not originate with an active FBI agent: they were called upon by a "friend" to lend a hand. Whether they stay involved upon KFAR's return to the airwaves will certainly clarify the situation.

9/19/04 - NBC To Air LPFM Documentary Next Sunday [link to this story]

The extended version of LPFM: The People's Voice has been scheduled to run on Sunday, September 26. Unfortunately, the program is optional to NBC affiliates, so you'll have to check your local listings to find out when it will air - or even if it will air - in your area.

Here in Champaign, entreaties to the local NBC station were met with various and conflicting excuses for why it won't play, even though we handed them a local story hook they could tie it into ("where your local news comes first," my ass). Perhaps you will fare better.

Hopefully The United Church of Christ's Microradio Implementation Project will make this version available online (like it did with the shorter documentary), or maybe distribute copies by request. The Interfaith Broadcasting Commission pledges to provide VHS copies (cost unknown).

No surprise that the radio trade press has panned it with descriptors like "highly one-sided" for not providing the viewpoints of the NAB et. al. You mean it might be manipulative in a similar manner to the industry's use of twisted science and blatant propaganda to cut LPFM off at the knees in the first place? Pot, meet kettle....

9/17/04 - FCC Raid on Knoxville First Amendment Radio [link to this story]

KFAR got hit by a team of FCC agents and three Federal Marshals at around 10 AM local time Wednesday. A news release from the station says the raid force "broke into" the trailer housing the station (with the help of a locksmith) and confiscated everything; this implies that the station was unmanned and automated at the time.

FCC paperwork left behind does not name any particular individual, so for the moment it would seem that KFAR's most valuable asset - its volunteers - survive to fight another day. The local media also responded to the scene and several articles are already online, with coverage ranging from neutral to positive. Free Radio Santa Cruz's Skidmark Bob got reaction from a couple of KFAR DJs. At least one station volunteer also videotaped the action.

Blame - for the moment - is falling on one David Icove, an adjunct assistant engineering professor at the University of Tennessee. He is also an "inspector" for the Tennessee Valley Authority Police. A poster to a local message board operating under the name "Radio Rangers," who several KFAR volunteers believe is Icove, is quoted as saying an "extended cadre of legal scholars, local engineers, media scholars, and amature [sic] radio enthusiasts" worked in tandem to pressure the FCC to bust KFAR. Icove himself is also a ham.

KFAR has promised a quick return to the airwaves; it's been previously noted that it has backup gear stashed away (although it's not clear whether they have everything to completely rebuild). Presently the station's webcast continues with a skeleton crew. A drive to solicit support from the Knoxville City Council may also be in the works.

9/15/04 - WNFC Meets FCC, Throws Gauntlet [link to this story]

The demonstration of low-power civil disobedience hasn't even begun yet, but the FCC is now well-warned of WNFC's existence and plans. Last night organizer Stacie Trescott served on a panel with Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps at a town hall meeting on the future of media in Dearborn, Michigan.

Trescott's place on the panel gave her five minutes to talk about the need for the expansion of LPFM - and how the pending proposal to do so won't help her community.

She pulled no punches:

Civil disobedience must always be the option of last resort. However, we have exhausted every avenue. Our mayor, council, state reps and others agree we are justified in launching Radio Free Ferndale, and they will appear on the air with us.

To demonstrate our respect for the authority of the FCC, we will conduct a two-week demonstration of what local radio can and should be like, and then we will voluntarily go off the air....

Perhaps the problem with consolidation is summed up best in the old African proverb[:] "When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled."

We're patient, peaceful, and we refuse to abandon our dignity. But we're tired of being trampled on.

We are taking back our airwaves.

This is the third time sitting Commissioners have been directly confronted by microbroadcast activists. Free Press will likely offer a summary of the events at a later date, which may include audio and video. It'll be interesting to see/hear how Copps and Adelstein responded (we already know one is down with the revolution).

9/13/04 - Final Push for S. 2505; LPFM Construction Permit Casualties [link to this story]

Don Schellhardt is back in tha haus with an exhaustive overview of the status of S. 2505, the bill to open up more space on radio dials across the country for new LPFM stations. The prospects don't look good, but Don's still optimistic. He even includes sample letters to congresscritters if you are so inclined to lobby, as well as information on where this issue could be a factor in the upcoming elections.

On a related note, REC Networks has published a list of LPFM construction permits that have either expired or are set to expire within the next six months. The list includes several dozen stations that may/will not be. Many of those that have expired are CPs awarded to various state Departments of Transportation: these stations were to beef up existing AM-based travelers' information networks. Most likely they were budget casualties as state governments across the nation struggle to stop hemorrhaging red ink.

9/6/04 - Clear Channel + Air America = Strategic Thinking? [link to this story]

Usually I stay out of the cesspool that is commercial radio these days but some recent news enticed me to dip a toe back in.

Air America, the pro-Democrat talk radio network launched earlier this year to counter the right-wing blather of Rush et. al., has lined up several new affiliate stations in the past few weeks.

Surprisingly, many of these stations happen to be owned by Clear Channel Communications - heretofore better known for their corporate conservatism (a "suggested" list of songs not to play in the post-9/11 aftermath, "Rallies for America," a penchant for donations to Republicans, etc.).

At first glance a deal between the two seems strange, given their disparate political leanings. Many have explained it by noting that Clear Channel is a corporation first and foremost, and therefore is ultimately driven by the profit motive. If it can exploit the niche of "liberal" talk radio for profit and give "liberals" some much-needed exposure in the process, where's the foul?

However, it's important to remember that Clear Channel is notorious for playing hardball - leveraging its size and reach to pound on competitors (or them kill outright) with an eye on maximizing future growth opportunities. With this in mind, one might also view the company's latest moves as a honey-trap strategy that, in the long term, could water down Air America's quasi-progressive zeal and/or bring it to heel. Here's how:

Let's imagine, say a year from now, that Air America's network has 200 affiliates. Of those, 100 are Clear Channel stations. One day, CC overlord Lowry Mays picks up the phone and calls Air America. "You know, I think (Show X) is crossing the line with their anti-GOP screeds. Can you get them to tone it down a notch? Otherwise, we may be forced to drop Air America from our stations."

A network that stands to lose 50% of its affiliates will bend under such pressure. (The figures in this hypothetical are arbitrary, but a lower number, like 30%, would still constitute a serious problem for Air America - especially if it stood to lose affiliates in larger markets.)

Then there is the question of contracts. Most radio networks and syndicators have a market exclusivity clause in their contracts, which gives the affiliate the exclusive right to broadcast that programming in their market. Usually this works in the favor of both the network/syndicator and the affiliate station: the network/syndicator gets an outlet in the market and the affiliate doesn't have to worry about other stations cross-programming the same content, which would dilute its audience base and make it less attractive to carry.

Depending on how the market exclusivity clause in Air America affiliate contracts is worded, under the above scenario Clear Channel might conceivably end up with a WMD to deploy against the network: it could, at a later date, choose to dump Air America from its stations and still retain market exclusivity over its programming - thereby freezing Air America out of several markets until its contracts with the Clear Channel stations expire.

Whether conspiracy theory or prescience, Clear Channel wins twice - it makes some coin in the short term and builds leverage to curtail (or silence) "liberal radio," if necessary, further down the road. It's no secret that not all stations in your local Clear Channel cluster make a profit - some are run as loss-leaders, and putting stations in this predicament would be nothing new for the company.

It's also no secret that Air America has been hurting for affiliates (~30 stations in five months is not phenomenal growth). It probably sees Clear Channel's interest as a saving grace that gives the network penetration into markets where it otherwise wouldn't air. But anytime you deal with the devil you run the risk of getting burned.

Considering how Air America has fumbled about so far, this consideration probably never even registered on their radar. Yet this strategy may seem plausible to the boys in San Antonio: they didn't get to be the biggest player in the radio industry by being short-sighted - or playing nice. Such a move would certainly make Clear Channel's political predilections crystal clear; depending on how the political environment (d)evolves in the next few months, such a scheme might not seem so controversial a year from now. I certainly hope I'm wrong.

9/4/04 - RAD Conference Ahoy [link to this story]

Wrapping up the Walker Arts Center's summer installation on microradio (Radio Re-Volt: One Person.ooOne Watt) will be a free two-day conference. RAD: Radio, Access, Democracy takes place at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design on October 29-30.

Microradio luminary Tetsuo Kogawa will give the keynote address and free103point9 will be in the haus with a special interactive performance. Michael Lahey's new microradio documentary, Making Waves, may also get a special screening.

Paul the Mediageek and I will be there, serving on a couple of panels dealing with FCC issues surrounding media consolidation and low power radio activism. We may also co-facilitate a workshop on do-it-yourself media tactics.

Should be quite a fun time and I'm looking forward to it. Anyone got crash space?

9/2/04 - Back In Action: Scene Report Summary (August) [link to this story]

A lot has happened during this latest hiatus.

Site-wise, the Enforcement Action Database is up to date. The Database includes FCC activity reported in August as well as some significant backfilling. If you check the yearly graph, 2003 now almost matches 1998 in the amount of FCC activity: significant because that was the year the NAB declared war on microradio, forcing the FCC to ramp up its pirate-busting. Draw your own conclusions (mine are still mostly unformed). Updates to Truthful Translations and the Schnazz to follow soon.

As for news, here's the highlight breakdown:

New York: Several microradio stations are on the air in NYC in support of the demonstrations against the Republican Party's national convention, which wraps up today. A few are mobile and were tasked to provide real-time targeted broadcasts in support of the action. The rest are relaying coverage from the A-Noise Sound Collective, the NYC Independent Media Center's live web feed from the streets.

This programming is being relayed by many other microradio stations around the nation; there's even been simulcasts on multiple frequencies in at least four cities (including NYC). It may be the most extensive nationwide mosquito fleet-style IMC relay network ever assembled for a protest action.

California: Free Radio San Diego has a new comrade on the dial. 1069FM exists as a tool of "information warfare" and relays internet station radioActive San Diego full-time.

In San Luis Obispo, Moon Radio got its first visit last month after running sporadically for more than 10 years. FCC "Compliance Specialist" Steven Pierce and Electronics Engineer Anderson Bennett told its operator to back off or face real pain. The cover story published in the local alt-weekly in July certainly gave them a clue.

Colorado: KBFR - Boulder Free Radio has been off the air for more than a month now as "benevolent dictator" Monk re-tools the station. Apparently folks were getting sloppy and the station was quickly veering from news and infotainment to partytown, away from the station's core mission. Monk's appointed a "Captain's Council" to spread responsibility and the sense of commitment around - qualities a true community radio station absolutely requires to survive.

Michigan: Free Press has organized another unofficial FCC localism hearing in Dearborn, to take place on September 14. Members of WNFC-Radio Free Ferndale will share the stage there with Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps. I really, really hope somebody tapes this.

The latest batch of guest hosts committed to join the WNFC lineup is former congressman David Bonior - an original supporter of LPFM, it is a beautiful thing to see him take part in the "measured act of civil disobedience."

The actual launch is still in flux as the political groundwork continues to be laid - lots of city and state elected officials are lined up to take part and the list continues to grow. Master organizer Stacie Trescott says it's okay to take it slow:

[S]ometimes i wonder if we will ever build the transmitter and actually go on the air! But it doesn't matter. The station is just a prop. It's a tool for getting people motivated. If we can change the rules without breaking the law, that will be great.

But all common sense dictates that WNFC Radio Free Ferndale will go on the air before the rules are changed enough for us to be satisfied. A five-year battle will be a remarkably hast[y] victory. Remember: The McCain/Leahy Act is the best thing going for community radio right now -- and it only has a handful of sponsors and it won't help us in Detroit at all! We're about the only ones in the country even talking about a future beyond McCain/Leahy right now.

So long as that spirit remains alive there ain't no stopping this train.