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News Archive: September 2005

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9/29/05 - Algiers Microradio Gets Upgrade [link to this story]

Free Radio Berkeley's 75-watt transmitter arrived safe and sound. It's been re-tuned to 88.7 FM and is presently putting out about 80-90 watts. A shed's been cleared out to serve as a full-time studio space; a military surplus mast has been procured and assembled; and a new antenna sits on top of it. Soon the station will be webcasting as well. The vibe is increasingly active as more and more people return to the city: there is much to do and many stories to tell.

There are approximately four workable microradio frequencies in the New Orleans metropolitan area, three short-term and one (arguably) longer-term:

88.7: A construction permit has been granted for a Calvary Chapel translator, which is not yet on the air.

92.9: A construction permit has been granted for a translator currently held by Radio Assist Ministry, which is not yet on the air.

96.3: This frequency clears the FCC's original channel-spacing rules for a 100-watt LPFM station (i.e., before Congress meddled and made them more restrictive). On one side, three channels away, is a station owned by Entercom. On the other, four clicks a station owned by Entercom.

103.7: A construction permit has been granted for a translator currently owned by Edgewater Broadcasting, which is not yet on the air.

The station's original frequency, 94.5, is just one channel away from a pre-existing local station which has resumed sporadic broadcasts. There is a local TV station broadcasting on Channel 6, too, which ostensibly precludes the use of 87.9.

At least three operational transmitters now circulate in New Orleans.

9/28/05 - LPFM Expansion Bill Introduced in House [link to this story]

Overlooked in the hurricane fury: this month Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the "Enhance and Protect Local Community Radio Act of 2005." It's a companion bill to Senator McCain and Leahy's (R-AZ / D-VT) legislation, although it adds a substantial twist on the translator issue.

The bill would essentially cap translator station ownership at 20, and would give LPFM stations preferential status relative to translators that relay distant programming. It also bans the voluntary transfer of translator station construction permits. With respect to the translator invasion of 2003, pending construction permits would undergo extra scrutiny by the FCC for evidence of trafficking, and the full Commission would have to vote on issuing licenses to cover those that clear review (a formality normally conducted by staff in the Media Bureau).

So far the House bill has five cosponsors, all Democrats. Given previous strategic thinking, it's not an encouraging debut. This is not stopping the Prometheus Radio Project from thinking big, though: at the agency level they have proposed the FCC create another new class of radio station: the LCFM (Local Community FM). It's a clever way of chiseling more space on the dial for low-power stations without needing the permission of Congress.

9/26/05 - Microradio as Bridge to Recovery [link to this story]

Radio Free Waveland is microbroadcasting messages of hope. This clip (2:29, 1.2 MB) from a recent interview with a volunteer who served thousands of meals at the New Waveland Cafe demonstrates the station's function as a bridge between the patchwork of grassroots groups who showed up to serve the still-reconstituting community - they range from Seventh Day Adventists to organic farmers practicing anarchism.

"There's so much animosity along class/culture lines in this country, it's good to show up and be an example of how many untruths are told about people...that are, you know, not Christian, or just different, you know, the xenophobia that gets pushed. It's been challenged here," says Dave Sayotovich, "and the station has been a big part in that."

9/22/05 - Scene Reports: Mississippi, D.C., California [link to this story]

Mississippi: A crew from the Midwest has arrived in Waveland, Mississippi, where the eyewall of Hurricane Katrina made landfall. 30-foot storm surges left survivors literally naked - yet a tent city of sorts has blossomed among the destruction. "Radio Free Waveland" is now providing a 40-watt morale boost among those trying to make the most of a desperate situation (still no FEMA there).

District of Columbia: WSQT gave a fiery interview to the folks at Free Radio Santa Cruz this week. The station is currently off the air after donating its transmitter to Gulf Coast relief efforts and is also relocating following a visit from the FCC earlier this month. I'm a big fan of WSQT's intensity: it is a guerrilla war, and time and numbers work in our favor.

California: Stephen Dunifer and volunteers with Free Radio Berkeley are assembling a 75-watt transmitter to send to New Orleans. Also, there have been more reports about Berkeley Liberation Radio returning to the air on a regular basis, although details remain sketchy.

9/19/05 - KAMP: Over and Out [link to this story]

The emergency LPFM station set up in Houston to serve those displaced from New Orleans by Katrina ran for just five days. Due to the consolidation of the remaining evacuees into one of Reliant Park's smaller arenas, on-site media were asked to move to a different parking lot. Instead of deal with the hassle, KAMP volunteers decided to pack it in after power was cut to the station Saturday morning.

A KAMP spoke has nothing but high praise for the local authorities (a somewhat surprising turn of events), and wants to make sure they suffer no blame for the station's premature sign-off:

Not having live programmers also hindered fresh content because many people who run the programming do the help announcements, put it on automatic pilot with something long, and then go out and get interviews while the long piece is playing, Since we had doubts about our ability to staff it 24/7, because folks had already taken off work and had other obligations like school, etc. we decided it was best to pull the trailer.

Here's hoping some of the thousands of dollars raised for KAMP can be put to use on other microradio projects springing up within storm-damaged areas: two stations are now reportedly operational in the New Orleans metropolitan area and more gear is on the way. There's been an amazing amount of grassroots aid surging into the area, especially into the places the government and corporate interests continue to neglect.

9/16/05 - Scene Reports: Louisiana, Texas [link to this story]

Louisiana: The microradio station in Algiers is broadcasting community information, survivor stories, and any Katrina-related content it can find online on 94.5 FM. It's desperately in need of volunteers to collect and broadcast news, as part of a larger community media center that's opened up in the neighborhood.

The heart of the station is a 10-watt lunchbox transmitter donated by KRRR, an impromptu outlet that participated in an anti-Clear Channel protest last year in San Antonio, Texas. That is feeding a homemade dipole antenna held up by a mast fashioned with wood scavenged from damaged/destroyed buildings. The signal gets out pretty well, although with just 10 watts its primary coverage is neighborhood-level, not citywide by any stretch.

Microbroadcasters from around the country are donating equipment to the efforts: D.C.'s WSQT shipped gear to New Orleans. Another crew may be en route to establish communication with/for the Houma Nation, which has made a public appeal for aid.

Texas: KAMP 95.3 officially began broadcasts on Tuesday and will stay on the air 24/7 until Houston's Reliant Park complex is vacated. Its 6-watt signal can be heard for about a mile. Some $9,000 has been pledged to keep the station on the air.

Local officials in charge of the housing effort itself continue their obstinance: they will not let the displaced cross a parking lot to access the station directly. This reduces the station to collecting recordings of evacuee stories for later airplay. Some appeal to evacuees to stand on a curb on the other side of the parking lot and wave to the station if they have something to say; then a volunteer can go over and speak with them (to pass along their message, or whatever).

9/14/05 - Microradio Moves to New Orleans [link to this story]

The primary target is the Algiers neighborhood, on 94.5 FM. The transmitter was assembled in the hardcore lunchbox motif. More gear is moving south as we speak. These stations will supplement the autonomous community organizing that has maintained a semblance of order among those who stayed in place through the flood.

9/13/05 - LPFM For Houston Displaced On Air [link to this story]

KAMP 95.3 began test broadcasts late Monday and will officially go on the air today. It plans to be a place where the displaced can relate their experiences directly, as well as share information with each other. The FCC approved a minor amendment to special 90-day authorization which allows the station to broadcast from a trailer in the Houston Astrodome parking lot.

No reaction from the local authorities, apparently still too busy pissing on administrative trees to care. Hopefully they will see the utility of such a station in action. As they plan to try and disperse the displaced in the near future, though, it's unclear just what kind of run KAMP will have.

In related news, there may be an effort underway to utilize microradio as a way to reach out to those holding their ground in New Orleans during the draining and dry-out.

9/10/05 - FCC Enforcement: Initial Follow-Through Improves [link to this story]

The trend in Enforcement Bureau statistics over the last year suggests the agency is doing a better job of following up on pirate radio complaints, but still lacks the ability to actively shut stations down.

This year field agents have become much more consistent about following through with the first few steps of the enforcement protocol. Whereas it used to be months (if not years) between, say, a station visit and a warning letter (or two), field agents are pretty uniformly following up on initial visits with a warning letter within a month or two of first contact.

But that's where the tenacity seems to stop. By and large, the FCC's next step in most unlicensed broadcasting enforcement cases is to threaten a monetary forfeiture against a station operator. These come in the form of a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) - letters that pre-judge the addressee guilty of unlicensed broadcasting and demand they respond either with a $10,000 check or a good argument/excuse.

The FCC somewhat sporadically issues actual Forfeiture Notices as administrative law judgments. These, if the agency so chooses, can be taken to civil court for collection. (This is just one of the escalation options the Enforcement Bureau has at its disposal: it can always organize a station raid or ask a court for an injunction. However, because the forfeiture route is the least resource-intensive, it is the most popular option.)

Given that the initial visit and warning letter are but the first two steps in an enforcement protocol, the fact that the FCC is hopping to them quickly does not necessarily mean it will escalate cases with the same zeal. In practice, it can't. It hasn't the staff to process mass forfeitures, or to follow through on their collection.

Having field agents spend more time on the road and issuing flurries of letters is meant to intimidate. Intimidation has long been the FCC's primary weapon against microradio.

A lot of enforcement activity also means a lot of stations on the air. The new school seems to shun the 24/7 stance - they seem to be smaller, with fewer principals and limited schedules. This makes them much more likely to spawn. Even the occasional AM microbroadcaster gets snagged by the feds, which (to me) represents healthy proliferation beyond the FM dial.

Florida, of course, continues to play by its own rules. Federal and state agents are working together to make the occasional bust; the first two felony charges were filed just this year but they don't seem to be on the fast track.

9/9/05 - Astrodome Radio DOA? [link to this story]

Wired News has a story from someone on the ground in Houston who gives the impression that the emergency LPFM stations authorized for the Reliant Park complex have been "officially, finally denied" by local authorities.

Salient quotes:

1. Rita Obey, public information officer for Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES), who initially challenged the KAMP collective to come up with ten thousand radios: "I did not see the utility [of a radio station]." The Astrodome loudspeaker system and the occasional "newsletter" would suffice, she said. These don't address the right of the displaced to communicate, but Ms. Obey is obviously too busy tending her patch to think about things like that.

2. From one KAMP "volunteer who declined to be named": "Last week you could just go right inside (the Astrodome)....We should have just set up then and gotten permission later."

3. From Harbeer Sandhu, KAMP volunteer: "We got caught up with the power behind us. We lost sight of the power we had."

Amen to those last two. While it appears Houston officials seek to empty the mass shelters by the end of the month at the latest, there are some still committed to the radio route. A contingent from Free Radio Santa Cruz is en route to Houston to lend a helping hand.

In the interim, Pacifica outlet KPFT has devoted a chunk of its airtime to broadcasting information for the displaced.

9/8/05 - Local Officialdom Stymies Houston Emergency Stations [link to this story]

[Donate to the KAMP Radio Project via Prometheus]

The situation in the Houston Astrodome sounds more like a detention center than shelter. Perhaps that is why the emergency LPFM station authorized to broadcast from there (actually, there's three, covering most of the Reliant Park complex of which the Astrodome is a part) has been dismissed by local officials.

Organizers of "KAMP" 95.3 were first told they had to have 10,000 portable radios ready to distribute to the displaced before they could begin broadcasting. Not just any radio would do: they had to be of "walkman type," listenable with headphones. Within a day that goal had been met. Now, authorization for the station has been denied by an "Incident Commander" on the scene. The reason? Not enough electricity.

A 30-watt transmitter draws less than a third of the power of your average incandescent light bulb. That an Astrodome outlet could not supply the requisite juice is flat-out silly. Station organizers then offered to broadcast exclusively on battery power: denied again.

Just what is going on? One report from inside the dome suggests the fear of subversive programming may be an issue, although a wi-fi network is already operational. With FCC authorization in hand, FEMA et al. should just step out of the way. Is infiltration an option?

9/7/05 - Refugee Radio at the Astrodome [link to this story]

Houston Indymedia and the Prometheus Radio Project have secured emergency support from the FCC to set up a 30-watt LPFM station to serve those currently housed in the Houston Astrodome. Now they just need 10,000 portable radios for everyone to hear them.

Contact with any assistance (radios and batteries, especially): Tish Stringer or Hannah Sassaman. Or support Houston IMC and/or Prometheus directly.

Norton Scooter's already been there, collecting amazing stories as usual. From the New Orleans perspective: a man named Perry, who carried his wife on his back in neck-deep water, ruminates on the pointlessness of the almighty dollar. Two others express thanks and pledge to try and keep the place clean, as would one who is invited into another's home. From the Houston perspective: a high school student and her aunt volunteer at Reliant Center, just holding babies and changing their diapers, giving moms a much-needed rest.

Community wireless activists are also mobilizing to try and knit the displaced back together.

9/6/05 - 1069 FM Back On Air [link to this story]

Good news from San Diego: 1069 FM returned to the airwaves late last month with little fanfare, as confirmed by three sources in the area. It's not clear whether the station followed through with its pledge to quintuple its power. Also no word on whether the FCC has followed up on its first visits, one of which singled out someone for further enforcement escalation. Here's hoping the contingencies have been worked out.