News Archive: October 2002
10/28/02 - Microradio Notes [link to this story]
The FCC has fined a Naples, FL man $10,000 for running an unlicensed station out of a church. Radio Mision Posible got multiple visits and warning letters before getting a pending-fine notice and, ultimately, the forfeiture itself. The Enforcement Action Database has logged 28 actions to-date for the year, bringing the overall running score to 239.
We've also updated our Mosquito Fleet Operational Analysis with additional information emailed from fellow participants. It looks like a total of 11 frequencies were occupied during the event, one more than previously estimated. Some frequencies were shared by more than one station.
Hush sends news on Clay Freinwald, the zealous anti-pirate broadcast engineer employed at Entercom's Seattle cluster of stations. In the latest edition of "Clay's Corner," his column in the monthly newsletter of the local SBE chapter, Freinwald mentions that he caught some of the Mosquito Fleet activity:
Note to Clay: the FCC did absolutely nothing, as that was the smart way to react when swarmed upon. It's also too bad you missed most of the action, as you apparently only listened to a matter of minutes on a single day. You should've heard the stuff said about your mom....
10/27/02 - Multiple Skirmishes @ the FCC [link to this story]
Lots of activism in the form of paper-filing is taking place right now at the Federal Communications Commission.
A broad coalition of consumer rights, labor, and media democracy groups - representing both people working within and outside the media industry - have filed a petition to extend the FCC's public comment deadline on its proposal to radically overhaul media ownership rules. The current comment deadline is December 2 - the FCC only planned to give the public a 90-day window in which to comment on this massive proposal - the coalition wants the comment period extended until April.
This same coalition is assembling a study group to review and rebut the FCC's slew of "evidence" supporting further media consolidation.
As part of the research being done specifically on radio ownership, some interesting data is coming to light about the consolidation of FM stations among religious networks, especially concerning their use of low-power translator licenses. Since most of it has yet to be published I don't want to spoil the surprise, but the numbers are pretty stark. One preview factoid: the largest of the bunch in this god squad, Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls, holds more than 600 licenses for FM translator stations.
Attempts are also being made to resist the forced adoption of the in-band on-channel (IBOC) digital radio standard: A motion has been filed demanding that the FCC reopen its rulemaking on IBOC. The petition is being sponsored by 34 individuals and organizations and includes licensed amateur radio operators, small-market AM station owners, LPFM licensees, and former microbroadcasters, among many others.
Many in the group filed previous petitions with the FCC during the IBOC confirmation process requesting clarifications to the agency's research before moving forward on the plan. The FCC ignored most of these, and the petitioners claim its adoption of IBOC before addressing their challenges resulted in a violation of their due process. Actually, the petition makes more than a dozen specific claims as to how the FCC broke or bent rules to ram through the IBOC standard.
"We acknowledge the FCC's announcement of a future rulemaking," the petitioners write. "However, this Motion for Rehearing appears to be our final non-judicial opportunity to challenge the selection of IBOC itself." Whether this actually leads to a court challenge to the FCC's digital radio decision depends on whether the group can secure legal assistance and funding.
10/24/02 - Press Freedom in the United States: "We're Number 17!" [link to this story]
Reporters Without Borders, an organization chartered with upholding Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the freedom to communicate), has published its first-ever Worldwide Press Freedom Index, ranking the degree to which free media and speech rights exist in 139 countries.
The United States, home of the First Amendment and all that jazz, ranks #17 on the list - two spots below Costa Rica but three above Ecuador.
The Index was compiled after conducting a 50-question survey on an undetermined number of journalists, academics and legal folk about the range of restrictions placed on media around the world.
Reporters Without Borders says the U.S. ranks 17th "mainly because of the number of journalists arrested or imprisoned there. Arrests are often because they refuse to reveal their sources in court. Also, since the 11 September attacks, several journalists have been arrested for crossing security lines at some official buildings."
Among America's immediate neighbors, Canada ranks #5 on the list while Mexico comes in at #75. The United Kingdom shares the status of being the 21st most media-friendly country with Benin and Uruguay.
10/19/02 - Behind the Numbers @ the FCC Enforcement Bureau [link to this story]
At its October 10 meeting, the Commission's decision to approve a standard for digital radio drew the headlines. But there were three items on the meeting's agenda, one of which was the Enforcement Bureau's release of its yearly Progress Report.
We've condensed the microradio-related enforcement news from the presentation and assembled a special report on what was revealed. My favorite highlight involves the Bureau's number-fudging on enforcement actions finally catching up with it: the report claims fewer "pirate radio" enforcement actions than previous agency statements suggest. The discrepancy is not gigantic, but large enough to be noteworthy.
On the digital radio front, the FCC's actual Report and Order containing all the technical details of the IBOC standard has been published. It's interesting that the technical specifications co-released with the R&O come straight from iBiquity itself, emblazoned with the company's bright red and gray logo (go to fcc.gov, scroll down the front page to the "10/11/02" entry and download the Acrobat files to see for yourself).
On a site-related note, the Latest Schnazz is now being regularly resuscitated, averaging around 20 new links per week. Don't know how long we can keep that pace up, but there's still quite a backlog of links from our transition process.
10/15/02 - Mediageek Busts AP Nut [link to this story]
Paul Riismandel flails the Associated Press for manufacturing news about the state of the radio industry instead of devoting the time and energy to actually write about the real problems at hand.
It would be easy to claim that there's some nefarious doings afoot to squelch criticism of the corporate media from other corporate media outlets, but this really is a case of a low-IQ reporter stringing together recent related events to construct a theme around which to write a story. Missing the real story completely, however, definitely consigns whoever wrote this turd to the short bus.
10/10/02 - FCC Admits Ignorance on Digital Radio, Adopts Standard Anyway [link to this story]
It took only 14 minutes today for the Federal Communications Commission to dramatically decide the future of radio broadcasting.
The FCC adopted a Report and Order authorizing the rollout of digital radio. The vote allows radio stations to immediately install In-Band On-Channel (IBOC)-based transmission equipment and, upon notifying the FCC, begin broadcasting using the new transmission standard.
Stations will initially run a hybrid analog/digital signal, so as to not make everybody's analog receivers immediately obsolete. At some undetermined time in the future the FCC will require radio broadcasting to go completely digital - the hope is when that time comes the public will have forked out the hundreds of dollars each for the new "HD Radios" they'll need.
While this R&O gives the green light for the rollout of digital radio, it doesn't actually define IBOC's operational standards. Those will be worked out "in the field" over the course of the next several months, if by which point problems are discovered with the technology there will be no way to put the genie back into the bottle. I suspect the Commission rushed through this authorization so that manufacturers could get new digital radios out into the stores in time for the holiday shopping season. What good would those be without digital signals on the air?
The vote was 4-0 in favor of adopting the unproven IBOC standard (the fifth seat on the Commission remains vacant). The Commissioners seemed completely unconcerned about the documented evidence illustrating potentially disastrous interference problems with IBOC technology. But the whopper came from the mouth of Michael Copps, who admitted with incredible candor he had no idea what the hell he was unleashing:
Everybody involved pretty much admitted from the outset that the digital radio initiative is all about giving the broadcast industry more avenues to make money rather than actually improving radio from the perspective of the listener. Watching the meeting via streaming video felt rather like watching a puppet show.
To jump-start the analog-to-digital conversion, iBiquity (the sole manufacturer of IBOC transmitters) is waiving its IBOC "technology license fee" for any station that buys a digital transmitter before the end of the year. Such a move could save stations thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on the purchase. But since it seems nobody's quite sure just how IBOC digital radio actually works yet, chances are many will wait to make the switch for as long as they can - much like television stations have dragged their heels on the migration to DTV.
Of course, if the hype over going digital is hiding an ulterior motive, like a grab to grant radio stations twice as much bandwidth on the dial, more interference may be a good thing. With today's ruling, the potential uses for the broadcast spectrum have expanded way beyond providing an audio service. Shit, making radio sound worse could actually help prime the public for changing the nature of the medium itself.
In Europe, the launch of digital radio began years ago, and it failed dismally. As a result, media companies are now openly planning to plunder the broadcast airwaves for wireless computer networking and mobile phone service bandwidth.
Sound familiar, Cincinnati? As DigitalDisaster.org's Chris Maxwell wrote this afternoon, "Hmmmm. I believe if I look up the definition of fascism, one of the defining elements is a near indistinquishability between the Government elite and the Corporate elite." He recommends people monitor IBOC digital signals as they multiply and document any interference they hear.
Unfortunately, the countdown is now underway on radio's metamorphosis from a unique outlet for mass communication to a pipe for ones and zeroes. Will it still retain its soul?
You can watch and listen to the deed being done at our special report on the IBOC vote.
10/9/02 - Supreme Court Declines Grid Radio's Appeal [link to this story]
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of Jerry Szoka and GRID Radio, an unlicensed microradio station in Cleveland, Ohio who's been sparring with the FCC since 1998 and went off the air after receiving a federal court injunction in 2000.
This is the second microradio case to be declined recently by the Supremes; the first was Minneapolis' Beat Radio, whose petition for certiorari was turned away last year.
Szoka's case had lots of momentum in Cleveland but not much in the courts - this setback is just the last in a long string. Fortunately, there are several other microradio cases working their way through the judicial system, and like most efforts at reforming the law through the courts, it takes multiple attempts before getting a ruling that sticks.
In other enforcement news, the FCC has been busy (again) in Florida, apparently conducting at least one station visit and issuing at least one Notice of Apparent Liability within the last month or so. The Enforcement Action Database should reflect the updated info later this week.
10/8/02 - Bring the Noise [link to this story]
The implementation of digital radio is on the agenda for the FCC's meeting this Thursday (Oct. 10). According to the summary, "The Commission will consider a First Report and Order concerning digital operation by terrestrial radio broadcasters."
What this means is that the FCC will lay out the ground rules for the rollout of in-band on-channel (IBOC) digital audio broadcasting. It has been noted by multiple sources (both from within the radio industry and without) that IBOC is a technological nightmare with the potential to cause massive interference between stations on both the FM and AM dials. Its sound quality may also be worse than conventional analog signals.
When radio goes completely digital (which is projected to happen before the end of the decade) you'll have to buy new receivers to listen to it because IBOC is incompatible with current receiver technology. Stations will have to fork out lots of money, too, for new broadcast equipment and royalty fees to use the new standard.
Maybe that's why the rest of the world (with the exception of the U.S. and Japan) rejected IBOC. But its development has been jointly funded by media powerhouses like ABC/Disney, Clear Channel, Viacom, Lucent, and others - and dammit, they must get a return on their investment, regardless of the expense to the public interest, right?
In a related twist, Motorola is rolling out new receiver technology that can improve the reception and sound quality of existing radio signals, hoping to take advantage over the slowness to go digital. While I'm loath to take sides in corporate competitions, it seems more prudent to improve on existing analog radio technology than reinvent the wheel as a pretext to grabbing more spectrum real estate.
Regardless of these concerns, look for the rollout of digital radio to begin early next year. We'll have a full report on the FCC's action after this week's meeting.
10/4/02 - FCC Begins Manufacturing Consent for Ownership Rule Changes [link to this story]
There has been a lot of news since the last update; the Schnazz will get you up to speed on post-NAB conference coverage and the FCC's latest moves to let the media industry get even more incestuous with itself. The Mosquito Fleet feature has also been properly fleshed out.
Lucky for us, the FCC now has a special section on its website devoted to the media ownership rule review now underway. There's a lot of info there, but one area to examine further is a slew of "studies" the agency commissioned to examine the current media landscape. The studies look at everything from viewpoint diversity between media formats, to advertising rates, to radio formats, and loads more.
It should come as no surprise that the studies are heavily skewed toward economic analyses of the state of the media, with a few token perspectives thrown in from journalistic, cultural, and sociological perspectives. So much for the objective assessment of reality.
The sheer volume of the data - released all at once - almost seems designed to overwhelm critics of the proposal to relax ownership rules, putting them on the defensive to eat up time until the public comment window runs out early next year. It's also reminiscent of the tactic used by the NAB in the LPFM rulemaking: winning the battle for policymakers' minds by churning out the most documentation, regardless of its accuracy.
In this case, it's the FCC itself trying to pre-convince us that further media consolidation is good. How bass-ackwards and inherently dangerous.
On the microradio front: Monk from Boulder Free Radio recently did an hour-long interview with Dade City Micro Radio about his involvement with the microradio movement. He relates some interesting tales about encounters with the FCC. It's well worth a listen.
One of the extras I picked up in Seattle was a copy of a CD compilation archiving the broadcast of Y2WTKO, the microradio station that broadcast during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. It's an amazing disc showing real courage under fire.
LPFM applicants who are in competition with another group for a license need to check out the new LPFM-MAX online tool from the whiz-kids at REC Networks. It's a great place to combine applicant information and design solutions for time-sharing or other resolutions to speed up the licensing process. If you can help the FCC's licensing process along, they'd probably actually be grateful for it, and you'll get on the air faster than if you just wait for action.