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News Archive: October 2004

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10/28/04 - Freak Radio Returns; Translations Top 300 [link to this story]

Less than a month off the air. Not bad after getting cleaned out in a show of force by the FCC.

Technically, Free Radio Santa Cruz is still just webcasting. It seems that an unaffiliated group called SCRAM (Santa Cruz Radio Access Movement) is relaying the stream, tech specs unknown, but good news nonetheless.

And just in time for Tuesday the little collection of collage busts 300. It's definitely into the gigabyte(s) now; a rough estimate, perhaps a half-day's worth of material if consumed in toto (not recommended).

10/26/04 - Microradio Documentary Near Completion [link to this story]

Looks like 2004 will be a fruitful year, if you're a fan of the micro-niche that is documentaries about microradio. I've heard from the producers of the tentatively-titled "Pirate Radio USA," a feature-length doc made by microbroadcasters about the movement. No release date yet, just that something's almost done.

There's also new developments in Colorado: "Denver Free Radio" spent a grand total of five hours on the air before its latest airchain host got a visit from the FCC. "A white Chevy Tahoe," with New Mexico plates, "with hidden antennas built into the roof" containing a squad of three rolled up. Denied an inspection, they phoned the property three times before tacking a note to the door. Mouse's move...

10/25/04 - Making Waves Review Online [link to this story]

It's four pages of glowing text action seeded with something like 10 clips from the film. Its producer, Michael Lahey, is generous like that: he's even opened up some crash space for the Mediageek and I on our visit to Minneapolis this weekend for the RAD conference. Seriously, though, it's the best documentary yet on the subject and it's good to see it'll be screened at the conference. If you're into microradio you get a good full hour of quality storytelling from Tucson that'll make you (somewhat) proud. Contact Michael directly if you'd like a DVD.

10/22/04 - Translator Networks Mobilize Listeners [link to this story]

While rooting around in the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System today to examine recent submissions to a proceeding in the agency's Localism Task Force effort, I made a typo. Instead of searching for filings under the FCC docket number 04-433 (the magic number to file/find comments filed on broadcast localism), I mistyped and got the results for FCC# 04-223, which deals with a pending change to the FCC's regulation of junk faxes.

Many listeners to the Educational Media Foundation's two christian music radio networks, K-LOVE and AIR1, are butterfingers like me. In 04-223 there are ~30 new filings from this week alone. They're all from K-LOVE/AIR-1 listeners moved to support the networks - networks who are apparently afraid of an expansion of true local LPFM and can't get enough of translators.

They're all only a paragraph or two and full of interesting talking points:

"I'm currently a big fan of the K-LOVE radio station..."
"KLove is encouraging and you feel at peace listening to it. We need KLove. Every city needs KLove."
"The LPFM "Localism" campaign has the potential to disrupt or replace K-LOVE's signal in my area...This would eliminate a wholesome program that is beneficial to all ages of people and would be a devastating blow to the community."
"Air1 provides a great alternative and is in the best interest of the community and our future."
"The powerfully positive influence K-LOVE has had on so many ex-addicts, former prostitutes, gang members, & former inmates is astonishing. K-Love brings hope to those who it so desperately need it...It is highly in the public interest to continue having FM translators for K-Love."
"Not having K-LOVE in Cincinnati would result in less encouragement for believers in Christ."
"K-Love is also an integral part in supporting our troops and giving them hope and encouragement when times right now are uncertain and crazy."

Lo and behold, there's a new section to AIR1's web site, advertised from the front page: "Send a comment to the FCC and save your local AIR1 station!" It takes concerned listeners to a page that paints LPFM as a threat and urges them to file comments in the current broadcast localism inquiry. However, it is not a fully automated submission process - just a link to the ECFS comment filing start page. Digits can get mixed up between clicks.

Checking the correct proceeding (docket 04-233) finds several dozen more (of more than 70,000 total filed so far). The technical term, I believe, is "mobilizing constituencies," and it's surprising it took them this long to find the party.

10/18/04 - FCC Approves BPL Deployment [link to this story]

It sounds like a great idea in theory: turn the electrical grid into a network for broadband data delivery. No new wires to run or jacks to install; the power plug becomes your express-ramp to the InfoMation SupaHiway.

There's just one problem: because most of the power grid doesn't use insulated wires, the data sent through Broadband over Power Line (BPL) systems (as an RF signal that rides the wire) radiates into the surroundings - to the detriment of any user of HF radio frequencies within a half-mile to a mile of the power line cum data pipe.

The interference from BPL systems has been well-documented, both by amateur radio enthusiasts and other concerned spectrum users. During trial runs of limited BPL service in communities across the country, it hashed shortwave radio signals, aviation frequencies, public safety channels, a military frequency or two, and even demonstrated the potential to interfere with analog TV channels two through six.

Nevertheless, the FCC last Thursday voted to modify RF interference protection standards to allow the national rollout of BPL service. In a manner similar to the FCC's endorsement of In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) digital audio broadcasting (where it was unclear how the system would perform "in the real world" yet was still given the go-ahead), the Commissioners were fully cognizant of the interference problems but felt the technology was just too cool to leave to languish.

Oh, they did modify the initial BPL deployment plan to forbid the use of technology which can harm government, military, public safety, and aviation channels - but hams, shortwave broadcasters, and TV stations broadcasting on channels two through six are on their own. Supposedly there is an "administrative process" ready to go to address interference complaints, but wouldn't it have made more sense to design the interference problems out of the technology before deploying it? The FCC supposedly did a technical study of BPL and interference, but for some reason it never released the results.

Not to mention that DSL and cable modems work just fine, thanks, and other broadband data delivery technologies that cause no interference (like wi-fi and fiber optics) are also being deployed. No, the utilities need a new revenue stream, so let's let them turn their patchwork infrastructure (which has a hard enough time carrying current) into one giant radiating antenna. Listen for the hash in your neighborhood soon.

10/17/04 - Free Radio Berkeley Unveils Micro-TV Kits [link to this story]

Stephen Dunifer recently sent out an e-mail titled "The Revolution Will Be Televised," which said, in part:

Free Radio Berkeley’s engineering staff has managed to design and develop low power VHF and UHF transmitters by the creative use of off-the-shelf technology. So far, design engineering efforts have yielded TV transmitters capable of reaching a distance of 4-5 miles. Estimated cost for a VHF transmitter and antenna system with an effective radiated power of 75 watts is about $500, $700 to $800 for a system with an effective radiated power of 400 watts. For a UHF system, add about $300 to the above amounts. Coverage pattern is 220 degrees, not fully omni-directional.  Further work is continuing on the development of antenna systems....

No doubt, the FCC, the National Association of Broadcasters and other entrenched interests will most strenuously object to Micropower or Free TV Broadcasting.  What better way to respond to the latest media debacle involving Sinclair Broadcasting and the total propaganda environment that has been created with television media.

It'll be interesting to see how this venture flies, since over-the-air television is not as ubiquitous as radio. It's also a lot more work to produce live television than it is to produce live radio. Still you gotta dig the concept.

10/14/04 - FCC vs. Freak Radio: The Government's Evidence [link to this story]

Here is the civil forfeiture complaint filed to seize Free Radio Santa Cruz's gear on September 29. It makes for interesting reading. Some points of note:

The FCC unmasked one of Freak Radio's volunteers (Vinny Lombardo, aka "V-Man") in 2000 with the help of a helpful Santa Cruz Police officer (Detective Sepulveda), who sent the FCC a 1996 news article containing Vinny's picture. FCC field agent William Zears then looked at voter registration records to tie the V-Man to the station. Robert Duran (aka "Skidmark Bob") was unmasked in a later article; both identities were further cross-checked using California DMV records.

However, the affidavit ties Vinny and Robert to the station during its early years (1995) - before the two had even met, and the document itself only covers the FCC's investigation over the last four years.

Visits to Free Radio Santa Cruz were made by field agents on the day after the FCC authorized the LPFM service (January 21, 2000) and on the day of the FCC's localism hearing in Monterey, CA (July 21, 2004).

In 2002 a neighbor complained about "interference to FM broadcast reception" in the neighborhood. This sounds worse than it is: the neighbor, being next door (or across the street), found him/herself plagued by "blanketing interference," which is common to any working transmitter. He/she could have solved the issue by contacting the station collective and working out the problem with them (even moving their radio to another location in their house would have sufficed), but instead he/she tattled to the FCC.

Assistant U.S. District Attorney Jocelyn Burton began building the civil case against the station in August of 2003. During field measurements made by FCC field agent David Hartshorn that month, the station was both splattering onto adjacent channels and emitting a spur on 192.6 MHz (in the television band). The spur, however, was extremely weak. Yet, when the FCC visited the station in May of 2004, agent David Hartshorn "stated that he was not aware of any [interference] complaints" when directly asked by Skidmark Bob.

Pamera Hairston, of the FCC's Office of General Counsel, inquired into the status of the station this past May, suggesting there was direction on the case from D.C.

San Francisco FCC District Office director Thomas Van Stavern is a fan of the Santa Cruz IMC: once he figured out it existed he surfed it regularly to collect "evidence" on Freak Radio's operational status.

10/13/04 - FCC v. Denver Free Radio: Round 2 [link to this story]

Hide-and-seek has its moments:

KCTS (Cactus Radio) in Denver made it through the weekend at least. Went up Thursday night and broadcast through [Tuesday evening].
Jon Sprague, our local FCC enforcement agent, again visited the newly installed STL site...delivered the usual speech and warning letter. The STL host told him that he thought it was ham radio rebroadcaster unit [a] friend of a friend asked him to let them set up at his house due to his location. Sprague asked to inspect the equipment, the host told him only with a warrant and the portly agent of the shadowy FCC enforcement branch wrote out the warning and left in a huff.

It's a better run from last time, lasting a couple of extra days. With the Denver office supposedly running low on travel funds one wonders if Mr. Sprague will supplement his exercise with more trips around town...

10/12/04 - FCC Developments on Multiple Fronts [link to this story]

First the enforcement tidbits. Global Radio, the company which operated several unlicensed FM transmitters at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium during the 2003 Super Bowl, has had its $12,000 fine reduced to $10,800. Global was caught broadcasting on six frequencies during the game when it only had authorization to use two (although the FCC initially prosecuted it for running three of the four pirate stations).

The company angled for a cancellation of its fine based on a couple of interesting arguments. The first was that Global went pirate on extra channels "to experiment with the boundaries of Part 15" broadcasting. This makes little sense as FCC staff on hand for the game collected ample evidence that the unlicensed transmitters were indeed way over Part 15 power levels (which couldn't have covered the entire stadium). The second argument was more traditional: a $12,000 fine would put the company in serious financial straits. Unfortunately, Global neglected to provide the requisite three years of tax returns to back up a claim of inability to pay the penalty.

Even so, since this was Global Radio's first run-in with the FCC, the agency knocked 10% off the fine in what seems to be a gesture of good faith; a discount the FCC would never offer to an individual pirate.

Tidbit two: just last month FCC Enforcement Bureau chief David Solomon told a broadcast industry trade publication that efforts to silence pirate stations were a high priority and additional resources were being committed to policing the airwaves. Yet the Denver FCC office now claims that it's exhausted its travel funds for the year and can no longer conduct any field activities unless there's a life-threatening situation involved.

That should be good news for unlicensed broadcasters in the Rocky Mountain region, as the Denver FCC office is a District outpost - the second-largest of three tiers of agency field presence. However, it might be bad news for microbroadcasters in Denver: after a hairy run-in last month the folks behind Denver Free Radio successfully avoided an FCC stakeout and have reestablished broadcasts which reportedly cover a large part (if not all) of the metro area. Since Agent Jon Sprague and crew are now confined to quarters, as it were, perhaps they'll pursue local cases with more vigor. Stay vigilant....

Finally: even though efforts to expand LPFM via legislation appear to be stymied for the year, broadcasters in New Jersey are trying another tactic to head off any new stations in their state regardless of what happens in Congress.

You may remember that members of New Jersey's congressional delegation successfully got an amendment attached to S. 2505 that would exempt the state from any expansion of the LPFM service. Since the bill's going nowhere, the New Jersey Broadcaster's Association has filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC asking it to ban new LPFMs in their state outright. Comments on RM-11099 are due by November 8, with reply comments due a month later (I can't provide a direct link to the rulemaking itself as the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System is barfing up server errors to my queries).

10/11/04 - IMC Raid Update [link to this story]

New info available: the request to seize the server running 20+ Independent Media Centers originated with agencies in Italy and Switzerland (see the comments attached to the story for more good info); the FBI and UK authorities were only complying out of respect for a multi-lateral law enforcement assistance treaty. Still, the treaty in question was written to cover some specific crimes, like "international terrorism, kidnapping, and money laundering" - none of which the targeted IMC was involved in.

The application of law for the sake of convenience strikes again....

10/7/04 - Indymedia Under Attack (Again) [link to this story]

Today FBI agents seized a server that hosted several Independent Media Center sites. None of the story makes any sense: the actual confiscation took place in London - reportedly as a matter of "professional courtesy" that originated with a request from Swiss law enforcement officials. That request has something to do with pictures posted to an IMC of undercover Swiss police working a protest in France.

In a single strike several IMCs in Europe and South America, as well as IMC-Radio, were wiped out (although some have since been restored thanks to quickly-rigged backups). It was a nicely-timed raid, too, as the European Social Forum takes place next week.

Reports that this has something to do with the list (later updated) of Republican National Convention delegates posted to New York Indymedia are false (the investigation into that is "ongoing," even though the information was in the public domain before it was compiled and posted to the NYC-IMC).

Rackspace, the company that had hosted the server, has been ordered not to talk about the seizure. For what it's worth, one has to wonder...

10/5/04 - LPFM: The Mess in Madison; Further Footnotes to FRSC Raid [link to this story]

When Congress initially eviscerated the FCC's LPFM service four years ago, I was living in Madison, Wisconsin. There, with the stroke of President Clinton's pen, the number of open frequencies available for new LPFM stations went from something like 16 to three.

Of the applicants to tender requests for an LPFM license in Madison: one individual applied for one open frequency; a church applied for another; and seven groups applied for the third channel.

The FCC has finally granted construction permits to those entities eligible to go on the air. However, as the seven groups essentially came to a draw in the FCC's "points system" for determining the winner in competitive situations like theirs, the license will be divided up between each group.

Health Writers, Inc., the Center for Prevention and Intervention, Common Ground Church, Cornerstone Church, St. Matthews Evangelical Lutheran Church, Sun Prairie Community Church, and Youth With A Mission, Inc. have all been granted construction permits to build an LPFM station on 99.1 MHz. Each group may broadcast for a single year before having to cede the airwaves to another group (normally LPFM licenses run for eight years).

Meanwhile, Lake City Church is sitting pretty, having filed for 97.1 by itself. This is, I believe, the first time such a messy competing-applicant situation has actually led to a license being divvied up into such short increments.

Some followups to last week's Freak Radio raid: rumor has it that not only did the Santa Cruz Police Department not participate in the bust, but they actually issued parking tickets to FCC/Federal Marshals vehicles - for being parked too long on the street outside the bust location. Reaction to the raid continues to trickle in, including a resolution of support from the Pacifica radio network (in tribute to both Freak Radio and KFAR).

And one final factual correction: FRSC is not the nation's longest-running microradio station. That distinction falls to Mbanna Kantako and Human Rights Radio in Springfield, Illinois, which went on the air in 1987 and still broadcasts today. He has suffered two raids during this time - the first one in 2000, after 13 years on the air - and bounced back from both.

10/2/04 - Freak Radio Update: Mobilization for Microradio? [link to this story]

This excerpt from FRSC's "response to our supporters":

The outpouring of support, donations, equipment and kind words has been overwhelming, but each e-mail, each letter, and each phone message from you, our listeners, is what keeps us going through these dark times. Please, keep it up!....

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is spread the word about this repression of dissent, and loss of free speech. Tell everyone you know; family, friends, lovers, teachers, doctors, politicians, etc... Write letters to the editor of your daily or weekly paper, call radio and cable access talk shows, spread the news on internet chat rooms, and listserves.

If you are a radio, tv, or print reporter, interview someone from FRSC to talk about the importance of microradio.

Many of you have offered to donate equipment, or technical skills. We will review these offers and someone will be in touch soon with a more detailed response.

If you know of, or can recommend a good communications lawyer, please contact one of us directly.

On Thursday, October 7, MediaemergenC attendees will march on the NAB. That same day KFAR holds another public protest in response to its recent bust. Sounds like a great day to launch a solidarity action in your community: if you are so inclined, e-mail Freak Radio with the details so they can add the action to their list.

10/1/04 - Preemptive Collage: First Debate [link to this story]

John Kerry is deleted from the picture and replaced by Wordsworth, speaking for the hip hop generation. Produced and online nearly two months before the debate actually took place:

Slam Bush (1:51, Quicktime required)

By the time the weekend is through Truthful Translations will crest the 200 GWB collage mark. Part of me hopes it helps oust this f*cker; another part says "four more years" just so the creativity keeps flowing.