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News Archive: October 2005

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10/27/05 - Hams Across America [link to this story] national mapSomehow, somewhere I stumbled across the image at right which, if you click it, takes you to more detailed version. If that one's not big enough, try this one.

The map is the stellar work of, which boasts the largest and best-kept database of amateur radio operators by callsign available online (and would never condone unlicensed operation, of course).

The next step of coolness would be animating this map over time. I wonder if they have similar maps of previous years.

10/25/05 - Guerrilla Radio, Deep and Wide [link to this story]

Pirate radio embraces the guerrilla motif: attack, disappear, reform, repeat. Several years ago it flared, made headlines, and a bit of history, but then subsided. Now things are at a healthy simmer again, and this time on more than one dial.

On the enforcement front, although the FCC still cares about pirates, activity on all three major bands (AM, FM, and shortwave) is evident. A recent story in the Boston Globe profiled several AM pirates operating there. The FCC took up the issue of LPFM in part because of pressure from committed microbroadcasters; could there be similar motivations at play in its new LPAM rulemaking? Shortwave pirates, who haven't seen enforcement action in six years, are downright cocky.

Then there is FM, where the bulk of the action still happens. New stations are born every month and new tactics are being developed to minimize the risks involved. More importantly, there's evidence of new operations rising from the ashes of old: a sure sign that roots are down.

Kevin Martin has been reshuffling staff at the FCC since he assumed the Chairman's office in March. Times like these sometimes provoke a change in stance against electronic civil disobedience. However, this particular iteration of government can't crack the guerrilla problem in other contexts, so I doubt it'll find much luck here.

10/23/05 - Low Power AM Petition for Rulemaking Accepted at FCC [link to this story]

RM-11287 is a multi-party petition that calls for the opening of the AM band to small broadcasters. Two of the five parties involved also filed the original petition for rulemaking that led to LPFM's conception.

This has been a long time coming: citizen interest in LPAM has percolated since the 1990s, and there's been open discussion of the idea since at least 2002. In 2003 a respected broadcast engineer submitted a proposal to the FCC which called for the creation of 30 and 100-watt "neighborhood radio" AM stations with 1-5 mile broadcast ranges. The FCC never formally acknowledged receipt of this document. In 2004 efforts were made to revive the proposal, to no avail. Building on these previous efforts with copious field experimentation led to the petition the FCC finally accepted.

RM-11287 attempts to differentiate LPAM from LPFM in several respects. The most significant is its commercial nature: LPAM seeks to "fill the current gap between small stations and megacorporations...where mid-sized businesses used to be" in the broadcast industry. Petitioners contend that while LPFM addresses a "community coverage gap" opened by the consolidation of radio since 1996, "[t]here remains, in radio and in other mass media industries, a separate, but similarly dangerous, 'small business gap'" which "harms the nation by hindering economic growth and also by limiting the free flow of information and ideas." It is proposed that one entity may own up to 12 LPAM stations nationally, although no more than one in any given market.

Multiple options are presented for the technical requirements of an LPAM service, with power levels ranging from 1 to 250 watts. All are geared toward keeping administration of the service simple. It is believed that under such conditions LPAM stations may provide opportunities for access to the airwaves that LPFM simply cannot: for example, according to cited analysis from REC Networks, metropolitan Detroit is currently off-limits to LPFM, but as many as four possible LPAM frequencies exist in the city.

Some components of the petition, like asking the FCC to make licensing decisions between competing applicants based on their proposed broadcast content, will simply not fly. And given that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the FCC to auction off all commercial broadcast licenses, implementation of the proposal as written would require the blessing of Congress. But the fact that the FCC is at least open to a rudimentary level of discussion about LPAM is encouraging. Comments on RM-11287 are due in mid-November (on or around November 20).

10/21/05 - Salem's Open-Source Broadcast Software [link to this story]

While updating the Schnazz last I stumbled across an interesting arm of Salem Communications Corporation, America's largest religious broadcast conglomerate (humble, tolerant, and generous). Salem Radio Labs, the company's in-house radio software development arm, walks the talk. It's built solutions for automation, live-assist, audio archiving and call screening from scratch, all under the open-source GNU General Public License.

Says the Labs FAQ, "we're broadcasters, not a software company, and we believe that the fastest, most efficient way to produce quality software tools for broadcasting is by means of the Open Source development model." The programs are optimized for the SuSE Linux distribution but other flavors are available.

10/17/05 - Former Pirates Represent via Satellite, Streaming [link to this story]

With risk comes reward? According to the Radio and Internet Newsletter, a former Twin Cities pirate takes the top spot ratings-wise for stations on the Shoutcast network. The two streams of Jeff Bachmeier's "Club977," whose name is an homage to the frequency he used to occupy, attract an online audience comparable in size to what the market-leading radio station in Madison, WI might draw.

He's not the first to cross over: Alan Freed, formerly of Beat Radio fame, now programs three XM satellite radio dance channels and shows no signs of slowing down.

More generally, both follow somewhat in the footsteps of Allan Weiner, now laying it down full-time on shortwave. The British government once milked its pirate scene to launch its national pop radio network. They're all signs of the phenomenon's maturity.

10/16/05 - Radio Algiers Update [link to this story]

The station's now regularly broadcasting from Common Ground on 88.7 FM. It has one main (75-watt) and one backup (40-watt) transmitter and is also reliably streaming online (direct links: mp3 / m3u). I had best luck listening by copying and pasting the stream links directly into player software.

The city's power grid still has its flaky moments but otherwise it seems things are relatively stable now. I've heard interviews with people arrested in crazy-cop curfew sweeps, Slave Revolt Radio, and some excellent music. A recently-installed phone line will go a long way toward opening up the information flow.

Efforts are already underway to expand the microradio presence in the area. This may include seeking extraordinary permission to start a licensed LPFM station (current FCC rules don't allow it in the city proper). There appears to be lots of interest in radio among the various forces massing to take their neighborhoods back before opportunistic gentrifiers get too far along.

10/15/05 - Truthful Translations: 400 and Counting [link to this story]

There's more in the hopper, too. The collection's closing in on a gigabyte and a half; I haven't bothered recently to add up the cumulative listening/viewing time. Many thanks to all the artists who help make sense of political speech and are willing to share the sanity.

Culture jamming in the brave new world is alive and well, thanks for asking. So as long as sentiments like those expressed recently by Milton Rand Kalman of the Billboard Liberation Front continue to exist there should be little worry.

"It's really fun to be like a paramilitary art squad," he said. "Have you ever broken the law? I mean, not just like jaywalking...really broken the law, like, stepped way over? It's awesome." Amen.

10/13/05 - Barnraising in My Backyard [link to this story]

Just in case posts are light for the next month or so, you have been duly warned.

No longer content to engage & enthrall scores of volunteers with a plain old radio barnraising, Prometheus and the UC IMC take the mammoth task of building a radio station over the course of a singe weekend in stride. We're not stopping at the FM AIRWAVES; we're setting our sights on freeing the whole SPECTRUM for use by democratic communications as we look to the future of radio! ... While some of us construct the studio & raise the antenna to get WRFU on the air, others will set up access points to expand and protect [an] open source community wireless network!

Registration for all of this fun closes on November 6. We can use all the help we can get.

10/6/05 - Rayon Payne Free, On Hunt for Open Mic [link to this story]

I recently got an e-mail from Rayon Payne (aka NSX), who made U.S. pirate radio history in 2003 by becoming the first person to serve time behind bars on a federal criminal conviction for unlicensed broadcasting. He just got out of jail in July. We ended up talking for nearly two hours:

Hi-bitrate version (64kbps MP3, 51.2 MB)

Low-bitrate version (16kbps MP3, 12.8 MB)

Some salient bits:

Payne started 95 Live out of frustration with the inability to get his music on the airwaves of Orlando, Florida. That frustration ultimately led him to throw up a 10,000-watt middle finger to corporate radio. Payne knew the massive amount of power he was running caused interference problems, but he says he was learning the ropes of RF engineering as he went along. This did not stop him, however, from securing commercial-grade (read: type-accepted) equipment from several reputable distributors.

Payne adopted the notion of using a web stream as a studio-to-transmitter link long before the idea gained tactical currency. In fact, 95 Live's genesis was on the web, not the air. Payne says he helped start several other pirate stations around the country to carry 95 Live's stream and amplify its reach (quite literally).

Payne's had several run-ins with local law enforcement, all of which he attributes in part to his operation of a pirate station. It's a long and convoluted saga, over the course of which his most notorious (felony) convictions have been overturned.

The FCC, it seems, didn't even decide to throw the book at him until after he'd already been sentenced to state prison on other charges. This fits the agency's m.o. of going after easy targets and prosecuting for deterrent (as opposed to actual) effect.

Payne accuses the federal government of mistreatment while in its custody prior to his conviction, as they moved him from institution to institution all around the country (including a stint in solitary in Atlanta).

Most ironically, he's now seeking a gig in commercial radio, either with one of the major broadcast conglomerates (Clear Channel got specific mention) or on satellite; presskit and demo CD are forthcoming. He'd also like to resurrect the 95 Live online presence in authentic form but the domain's apparently been hijacked.

10/3/05 - Transmission Arts: Open Call [link to this story]

From the fine folks at free103point9, who continue their ambitious exploration of sonic wireless technology:

free103point9 and Rhizome are pleased to announce a collaborative call for web-based works that explore transmission as a medium for creative expression. Projects should practically and/or conceptually incorporate transmission themes and tools. Applicants are encouraged to visit free103point9's online Study Center resource for historical, technical, and cultural reference materials on Transmission Art.

Damn you, grad school...