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News Archive: December 2002

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12/31/02 - FCC Enforcement in 2002 [link to this story]

The Enforcement Action Database is all caught up now. In 2002 there were a total of 45 documented FCC enforcement actions against unlicensed broadcasters. All were operating on the FM band - yes, folks, microradio is alive and well in the post-LPFM world.

While the general statistics appear to show a slight increase in activity over previous years, it is due to the FCC's increased tenacity with regard to pirate cases - not a heightened interest in finding new pirates to bust. It's still pretty damn hard to get on the FCC's radar, but once you're there you could be in for a bumpy ride. Follow-up activity past the warning letter is almost guaranteed nowadays, whereas a few years ago it was pretty common for a station to get a warning notice then hear nothing else for months, if not longer.

The FCC also got more fine-happy this year, tossing out $10,000 Notices of Apparent Liability (NALs) and actual forfeitures as a matter of practice, especially in Florida (the state that still leads the nation in broadcast activity). However, the rate of collection on these fines is still dismal and at least two broadcasters got their fines significantly reduced or canceled.

Since the overwhelming amount of NALs/forfeitures were issued to Florida broadcasters, I'm inclined to believe that the field offices in that state have decided to use fines as a matter of policy when dealing with pirates. In other states, however, this trend has not yet appeared, so it may not yet be an agency-wide policy.

Over the six years (!) that the Database has been maintained, it's recorded a cumulative total of 257 enforcement actions. Regrettably, the Big Picture is still pretty small, and news from the most active part of the country is still nearly nonexistent. Soldier on.

12/20/02 - Freak Radio Airs Bust Preparedness PSAs [link to this story]

This is thinking ahead: Freak Radio Santa Cruz, in reaction to the recent raid on Berkeley Liberation Radio, is now airing a "Raid Alert PSA" preparing listeners to react if/when the FCC moves on the station - which has been on the air pretty much non-stop for seven and a half years now.

"In the event that we are raided, if we have the time, we will put out an address on the air, asking you - the listener - to come down to that address to observe, document, and protest in the event it does happen," intones Skidmark Bob. The PSA is faintly reminiscent of the old Emergency Broadcast System tests, but much cooler.

12/17/02 - Berkeley Liberation Radio Back on the Air [link to this story]

Good news from Stephen Dunifer: "BLR is back on the air. Transmissions resumed on late Sunday afternoon." Less than a week of downtime is pretty damn impressive!

While the FCC has conducted at least three enforcement actions within the last three weeks, the good news is at least three new microradio stations have signed on around the country during the same time. With BLR back on the air, the net gain is one for the good guys....

12/12/02 Update #2 - More Details on BLR Raid [link to this story]

Looks like yesterday's raid of Berkeley Liberation Radio was pretty severe; the government hard at work, making the world safer for us all. Cap'n Fred sent a note about the incident:

The FCC had an arrest warrant for the equipment. They knocked on the door and slid the warrant under. The dj in the studio at the time looked at it and decided he'd better let them in. They then proceeded to tear down our antenna and confiscate all the electronic equipment in the room. They left our scratchy old records, tapes and cd's.

A couple of folks have gone by and taken pictures of the room as they left it. We've contacted our lawyers and called an emergency meeting for tonight. Pretty soon we'll make a decision as to what we want to do. Actually the stuff that was stolen was a bunch of old junk anyway, so the loss is not catastrophic. We will survive!

V-Man @ Freak Radio Santa Cruz has already interviewed the Cap'n and produced an audio report with more details and reaction. It sounds like they're basically going to have to construct a new station from scratch. They'll take any donations, including checks or money orders, at the following address:

Berkeley Liberation Radio
P.O. Box 5044
Berkeley, CA 94705

12/12/02 - FCC Washes Hands of LPFM? [link to this story]

The FCC removed its online LPFM Channel Finder program from the agency's website on Monday, December 9. The Channel Finder was a tool prospective LPFM applicants could use to find out whether there were any open frequencies for LPFM stations in their area.

According to the FCC's announcement:

"Rather than generate studies now that may not result in an acceptable application during the next application filing window (no application filing windows are expected in the near future), we have suspended use of the LPFM Channel Finder for an indefinite period."

The best interpretation I've seen of that statement so far is this (rock out bryan27!):

"The current administration sees no need of furthering LPFM. We will no longer be offering the LPFM channel finder under the current administration. The next LPFM window will open when an LPFM friendly administration comes to power.

Further we will not be acting on applications that are MX or have small errors until all singleton applicants have either built their facility or have let their CP expire. We anticipate dealing with these situations in 2008."

Looks like LPFM may have just been a one-shot deal after all - a token crumb to the rabble who cared long enough to actually try and affect change on the radio dial. I truly hope those who were lucky enough to get licenses cherish them and use them to their fullest - everyone else should go on the air anyway.

With that in mind, there's still an alternate LPFM channel finder available, provided by the whiz-kids at REC Networks. It's quite accurate, well-maintained, and full of great features the FCC's own program didn't have.

12/11/02 - Berkeley Liberation Radio Busted [link to this story]

Word just crossed the email that Berkeley Liberation Radio was raided by Federal Marshals and the FCC this morning. Apparently almost everything connected to the station was taken, save for microphones and headphones. The FCC isn't commenting....Cap'n Fred, are you out there?

BLR is the outgrowth of the old Free Radio Berkeley, founded by Stephen Dunifer. While Dunifer was enjoined from broadcasting ever again after losing a long battle in court with the feds, the rest of the station was free to move on. They did...until today.

If anybody's got more information on this enforcement action, please send it along. I've got some major catch-up work to do on the Enforcement Action Database; look for that (and a full update, plus lots of extra bonus material) to hit the 'net over the course of next week.

12/5/02 - WebHopper, Meet iBlast [link to this story]

WebHopper, Clear Channel's foray into datacasting via digital television, is apparently not the only system under development by media companies pursuing the digital convergence gold rush.

iBlast, a DTV datacasting system cooperatively developed and funded by a consortium of several big media firms (including the Tribune Company, Gannett Company, Cox Broadcasting, The Washington Post Company, The McGraw-Hill Companies, The New York Times, Emmis Communications, Bonneville International, and Journal Broadcast Group, among many others), has been in the testing stage for the last 18 months in more than a half-dozen markets around the country. iBlast's management boasts of extensive experience with other media conglomerates like News Corp., Viacom, Disney, and Sony being among the most notable.

The iBlast technology is similar - but not identical - to the WebHopper datacasting model: while it also requires a traditional modem uplink to the iBlast network for sending data requests, downloads happen via a special receiver plugged into a computer, digital video recorder, game console or MP3 player.

Whereas WebHopper promises specific download speeds for each customer, iBlast appears not to divide the DTV sideband used for datacasting into customer-specific channels. The iBlast website says each DTV station can send a maximum of 75 gigabytes of data per day, presumably queuing content for broadcast when bandwidth is available to send it (depending on traffic load).

It also predicts that most major markets will have at least two iBlast-equipped stations available, providing the capacity to serve up the equivalent of several thousand DVDs' worth of data every day to subscribers.

Collectively, the consortium backing iBlast already owns more than 260 television stations, providing a much larger initial platform for the technology than Clear Channel's 30-odd stations. However, because iBlast doesn't seem to offer dedicated bandwidth to individual customers, it's being marketed more as a content delivery service than an internet service provider.

Think of being able to buy movies, music and software on demand via the DTV signal, but not quite being able to surf the 'net with it. Or, like a wireless extension of pay-per-view, with pay-per-listen and pay-per-play added in for the ride. How much a monthly subscription will cost is unclear, but look for a national rollout of iBlast sometime next year.

12/4/02 - Don Imus Ranch Gets Visit From FCC [link to this story]

Saw word circulating today that Don Imus' ranch in New Mexico got a friendly visit from the FCC recently about some pirate broadcasting going on there.

Apparently Imus had installed a low-power FM transmitter so his ranch-hands could listen to his radio show, which originates in New York and is not carried locally in New Mexico. It's not clear just how much wattage "Free Radio Imus" was running, but Don claims it couldn't be heard off ranch property (his spread encompasses several square miles).

On Monday, Imus used the platform of his nationally-syndicated and televised morning talk show to rip the FCC a new one for taking his transmitter (which was reportedly seized). Yesterday, Imus had Arizona Senator John McCain - the incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee - on his program, and was planning on asking the Senator to fix his case on-air.

Did anybody hear the show, and whether or not he got the favor? Additionally, anybody who's got more information on the Imus case should definitely email it to me, as I can use details for his Enforcement Action Database entry.