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News Archive: December 2004

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12/23/04 - Media Minutes: Behind the Scenes [link to this story]

Things will be static around here until the new year; in the meantime take a tour of the Media Minutes production space I cobbled together.

The initial plan called for utilizing the facilities of the university's public broadcast complex, but the radio stations are woefully behind the times technologically (nearly-abandonware audio editing systems and no network capability within or between studios). Plus, during pledge drives I'd find myself with no place to work. Going the DIY route is not bad, especially when you've actually got a budget to work with and expert advice available.

The office itself is in the Armory Building. It is well situated in relation to the Institute, less than a full block away. As far as office warrens go, it's a strange place. It doubles as a gymnasium, with a huge indoor track at its center, so there's a faint smell of sweat in the air. The rest of the layout is incomprehensible: there are staircases that lead to a single room and you cannot walk the length of the building using no less than a stairway and two hallways. On one end of my hall is the Army ROTC, on the other is the Air Force, with us communication research assistants in between. Every room has its own anemic radiator (except for those who have extra-small offices - they have sweatboxes). During the temperate months, the Illini marching band practices outside.

In all I think I spent about $1,500 of McChesney's money on the setup, not including the computer. Thumbnails on the tour page are clickable and include all the techy-specs.

12/22/04 - "The Fish Was Delish and It Made Quite a Dish" [link to this story]

Strong Bad does the radio dial.

"College radio can pretty much be summed up in five words: Dead air, um, dead air." Not always true, but enough to bust a gut.

12/20/04 - Making Waves Update; FCC in MN [link to this story]

Michael Lahey's been getting around: his killer microradio documentary will get more screenings around the country next year, one of which will be in April at the Anthology Film Archives in NYC. Also, a professor from the UK recently contacted Michael about using Making Waves as part of an exercise/discussion in a new textbook on alternative media.

Earlier this month Michael also was a special guest on The Power Hour, a talk show carried on the Genesis Communications Network. Not only did Michael get two hours to plug the film and talk about the issues behind it, but they also opened the phone lines. That's where things got interesting:

Napoleon Williams (5:50, 1.4 MB), who's been on the run from the law for the last five years, called in (supposedly from Missouri) to tell his story.

Reverend Rick Strawcutter (6:46, 1.6 MB) also phoned in to complement Michael on the documentary and provide more details of Radio Free Lenawee's skirmishes with the FCC.

You can listen to the complete two hours (in MP3 format) here and here.

In other news, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and an aide to Michael Copps spent the night of December 7 in St. Paul as part of a continuing series of public forums on media concentration. Hundreds of people showed up to the campus of Hamline University, and many gave public testimony (more than 3.5 hours worth).

My favorite came from Beth Van Damm, a volunteer with Radio MCAD, and an organizer of the Radio Re:Volt conference in October:

"Until the day that the FCC and the NAB recognize that LPFM does not pose a threat...long live the pirates, wherever they may be, who forge ahead anyway, fighting the good fight for our public airwaves." (:48, 193K)

You can also listen to a complete recording of the event (in Real Audio), courtesy of KFAI community radio.

12/12/04 - Dutch Pirate Blowtorch Blowout [link to this story]

It's tough to fully understand because it's all in Dutch, but there was one hell of a pirate broadcast in Europe this past weekend. Radio Koning, Keizer, Admiraal ("King, General, Admiral") took to the airwaves Friday on 97.0 FM, running 11,000 watts out of an antenna more than 100 meters tall.

The broadcast was the result of a combined effort of four pirate station-groups operating in the eastern Netherlands, laid on (in part) to protest the methodical sweep of the FM band carried out by the Dutch government in the past few years as part of a policy of spectrum commodification. Practically speaking, however, it was just one big party.

The actual antenna and transmitter were located just just over the border in what appears to be some German woodland. Reception reports poured in from as far away as Italy. I believe this may have been the largest-ever land-based FM operation ever constructed by Dutch pirates (possibly the largest-ever in northern Europe).

The same day Radio KKA took to the air, Dutch authorities paid a visit to the station, reportedly on complaints about interference to a regional public broadcaster (KKA operated on an adjacent channel to the affected station). Saturday afternoon saw a large multi-jurisdictional German/Dutch enforcement team locate and raid Radio KKA; someone's got the last 8:47 of the broadcast online. Station crew were also slapped with a €40,000 fine (~$53,000).

The party didn't stop Saturday night: part-celebration of KKA's short but bright run and part-fundraiser.

12/8/04 - Denver Free Radio Packs It In [link to this story]

Sad news from the mile-high city: KCTS Radio, after a short but spirited game of cat-and-mouse with the FCC, has decided to retire the operation. From a communiqué first e-mailed (now available on the station's web site), station spoke Carl Nimbus answers, in detail, the question, "So what happened to 'we're just going to keep coming back'?"

The FCC was all over us. More than they have the time and budget for. More than nearly any other pirate station in the country....[Denver FCC agent Jon] Sprague and friends were coming faster and more frequently than their counterparts do in markets like LA, SF, NYC, Dallas, Chicago and other large cities. Why would that be? The FCC responds to complaints from licensed broadcasters. They very rarely go out at random to shut down a pirate.

Shortly after KCTS was profiled in Denver's alt-weekly, a New York-based "Senior VP of Corporate Communications for Clear Channel Communications" wrote a letter to the editor (number seven, slugged "Clear as Mud") in protest of the maligning her great company received in the aforementioned story (wherein Nimbus remarks, "It's sad that five guys in Texas decide what gets heard around the country"). To Nimbus and crew, that's a smoking gun:

Now why would someone from CCC in New York know about and be responding to an article in a local Denver paper (an alternative paper to boot) so quickly?

It became "clear" how this was all going down. Clear Channel was the driving force behind the whole thing. Why were they afraid of a tiny, local, non-commercial broadcaster? Because our signal was reaching nearly ONE MILLION people, that's why....So what was cheaper for them, to revamp their product to compete with us or to simply use their swing with the FCC to take us out? Well, the rest is history.

Plausible, certainly. Or perhaps, since Clear Channel's taken a beating in the press for quite some time, it hired some PR minions to scan news databases and sites, note anti-Clear Channel press, and write a response to those stories. That's pretty standard protocol for PR damage control. It's also not unheard of for FCC agents to carry a grudge. Just ask Doug Brewer, Tampa's Party Pirate, who pissed off FCC Tampa office director Ralph Barlow so much seven years ago that Barlow vowed, "sooner or later, I'll nail him," on Page 1 of the Wall Street Journal.

It was probably a bit of everything, including the hand of radio broadcasting's Public Enemy Number One. KCTS' gear has already been dispersed into the hands of "interested parties."

12/6/04 - FCC as Sketch Troupe [link to this story]

Shamelessly lifted from the trade rag Radio & Records, this is not the work of beings in the reality-based community:

In a taped performance shown [Dec. 3] at the Federal Communications Bar Association FCC Chairman's Dinner... [Mikey] Powell donned a wig that looked only slightly worse than [Donald Trump's] actual hair and faced down Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree and Powell Chief of Staff Bryan Tramont at a large table in a spoof of the boardroom scenes from the NBC TV show The Apprentice. Dutifully filling in for real-life Trump assistants Carolyn and George were Commissioners Kathleen Abernathy and Michael Copps.

Powell berated the three candidates - all there to compete for his job as Chairman - for the poor job they did in drafting the FCC's media-ownership rules but conceded that drafting regulations is "harder than attending localism hearings." Making the most of his only line, Copps fired back, "How the hell would you know?"

In a speech delivered after the video presentation, Powell took on Howard Stern's continuing allegations that Powell isn't qualified for his job. "What about his qualifications?" Powell asked. "All he does is interview naked Hooters girls and midget strippers and tell fart jokes. What qualifications do you need for that?" Powell also let fly with some cracks about the enduring debate over broadcast indecency, calling the NAB the "National Association of Booty" and charging that the TV networks have mistaken this time of year for "the season to be jiggy."

How I would kill for a copy of Mikey spouting "booty" and "jiggy." We're kickin' off the next four years right!