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Feature: FRB is Back

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4/11/99

Stephen Dunifer, founder of Free Radio Berkeley (FRB), has often been touted as a catalyst to the development of the U.S. microradio movement, and rightly so. He has been through a long and vigorous battle in the courts with the federal government over his 50-watt operation.

As his activism continued, the press finally got wind - hence the nationwide acclaim. Dunifer's no stranger to working the press. Taken off the air after a setback in his case, Dunifer and FRB has been silent for nearly nine months now. Even so, it really came as no surprise when the following news release showed up today:

Despite a Federal Court injunction against its founder Stephen Dunifer, Free Radio Berkeley will return to the broadcast airwaves on Sunday, April 11 at 8 PM.  Established as a Free Speech voice, a direct challenge to FCC regulatory authority and as a means to break the corporate stranglehold on the free flow of information, news and cultural expression, Free Radio Berkeley will resume a daily broadcast schedule as soon as circumstances permit.  Citing compelling circumstances, former listeners and programmers decided to reestablish this alternative voice for the community despite potential legal and regulatory ramifications. Even though the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently entertaining the possible creation of some type of low power FM broadcasting service, its proposal is severely flawed and faces incredible opposition from the National Association of Broadcasters.

Speaking on behalf of Free Radio Berkeley, Paul Griffin stated, "We have been silent for too long.  The prospects of obtaining a license from the FCC at any time in the near future are very remote.  We are going back on the air because that is what our listeners want us to do."

The timing timing is impeccable. While the process toward the possible creation of a low-power radio service is finally underway, Dunifer will again hit the spotlight. This time, though, it looks like he's bailing out of it. This is both good and bad.

It's good because it will draw the FCC, who by our account is not slowing down its busts of unlicensed operations, into action. Defying a court order after such a lengthy battle will require it.

How the radio cops handle the response will be equally important - a military-style raid on FRB definitely does not look good on the 10 o'clock news.

The badness comes from Dunifer's and FRB's rejection of the entire proposed licensing process before everyone's had a chance to comment on it. That includes you and me - the lack of actual details to the proposal shows the FCC's looking for some good ideas, and it appears the FRB crew think no idea must exist that could make them support some kind of legal low-power radio right now.

Even more dangerous will be the National Association of Broadcaster's response. Using its unparalleled access to the broadcast media (since its members effectively own most of it), be prepared for it to link FRB's attitude to the entire low-power radio movement. This could be mitigated if enough people sound off to make the point clear that they have not given up on the process, both to the public and to the FCC.

It's sad in a way; by taking back to the airwaves like this Dunifer's effectively killed his chances of getting any kind of low-power license that may be created in the future.

And, thanks to the tone of the rebirth, the Feds will be forced to respond in such a way that he might not ever get back on the air again.

Being a martyr is usually helpful to a movement, but let's hope the event doesn't kill what it died to further. Stay tuned...