It hasn't been a good few weeks for microradio.
During the first days of June, the head of the FCC's Compliance and Information Bureau, Richard Lee, made numerous postings to various free radio discussion areas on the Internet claiming that his department had a done a state-by-state audit of all free radio stations in operation. According to Mr. Lee, the number of stations operating nationwide is less than 200. Lee also said that the stations identified will be dealt with. His messages were met with curious silence.
In mid-month, apparently out of the blue, the California federal judge that granted Free Radio Berkeley a temporary injunction keeping the FCC at bay reversed her decision. Judge Claudia Wilken said that Free Radio Berkeley's argument - that the FCC's issuance and allocation of station licenses restricted free speech rights - didn't hold water because FRB never attempted to get its own license. The FRB folks have promised to appeal.
Meanwhile, the station has voluntarily shut down, and San Francisco Liberation Radio has done the same. In their eyes, the thin veneer of legality the FRB injunction brought to microradio has been tossed aside.
In a slightly comical yet fruitless gesture, a "Free Radio Cedar Tree" took to the hills of Berkeley a short time after Wilken's new decision came down, broadcasting on FRB's frequency, and was quickly located and shut down by FCC agents during its inaugural broadcast. The FRB folks deny having anything to do with it.
Less than a week later, a renewed effort on the part of the FCC to "take the initiative" in the fight to crack down on "radio pirates" is launched. Richard Lee himself led a bust against the feisty West Philly Pirate Radio (aka Radio Mutiny). During the raid, Lee turned on the station's transmitter to broadcast the fact that the station was being shut down!
These moves are having their intended effect of bringing down morale in the microradio community. Some stations are wondering if they too should shut down since Free Radio Berkeley is now off the air. Many wonder if this means they are also more susceptible now to a bust.
So, let's review. Free radio's figurehead takes a serious legal blow, a high-profile station raid takes place, and the FCC's top cop publicly states that free radio stations' days are numbered.
All of these events have major possible connotations for free radio and free speech, and should not be taken lightly.
But nothing has really changed. Judge Wilken's initial decision didn't offer any real protection from prosecution. Busts continued even after her original decision came down.
While we, collectively, can do nothing to change the outcome of the FRB case or the number of enforcement actions taken against station ops, we CAN continue with our own individual actions. For some, that means staying on the air. For others, it means taking to the air to replace those who have been silenced.
For many, it means continuing the pressure through regulatory channels and other media to make legalized free radio happen.
It's always easy when the ride is fun. Free radio isn't fun right now, but to give up now is to ensure defeat.