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10/2/01

In the wake of the recent terror attacks on the United States, paranoia among both the people and the powers-that-be remains significantly heightened.

The Federal Communications Commission has not been immune to this paranoia. Shortly after the strikes in New York and Washington, FCC Amateur Radio Enforcement Director Riley Hollingsworth issued a public plea to the nation's ham radio community, asking it to scan all radio bands and keep an ear out for suspicious activity, making tapes if possible. As Hollingsworth put it, "You never know."

FCC agents have also been spotted on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee within the last week reportedly looking for two separate unlicensed outlets.

Some free radio stations have decided to go off the air during this time of heightened security, suspending their operations with the hopes of reclaiming the airwaves once again when the heat has died down.

This may be a prudent move, but there's also a sense among many free radio advocates that now is the time to be on the air more than ever. The mainstream media in America is all but in a lockstep march toward "war," whatever that may be, and as media scholar Robert McChesney recently wrote, "These are dark times, and the need for progressive voices has never been greater."

In that spirit, an unprecedented number of microbroadcasters from around the country formed an impromptu grassroots radio network to broadcast live, uncensored news and commentary from the streets during last weekend's Peace and Justice rallies in Washington, D.C.

Although the gathering of thousands in the nation's capital garnered little or no attention from most mainstream media outlets, "pirates" in communities from California to Vermont picked up the live web radio feed from the D.C. Independent Media Center carried the coverage nearly nonstop.

What they did would currently be viewed as "unpatriotic" by a large segment of the U.S. population. The act of airing dissent is sure to draw attention even though such dissent is essential to hear during this country's time of trial.

There is nothing unpatriotic about dissent. In fact, it's an essential part of any functioning democracy. What happens to the free radio movement - and how it adapts - during these times of uncertainty will say much about the state of true freedom in America.