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Feature: Trading Shots with the FCC

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10/8/00

(Click on images to play video clips)

Enforcement efforts against unlicensed broadcasters have stepped up nationwide. Just two days after recent protests at the National Association of Broadcasters radio convention in San Francisco concluded, Humboldt (CA) Pirate Radio received three visits from FCC agents.

Then, Radio One Austin (TX) was raided by law enforcement and had its station equipment destroyed; and a station in Michigan was sent a letter to stop broadcasting or face the consequences.

But the most dastardly blow was the silencing of Human Rights Radio in Springfield, Illinois.

Human Rights Radio has been on the air for nearly 13 straight years; its founder, Mbanna Kantako, started the station in 1987 as a way to speak out against the police brutality taking place in Springfield's housing projects.

It hasn't been seen as politically expedient to close down a station run by a blind black man and his family - but it's no coincidence that Mbanna, the so-called "father of the modern microradio movement," was finally silenced shortly after the movement publicly confronted the corporate media.

On September 29, more than 40 agents with a multi-jurisdictional task force surrounded the Kantako home, herded the family into a bedroom, and pulled off a large-scale heist of Mbanna's two radio stations (he started a second one earlier this year).

Collateral damage from the raid included Mbanna's computer, some VCRs, and any other home electronics that happened to be around but not tied down.

The official reason for the raid on Human Rights Radio was alleged interference with aircraft at the Springfield airport. One local pilot is on record as saying he heard "kazoo music" on his aircraft's radio coming from the direction of the Kantako home. Coincidentally, Springfield hosted an air show the weekend following Mbanna's bust.

Mbanna Kantako and his family took the action in stride; Mbanna himself taped the entire encounter and can be heard chewing out the authorities with zeal.

Even though a court order has been handed down barring Kantako from going back on the air, he's currently waiting for a donated transmitter to arrive.  When it does, Mbanna says he'll have no problem flipping the switch.

Score Some for the Good Guys

Counterattacks have been launched against the corporate and government entities responsible for the latest crackdowns. Several have already been underway for quite some time now.

Most notable have been some of the court cases making their way through the judicial system. Last month, the operators of Micro Kind Radio and Canyon Lake Radio met with the FCC and U.S. District Court judge Fred Biery in a Texas courtroom. Negotiations took place about how to proceed with a federal lawsuit filed by the unlicensed broadcasters against the government.

Judge Biery gave several indications that he favored the broadcasters in their case: he described Micro Kind and Canyon Lake Radio as "modern-day Thomas Paines," referring to the American revolutionary whose printed pamphlet, Common Sense, was a catalyst for the Declaration of Independence. It also contains many rough ideas that were further refined in the Constitution.

And last week, an unlicensed station in Minnesota moved to within one step of challenging broadcasting law in front of the United States Supreme Court. Beat Radio has exhausted all lower court relief in its fight against the FCC and became the first to file a petition with the nation's top justices.

The fight continues against the Congressional efforts to kill LPFM as well; various groups are mounting mass e-mail and phone call campaigns to Senators' offices in hopes of breaking through the corporate lobby that they've been misled by.

Additionally, a full-page ad in a Minneapolis newspaper this past weekend directly attacked Minnesota Senator Rod Grams, a Republican involved in a close fight for reelection; Grams is the original sponsor of the Senate's main initiative to stifle low power radio. In addition to exposing the donations the NAB made to Grams for his complicity, the ad also names nearly five dozen LPFM applicants hoping to get on the air in Minnesota (just a partial list of all the applications filed there).

Those already on the air also show no signs of shutting down - in fact, most of those stations hit in the recent FCC sweep are already back on the air or are about to resume broadcasting, and more stations are going live every week.

There may be a few battles coming down to the wire over the next couple of weeks - but remember, this is war. And this war is not anywhere near close to its conclusion.