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Feature: NAB Declares War; Dunifer's Response

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10/16/97

Recently the National Association of Broadcasters sent out a communication to its members urging them to be listening closely to their FM dials for "pirates" and, if any are found, to report them immediately to the FCC. Microradio activists have taken this as tantamount to an act of war.

What follows is a response from Stephen Dunifer, founder of Free Radio Berkeley. Now that the NAB has stepped in and is trying to throw their weight around on free radio, it's about time someone stepped forward in defense of microcasting.

In response to the direct attack on micropower broadcasting by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) we, as a coalition of Micropower Broadcasters, supporters and interested parties, make the following statement.

By ordering its members to actively seek out and report all "pirate" radio activity in their respective areas the NAB is advocating a direct attack on the free speech rights of micropower broadcasters and the communities they serve. Such actions are fundamentally anti-democratic and typify the behavior of a greedy, mendacious corporate thug and bully. To portray people and communities representing a diverse range of viewpoints and cultures, and who merely want to have a voice, as "pirates" is slanderous at best. We are engaging in protected free speech activity, not skulking around committing felonious acts.

We are faced with a broadcast regulatory structure which precludes all but the wealthy from having a voice. Prior to 1980 there was at least a possibility of obtaining a class D 10 watt license. That classification was removed by the FCC after 10 years of intensive lobbying by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) which sought to establish regional flagship NPR stations and did not want the 10 watt stations in their way.

Without the vast resources of either the NAB or CPB with which to influence congressional decisions and regulatory re-structuring, our only option is to do what has historically been done, from the tea dumping in Boston Harbor to current struggles for free expression and basic human rights.

Accelerated by the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the concentration of broadcast media resources into fewer and fewer hands has made the notion of "public service" a bad joke. It is leading to an ever escalating elimination of local origination. Selling prices of broadcast facilities have reached astronomical levels. For over 60 years members of the NAB have been allowed to make an obscene level of profit from a public resource and trust. In addition, in concert with government and corporate interests, they are instrumental in either limiting or squelching the terms of debate on a wide spectrum of issues vital to a democratic and free society.

What are the FCC and NAB afraid of? In a situation of 1-50 watts versus 10,000 to 125,000 watts it has to be something much more fundamental than market share. Based on statements made by the FCC it is clear they have no thought of ever revisiting the issue of issuing broadcast licenses for stations with less than 100 watts of power. What they are doing is issuing large numbers of translator licenses for transmitters with less than 100 watts in order to import an outside signal into a shadowed community. In essence, they are creating a dual standard which restricts free speech activity based upon point of origin by denying communities the right to broadcast at less than 100 watts.

We are willing at any time to sit down with the FCC and the NAB to discuss these issues which have profound significance for our society. As a possible solution we propose a deregulated, low power, inexpensive FM (and possibly AM) broadcast service. Standing in the way of thousands of communities having their own voice is an entrenched federal agency serving not the public interest but corporate greed and influence.

It is not our intent to interfere with existing broadcast services. We urge all micropower broadcasters to properly select frequencies, use frequency stable transmitters, employ harmonic filtering and control modulation levels.

Further, in closing, if the NAB continues this "seek and destroy" agenda, we will fight back. Local broadcast entities who engage in a campaign against micropower free radio stations purely on the basis of their existence will be targeted along with their advertisers for a public boycott. When local businesses advertisers begin to have pickets and leafleters on their doorstep it will become very clear to local NAB members that their course of action is a very unwise one to pursue. In the court of public opinion we will prevail.

Stephen Dunifer/Free Radio Berkeley