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Feature: The Art Bell Reaction

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3/26/98

Art Bell, the most popular overnight radio talk show host in America, devoted a segment of his Wednesday night/Thursday Morning show (3/25 - 3/26) to the issue of free radio. Art garners a cumulative total of 26 million listeners a day.

It was a great opportunity to advance the publicity (and the idea) of free radio to the masses. But did it really do the job?  Unfortunately, things started out well, but thanks to the spontaneity that is both Art's blessing and curse, the big opportunity may have been blown.

The first hour of the "pirate radio" segment began wonderfully. Art Introduced ACE President Pat Murphy, and they talked up the "good feeling/bad boy" side of free radio. Pat and Art discussed how they, as kids, did the same thing others are doing today and getting SWAT teams up the wazoo for it.

Then Rodger Skinner, an author of the RM-9242 petition for low power FM radio, faxed in and got himself on the air. This was where things went haywire. Taking 20 minutes to focus on Skinner's petition could have a VERY detrimental affect on the future of legal LPFM. Pat Murphy effectively endorsed the Skinner proposal, saying, "I do think the Skinner proposal is the best, but that three kilowatts is going to be a sticking point."

Art and Pat then spent a segment talking about the most excellent and diverse kinds of programming found on shortwave pirates. The 6955 KHz frequency got lots of play, so the shortwave enthusiasts who tuned into the program and were getting tired of the "LPFM chatter," as it has been called, got placated.

The third hour got off to a rocky start.  I'd love to see what the C. Crane Company's hit statistics and sales slips look like after Art's little ditty for the house-range transmitter he was hawking. Then, the show got back to Rodger Skinner and more of his LPFM petition details. Art, in quintessential excellent-interviewer style, steered Rodger toward the real reasoning behind his petition - the fact that he is losing his life's work when his Low Power TV license expires.

Skinner himself admitted that the station HE hopes to put on the air would run at only 900 watts, instead of the 3,000 maximum proposed in his petition.  But, as Art remarked, "You ask for more than what you're actually bargaining for and the other guy offers less than what he wants to give."

Fortunately, Art dumped Skinner after his segment ended, leaving an hour and a half left for open lines. It may have been the saving grace. Free radio station ops called in and gave the movement a real human touch. Their comments were much more varied, and demonstrated just the kind of diversity the general public needed to hear.

If there's anything that comes out of this show, it's the fact that Art Bell is an ultra-staunch supporter of free radio.  "I really hope that all my commercial affiliates have a good sense of humor," he remarked when closing out the segment.

His endorsement of free radio, licensed or not, was quite ringing: "I am very much in favor of it.  A sort of local anarchy...So I think there's a place for it, and I'll fight for it, and I think broadcasters should support it at that level."