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Feature: The Plus Side of Radio Monopolies

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6/19/97

It is disturbing to see how consolidation in the radio industry is leading to the gobbling up of radio stations by major companies. Evergreen Media just swept through the Chicago market, taking a gangsta-rap station and changing it into born-again gospel overnight!

However, there is a small way to fight against the tide. Granted, not all the ways may be legal, but they are doable.

Raid the chief engineer's closet.
A lot of stations, after being bought out by the some monolith, traditionally do some downsizing. There's been a lot of outcry about the dwindling amount of local programming available on the airwaves, but station engineers are getting hard hit, too. Why keep one person on the payroll for each station if it's not necessary (FCC rules now allow for unattended operation), or contracted technicians can do the job at half the cost?

Because of this, lots of that engineering equipment may not be needed by the local corporate station cluster. Keep a good eye and ear on your local radio market; if you get a whiff of changes, confirm them, and then hit up the station (under the guise of an amateur broadcaster or some other professional) to see about purchasing some of their gear. You may be able to get bargain-basement prices on some of it, and most engineers also have good libraries of technical specs and other helpful documentation. Chances are the station is just looking to clear out some space for another member of the sales staff anyway, so you may be in for a good deal.

Hijack the station during automation.
I'm not enough of a rogue to do this, but I could if I wanted to. Two stations I used to work for go into automated satellite programming at six in the evening every weekend, and until six the next morning, there's no one around. Except for one deadbolt there's not much stopping anyone from getting into the building, taking the station out of automation, and going solo. Of course, your fun on the air won't last long, but it sure would be a good way to wake up that station and its parent company, and would make one hell of a statement about just how much commercial radio cares about its responsibilities. If you're a little more technically inclined, you can do the same thing from a distance....

Hack the station's remote control.
Similar to the above scenario, this one's a little more technologically savvy. Stations across the nation are moving to computer-controlled transmitters and air signals. Where I work, the station's FM transmitter can be turned off or on, diagnostic checks can be made, and the air signal itself can all be controlled from a telephone. Touch-tone some special codes, and voila! It's air time! I actually have done this before, once in the middle of the night during a tornado warning. It's kind of a freaky feeling sitting in your pajamas in your kitchen talking on the phone and knowing your voice is being heard for miles. But with a few simple numbers dialed, anyone can do it. Then, all you'd need is a phone patch into some audio equipment, and you're in control. The sound quality may suck, but the point will be made.

Commercial radio, as a whole, is getting too complacent about it's ruling of the broadcast spectrum. Anyone with the right inclinations and a little technical know-how could make life very difficult for many companies. Instead of getting on the air after toiling over your own equipment, why not broadcast on something already set up and running?