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Feature: Revolutions Begin Locally

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10/11/99

re·volt (ri-'vOlt) n. An act of protest, refusal, revulsion or disgust.  See synonyms under REVOLUTION.

rev·o·lu·tion (rev&-'lü-sh&n) n. An extensive or drastic change in a condition, method, idea, etc.

It seems you can find strong support for low power radio on the local level, but the farther one gets up the government chain (and the greater the physical distance between the governors and governed is), the enthusiasm fades away.

It is the federal government who sets the rules for broadcasting and enforces them. When the FCC knocks on a pirate's door, they're not doing so at the behest of city councilmen or county board-members - they're doing it because it's the law of the land.

The law, however, does not give FCC agents the powers of search or arrest; that is why when a station is closed down, agents must be accompanied by Real Cops - they are the ones who can break down doors and carry handcuffs.

While the FCC prefers to use Federal Marshals for this task, in most cases the local police are in on the action; law enforcement agencies do not like it when other police forces operate in their jurisdiction without some sort of notice or cooperative effort.

So, knowing all that, imagine the following scenario:

It's high noon in One Horse Town, USA. The police force there is made up of a total of three people; the Chief of Police and two deputies.

In One Horse Town, Free Radio One Horse is broadcasting the best in Indonesian rap music to an enthralled community of, say, 500.

The 500 residents of One Horse all know about the pirate station in their midst, and they love it; not only does it provide a refreshing alternative to the "local" stations currently run by the mega-broadcast companies in Big City (just down the road), but they see it as an excellent community resource.

Among other things, Free Radio One Horse uses 10 watts to broadcast all the local high school sports games, handles live coverage of the One Horse Town Council, and provides lost dog notices.

At high noon, a nondescript sedan rolls into One Horse - inside are two FCC agents who, acting on a tip from one of the mega-broadcasters in Big City, comes to investigate the pirate. They go through their routine of tracking the pirate station's signal, locating its origin, and slipping a warning letter under the door of Free Radio One Horse's studio.

Word spreads like wildfire. The residents of One Horse can't see where the problem is. And, fortunately, the broadcaster behind Free Radio One Horse is well-educated about the fight for free radio going on nationwide.

At the next Town Council meeting, that broadcaster addresses the Council with his concerns, and tells them that the next step of the FCC's will be a "bust."

He then goes on to explain just how that bust will go down - and that One Horse's police force will be asked to cooperate in the search and seizure.

The Council is aghast. "What business does the FCC have coming in here and taking away one of our best community resources?", says the President of the One Horse Town Council. "How does is that supposed to be helping us?"

They immediately pass a resolution supporting the pirate in his endeavors. The entire town is behind it.

Pretty soon, the police in One Horse are stopped on Main Street by just about every resident in town, who complains to them about the FCC and what's been happening to the pirate in their midst. In One Horse, even the Chief walks the beat for a shift.

After taking a feel for the lay of the land, the Chief tells his deputies to protect Free Radio One Horse from any incursion.

A couple of weeks later, another complaint is filed by a mega-broadcaster in Big City that Free Radio One Horse is still on the air, the FCC begins planning out a raid of the station.

Enlisting the help of one Federal Marshal, the trio drive to One Horse and head straight to the local police department to tell them of their intentions.

The community loves Free Radio One Horse, says the Chief. He listens to it himself, he tells them. And it's making One Horse Town a better place to live. The Town is on record as willing to protect its station.

"But the law...", begins the FCC agent.

"Stuff yer law," says the Chief. "Not in One Horse, it's not." He then grabs his radio and tells his deputies to get over to Free Radio One Horse ASAP, as the Feds are in town and hot to trot.

Now, the Feds have a dilemma; there are three police officers in One Horse, while they only have one. Brute force is out of the question. The agents and Marshal retreat, and One Horse Town rejoices.

An unlikely scenario? Not quite - all it would take are some guts on the part of local politicians, and a united front within a community. It would be a lot easier to make this scenario a reality in a place like One Horse, but once a town does it village might be next, then a city....

It would be a dangerous game - especially for the FCC. They could risk busting a station whose community it serves has pledged to protect, but they risk a nasty incident if the community follows through on its promise.

Such an incident would not be worth its implications. Heck, they would reason, it's only a small radio station. It would also make for bad publicity, and the federal government don't need any more of that right now. Plus, with publicity, number of incidents might multiply.

Chances are, Free Radio One Horse's file with the FCC would go into the "eternally pending" basket, and One Horse Town could live happily ever after. But it wouldn't take long for the word to spread around.

It only takes one One Horse Town to make this scenario a reality. And if the "authorities" are stymied once, they can be stymied again, and again, and again. A revolution doesn't just happen - it begins with revolts. And those are possible, especially when the conditions are ripe.

So, where will the first One Horse Town be?