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News Archive: January 2004

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1/29/04 - Packed House in San Antonio [link to this story]

A couple of clarifications from an observer on the scene at the microradio protest outside Clear Channel's corporate headquarters: the transmitter used by "KRRR" was ~10 watts and could be heard for at least a couple of miles. More power to ya!

Also, the station reappeared during the FCC's Localism Task force meeting yesterday and operated completely unmolested, despite mainstream media reports to the contrary. Houston IMC now has photos of the pirate crew (and their clever subvertising) outside CCHQ.

As for the hearing itself, "to call [it] a zoo would probably be too kind," reports one LPFM broadcaster who stood in line for more than three hours just to get 60 seconds at the mic.

1/28/04 - Scene Reports: Washington, Texas, Vermont [link to this story]

Two reports from Free Radio Olympia confirm a male/female team of agents from the FCC's Seattle office were first caught snooping on the property around 3:30 yesterday afternoon. Confronted by someone, the agents finally identified themselves and were repeatedly denied entry to inspect the station.

After more than 20 minutes of getting nowhere the agents retreated to their "mini-van/suv type" vehicle, where reportedly "the female fcc agent called into the studio with a cell phone." Don't know if the call was broadcast, or if anything was taped, but the FCC went away after that.

In San Antonio, Texas, the pirates had all the fun. A preemptive protest took place there Tuesday in preparation for today's FCC Localism Task Force meeting. Target: Clear Channel Worldwide headquarters, conveniently located in San Antonio. Free Speech Radio News had a blurb on "KRRR," which broadcast at 102.3 FM to people driving by CCHQ; they heard messages about Clear Channel's pox on our media environment and how to sound off to the FCC about it.

Clear Channel's own news coverage of the protest, via its San Antonio TV station, WOAI, sucks the large one: "Veterans of anti globalization demonstrations in Seattle, Miami, and elsewhere, are descending on San Antonio" to protest.

Reality: a handful of people stood on a curb with a small FM radio transmitter, heard for a range measured in hundreds of feet (dressed as pirates, for f*ck's sake!), and had themselves a good time. Clear Channel (I mean, WOAI) reports KRRR was "shut down by authorities late Tuesday afternoon," but that sounds like wishful thinking.

There are more organized demonstrations planned outside the Localism Task Force's meeting today, but WOAI's Jim Forsyth, who wrote that sh*t quoted above, will probably watch the live feed from the comfort of the newsroom. Those retired union members can be dangerous when agitated over something, like media consolidation.

Clear Channel actually got stung twice yesterday: the FCC fined it $755,000 for the antics of Florida schlock-jock Bubba the Love Sponge. The amount may sound impressive, but some quick math belies the penalty. Based on the company's general revenue figures for 2003, Clear Channel makes that kind of money every 34 minutes.

Finally, a short report notes the ballot initiative asking the citizenry of Brattleboro, Vermont for their literal (non-binding) endorsement of radio free brattleboro has enough qualified petition signatures to be decided at the annual Town Meeting on March 20.

1/22/04 - Florida Broadcasters Prepare Next Offensive on Pirates [link to this story]

Last August an NPR affiliate got the Broward County Sheriff's office to raid two unlicensed FM stations, using building code violations to gain entry.

C. Patrick Roberts, president of the Florida Association of Broadcasters, was overjoyed with the success of the local raid, which did the job the FCC failed to do.

The push is now on to formalize this tactic as law: the FAB (ha!) is now working with sympathetic state lawmakers to criminalize pirate radio in the state of Florida. ''I believe it's better to use a Mack truck than a flyswatter,'' said Roberts.

Yet if this moves forward Roberts will likely get more grief from the FCC than from the pirates. The FCC is notoriously sensitive about its jurisdiction and does not take kindly to being pre-empted by local or state laws. Part of this is due to the fact that the FCC's legal authority to enforce the prohibition on unlicensed broadcasting has been previously challenged on intra/interstate commerce grounds.

The main thrust behind this line of attack is that the FCC has no authority to regulate low-power broadcasters whose signals do not cross state lines, based on the premise that only interstate commerce falls under federal jurisdiction and regulation; all intrastate matters are left to the states to regulate. The FCC (and the courts) have parried this various ways:

1) Radio stations whose signals do not cross state lines may still interfere with the signals of stations that do, or with the signals of stations located out-of-state that listeners can pick up locally. This constitutes potential interference to "interstate commerce," and the FCC wins.

2) The FCC does not have to actually demonstrate that an unlicensed station's signal actually crosses state lines; if it can demonstrate that the station runs enough power to have the potential of being heard outside the state, the FCC wins.

3) While a low-power unlicensed radio station's signal may only be listenable in-state, theoretically speaking its RF energy travels an infinite distance at the speed of light. So, although you may not actually be able to listen to the pirate station out-of-state, the fact that a miniscule amount of its RF energy is crossing state lines constitutes "interstate commerce," and the FCC wins.

I know there's others out there, but these are the ones that come to mind quickest. (Note to Sovereign Citizens: I'm not saying the situation is right, just narrating some history, based on the assumption that the federal court system has meaning and applicable authority - although I realize this is something on which we'll have to agree to disagree.)

Seeing as how the FCC's invested decades justifying and shoring up its legal authority, something tells me it won't take kindly to that authority being undermined by its own licensees.

While actions like the ones in Florida last August have happened in the past, in nearly all of those cases either the FCC strongly objected to the local enforcement initiative or moved in to shut the problem stations down before the locals had a chance to act.

1/18/04 - Free Radio Brattleboro Threatened by U.S. Attorney; KBFR Back on Air After FCC Visit [link to this story]

rfb got a letter and phone call from the U.S. Attorney's office in Burlington, Vermont January 8 threatening "action if the station does not stop broadcasting," according to rfb's local attorney. This likely a precursor to (at least) a raid, or (at most) the filing of an injunction against the station and its volunteers. rfb continues to collect signatures for its referendum drive - which would put the issue of official community support for the station to a vote of the people or Brattleboro - and its attorney has written a letter to the FCC and U.S. Attorney informing them of the station's intentions in detail.

In Boulder, Colorado, KBFR rebounded from its FCC visit Tuesday with the quickness, returning to the air from a virgin location less than 48 hours after contact.

And Freak Radio Santa Cruz makes news again: Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! was in town over the weekend and interviewed Utah Philips and resident journalist V-Man direct from the Freak Radio studios Saturday. The interviews may be rebroadcast on a DN! show in the upcoming week.

1/15/04 - KBFR Receives Fourth FCC Visit; Skidmark Bob Produces "Pirates of the Air" [link to this story]

Agent Jon Sprague from the FCC's office in Denver showed up Tuesday evening and simply dropped off yet another warning letter, reports Monk. The station is temporarily off the air as it moves to a virgin location (this is a drill they have down well by this point). The FCC visit comes just as KBFR prepares to hold a benefit concert featuring some of the musicians who've cycled through the station's van/studio. A compilation CD of those performances, Studio Free Boulder, is now for sale, along with T-shirts (only locally, unfortunately).

Monk also recently blogged that they've got new company on the dial:

"Someone with a BIG fucking transmitter (bigger than ours) is going on air periodically, 2-3 hours at a time, and playing the same 5-6 lame songs over and over, or just broadcasting dead air on top of our frequency. We have no idea why. We've tracked it, and found it moves. Whoever it is has mobile capabilities. Clever, really. Similar to our own approach. Makes them very difficult to locate."

Meanwhile, down at Freak Radio Santa Cruz, Skidmark Bob is on another prolific streak. In addition to his regular programming responsibilities and collage work with the Department of Corrections, Bob found time recently to produce and air a special show on free radio itself. "Pirates of the Air" features lots and lots of clips from stations on the AM, FM, and shortwave bands, as well as some old-school sonic action from the European offshore stations of the 1960s and 70s. Leavened throughout are songs about pirate radio. A very cool way to kill - or fill - an hour.

1/10/04 - Fun in Clear Channel Country [link to this story]

click to display larger imageIn about two and a half weeks, the FCC's Localism Task Force will set up shop in San Antonio, Texas for a public hearing. This is the second one; the first happened in October in Charlotte, North Carolina. That produced a 153-page transcript, if you're interested in catching up on the pontification.

I still don't quite see the point of this effort, as the damage done to localism in the media (however you want to define it) from industry consolidation is already done, and is just getting worse as time goes on. At least those that get to speak to some FCC officials will feel momentarily important, as said officials momentarily act like they care. Change/progress? Not likely (however you want to define it).

That being said, the image at right arrived in the inbox this week courtesy of "RPMRADIO," a shadowy entity that claims to operate a network of unlicensed microradio stations in San Antonio, also the home of Clear Channel. Photoshopped or not, the sentiment's dead-on. Task force public hearings are only one venue through which the public may be heard.

(click on image to see a larger jpeg)

1/8/04 - FCC Enforcement in 2003 [link to this story]

Looking over the cases collected in the Enforcement Action Database for last year, there are a couple of interesting (yet very basic) conclusions to be found.

1) While the number of overall enforcement actions tops 2002's figures, this is due to hits on single stations multiple times. If anything, it signifies an efficiency improvement within the FCC's enforcement process. The strange thing is, this new-found tenaciousness doesn't seem to be nationwide, more like case-dependent...but there just isn't enough info to say for sure.

2) In late 2002, when Enforcement Bureau officials made their last "progress report," they mentioned that they planned to rely more heavily on monetary forfeitures to get business done in 2003. They don't seem to be kidding in that regard...although it's been a few years since anyone has actually analyzed the success the FCC has on collecting its fines, which (at least as far as 2000 was concerned) is not very good, to put it mildly. When the FCC did successfully conclude a rare civil collections suit against a pirate last year (for a case first opened in 2000), they trumpeted it from on high - an exception to the rule.

3) The other interesting remark made by EB officials in late 2002 was that they planned to dispense with warning notices to egregious violators of FCC rules, and just proceed straight to issuing fines. This doesn't seem to have happened.

4) Location-wise, the same hot-spots are still active, the most notable (again) being Florida, California and New York. West Virginia made the Database for the first time in 2003 with its first confirmed enforcement action against an unlicensed broadcaster. Overall, the Database contains reports from 37 states now.

That's about it analysis-wise, but the main point is not to believe the hype when the FCC Enforcement Bureau claims (in its next "progress report," expected in a few months) the closure of hundreds of stations. No, microradio is definitely alive and well, and although the agency may be tweaking tactics to deal with it, they are no closer to stopping unlicensed broadcasting than they were before the days of LPFM.

1/2/04 - Schnazz is Back; Collage Remains on Hiatus [link to this story]

Some kinks in the plans to move servers, I'm hoping to get things squared away by the end of this month. I've updated the media collage galleries with lots of new material...but you can't get at it until I find a place to put it online. I think it will be worth the wait (although it's killing me).

Not wanting to keep everything in stasis, regular updates have begun again to the rest of the site. This includes the Schnazz, which features a heavy dose of catch-up news. I especially like the FCC release about its $25,000 fine to A-O Broadcasting for zapping forest rangers with its improperly-mounted antenna on a firewatch tower in Cloudcroft, New Mexico.

According to the forfeiture order, the now-defunct station KMTN-FM had its antenna mounted directly to the side of the tower: "the top bay of the antenna was level with the lookout platform." Licensed to broadcast with 100,000 watts, KMTN was plagued with technical problems and maxed out at 60,000.

And even though the transmitter could only make 40,000 watts on the day the FCC inspected the antenna site, agents recorded electromagnetic field strengths at least three and a half times higher than what is considered safe for human exposure. A footnote in the order hints that the real exposure could have been higher, as at least one of the measurements made by the FCC represented "the maximum value of the [RF field strength] meter" they were using.