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Feature: The History of LPFM
Part 14

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Microradio Gets a Strategy Overhaul

Excluded from LPFM almost from the start (even though they'd been catalysts for change), radio "pirates" in the United States went back to broadcasting. Over an early June weekend in 2000, past, present and future unlicensed broadcasters met in a "Micropower Council of War" in San Francisco.

Led by Free Radio Berkeley founder Stephen Dunifer, they drafted a platform under the moniker of the Micropower Action Coalition. The agenda called for stepped-up efforts to put more unlicensed stations on the air, spread the word about the movement's existence, and - for the first time - start initiatives to directly pressure licensed broadcasters.

This new tactic involved two parts: challenging station licenses when they came up for renewal and going after stations' pocketbooks by convincing advertisers to drop accounts with radio stations.

It's risky enough just to simply operate an unlicensed station - and even more so to admit it publicly. But instead of just taking the heat, the micropower movement was asked to dish some of it back.

At the same time, the FCC was still going after "pirate radio" with zeal. The crackdown on pirate stations, began at the NAB's behest in 1997, continued. By mid-2000, the FCC claimed it has shut down 50 stations.  It also requested an increase in its enforcement budget for the 2001 fiscal year.

Facing the Enemy

Massive petition drives, letter-writing and phone call campaigns to Congressfolk commenced; some lobbying firms in Washington even lent support on a pro bono basis to try and save low power radio.

Several thousand people also took their message to the streets of San Francisco during the annual NAB radio convention in 2000. While radio industry managers and executives bought each other drinks and discussed mega-deals, protesters thronged the convention site and marched through the streets.

Several confrontations ensued over the course of the convention; some protesters infiltrated inside and disrupted speeches and seminars. Others locked themselves inside the convention hall lobby and had to be cut free by police and firefighters.

A large group of protesters even marched from the NAB convention to the local offices of Clear Channel Communications - the largest radio station group owner in America, with several stations under its thumb in San Francisco.

During confrontations outside the Clear Channel offices, DJs from the corporate stations came out onto the street to harass and assault demonstrators. Some protesters were roughed up and arrested - nothing ever happened to the Clear Channel thugs.

The NAB protest weekend concluded with a massive rally and concert in downtown San Francisco. More than two thousand were on hand for the final festivities. That same night, the NAB was handing out its annual "Marconi Awards" to selected stations just two blocks away.

Once the concert ended, a large part of the audience marched to the hotel where the industry banquet was taking place, bringing riot police onto the scene to stop the mob.

During the protest events, cells of microbroadcasters got together and planned strategies to further the proliferation of unlicensed stations nationwide.  Participants in these strategy sessions also vowed to directly confront the corporate media properties in their own communities.

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